Massage Buffet

I’ve only had a couple of massages in Spain. The first two were while I was walking the Camino and really needed them. Sometimes Albergues offered them and other times hotels or shops in the town would post signs in the Albergue and the prices were always really good.

When I stayed at ‘Casa Magica’ in Villatuerte, the man who ran it was a massage therapist too. And he was the real deal. He had studied in India. My shoulders were shot from carrying a pack, and from sleeping in beds that were little more than a pallet, for that first week. He gave me a massage that was like an awakening. I never felt better than after I had that massage. I was ready to take on the rest of my Camino. It was my favorite Albergue of my entire Camino.

The next massage was in the village of Torres del Rio. We had walked into the hill town in a torrential down pour and I was cold and wet. Saw the sign at check in at the Albergue and the lady at the desk called the hotel and got me a spot. So after I changed into the only semi-dry clothes at the bottom of my pack, and hung up the rest to dry, I made my way down the hill to the hotel.

The person at the check in desk took me back and said some stuff to me in Spanish. I’ve had a hundred massages in my life so I got undressed and got under the sheet. The guy who came in to give me the massage freaked out. He expected me to keep my clothes on while he massaged me. I told him this wasn’t really how we do it in the US. Then he indicated that I should put my underwear back on. But here’s the thing, (OK maybe TMI here) but they were all soaked from the monsoon rain I had just walked through and were on a line at the Albergue, so he was out of luck there.

He took a deep breath and then reluctantly started massaging me while continuously muttering in Spanish under his breath. Like I was a leper or something. He dug into my hip muscles so hard that he actually hurt me. Afterward, I went up to the bar and there he was having a stiff drink. He looked so traumatized that when I ordered a double shot of Jack to alleviate the pain he had caused me, he turned bright red and fled. I’m pretty sure he had to take a Xanax just to get to sleep that night. I know I wanted one.

So, before today, that was the sum total of my massage experiences in Spain. No wonder I’ve been reluctant to book something since we’ve been here. But today I bit the bullet, after a particularly hard workout on Friday, and got an appointment at the gym I belong to. The price was right – 36 euros for 85 minutes. So yeah, it’s almost free. And I thought, how different can it really be from the US? Valencia is a big city. No prudish village boy who’ll need therapy after massaging me here.

So I turn up for my appointment. They have a full Spa at the gym where I go. And a full bar, so I figured if I had another Torres del Rio experience I could get a couple of shots afterwards before walking home. The woman took me back into the room lined with lit candles. So far so good. Then she told me – in Spanish – a bunch of stuff. At this point I found out I don’t speak ‘Spa Spanish’ and it would be helpful to know what I’m supposed to do. Etiquette-wise. But I was again going to wing it in the massage room – as is my way in the massage world of Spain, so far apparently.

I opened some of the packages she left for me and it helped clue me in. There was a weird thong-like thing they usually only give you when you’re getting a bikini wax so that answered that question. The next package contained a hair cover. Like what surgical nurses wear. It was a mystery to me that I was going to care so much about my head being covered when the rest of me was buck naked, except for the little flimsy thing they had given me in the first package. I mean, massage therapy isn’t brain surgery – or is it?

I put it all on and laid down with the hand towel they had given me for – the one word I understood from the woman who took me to the room – Modesty. Soon Sven arrived. I’m calling him that because he was tall and blond and looked decidedly more Norway than Spain. He said some stuff to me and I tried to comply without letting my hand towel go. Then the fun began.

If I worked at a local olive oil grove and fell into the vat of Extra Virgin, I would have had less oil on me than I did during that massage. No kidding. it was dripping onto the floor. I wondered if he was just going to flip me over and fry me like bacon at any given moment. Or just begin dipping tostadas into the pool on my lower back.  He was furiously moving the oil up and down my body, but here’s the thing, the massaging of my muscles wasn’t really happening. They were too far down beneath the gallons of oil on my skin and he couldn’t get any purchase.

Now, I know I can suffer from dry skin at times, but even I couldn’t soak all that up like a derma-sponge. 85 minutes. Yes, that’s how long this was going to go on and we were in minuto Dos. I wanted to get up but this is my gym. I can’t get a bad rep at my gym. It’s hard enough to get motivated to go workout. If you have ‘Spa shame’ on you you’ll never go. So while he splashed around in the olive oil, I made lists and rewrote chapters of my book, and remembered things I’d forgotten at Consum when we did a big shop this morning. As you do when you’re being drown in olive oil by a large Nordic Man.

So when it was finally over and he said, ‘You book another next week’ I almost laughed. There weren’t enough towels in the room – nay at the gym –  to soak up all the oil. And, for the record, that surgical hat thing didn’t keep one of the waves of olive oil from crashing into my hair. I got dressed, walking gingerly out the lobby so as not to slip in my own oil slick, and made my way home. Emilie had gotten back from the beach and looked at me as only a teenager can.

‘What happened to you? You’re all wet.’ she asked – with a look of disdain bordering on disgust. But who could blame her.

‘I got a massage.’ I told her.

‘Did you work out afterwards? You’re dripping with sweat.’

‘That’s not sweat’ I told her. ‘It’s oil.’

‘That’s just gross.’ and she turned back the show she was watching.

She’s right, of course. I was pretty disgusting. So, I’m not batting very high in the Massage World Series here in Spain, and it’s a problem I’m not sure how to solve. But I do have to say, my skin is silky smooth and I’m craving a little Farga and tostada so maybe what they say is true. You can never have too much olive oil.

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