As my friend and I lay here naked, Gloria switches our right sides with the green leafy branches. Josefina said that she and her mother’s sister-in-law had to walk up the mountain to collect them. They don’t have a car. Even if we offered, I don’t think they would have allowed us help.
An adjacent dome encases the radiant orange and red coals. Before we began, Josefina helped Gloria arrange the branches to bed the dirt floor of this mud and stone hut. Gloria’s face and arms illuminate because of the near coals. First, we wash with the small lavender soap. Gloria poured the warm water to rinse us.
Each time the switch hits Deanna’s body a wave of warm vapor floats my way. I bask in it. Likewise, when the leaves touch my side, I feel the sultry steam eddy around them, penetrate my skin, and lift away following the branches.
Seething volcanic stones protest as water is splashed on them to make our space warmer. Gloria isn’t used to this heat. Deanna and I have been trained with Alaskan-style maqiis.
We flip sides and bring our knees towards our stomachs, heads still towards the door. I am excited to feel the kiss of the leaves again. There is a definite rhythm - constant thumping and a precise halt. More thumping. Another halt. Intermittent splashing to tease those stones.
The floor of our bathhouse slants downward towards the door, just slightly. It is enough that when we sit up in the still humid bath that the blood rushing down makes us dizzy. Coupled with the cold air and trying to stand, despite my warm blanket and escort (and best efforts) I find myself reaching out for a wall to lean on. Just for a second.
Within minutes we reached our destination, a place to rest and equalize with the temperate night. Cooling off and letting the blood flow normalize. Time to just be.
Our guide, Norma, took her bath after us. So, we had time to regulate, get dressed, and chat. As she came in, the steam flowed from her face and hands. Everything else was covered by a blanket. Her eyes were mostly closed, as if she was sleep walking. She leaned against the back of the couch, smiling with rosette cheeks and steam laden glasses.
“How do you feel?”
“Like I just came out of the womb… a baby, warm and cared for,” she sighed.
Deanna also wrote a blog entry about this experience, A Ritual as Old as Time, which will fill in some of the gaps from this narrative.
Zapotec Temazcal, The Traditional Mexican Sweat Bath