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  • I am a little ashamed to confess that I am an addict to touch; I absolutely love all kinds of massages. There is a young Swiss nurse here in San Cristobal, who gives a 2 hour Thai massage; Tere - my acupuncturist - gives me a deep - tissue Chinese - Energy - Massage before she sticks her needles into my skin. Rosina, the Argentinean, is an artist in touching me soft and strong in what seems to be the same time.

    You ask how I can indulge myself like that? Well, I tell you, I feel a little bad about giving myself so much pleasure. But fortunately my bad eyes have become a good excuse:" As I see less I need to FEEL more!" I convince others and myself. The fact that these wonderful massages are quite cheap here also relieves my bad consciousness.

    “The older we become," says my friend Trudy," The less we are touched by others..."

    Isn´t this a third very good reason to spend your money on massages, Acupuncture Treatments, Hair Cuts (Ohh, when she fiddles with my hair! I could sit there for a whole day and let her keep doing that!)

    Fancy spas in luxurious hotels filled with beautiful elegant ladies make me feel self - conscious, I do not enjoy so much and often the masseuses there are far more expensive and much less skilled than my beloved professionals here. So I skip most spas on my travels.

    There is one, I always visit, which is great and old and funky (even though it has new owners and is less funky every time I have visited during the last years) Ojo Caliente near Taos in New Mexico. Once I soaked in the mud pool with a lady, whose mother had been the maid of Georgia O´Keeffe and told us all her mother’s adventures with the famous painter, who used to live pretty close to Ojo Caliente.

    The most unusual spa I have ever visited was in Southern Namibia, near the Fish River Canyon (deepest canyon on the southern hemisphere). On our way to Cape Town and Hermanus we stopped there. I wanted to explore:

    "Our next stop is the hot springs of Ai–Ais which caught my eye on the map. I like the sound of the name and I adore hot springs of all kinds. Our route takes us close to the famous Fish River Canyon and then we turn down a dirt road for some eighty kilometers. We come to a gate attended by an angry-looking guard. Through the rusty iron gate I catch my first glimpse of the hot springs. The outbuildings resemble a military camp! Various-sized concrete block buildings are scattered about. The effect reminds me of East Berlin’s suburbs under the Soviets. The guard barely understands English. Gruffly, he pushes a form into our hands which we have to fill out. We record our names, birth dates, passport numbers and car number plate. I invent a passport number. Finally he opens the gate and we drive up to the reception of the springs’ government–run hotel. The office area echoes official buildings I visited in Siberia. It is dark. The wall paint is chipping. Crummy chairs look as though they would break if used. The staff is completely inhospitable. A young black woman hands us another batch of forms to fill out without smile or welcome. Next we wait at another desk attended by another angry-faced black woman. We pay her for our two-night stay. A young black boy accompanies us to our room; he is the first one to give away a little smile.

    Our room is small with two narrow beds, their saving grace fresh linens. There is a little stove and a simple, but clean bathroom. The building is huge, with perhaps a hundred rooms but it feels as though we are the only guests. The young boy hands us four keys. One is for the entrance gate; one is for our room; one opens a back door, which leads from our room to the pools fed by the hot springs. We never learn the job of the fourth key. But every time we return to our room, we must struggle with each key until we hit on the one which will let us in. I discover a sliding door from our little terrace to the neighboring one. The lock has fallen out. It is easy to open and get into the next room. No key necessary! And its sliding door on the far side of its balcony is unlocked as well. And so on. All these keys, but still anyone could into our room through the balconies. On the other hand, there is no one else is in the hotel.

    Our room’s walls are papered with admonitions: Do not bathe naked in the pools. Do not use the pools with an open wound. Do not use the pools if drunk. Do not use the pools if high on drugs. Do not spit in the pools. And so forth. Reading them, I feel my desire to use the pools drain.

    We go to lunch. There are quite a few waiters and other employees milling around the restaurant and the open area in front of it. I cannot figure out what they are doing. Soon they sit down on an outside low wall and in the restaurant’s corner. They then proceed to do nothing but stare off into space. We are the only guests in the restaurant. Our waitress is extremely skinny. Eventually she smiles and welcomes us. With her smile I feel myself relax. Until that moment, I realize, I have felt as though I were in a Communist country. I had been extremely tense and fearful.

    The food is mediocre at best. No dessert is available. There is, however, a store beside the restaurant. There, unbelievably, we find some good European ice cream which consoles us. The store resembles government-operated supermarkets in the Mexican jungle -- huge buildings with almost nothing in them. This store has ice cream and one bottle of shampoo. Modern fridges hum away using what has to be an enormous amount of electricity. We open one and find nothing but three bottles of mineral water inside. These we snap up too.

    The water in the indoor and outdoor pools looks clean and inviting. I stick in my big toe and quickly retreat. The water is burning hot. So is the sun and until the cool breeze of evening, I do not feel inclined to get close to any pool. I lie down in the huge hall with the indoor pools. I muse: did the government ask the architect, “Please design the ugliest buildings possible around these baths so that no one will feel comfortable here.” If so, that architect delivered excellent work!

    The only plus of Ai–Ais is that it is very cheap. Nonetheless it does not attract tourists.
    All evening I hang out around the different pools. A hundred and fifty people could use them comfortably, but no one else appears during all those hours. Filters rattle and water flows through pipes for me alone. I relax so much that I can hardly walk back to our room." (From my African Diary, 2007)



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    Photography by Kiki (Fish River Canyon - Sunrise)
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