Mexican Temazcal – Kicking My Inner Child out of the Hut

Temazcal

A few weeks ago I was invited down to the Hacienda Tres Rios Resort, along with several other travel bloggers and writers, to kick the proverbial tires of this sustainable all-inclusive in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Part of our experience included the totally unique Temazcal treatment.

I recently described one of the activities planned for us in my post, Ancient Art of Lentil Torture in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. In addition to the physical assault by lentils, we were offered an opportunity to partake in the Temazcal ritual, better known in the U.S. as a shvitz.

After my blindfolded experience earlier in the trip, I was a little hesitant about the Temazcal, but decided to go for it since I was there to experience all Tres Rios had to offer.

The resort defines the Temazcal as a “traditional Mexican sweat bath”  that

is a return to our mother’s womb, presided over by the goddess Temazcaltoci, the great mother of both gods and humans. She aims to cure physical and spiritual ills by separating us from the outside world so we can reconnect with our inner self.

With this in mind, I joined my blogging comrades with as open a mind as I could muster. The ritual leader, let’s call him Bob, had us change into our swim gear and form a circle outside of the large, domed clay Temazcal hut. We lathered ourselves with a black mud that I hoped wasn’t toxic and began the preparation for the “return to the womb.”

After a few minutes of awkward, sticky mud application, we were then instructed to enter the huge, hive-like clay structure backwards, in order to begin the ritual. I thought it a little precious that they kept calling it a ritual, but gave them the benefit of the doubt.

What then ensued was an organized process of adding literally red hot stones to the center of the hut, application of various herbs and green things to the aforementioned blazing rocks and active audience participation in the form of chanting, singing and various confessions (nothing illegal, I promise).

Oh, and it was hot. VERY hot. I’ve been in a lot of saunas; I generally like the cleansing process it affords. This was no ordinary sauna though, the raw heat and humidity was of an intensity I had never before felt.

Unlike the lentil torture, I could see and understand the point of the Temazcal ritual and while physically demanding, I ultimately enjoyed the cleansing process. I have to confess though, I didn’t make it through the entire ordeal.

Partway during the ritual, a fellow participant left the hut, the heat and humidity had become just too much. After she left, I instantly became acutely aware of my own racing heartbeat, the gallons of sweat emanating from every pore and I psyched myself out. Much to the obvious consternation of Bob, the ritual leader, I had to leave. Temazcal is half mental fortitude, and my concentration had been irrevocably lost. I left the hut, and took a forced dip into the nearby cenote. I must not have gone in far enough though because Cranky Bob came over and poured a bucket of frighteningly cold water over my head.

The after-effects of the Temazcal were trippy. I was dizzy, confused and mentally pliable. At that point I probably would have happily repeated the lentil torture, which instantly looked tame when compared to the steam hut. I sat with the towel around my shoulders, mud dripping off my ankles sipping tea while waiting for my fellow Temazcal participants to emerge from the clay womb.

I wasn’t alone in my sense of mild confusion and somnolence and after we were given permission to leave (Cranky Bob had become Crankier Bob, so it was best to do what he said) we all went our separate ways, a diaspora of sweaty gringos wandering around the posh lobby of the hotel.

Reflection on the ritual/treatment/shvitzfest is what makes the experience truly memorable. During the event, the only thing I could think of was how to stop sweating and whether or not the mud would blind me. After the experience though I truly began to appreciate the moments of introspection afforded to me by hot rocks and chants I couldn’t understand.

While the Temazcal may not be for everyone, it is certainly one of the most unique treatments I have seen at any spa or hotel in the world.

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

4 Responses

  1. Andi

    I so want to do this!!!!

    Reply
  2. Jorge

    I have to admit, I really enjoyed your post. I laugh a lot and definitely will have to try some of that “return to the womb” experience sometime Matt.
    Greetings from Mexico!

    Reply
  3. Sabina

    Oh, now this is an experience I would looove to have – despite the discomfort of the intense heat. This sounds just very cool (no reverse pun intended) and memorable. Once you’re out of the unbearable heat, does it really matter how uncomfortable it was? You’ll have the story for the rest of your life.

    Reply
  4. Amanda

    My husband and I recently visited a Temezcal in Cozumel and after reading your blog can only feel as if you were short changed on your experience.
    First of all the steam is produced from coral not rocks therefore making it a truly special and “sacred” ritual as it was very difficult and dangerous for the Mayans to collect the necessary amount of coral for said steam bath.
    Second of all, we had the fortunate opportunity to experience the Temezcal with only each other and our guide (whom we shall never refer to as “Cranky Bob” but rather as amazing and loving….). He was very passionate about the Mayan culture, their connection and understanding to the earth and how they functioned and appreciated same.
    Thirdly, anyone who is looking for a “spa” treatment should refrain. The Temezcal is anything but being pampered. It’s about the appreciation of LIFE and where you have come from and where you are going and how that relates to EVERYTHING around you.
    The Temezcal is not just about becoming aware of own spiritualness, but about understanding and appreciating how connected this civilization was with the earth that sustained them; so rare in this day and age.

    p.s. although you seemed to touch on the surfaces of the meaning and the experience of the Temezcal…I am hopeful you will have the opportunity and appreciation for it in its entirety at some point. Perhaps a better guide or true personal reflection!!!!

    Reply

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