Saving face – with bird droppings




Facial treatment is from the birds
Mountain spa Inspired by Asia


SANTA FE, N. M. – Reminiscent of a Japanese onsen (hot springs), Ten Thousand Waves is an Asian-inspired mountain spa perched on a hillside surrounded by piñon and juniper trees.

The luxury retreat’s 1981 beginnings were modest – a small bathhouse, eight outdoor hot tubs and one massage room.

Its initial focus was to showcase the remedial benefits of hot water in typical Japanese custom amid nature’s beauty, an emphasis that remains of utmost importance a quarter of a century later.

The outdoor backdrop is serene – dotted with lanterns, hummingbird feeders, scattered cedar seating and an assortment of indoor (ofuro) and outdoor (rotenburo) baths: communal, women’s and indulgent private baths (kazukoburo).

The bathhouse variety is impressive.

> Shoji is surrounded by shoji screens, the translucent panels often found in traditional Japanese homes.

> The irresistible appeal of Moon tub is its view, across the valley to the East – a prime spot to observe the rising (and full) moon.

> Waterfall is the only bath heated year-around to body temperature – ideal for pregnant women (other baths are maintained at 104-106 F).

This large free-form tub incorporates oversized rocks and features a waterfall flowing into a cold plunge.

Though Tokyo seems around the corner, a directional arrow indicates its other-side-of-the-world distance (10,070 kilometres), a reminder that despite the fact that Ten Thousand Waves is mere miles from the Native American turquoise-and-silver scene of downtown Santa Fe, it transports spa-goers to another continent.

Going to traditional baths is a way of life in Japan – hot springs are routinely visited for after-work relaxation, socialization with friends and family time.

In the same spirit, Ten Thousand Waves was conceived but has since evolved into much more – a full-service health spa with massage therapy, body treatments and skin care regimens that complement its hot water offerings.

The spa menu is delectable, featuring such treatments as Indo-Asian Hot Oil Massage (85 minutes, $139, all prices U.S.), that utilizes seasonally blended oil to create a warming effect in cool weather and the opposite in warmer temperatures.

Master Massage (85 minutes, $149) is performed in a pagoda by one of the spa’s elite practitioners (a masseuse with a decade or more of experience; a minimum of four years at the Waves).

Both options were tempting, but my selection was neither.

I chose the mysterious and adventurous Japanese Nightingale (55 minutes, $99), the spa’s signature facial in which processed nightingale bird droppings are applied to the face.

Treated by ultra violet light, the exotic “residue” is completely free of bacteria.

“Do you know the background of this facial?” asked Larisa, my technician.

I learned it’s an age-old beauty secret that has been passed down from generation to generation and was used by Japanese geisha to lighten and smooth their skin to perfection (the remedy is mentioned in the book Memoirs of a Geisha).

It’s said that the brightening properties were discovered when a nightingale’s dropping fell upon a black silk kimono and bleached the garment without damaging its delicate fabric.

Indeed, the tradition was intriguing. But upon discovering that Ten Thousand Waves is the exclusive importer of the product, it became an irresistible opportunity for a spa aficionado like myself – even though I was venturing into unknown (and possibly odorous) facial territory.

The skin treatment was much like any other. After selecting my preference of background music (choices included soothing, classical and upbeat) and my favored scent (lavender, rosemary and peppermint), the relaxation began.

Essential oils were added to the powder (counteracting its deep, musky scent) and a mask, formulated to my skin type, was applied in circular motions.

Granted, the facial was much like any other, but the results were unexpected.

Final verdict: I emerged with a brighter, well-toned, smooth-to-the-touch complexion – necessitating a final purchase, a bottle of Nightingale Droppings ($36).

Just the facts:

  • For information call 1-505-992-5025 or go to
  • Hot Baths are $15 to $59; spa treatments range from $49 to $139; massages are $92 to $179; skin care runs from $99 to $139.
  • Rooms at Houses of the Moon Lodging, based on double occupancy, range from $99 to $279 a night.
Copyright 2018 Cynthia Dial. All rights reserved