Pedicures are inherently pretty gross. Even when every skin-scraping and cuticle-pushing instrument is completely sterilized and Health Department approved, soaking your tootsies in a place where thousands of other people have soaked their tootsies is simply revolting. And that’s before you consider those bacteria-harboring jets in the sides of the pedicure tubs. Nast-o-rama! Sometimes I think that’s why pedicures are so expensive, as if the more spas charge, maybe the more exacting you’ll believe their standards of hygiene?
Mind you, none of this stops me from indulging in them – especially now that reaching down to actually paint my own swollen toes over a belly full of two squirming 3.5 pound babies is out of the question. Revulsion be damned, there’s just nothing as luxurious-feeling as having clean, beautiful feet. Pedicures take calloused, often mangy eyesores and turn them into sculptural works of art that look as if they’ve been chiseled by Rodin himself.
So I try to forget about bacteria and get pedicures every few weeks. But I was just reminded of a particularly awesome pedicure I had on my honeymoon a few years ago, thanks to Kim Kardashian. See, as it gets harder and harder for me to leave the house and actually do anything of value, I’ve been relegated to the comforts of Netflix movies and Kardashian reruns on E! And on a recent episode, the Kardashy girls got fish pedicures in Greece. Kim absolutely freaked out, which I don’t understand because I’m sure her blood facial, not to mention child rearing with Kanye, are way more harrowing experiences.
Nevertheless, it brought back memories of the fish pedicure I had in Bali. But first, what is a fish pedicure? It’s essentially a regular old pedicure (no, it’s not) only instead of having a technician scrape the dead skin from your feet, you let a bunch of Garra rufa, or doctor fish, do it. Also called reddish log suckers, these toothless fish live in Turkish hot springs (they can also be found in places such as Syria, Iran, and Iraq, not that I’d advise anyone to travel there right now). They love to eat dead skin, yet they somehow know to avoid live tissue. Eating dead skin is how they forage – though it looks more like a feeding frenzy than a casual morning hunting and gathering session. They are the ultimate pumice stone, and were originally used in the treatment of psoriasis before they became a hot spa craze.
Spa-wise, using fish in pedicures began in Japan (why am I not surprised?) in 2006; but quickly spread to various parts of Asia and Europe. Like most things that are cool, fish pedicures are highly controversial and even I admit that articles like this are terrifying. Rings of biofilm? Just stop, already.
Fish pedis had a moment in the US a few years ago before they were banned in 2008, and I personally think it’s a little insane that kids can buy cigarettes easily enough but you can’t get a damn fish to nibble on your feet if you so desire. I’m not going to get on that particular soapbox just now, however. So back to Bali…
When you’re walking around the streets of Ubud, you’ll see lots of holistic healing and reflexology places. Wellness and care of the self is such an integral part of Balinese culture that a spa-obsessed Westerner like me can actually have a massage every day and spend less in a week than one would for an hour-long treatment in the States. Many of these places also have big signs in the windows reading: FISH SPA.
I chose a place called Padi, which is right across the street from the main marketplace in Ubud. It looked the most inviting/clean, and was located half outdoors, which felt a lot more sanitary than if I were in a back room of some random fluorescently lit mani-pedi joint. Within milliseconds of dunking my feet in the pool, swarms of fish descended upon my exposed skin like so many biblical locusts. Feet, ankles, shins, calves. Anything you put in the water is fair game (I stuck my hands in for a few seconds and they were similarly attacked). It was weird! It was like tiny little suction cups moving all over your skin, not at all painful but freaky enough to make your first instinct be to kick all the vile little interlopers away. It’s the very definition of creepy-crawly.
Tai looked on in horror until I nodded to my camera and asked him to document the magic. “You mean document you acquiring a deadly, flesh-eating, bacterial infection?” he asked, taking this shot:
And this one:
After the initial tickling agony subsided, however, I kinda forgot that I had become lunch for vast quantities of fish. I just zoned out and listened to the birds. It was incredibly soothing. Twenty minutes passed in no time, and afterward I really did have smooth and enviable feet. They felt so, so, so incredibly soft and looked so perfectly groomed. I don’t remember how much it all cost, but I know it was cheaper than any regular Stateside pedicure. Did the results last any longer? No. Would I do it again? Maybe, but probably not. It was so much a part of our free-wheeling and adventurous honeymoon that I chalk it up to something that is just fun to have in your arsenal of experience rather than something I’d actively seek out in future travels.
In other words, Fish Pedicure: the stuff memories are made of.