Posts Tagged With: massage

Nairobi Nights

I had spent the last seven hours issuing threatening glares to the rambunctious SpongeBob SquarePants kid “seated” behind me who had Riverdanced on the back of my seat from Toronto to Amsterdam. Luckily I was able to turn my fixation to the burning sky of electric orange and grapefruit-flesh pink as the plane chased an eternal sunset. Crossing time zones at 800km/hour allows for such remarkable displays, creating skyscapes suitable for inspirational posters. The clouds looked like they could be walked upon, billowy white like my great-grandmother’s hair in the morning, and then, to the west–ribbed like sand from ebbing ocean waters.

My fidgety seatmate was like a Jack Russell, minus her tongue up my nostrils and exploring my ear canals. She was deaf in one ear, and because I am a fantastic mumbler, she quickly gave up on communication with me and read all the information tucked in the seat pocket in front of her, including the barf bag and how to exit the plane in case of emergency. Is that even an option?

The KLM flight attendants were as lovely and manicured as Bob Barker’s Price is Right wing-women. They passed out smoked almonds with pearly smiles, and I shot a pearly smile back. Thank god for European airlines and their pooh-pooh reaction to the peanut allergies that have created frantic high-alerts in North American elementary schools and airlines (who serve garlicky Bits & Bites as a shoddy substitute). Now, even packages of peanuts come with disclaimers: “This product may contain nuts.” And everything that doesn’t have an iota of a relationship with peanuts, like popsicles and tampons, also come with a disclaimer, “This product may have come in contact with tree nuts or dairy.”

When the plane touched down at Schipol in Amsterdam at 6 a.m., anticipation, the fuel of dreams, longing, cravings and travel, percolated under my skin that was beginning to feel like ever-tightening sausage casing. My whole body had become a whoopee cushion of puffiness. The blood that should have been inching towards my feet was leaking into my eyes, making them as pink as an albino rat’s.

My head had felt like a shook-up snow globe since I left Abbotsford on June 22nd, and now, finding myself on the Leidesplein in Amsterdam, walking through extended whiffs of skunky pot, calm was returning. I didn’t even care that I spent most of my day completely lost. I had 12 hours before my flight to Kenya, and I didn’t stop walking for 10 of them. I tried slimy smoked eel and cod at a herring shack near the Singel canal, had a sleeve of Palm and a “tosti” (poor excuse for a grilled cheese) along another houseboat-studded canal and poked around some supermarkets in between (discovering Paprika Lays potato chips, cans of already mixed gin and tonic and brie wheels as big as the tires on my Suzuki). I wrote reassuring postcards to indicate my aliveness to potentially fretting family members and Wanda, walked through the Red Light District with a non-averted gaze and took a cruise along the ambient canals in a four-language guided tour. At this point my head was snapping back uncontrollably in a narcoleptic-type sleep. The girl beside me must have thought I had Tourette’s, without the swearing part.

I returned to Schipol airport confident that I had avoided a deep vein thrombosis with all my walking. I was unscathed and proud of myself for not getting smucked by a bike or a moped. They both seemed to be coming at me from all directions the entire day as I navigated the cobblestoned streets with names a minimum of 26 letters long, all ending with “splein,” “strecht” or “straat.”

I boarded the plane again, taking my coveted window seat with leg room adequate for a chihuahua and watched dreamy Amsterdam go poof under the cloud cover. Drifting through another eight-plus hours of flying time, I arrived ruffled and cramped in Nairobi, where everyone deplaned in a non-orderly fashion. Like the crush of excited children wanting to whack a birthday piñata. It was like the mobs you read about where six people die from getting trampled. I not-so-kindly told the guy behind me that standing closer to me didn’t make the “line” go any faster. It was one of the survival lines I frequently used in Uganda.

I had completely forgotten about the miniature personal space bubble that Africans manage to maintain. My brother Dax and Wanda would have already thrown punches. Instead of inching forward in line, I purposely leaned back into the guy leaning on me—ha! Reverse psychology, but I bet he didn’t even notice, or care. I was sleepwalking to the Lubumbashi gate when I learned that my Kenya Airways hop-over to the Congo had left an hour and a half early–proving that the concept of “African time” can still be predictably unpredictable.

