Medellín: Ceremonia De Temazcal OR Self-Discovery Through Sweat

Ever thought about doing a sweat lodge? Curious but hesitant because it seems new-agey or too much like hard work? Well I have good news! I’ve done the work for you! I went to a Ceremonia de Temazcal, a traditional indigenous ceremony from pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica. I asked myself some deep questions while sweating and I’m going to share my experience with YOU.

(Not his real name)
Cutie-patootie in front of our accommodations for the night.

I heard about the ceremony through a friend of a friend. We exchanged contact details and she sent me some rough, ESL directions that went a little like this: “Emma you can take the bus to go to the airport the one which go on the road by the motorway not the one by the Palma. Get back at the mesquita (ask the driver) it’s just before getting at Guarne. Then you walk around 20mins you’ll see signs ‘spalalma.’” Sean noted my lack of concern over the vague directions and decided to take charge. He found the ceremony online, called the retreat, booked us in for the ceremony plus a night of accommodation and organised transport to get us there. I had a niggling concern but cheerfully ignored it.

We arrived and discovered the retreat is run by Hare Krishnas. I was expecting something a little more… indigenous… so this, along with the conspicuous absence of my friend-of-a-friend confirmed my suspicions that Sean had found a different Ceremonia. Oops! Oh well, at least the food will be good! Other participants were already yoga-ing in preparation for the ceremony, so we quickly changed into swimwear and sweat-clothes and made our way to the fire. The ceremony began with a bunch of talk around the fire. My Spanish is advanced enough that I understood the gist of what was being said, and it went something like this: “Blah fire and water, blah blah, community, blah sun and moon, blah.” After a bunch of standing around in the rain, throwing herbs into the fire, listening and smiling as though I understood, we entered the mud igloo one by one. I followed Matt and Sean on all fours, pressing my forehead to the ground and before crawling into the hut. The wet-earth smell was familiar and comforting. 

Stupid gringos.
We did not get the memo about wearing blue… Photo: Sean Bond

Over the next few hours we alternately sang and shook our percussion shakers or sat in silence as water was thrown onto red hot rocks delivered from the fire outside. It got hot. I pondered profundities:

Why are the rocks SPARKLING? What kind of rocks are these?… Oh, it’s quite dark in here… I wonder what is the most comfortable way of sitting. I will test them all!… How much water can a human being sweat out before you like, run out?… We are all just bags of skin. There are holes in our skin. WHAT IS EVEN KEEPING US IN?… Wait… Is this sweat or condensation?… When is lunch?… I hope there’s chocolate… There won’t be chocolate… Do I still have those two squares of chocolate in the bottom of my bag from last week?… (sniffle) Is that snot running down my face? (wiping my face) Shit… Did I just wipe dirt all over my face?… (someone hands me a rain stick) Alriiight, I am going to shake this shaker thing way better than anyone else. I am going to be the BEST rain stick shaker. Do they even know what an off-beat is? Amateurs… Pants! I keep losing time… Someone else should take this stupid shaker, I never wanted it anyway… It’s pretty hot in here… I wonder how much time has passed… What is everyone else thinking about?… I bet Matt is in deep meditation, that show-off… What’s the difference between daydreaming and meditation anyway?… 

Pretty flowers.
Some offerings (?) in front of the entrance to the igloo.

Every 45 minutes or so the door was opened to bring in fresh rocks from the fire. After the fourth sweat session we left the hut, again pressing our heads against the ground and inhaling the smell of earth. Outside the mood was festive with everyone smiling and glowing as if we’d just sweated for 3 hours. We gingerly submerged ourselves in the freezing water of the small rock pool beside the hut and indulged the finca dog’s requests for splashin’s. Afterward we headed for warm showers and a change of clothes.

Matt, Sean and I compared notes in our room. Matt told us that the sweat wasn’t nearly as challenging as he had experienced previously. Although I didn’t have anything to compare it to and it wasn’t as hot as I had expected, it still felt great. I felt fresh and clean and appreciated the hours I had been able to sit and think. As well as a lot of incredibly stupid thoughts passing through my brain I also found some direction on personal issues which had really been bothering me. AND I found that chocolate in the bottom of my bag! That’s when you know that eeeeverything is going to be okay.

Soundtrack: Thomas Newman – Any Other Name

I don't like losing cards.
Debriefing on our sweat-journeys over a v. serious and competitive game of cards. | Chilling in my hammock with the older son of the family who live at the retreat. He likes to play with machetes. Photos: Matty Julian.

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