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By Marjie McGraw

Ceiba Del Mar Hotel’s European spa offers more conventional treatments, but none as unique as its signature temescal. The ancient ceremony is held directly on the beach at sunset. We first invited the ancient gods to join us on our spiritual journey. Then, with brightly burning torches lighting the way, we ducked into the mound-shaped terracotta hut, and because it was impossible to stand upright, we immediately plopped down on the palm fronds covering the floor.

The ancients undressed for the ceremony. We shy U.S. citizens opted instead to wear swimsuits, which for many of us was just as horrifying. Most of us wrapped our winter-white bodies in spa robes for the walk down to the beach. Once inside, however, we were instructed to toss them aside. Thankfully, we were immediately plunged into total darkness, which allowed those of us who’d been simultaneously attempting (in vain) to suck in our guts and thighs---okay, I confess! ---to give it up and relax.

The volcano rocks are glowing red inside the rum-black hut. Water tossed in the pit spits steam like an angry dragon. The scent of coba and sage invade my nostrils; the heat is beyond intense.

Sweat streams into my eyes, fusing with the honey and aloe I unthinkingly rubbed onto my forehead a few minutes prior. My contacts scream and I realize I have nothing with which to blot my face. Only sticky hands. I’m expelling sweat faster than a waterbed after a catfight.

For the past two hours, I, along with nine other spiritual pilgrims and two skeptics, have screamed, chanted, meditated, and beaten on turtle shells as part of the ancient Mayan Temescal ceremony. Mere seconds before panic bites, the sweat lodge door is flung open, a cool breeze rushes in and we’re commanded to exit the hut and run into the ocean.

Forgetting my kimono arms and flapping thighs, I sprint across the white sand and leap into the bathtub-warm surf. It’s exhilarating, and very, very quiet. A rebirth. When the silence is finally breached, we discover that all twelve of us---strangers at the onset---have inexplicably bonded. For the rest of our stay, no one worries about physique, hair or make-up.

Temescal isn’t for everyone. Indeed, our native host at Ceiba Del Mar Hotel & Spa (who promised he was giving us the real deal, not the tamer tourist experience) told us we were the only group who had ever lasted through all four stages of the ceremony. Most others, he said, bailed when the heat became too intense.

Bailed? We were stunned. Had we been forewarned, half of us definitely would have bolted at half-time. Why? Because each act of the four-part ritual gets progressively hotter as more volcanic rocks are thrown into the fire pit. Think…blast furnace. Most of us wound up flat on our backs because it seemed cooler at ground-zero.

On the upside, the handful of honey and aloe chaser that I slathered on me and the back of the stranger sitting in the dark next to me (my new best friend!)--- made my skin as smooth and pink as the inside of a conch shell. / Issue 34 - September 2717
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