The 20-hour flight delay I had in Toronto barely registered now as I had to digest the news of the hitch that came with missing the connecting flight. Unfortunately, because the Congo isn’t exactly a tourist mecca, outgoing flights don’t run at the same Westjet-greyhound-pace to sun-soaked destinations like Hawaii and Puerto Vallarta. I was told by a hot and bothered gate agent that the next outgoing flight was in two days, on Saturday morning. I could have flown to Addis or Johannesburg, but that would only take me further from my destination, to pace in a different airport.

Tired, without energy to battle and bitch, I made arrangements for Saturday with the backpack on my back slowly compressing my last remaining discs. I had intentions of crying, but was too dehydrated. I accepted my fate gracefully while the angry woman at the wicket beside me vocalized what I more accurately felt. She yelled so loud for so long that I had a ringing in my ears like one gets after a rock concert. I asked Hot and Bothered where I could find a phone and was told that there weren’t any. Baggage lockers? Nope, none of those either due to security reasons. Internet? Two dollars a minute—oh, and that guy, who sells magazines at Gate 9, he will let you use his cell phone for $4 a minute. Phone sex operators don’t even charge that much!

I phoned Chantal in the Congo, who was anticipating my arrival that morning. I emailed everyone else to vent and moan and illustrate my new surroundings. Missionaries and dusty travelers, barefoot and curled up in balls along the hallways, the ripe scent of armpits, like wasabi striking my brain. There was a mosque and a meditation centre being used as surreptitious napping quarters, stores selling giraffe carvings and beef samosas being sold for close to the same price as a carving and a one minute phone call. By now, my bags had already become a part of me, and delirious from lack of sleep I skulked to the Transit Lounge where I was told I could sleep for four hours for $25US.

This is where I found Betty– who herded me into her tourism office of faded safari posters from the 70s. She force-fed me the idea of staying at Central Park Hotel downtown. Her first quote was $170US a night, and we’re not talking Royal York glamour and rose petals floating on the bathwater. The dated pictures she pressed into my hands showcased a bed as big as a tennis court (which turned out to be true), wi-fi in the rooms (not so true), a FREE gym (not true) and a bright bathroom that would allow me to take a shit and shower at the same time due to the proximity of both.

Betty insisted that I would be bored anywhere else and pushed the Central Park digs on me. And she would only accept cash and quickly escorted me to an ATM where she calculated how many Kenyan shillings I would need. I trusted her, but entering 25,000ksh into the ATM key pad made me quiver a little. It was the equivalent of $350US she told me more than once. When I asked about cheaper options she assured me that I would be robbed. “See your laptop—GONE!” She snapped her fingers for emphasis. “Everything you own, if you stay somewhere that I do not recommend, will be gone. Then you will say, Betty, why you not tell me about this and I will say, I did, Jules Trotsky. I did.” I corrected Betty on my non-Russian last name and she asked if I was racist. Then she asked where I was really from, and when I said Canada, she had already guessed it. “You have all this hair on your face that I could shave. It is for the cold in Canada I guess.” Betty was obviously a charm school grad. She then went on a rant about developed countries like Canada bringing the swine flu to Africa. “But, I will live longer than you, probably. My skin makes me resistant—you go pink and get rashes like the other white people, not so resistant. Like Michael Jackson, he tried to go white, and now—look—dead.”

Betty did overextend her customer service by coming with me to the hotel with the hired driver, to tuck me in properly. I was pleasantly surprised with the interior and after a tepid shower under a showerhead that emitted water like a fireworks display, I ordered a room service: a buttery omelette, sausages sweet with nutmeg, milky tea and then collapsed in bed for five hours. Desperate for a workout when I regained consciousness, I went to the gym (the #1 reason why I picked Central Park over the other hotels where I would be robbed) and spun on a bike for an hour listening to Kenny Rogers, Africa`s hero. I had also forgotten about Kenny, Dolly and dear Celine Dion being blared in all the bars and buses.

Feeling brave and dismissing the tragic massages I had in Uganda with the woman who had me lie on a bed covered with a red checkered tablecloth while she made my hair into a bird`s nest with oil, I booked an hour with Priscah. “She is the brown one, not the dark one,” I was informed at reception. “Selena is the dark one.” It was euphoric and all-encompassing massage, meaning, if I were a Thanksgiving turkey, I was basted everywhere. There are no borders or polite draping with African treatments. In fact, I didn’t even blink when Priscah climbed on the table to straddle me and massage my ass while Kenny sang “The Gambler,” again.

