Take us to magic town
I carry the dark ash of the temazcal on my feet and the impression of Reina’s Zapotec hands on my body.
We traveled on three taxis-two of them ‘colectivo’- where five passengers squeeze into a tiny sedan-someone straddling the emergency break between the driver and whoever is riding shot gun. Actually, it’s a bit more comfortable than what you’re envisioning- there’s a little butt pad that pops up directly over the brake and you wiggle yourself somewhere between it and the next seat over, depending on how generous the back end is. I joked and offered my driver half of the fair if only half of a cheek fit. He smiled and joked back that Mexican taxi prices were less than half of what was charged on my side of the border. (I actually fit just fine…and it was Camille who weathered the 60 km climb up through the mountains riding the middle.)
The road took us into the Sierra Norte. Small valleys were scattered among the mountains dotted with the recently blooming purple jacarandas. Our destination-Capulalpam-also know as ‘el pueblo mágico.’ It had been suggested to me by a friend on this side of the border as a possible day trip for healing ceremonies, herbal medicine and hippie stuff, “if you’re into that kind of thing,” he said. When we arrived to Oaxaca City, we managed to find a flyer about Capulalpam and their Traditional Center for Indigenous Medicine, but couldn’t really find anyone in town who knew anything about it. However anything that’s named “magic town” sounds like a place worth checking out. (We later learned the town won some competition a few years back and was named such after the award was granted.)
We climbed the town’s empty, narrow roads to a nondescript building that had no sign. We walked through and immediately saw this sign. It was the only thing hanging on the walls of this place- four white walls around a tiny interior dirt courtyard-no grass, no plant life. Out walked a local woman who asked if we were there for the temazcal; we enthusiastically replied, “Sí,” and from that moment on we had no idea what we were in for, but willingly signed up for all of it.
The first room had buckets of branches from eucalyptus-type trees. We stood together, while Reina, our healer, individually conducted a clearing ceremony on us. She patted me down with the herbs, lightly hitting my head, neck, stomach, back. I could hear her softly whispering as she did so. She cupped a raw egg in her hand, and gently ran it over my entire body, touching all of my exposed skin (our clothes were on for this.) She gave me both the egg and the branches to hold. The next part didn’t come as a surprise because I had the benefit of having seen Camille go through it first. Reina blew alcohol-aguaardiente- from her mouth onto our bodies while we simultaneously were instructed to breath deeply and inhale it in. The final step was for me to blow on both the egg and the branches, before Reina then cracked the egg in a glass and read me my current state of being.
After a few general statements about my body being tired and the like, Reina told me something so specific about myself that all of the doubting and thoughts of how silly this was simply vanished. This woman saw and felt. She was a true healer.
She proceeded to each give us massages in another room, equally nondescript with cracks in the wall, exposed light bulbs, and beds with bed clothes that may or may not have been changed for the next customer after we vacated. She rubbed us down as we lay on top of the outer blanket with a ‘pomada’ that we later learned was made of vaseline infused with local herbs. Our entire bodies were covered with the stuff. Reina mumbled a bit more as she massaged us and before our final part of the treatment: the temazcal.
We entered a dark, cave-like room, ducking through the entrance and curling our head down to avoid hitting the ash-covered ceiling. The fire was roaring. We were in our bathing suits and had been each given a handful of eucalyptus to flagellate ourselves with. A small bowl sat in a water bucket next to the fire -we were to throw the water onto the fire to create the steam.
There we stood- smothered in vaseline-in our bathing suits- waiting for the steam to help us sweat it all out. We started hitting ourselves. And then there was that moment-we looked at each other and realized how incredibly ridiculous it all seemed, and yet it wasn’t. Reina had just been nurturing us for the past two hours- her knowledge passed down from her grandmother and mother. She really could ‘read’ our bodies, she was kind and loving. She was one of some 50 healers that live in town and use this space to give treatments to visitors- a lot of Europeans, some locals, some Americans.
“Están sudando?” she yelled from the other side of the closed temazcal door.
“Sí, bastante,” I replied. We were shiny with sweat, silly with giggles.
We emerged. She instructed us to lie down to rest. She served us lemongrass tea. We took pictures, and were on our way.