After Sumbawa, we set out on some remote island hopping, good thing, too, as we were totally beat from trying to keep up with Iksan. We enjoy a few days in quiet anchorages with a cool cat and a view of Lombok's largest volcano, Mount Rainjani in the distance.
Then, we arrive at the vacation destination of Gilli Air just in time for Andrew’s birthday. What does he request? A birthday massage at the spa. So, we hunt down the spa and make a booking for 10 a.m. the next morning. We peruse the menu of options. Since we experienced the Balinese style massages in Labuan Bajo, Andrew is always one to try the next new thing. So, we sign up for a Thai massage, $9 US.
As we climb the stairs at the spa, I admire ornate, hand carved teak doors and peaceful buddhas placed strategically about. Inside one door is a massage table covered with colorful sheet and flowers. It looks lovely. We check in at the front desk and they show us to our room. We walk past the pretty room with the table and flowers...
They give us giant cotton pants and leave us to change. Andrew lays down on the massage mat and waits, relaxing already. I fidget with my camera.
Soon, two ladies arrive and declare themselves our captors…ahem…massage therapists. Each standing no more than four feet tall, long black hair glints in the sun peeking in through the open air rafters in the corners. Their skin has a golden sheen and lays soft over their pretty cheeks. They instruct us to lay on our backs and ask “what kind of pressure would you like? Light, medium, or firm.”
We hesitate, and the ladies answer for us. “Medium.” Each starts with our respective right foot.
The woman begins by stretching my foot in various directions, folding it over, trying to make my heel and the bottom of my toes touch the mat simultaneously. This feels kind of good, but not exactly what I expect. There is no massage oil or rubbing.
Then the pain begins.
She folds my leg into the shape of a four, takes her thumb and presses down with the weight of six elephants on the inside of my leg. She moves an inch at a time, up and up and up, down and down and down, from ankle to the inside of my thigh. Her thumb stabbing into my muscle, the point of a tiny dagger.
I look over at Andrew to find he is blissing out, the same procedure ongoing on his side of the room. His lady seems to be doing the exact same thing that my lady is doing. I’m pretty sure I am the problem in this situation. I develop a massage-mantra: “This is good for me, she’s shredding my tight facia with the touch of her birdlike hand.” I squeeze my eyes closed to try to keep them from watering. Breathe…
She rolls me on to my other side, repeating the elephant walk up the outside of my leg. It doesn’t hurt as bad, until she gets to my IT band, just above my knee. I hold my left arm down to prevent reflexive swinging and flailing.
She rolls me back over.
I can’t remember what happened next. It’s not so much that I blacked out, but that I buried my head in the pain cave. In my haze, I remember a moment where she had her hands on my ankle and both of her feet against the back of my leg for additional leverage. At one point, she had folded my arm in half and was pressing my elbow in one direction and my hip in the other “to lengthen the spine.” I am a fairly flexible person…why is this experience so traumatic?
Finally, she sits me up and takes my pony tail in both hands. She pulls my hair vertically toward the ceiling, then rubs my skull and temples in various patterns. Then, walks around to face me. She is so pretty and so small. She places the two palms of her hands together and bows toward me: “Okay Misses, the massage is finished.”
I don’t know what else to say besides, “thank you”. I stand up and to my surprise — I feel pretty good. I check my body for bruises as I change out of my “massage pajamas” that look like giant nursing scrubs.
We pay, and head over to the juice bar for a nice detoxing smoothie…
“Wow! That hurt!" I tell Andrew.
"Really? Mine felt great." Then he scowls at me. "It looked like she was doing the same thing my therapist was doing."
I grumble. Yeah, yeah. It must be me. Too much tension, not enough zen. “Is that what a Thai massage is supposed to be like?”
Andrew shrugs. “I don’t know. I’ve never had a Thai massage before. We’ll have to get another one when we get to Thailand to compare.”
The prospect of this frightens me.
We enjoy some birthday-white-sand-beach-and-cocktail time, a nice dinner, and the laid back tourist vibe of Gilli Air while I recover. This place is a beach-seeker's tourist paradise. It is one small island with nothing but bungalows, nice restaurants, cute little shops, beaches, massage and pedicure salons. All travel is completed by electric scooter or horse and buggy, so there is no sound or exhaust fumes of cars or motorcycles.
We cap off the night watching a round of what seems like Indonesia’s National Game: Chess.
Then we head to bed. As I lay in my bunk I wonder: Is it just me? How is it that I can turn a day of white sand beach and massage into some traumatic experience? Maybe I need to relax more, submit to the present, exist in the now…and all that gobbledygook. I look over at Andrew who is already wrapped in a peaceful, post-pain-cave-massage slumber: just like the Buddah. I am jealous, but I should not be jealous. Buddahs are not jealous.