Content after a kaleidoscope day of emotions, I made my way to the hotel bar for a warm Tusker and a curious chicken curry that came with a baseball-sized serving of ugali (maize flour with water). Before returning to my room I asked a staff member about a local wildlife orphanage called Sheldrick`s that I was interested in visiting. He gave me sketchy details, but I thanked him profusely anyway. “Maybe you would like to show your appreciation with a payment, madam. I will accept US dollars for my help.”

Ahhh, yes. Everything has its price in this world. I remind myself that I am in Africa and that what I spent on my flight is more than a nurse’s annual salary in Nairobi. And so the adventure continues. The only worrying part is that due to the unexpected delays over the last few days I have almost finished my first book (Attachment by Isabel Fonseca) which leaves me with two books—Growing Pains (Emily Carr`s autobiography) and Love in the Time of Cholera (which I assume will slow me down a little). Worst case scenario? I’ll write a book if I run out of words to read.

Until the next dispatch, hopefully from the Congo…

I remain, Jules Trotsky.

To read all the naked details of my Ugandan massage experience:

Categories: Congo Line: Once Upon a Time in Africa, Into and Out of Africa | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Beer Baths, Barbie Spa and Biblical Snakes

I’ve always had a near-fatal attraction towards weird things: Venus flytraps, naked mole rats, the steamy sex lives of chimps, Salvador Dali, Grapples (apples infused with a grape scent to make them more appealing to kids), Bjork, Inuit throat singers, Anthony Bourdain’s lunch box of bovine penis and wildebeest entrails—these things tickle my fancy.

Alternative to the Czech beer bath

Alternative to the Czech beer bath

Imagine my thrill when I came across the adverts for bird dropping facials and cat crap coffee.  My thrill meter reached roller coaster ride-levels when I read this “Beer: It’s not just for drinking.” I was skimming Healing Lifestyles and Spas magazine, when I felt my testosterone spike. A beer spa? The Chodovar Brewery in Czechoslovakia has become every man’s wet dream. In the vaulted cellars of Chodovar, you can indulge in a beer bath of live yeast and steep in the molasses-coloured depths. The one-two punch of Vitamin B and crushed hops helps nourish neglected skin, hair, nails and even aids in battling anxiety. Iron and carbon dioxide bubbles increase the skin’s circulation as the beer brew boils your joints at an intense 34 degrees. Fan club members boast that the beer bubble bath soothes psoriasis, acne and joint pain.

Rules are that while soaking you must sip a pint of beer to aid digestion. When you and your liver reach a prune-like state, the spa attendants wrap you in sheepskin and let you snooze on a bed of barley hay. When you regain consciousness you can stumble to the onsite Ve Skale restaurant for a smoked beef tongue with horseradish and mustard. I’ve already decided on the fried carp and knuckle of pork. However, I’d be willing to share a bowl of the tripe soup and another pint of non-bath water with my fellow spa-goers to discuss whether the “overall modulation of dermatic problems and mental disharmonies” (as advertised on the Chodovar website) were resolved.

If the beer bath proved to be all talk no action and I still suffered from dermatic problems and mental disharmony, I’d have to check out the Channings Day Spa in Chicago. My friend Jules lives there—and I’m certain she’d be game for a caviar facial after a catch-up over a Chicago-style deep dish pizza. The freeze-dried caviar is imported from Switzerland, and for $185 US, the 90-minute treatment promises to combat wrinkles. Because caviar has the same composition as human skin (70% amino acids and trace minerals), this somehow works. While $185 might seem outrageous, a top of the foot wax at Channings is only $3.

While visiting Channings, it would only make sense that Jules and I opt for one of the special spa services catering to “the young woman just starting out with make-up.” Here we could “learn the fundamentals of proper skin care and how to coordinate wardrobe selection with make-up colour for a stunning effect!” Sixty dollars is a small price to pay to learn which eye shadow to pair with camo cargos and Haviana flip flops.

