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A Guy at the Spa

By Kevin Garrett
Posted On Jul 05, 2011

WORDS: James Broida

Our author risks his masculinity in a health spa and lives to tell about it

To begin with, I am not a fan of strangers touching my body. Add to that the typical male propensity to file ‘health spas’ in the same folder as chick flicks, and you start to understand my dilemma. My assignment was to test the quality, efficacy and general health-giving attributes of the Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa in Key West, Fla. It was an assignment that your average travel writer would relish, with one exception: I would have to submit to the ministrations of a masseuse at the spa. I was nervous.

But first, something about the Hyatt Key West. The place is a true oasis. Tucked in the tourism-heavy, historic downtown, it’s a private enclave. The 118-room complex on the Gulf of Mexico is horseshoe-shaped, wrapped around a patio with palms and a pool. A wooden dock pokes into waters busy with sailboats, powercraft and commercial vessels, including fishing boats and oceanic research ships. But these do not impede the Hyatt’s calm; they merely offer an entertaining aquatic parade. The resort is designed to be open to the elements. The hallways between rooms are open to the sky and sea. At first this seemed a little too naked, architecturally speaking, but once I felt the velvet air course through these breezeways, it made me want to strip to my skivvies.

I drove from Miami to Key West to spend a weekend at the resort, and to sample its Jala Spa, named after the Sanskrit word for ‘water.’ I’m not sure why they used an Indian reference, but I suppose that was part of the groove. I expected lit incense. I went to the Jala Spa my first afternoon. It is located on the second floor of the complex, and consisted of a series of private suites with private whirlpools and private steam rooms. Trés chic.

I was greeted at the spa desk and escorted to one of the rooms. It all felt very muffled. The décor was muted tones of off-white, with blond wood trim and checkered, blue-and-white tiles; the floors consisted of cool, white marble; soporific flute music wafted from hidden speakers. There was a pleasant smell throughout, though not of incense. More like citrus.

My masseuse was a diminutive Venezuelan woman named Lucy. She led me to an alcove where I was invited to change into a robe and slippers. Since this was my first time in a spa, I wasn’t sure how far to disrobe. Someone later told me I was supposed to be naked, but I left my underwear on, donned the robe and waited in a comfortable chair for Lucy to reappear. When she did, she washed my feet in an herbal bath; I had asked for special attention to my feet as part of my Swedish massage. Heck, even guys like foot rubs.

I took deep breaths to relax and accept what I feared most: the hands of a stranger on my body. My concerns lasted for about one nanosecond once Lucy began. She was surprisingly strong for her size, and worked my back like a longshoreman. I lay face down, my head cradled in an open donut designed to let me breathe, and presumably, drool. I didn’t even flinch when Lucy worked the muscles on my butt flanks; when she lifted my feet onto a little pillow and massaged them, I entered an altered state of consciousness.

Afterward I spent some time in the private steam room, limp with relaxation. It was an epiphany for me. How had I not done this on a regular basis for most of my adult life? I was more relaxed than I’d been in years, and when I gazed into the mirror I swear I looked years younger. I thought of Shakespeare’s words about what dreams will come when we shuffle off this mortal coil, and I thought: There is nothing to fear. I felt like my mortal coil had been shuffled right off, and as I walked to Mallory Square for the famous Key West sunset I felt like a new person.