October 31, 2005

Heat shock in a 42C bath

I was really excited to check out the thermal baths at Pismanta. I chalk this up to good marketing and brochures from the San Juan tourism office, as well as my natural enthusiasm for good hot baths.

I had pictured in my head a huge rectangular pool carved into the side of a volcano, with people lounging around in a fog of steam rising from the thermal waters. Some lush, red hibiscus would be growing a little ways off in the distance.

Instead, what I found were small, indoor, private stalls with the thermal waters continuously piped in. Each stall was marked with what temperature the water was, ranging from 37-42 degrees C. (37C is body temperature). Each temperature was supposedly correllated with treatment for a specific bodily ailment (arthritis, rheumatism, etc…).

Being my geeky self, I couldn´t resist trying out the 42C bath. In lab, 42C is the magic temperature for heat shocking competent bacteria into taking up foreign DNA. I can´t count the number of times I did this to bacteria in eppendorf tubes after incubating on ice, and was psyched to actually know exactly what 42C felt like.

It took a little while to slide in. 42C is hot, almost painful, but felt great once I was all the way in. The water felt a little bit slick, kind of oily, which I think is from the minerals in it.

To my surprise, after only 5 minutes, I was absolutely roasting, and had to get out to cool off. The clerk had suggested a soaking time of 7-15 minutes, and to be careful not to be in there too long. Every part of me was giving off steam. Any longer and I would have been par boiled.

I´m glad to have done it, and it felt pretty good afterwards, though I was hot for at least an hour afterwards. 42C is for bacteria…I think next time I´ll try a degree or two cooler.

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