Experience The Temezcal

By Diana Pastor

Are you a fan of hot springs or saunas? If you are, you’ll want to hear about something that can renew your body and mind. I’m talking about a “temazcal” —a room for steam baths that many Mayan families in Guatemala still have in their houses. Most of these temazcales are private, but a few can be rented by tourists and foreigners to get a taste of the temazcal experience.

The temazcal we’ll be visiting today is in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán. To get there, we’ll need to squeeze onto a chicken bus seat two sizes too small, bump along in the back of a pickup truck for the better part of an hour, hop out at the plaza and find Dona Faustina. She’s got a temazcal for rent.

It’s small —temazcals usually are —and looks like a pyramid or an igloo. You can’t stand inside; to enter, you’ll have to crouch. The oldest temazcales are build from adobe; but most today are made from concrete, which works just as well. They’re wider than they are tall —great for those who hate headroom or love crawlspaces.

There’s a small stove inside. If you’ve been in a sauna, you know the drill: pour water on the coals, sit in the steam, and bathe in condensation and sweat while you think about your life choices. If you’re a newbie, you may want to take it easy with the steam. It’s very hot and wet, and thinking about life choices can be dangerous.

Dump some water on your head. Relax. The Mayans have special medicinal herbs they use in the temazcal —herbs that, when inhaled as vapor, will help you to clear your head and just, y’know, unwind a little. The abuelos and abuleas around here use the temazcal responsibly —in moderation, once in a while, to treat whatever ails the mind and the body. If you’re feeling stressed or just want to try something new, consider stopping by your local temazcal for a quick sweat.

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