After fishing for compliments on my caviar complexion, the Euphoria Spa in Detroit would be my next pit stop to buff my bum for the leather chaps-wearing season. Booking the “Sweet Cheeks Derriere Facial” would probably make me the butt of every joke, but  this cheeky facial is seriously technical. After a cleanse and exfoliation, a masque is applied and the grand finale comes in the form of a butt wax with warm paraffin. Like a nice bum candle.

Maybe I’d skip the hot cross buns for a soak in green tea or sake at the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Spa in Japan, which is oddly a spa and amusement park. After a day at the Rodeo Mountain heated waterslides, guests can choose from a variety of soaks.  The coffee spa is intended to revive fatigued muscles (real coffee made with hot spring water). Word has it that the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, preferred a red wine bath. Obviously she never looked in the mirror after a night of drinking merlot. If a nice bottle of red can turn your teeth clay grey and your tongue as black as a Chow dog’s after a single glass—what would a half-hour soak result in? The green tea spa treatment sounds safest with the promise of powerful anti-oxidant and tumor-fighting catechin, which is also good for one’s complexion.

Anti-bowling shoe but pro-Barbie pedi feet

Anti-bowling shoe but pro-Barbie pedi feet

At Yunnesun, the Mori No Yu zone is a tranquil bathing space where you can experience onsen Japanese-style. The website advises “you can enjoy the bathing experience without a bathing suit. Remember, the bathing experience in Japan means enjoying in Japanese-style for relaxation and pleasure and is not a place to wash your body with soap.” Swimsuits are available for rent at 1,000 yen. I wonder what I’d rather subject myself to—bowling alley bowling shoes or a rental swimsuit that’s probably seen more pee than green tea.

For those wanting to channel Cleopatra beyond the wine bath, rumour has it that the vain dame also liked to sleep with a gold mask on every night. At Yunnesun you can have 24 karat gold sheets applied to your face which will undoubtedly leave your skin feeling like a piñata.

Bently, wishing he was having a ramen noodle bath instead

Bently, wishing he was having a ramen noodle bath instead

A seasonal treat, much like pumpkin pie, Christmas cake and a June strawberry social is Yunnesun’s Ramen Soup bath. Bathers can share “a steaming broth of pepper, garlic extract and collagen to help boost metabolism and nourish the skin.”  Men sweating in a bowl of soup makes me lean towards prettier and pinker options like the Barbie Spa in Shanghai where it’s sugar and spice and everything nice. Barbie must have sold her mobile home and snazzy pink Corvette to afford this splashy Shanghai spa.  There’s a posh hair salon where you can no doubt get Barbie bangs, estheticians offer Barbie manis & pedis (did she even have fingernails and toenails on that smooth, supple body?) and you can also take in an afternoon tea if you aren’t worried about keeping Barbie doll dimensions.

Even sweeter is the list of treatments available at the Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The spa packages read like the very best food porn: exfoliations of cocoa bean husks and walnut shells, foaming chocolate milk baths, chocolate sugar scrubs and a chocolate fondue wrap of warmed Moor mud and essence of cocoa.

When Willy Wonka’s arch enemy, Milton Hershey, travelled to Cuba in 1916, he was so smitten that he bought several sugar plantations and mills there so he could refine sugar for his chocolate factory in the states. The Hershey spa pays tribute to Milton’s Cuban love affair by offering equally sumptuous indulgences like the Mojito Sugar Scrub and a Coffee Body Polish with Dead Sea Salts and Arabic coffee.

If, like me, you find yourself torn between the ramen noodle hot tub and the Cleopatra lifestyle, there’s one more option that will split your decision. Ada Barak, who owns the Carnivorous Plant Farm and Barak Snake Spa in Northern Israel, has become a media darling. The introduction of snakes as a therapeutic treatment was only natural to her, even “biblical” as Barak explained to Reuters. Women and snakes came together in the Garden of Eden, ‘nuff said. When an elderly woman told her that the snake coiled around her felt like a cold compress, the idea for opening a snake spa instantly slithered into Barak’s mind.

So, tell me. Will it be an hour with the biblical snakes, caviar in your crack or a beer bath followed by a beef tongue with horseradish?

Chodovar Beer Spa:

Caviar at Channings:

Wine soaks at Yunessun:

Barbie Bangs and Barbie-tinis:

The Hotel Hershey:

Ada Barak talkin’ about her biblical snakes:

Categories: All Things Spa-like, Passport Please | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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