Sauna extreme: a Mexican temezcal

On our last night in Tulum, RBJ and I were invited by Casa Violeta to experience a traditional Mexican sweat lodge called a Temezcal. “Great I love saunas” I thought, blissfully unaware that the Temezcal is a world apart from any sauna I have ever experienced before.

Temezcal is a sauna “ceremony” rather than just a normal European sauna where you go in and out as and when you chose. It takes place in a temporary structure which is made of traditional blankets draped over a wooden tent-like structure in the sand. When we arrived at the gardens of Casa Violeta, the structure had been built and next to it was a large fire pit, which we later learnt contained volcanic rocks brought especially from Veracruz for the ceremony.

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Totally unaware of what the next hour had in store for us…

img_4762-2img_4764-2The temezcal was conducted by a shaman healer called Kiauitl and her assistant. We began with a cleaning ritual where Kiauitl took ash from a fire, mixed it with a type of incense and blew the smoke over our bodies. After we stood by the fire and gave thanks to the four cardinal points (air, fire, wind and sun), turning to face them as we did. Kiauitl explained that during the ceremony we would be meditating and reflecting and giving thanks for things that we are grateful for in our lives. Now I’m not a particularly spiritual person and after the first reference to the “elements” and my “inner self”, I was starting to think this was not going to be my cup of tea at all. However, I decided to try and suppress my inner scepticism and embrace the spiritual-ness of the temezcal experience, curious about what was in store. As it turns out, its pretty easy to embrace your spiritual side when you are sitting crossed legged in the dark for over an hour, near-delirious from the scalding heat while a Mexican woman sings and chants at you in Spanish!!!

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Kiautil preparing the herbs

 

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We entered the temezcal on our hands and knees and sat cross-legged on small mats around a large pit dug out of the sand. We had four puertas or “doors”, each lasting about 15 minutes and being dedicated to different concepts: the first to family, the second to mothers, the third to fathers and the final to love and marriage (which I’m pretty sure was tailored in this way because we were on our honeymoon). At the start of each puerta, Kiauitl introduced stones from the fire, beginning with a stone known as the “grandmother stone” and singing chants as she did. The stones were taken out of the fire using a pitchfork and then slid in and dropped into the hole in the middle of where we were sat, instantly bringing intense heat with them. Then at various stages throughout the  ceremony, Kiauitl also poured water, infused with herbs such as chamomile, rosemary, mint and basil onto the rocks creating intense steam which filled the hut. In each puerta, we were encouraged to go round and give thanks, speaking often as if you were speaking directly to a particular person. It was a little cringe at first, but it did become more natural as we went on, possibly as we became more and more delirious from the heat!

In total we were in the temezcal for over an hour, hence not an experience for the faint-hearted. I like to think that I am pretty resilient when it comes to hot saunas however this was insanely hot. By the end it was so intense that RBJ had to lie face down on the cool sand to try and cool off and not pass out! By the time we crawled out, it was pitch black outside and the cool air on my face felt incedible. We took a few minutes to find our feet (I felt really light headed) and then walked down to the sea for a swim to cool off.

For the rest of the evening I felt like I was floating. Never in my life have I sweated so much! My skin felt soft and I felt cleansed in both my mind and body. All in all it was an incredible, one-off experience and one I will never forget (although perhaps not one either of us are in any hurry to do again soon!!)

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COST: The normal price is US$55 per person for a group temezcal or a private ceremony for US$250. We paid the discounted rate of US$120 total which for the experience I feel was well worth it.

CLEANLINESS: As it was in the sand on the edge of the jungle, doesn’t really apply!

IN THREE WORDS: Intense, spiritual and sandy!

For more information on temezcals at Casa Violeta, go to http://www.casavioletatulum.com

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