It only took two hours from the time a friend and I landed in Jakarta, Java, to find a massage. That massage, according to the eager therapists at the spa on which we imposed ourselves at 8 p.m., needed to be a mandi lulur.
Five minutes later, behind and separated by table-cloth gold curtains, my friend whisper-yelled from his side, “What the hell is going to happen?” And then, “How naked do I get?!”
This was our training for the rest of the trip’s massages. What happens during a mandi lulur is this: a scrub and mask made minutes before from fresh ginger, clove, rice flour, cinnamon, tumeric, sandlewood, ground coconuts and nuts usually displayed in wooden bowls, followed by a proper massage with some of the purest oils on earth, a shower or bath, then the biggest threat to the American mind – extended relaxation – with tea, napping, lounging.
The second question, one of universal wonder, deserves a post of its own. We’ll get there. For now, in Indonesia, even with the strict Muslim and Hindu (Bali only) cultures, anatomical shyness doesn’t have a place in the massage room. Exposure is commensurate with what is considered “workable” on the body. The only areas that don’t get attention are, rightfully, the anterior nether regions. The derriere is game (“She did the credit card slide…” my friend said after his treatment.) and, for women, so are the breasts.
So, if your parts are for you only, either make it very clear at the beginning of a session or take it as an opportunity to break that barrier and turn it to rubble. In some cases, you don’t have a choice. You’re handed a paper pair of undies (most times) and that’s about it. Sometimes they cover you, sometimes they don’t. In a country where the temperature is often around 100 degrees, linens seem pointless.
The massage, from the outside, probably doesn’t look like much. But it is. All the Eastern world’s view of the body as an energetic vessel – the meridians of Chinese medicine and acupressure, the Sen lines of Thai bodywork, the tsubo points from Japanese shiatsu, the marma points from India’s Ayurveda – have all seemed to flow into an Indonesian amalgamation.
Though not particularly deep or technical, the massage moves energy around in subtle ways not often experienced in other full-body massages that use nothing fancier than flushing strokes with coconut or sesame oil. It was if they knew, with subtle fluctuations in pressure and direction, how to manipulate the physical and energetic lines of the body.
(Had we not been tremendously jet-lagged and then coaxed into happy delirium, I would have remembered the name of this spa and printed its name here. Instead, lame brain will suggest asking the locals and Lonely Planet for recommendations. Say, “mandi lulur” and you’ll find your way to an experience.)
Bodyworks Spa in Seminyak is one of the places where mandi lulur meets with atmosphere. Inside the partly open-air space, the staff swishes and floats through the open corridors in blue lace and satin saris between the large white stone and tile treatment rooms. Traditional bowls of vibrant flowers floating in water are everywhere. The therapists mix the scrubs, masks, and moisturizing oils right next to you on the stone platform on which you sit or lie and slather them on, sluice your skin with ladles of warm water from wooden buckets, and leave you to doze off in between phases. After the final yogurt-honey skin mask, we go into a tub that was somehow almost silently filled while we were in la-la-land and decorated with floating flower petals. They returned, 20 minutes later, with fresh apple, grapefruit, honey, and spirulina juice and caught us with flower petals on our cheeks and noses.
Out of the touristy club crunch of Seminyak and Kuta, Ubud is like the Indo-version of southern California; art, shops, delicious, healthy food in beautiful spaces, people from all over the world, and bodywork galore.
We landed at the Bliss Spa, a place of minimal walls in the middle of rice paddies. During another mandi lulur, the breeze carried in the sounds of cow bells, wind chimes, and rustling rice. No additional soundtrack needed. For the entire session, I was in that perfect place between sleep and consciousness. When the therapists would leave the room in between the different parts of the treatment, their movements almost became part of the background, blending into the tranquility. When it was time to float in the big stone tub, I could barely feel my feet on the tile floor. This is not hyperbolic drama. You often hear people talk about Bali’s magic and, in the right places, the bodywork gives you doses of that magic, creating moments in which your body and mind feel so harmonized, there was no place you’d rather be.
JL Kayu Jati No. 2
+62 (0) 3661 733317, 735058
Jl. Raya Sanggingan, Lungsiakan
UBUD Bali Indonesia
+62 361 979272, 975376