When I was getting settled into the little house in Jerez de la Frontera, I noticed that the water wouldn’t heat. Rossi, the lovely neighbor who let me into the house while the owners were in Morocco, had said that if there were any problems with the hot water that I should let her know and she’ll show me how to reset the heater. Assuming that there would not be a problem (and probably because I was in an emotional spiral as I described in my blog post “Loneliness, My Faithful Companion”
and not thinking smartly) I let Rossi leave without checking that I had hot water. When I started doing dishes after dinner, I noticed the void of hot water and the next day, I knocked on Rossi’s door to ask her to show me how to reset the heater. She came over and quickly reset it and showed me how to do it. Well, to make a long story short, I didn’t get hot water that day or the next because a family of sparrows had set up a nest in a vital part of the system and destroyed the unit.
David and Virginia, the house owners, were super apologetic and insisted that I go to the Hammam Andalusi (Arab baths) and use shower facilities there and to help myself to the therapeutic baths that are offered. They also treated me to a 2 hour massage and body scrub. SCORE! I had already planned on having a massage and using the baths, but basically, David was like, help yourself to the baths during your entire two week stay to make up for the inconvenience of the week that I was without hot water. SCORE! I had been in the process of rehabilitating my left knee and the baths were going to be a wonderful addition to my stretching and strength training. And what the hell, I LOOOOVE luxuriating in beautiful environments.
The Hammam Andalusi is situated in the old part of Jerez, just across from the very grand Catedral de Jerez
. I know very little about architecture, but I feel like the style is Moorish because of its arches and pillars. The decor feels romantic with soft lighting, warm colors and marble floors. There are three pools– a warm bath that feels like my body temperature, a hot bath that makes you sweat, and a cold bath, which is about 60 degrees Farenheit. It feels like icy sharp frozen needles are sticking you when you get in it right after the hot bath. YIKES! You’re supposed to have a shower before entering the baths and then sit in the warm bath for several minutes, and then cycle to the hot bath for a while and then cycle to the cold bath for as long as you can take it. After you’ve cycled through for about 30 minutes, the masseuse comes through to get you for your session.
During my first visit to the hammam, I really did enjoy the rich opulence and the feel of the spa. There were several people at the same time and it was great to watch how other people spa. As I was arriving and putting my stuff in the women’s locker, a group of six young women were getting dressed after already having spent their time. They were in different stages of undress and the room was all abuzz with chatter, laughter and hair dryers. When I entered the bath area, there was a group of three women who were all from different parts of the world, but to me, it seemed like they were brought together by some kind of a tourist group and had decided to take a trip to the spa together. They just seemed very different from one another, and none of them spoke Spanish. One looked to be 70 years old and Korean. Another looked to be 35 and German. And the third was maybe my age and English. They were new to this type of spa and they seemed to really enjoy not just the beauty of the place, but also the different feelings that came from the three baths. There were a mother and daughter who seemed to be very accustomed to the experience, and they spent as much time outside of the pools, lounging on the stone benches sipping mint tea as they did inside the pools. There was a man and woman who were a couple, and all of us tried to give them some space. I have found that going to the spa with a friend is a remarkable way to build intimacy and connection. One of my best friends back home and I would try to hit up the Korean day spa once a month. We loved getting naked and giggling as we choked on steam or burned our butts on hot clay balls that were meant to extract impurities. We would end our time with lunch, and I would always feel blessed to have been bonding in the very feminine act of self-care.
When I have visited hammams in Turkey and Paris, I have always loved watching how the women would come together and scrub one another’s backs, wash their hair, and lounge around trading gossip and advice. In the Asian style spas, it is a family affair, with young children participating along with their mothers. Dads were on the other side hanging with the other men, doing whatever it is they do over there. I simply love spa life and I feel blessed to have experienced it in so many different environments. I have even sat in a hammam in Kazakhstan! Gosh. I am very well-traveled.
Since being in Jerez, I have been to Hammam Andalusi probably five times and aside from that first day, I have mostly had the place to myself. It is WONDERFUL to be there alone. In fact, it was on my second time alone that I sneaked in my camera and snapped the photos that you see here. I’ve gone on weekday afternoons and also at night at 8:00pm. They close at 10:00pm and I have found that the time flies very quickly when I’m there, so two hours is a minimum just for me to hang out in the baths.
Going to the hammam has been a special comfort for me these days simply because it feels luxurious and enormously self-loving. Even though David offered me free entry, I would definitely have invested in a pass for the pools. I am starting to feel more connected to the element and a hammam helps to facilitate that connection. The cave-like atmosphere helps me feel like I am in the womb, and floating in the shallow pools helps me feel supported. When I am alone in one of the baths, I rest my head on the ledge that goes around and I float and bob in syncopation with my breathing. The sound of the water flowing slowly slips me into a deep relaxation. It’s been so peaceful, just me floating and bobbing, breathing and drifting. In the hot bath, I sweat and sweat during the first round.
After about 10 minutes, I get out and go directly into the cold pool. Oh, man! It is damned cold and it feels even more so in contrast to the hot bath! Prickles of cold pierce my skin and consciously not thinking, I walk down the stairs without thinking until only head is above the water. This is the deepest pool at maybe 4.5 feet, so I walk to a spot and lean against the wall as I force myself to become one with that cold feeling, letting it enter me and freeze me and still me. With my back against the wall, I do accept the relaxation as my blood vessels constrict and my heart rate slows. After a very short time, maybe 30 seconds, I am absolutely at ease in the cold and so I adopt the same position as in the shallower pools, with my head on the ledge and my body floating and bobbing. The cold bath is excellent for inflammation and my knee has been benefiting greatly from process. In the warm pools I do some light stretching before cycling into the next one and I find that helps my mobility. After maybe 5 to 10 minutes in the cold pool, I cycle back into the warm pool and then back to the hot and then back to the cold. Like I said, I can spend up to two hours doing this and when I am done, I am utterly relaxed and utterly rejuvenated and ready for whatever will come next.
This little ritual has been very grounding for me and it was only made more delightful by my walk home. I made a little video of my walk, which I have included below. Have a watch and see if you can see why I have fallen in love with Jerez de la Frontera and my time-outs at Hammam Andalusi…