27 July 2009


Instead of a neighborhood barbecue with beer and brats, here in San Miguel de Allende one would more likely be invited to a Temazcal Ceremony at a neighbor's place on a Sunday afternoon. Perhaps beer and brats barbecues take place here, too, but I have not gotten wind of any. I was invited to a Temazcal Ceremony and attended yesterday afternoon. I am still recovering today, feeling quite wonderful in one sense and totally gassed in another.

A Temazcal Ceremony makes use of a sweat lodge. There are no mind altering substances involved and certainly no booze involved. In fact I would think it impossible to mix any of those things in with this ceremony, which is a handful to get through without any artificially induced handicaps at all.

You can book a Temazcal Ceremony as part of your tour package to Puerto Vallarta or Cancun. What a fucking nightmare those ceremonies put on for the tourists must be.

The front door.

This is a northern plains Indian ceremony that has been imported into many Latin America countries. Mexican people have embraced it in particular. It is indeed a ceremony, and therefore, to put one on correctly, one needs officiators who know what the hell they are doing.

Terresa had been planning hers for weeks. Her friend, Chris, the Belgian backpacker, was the male master of ceremonies. Chris has gone totally native and embraced indigenous American culture so thoroughly that he is more American Indian than many American Indians are.

The female mistress of ceremonies was a Mexican friend of Terresa named Betty. Betty is approximately thirty-plus and sweetly, stunningly beautiful. Not that physical beauty is essential for that role, mind you. But I must admit that it adds a certain flavor to the proceedings, particular when I end up sitting on the ground right next to that woman for four or five hours while we sweat our asses off together in swim suits.

Just because Betty was a true veteran, however, did not mean that she did not suffer. She suffered. Little Maria suffered, too. But she displayed some real toughness and completed the four sessions.

There was also a Ukrainian woman present who really knew the ceremony and was very informative, her English being a bit better than Betty's.

The scene last week.

There are a lot of drums and shakers, a lot of singing, and a lot of prayer involved. I was the eldest male present, and therefore, I had to do everything first. That is not bad duty when it involves drinking the herbal water first or eating the fruit first. However, I was also cornered into leading a song once. The song I chose was Cost of Freedom by Crosby, Stills and Nash. Worked out okay with the drums considering the fact that it was the only song sung in English all afternoon. I am very short on Lakota song lyrics in my repertoire.

No, I have no photo of Betty yet. All I can tell you is that when you meet a Mexican person, do not let the first words out of your mouth be, “Can I take your picture?” It is best if you avoid asking to take his or her picture until you are quite well acquainted. And you must never take anyone's picture here without asking permission. That is an explanation, not a lecture. You are going to have to take my word concerning Betty's looks for the time being, and I guarantee you that I can still recognize a killer looking woman when I see one.

Enough of that.

The photos here were taken this morning, the “morning after.” I collapsed into my little tent out there for the night after all was said and done.

Here Terresa has spread some of the straw mats outside in the sun to dry. These straw mats become absolutely soaked with sweat.

I am not going to bore you with all the details of the ceremony. Suffice it to say that it consists of four sweat sessions with little breaks in between to temporarily cool off and to add more glowing hot rocks to the hole in the middle of the sweat lodge.

A large wood fire is maintained outside the sweat lodge by assistants called “firemen.” The firemen stay outside the entire time. The firemen carry hot rocks from the fire to the sweat lodge on shovels and slide them in the door after each break. Then the door flaps are closed, and a new session starts.

Each of the four sessions is a bit hotter than the last because there are more and more rocks. During a session water with herbs in it is occasionally sprinkled on the rocks, and the odors are heavenly, if you will permit me that word. Betty did not smell all that badly either--kind of lemony or orangey or something citrusy--in her hair, I think.

The back door.

There were eight women and five men in at the start of this ceremony. Only two of us were first timers, both of us men. You are free to leave at any time, but if you wish to drop out, it is preferred that you try to hold on and drop out at the next break. Men drop out. Women do not. This has come to be a ceremony with a very strong female bent. Women love this.

I made it through the entire ceremony in the sweat lodge, but I want to emphasize that it gets very hot toward the end in that sweat lodge, folks. It is painfully hot during the fourth session. You find yourself checking your skin for bubbles.

Is this one of those things that women are able to endure more easily because of that legendary, extra subcutaneous layer of fat they sport? I don't know. Maybe.

Actually, there is a slightly different, even hotter version of Temazcal tailored more to men that is referred to as a "warrior sweat." I want not one goddamned thing to do with any "warrior sweat."

Anyway, you fast before a Temazcal Ceremony and eat like a hog afterward. What a feed after this one! I have only the faintest idea what that stuff was. I was able to recognize a grain of rice here and a bean there and a banana burned to a crisp and chocolate with strawberries and on and on. Whatever it was, it all went down incredibly easily.

This is an entirely different sweat lodge that I photographed down south in Tequisquiapan in someone else's back yard.


Barb said...

I'm really curious if women post-50 do well with this, Steve. I don't process heat well anymore and most of the women I know who have gone through menopause say the same thing.

Thank you for the detailed description though, fascinating. Would you do it again?

Señor Steve said...

All I can tell you, Barb, is that all but three of these women--five in other words--were way past 50. I know at least three, perhaps four, were in their very late fifties or early sixties. We are all tight buddies now. We all hug each other--chaste hugs. I will ask a couple of them about this the next time I have a chance.

The subject of menopause did come up at a break, but I was busy gulping cool, 88-degree air and therefore did not pick up on what the point was.

Perhaps I can find something on the internet about that. A search of "Temazcal" demonstrates that every norteamericano who has done it feels compelled to post an account of the experience on the internet.

Candy Minx said...

Different economic backgrounds and different cultures have different stories about menopause. Menopause for North American white women (often upper middle class) seems to be quite different than many other cultures and societies around the world.

Barb said...

I'll be interested, Steve. That is my only negative effect from menopause, so I'm not complaining.

Ruth said...

Me too, Barb. One reason I was so glad to leave Redlands.