Temezcal: Oaxaca Sweat Lodge

Temezcal is an ancient Zapotec ritual practice that continues today.  I’ve had two temezcal experiences, both in Teotitlan del Valle, that were authentic and memorable.  There is something bonding, intimate and spiritual about sharing a temezcal with someone you care about.  Plus it’s really fun.  I took my most recent temezcal at the home of a Chavez family relative who lives next door.  We entered the courtyard around 6:30 p.m. and were led to the rear of the property where we saw the low adobe mound that looked like an oversize oven.  We smelled the wood fire and met the two elderly women who would attend to us.  Me, my girlfriend Sam, young friends Janet and Elsa,  were all bundled up because it was winter and it was cold outside. Dolores was with us, bringing along water and extra blankets.  We took our clothes off in the dark and piled them on chairs and wood planks that we could barely see, then an arm stretched out from within the temezcal cave to give us a hand and guide us in.   Sam and I went first, crawling, head down, naked, through the U-shaped opening one at a time. In the corner was a wood fire, a bucket of water, and a pile of hot rocks.  It was all smokey hot and steamy. The floor was covered with leaves and branches of chipil, a sweet smelling herb brought down the mountain from Benito Juarez.  Sam and I laid down next to each other, bellies to the ground. The two ladies spoke softly in Zapotec and I could see the outline of their bodies and feel the sweep of an arm across my back, switching the fragrant herbs in the air to create heat and a sweet aroma.  Then I felt the brush of herbs on my back and arms, back and forth, back and forth, to release the heat from my body.  I could feel Sam’s skin warm, soft and sticky next to me and the soft mat of herbs on the floor of the temezcal against my belly.  Everything was warm and soft and steamy and smokey. There was one woman beside each of us, naked, pressed close.  It was a hoot when in the language every human being understands — the motion and push of hands — that we were told to exchange places with each other and turn over.  I won’t describe it here!  The only thing possible thing that we could do was climb over each other in the dark and be sure we didn’t poke any sensitive parts.  I could hear the sizzle of water on the hot stones, kept my head down and my nose covered  with a wet cloth.  The heat was intensifying and I could feel a breeze generated by  the switching herbs.  Then,  I heard the oinking of pigs.  I thought, where’s that coming from?  When we could bear the heat no more, we crawled out, limp, wet and totally relaxed.  Dolores wrapped us in layers of blankets and we rested on the straw mat while the younger girls had their turn (it was their inaugural temezcal).  And, then, I heard it again.  The loud grunting of pigs.   Yep, the temezcal was right out there next to the pig stye.  We rested until the heat in our bodies dissipated, sipped water, kept our heads covered, and were told not to bathe for 24 hours.  Why, I asked?  It’s the custom, I was told, and that was the end of it.  It was nearly 9 p.m. and all we wanted to do was go to bed.  I’m certain there are more luxe experiences in Oaxaca City, but what could be better than this?


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