A slender girl with footfalls of a big cat leads the way down the stoned stairway. She’s wearing all black and looks like she’s made from smoke. Black smoke. A wall of bamboo plants rise to our right. To the left is a garden of flowers and plants with stooping leaves.
All sound falls away. The silence becomes thicker, light bounces of the green foliage and bends, giving the air a misty illusion. We enter a doorway and in the shadow of the 10,000 square foot Kaya Spa at the Tribe Hotel in Nairobi.
The black walls bend and curve as we delve deeper into the spa. On the floor, lit miniature lanterns burn. The air is fresh.
Black figures, girls who seem to be stepping on air, dart soundlessly about, flashing polite smiles and then swiftly vanish in rooms and doorways like dancing mirages. Little wonder, then, that this spa is in the Conde Nast Traveller’s Hot Spa listing as one of the 40 hottest spas in the world.
We plunge a level lower, further into the spa’s belly and the slender lady, opens a doorway and says, “This is the men’s changing room, Mr. Jackson. Please follow me.”
We go up a small flight of stairs and into a small changing room with lockers and a shower. There are two navy blue seats aligned symmetrically against the wall. Between them a large African mask sneers.
Tribe Hotel is known for its intrepid collection of tribal art and artefact. We are talking about 900 hand-sculpted artifacts from all over Africa. A light burns from this mask, giving it an Jack-o-lantern look. I try not to stare it in the eye for too long for fear of it winking back.
Indulge in books
There are six lockers before me named Love, Peace, Freedom, Bliss, Joy and Hope. The lady in black, the one who reminds me of smoke, asks me to choose one locker and change into appropriate gear ready for the massage. “I will be with you in a moment,” she offers a terrific smile and then sublimes out of the room. I pick Freedom locker because what is love without freedom, what is peace when you aren’t free, what is bliss and joy when you can’t shout about it and what is hope when you don’t know when you will be free?
Over a “balcony” (I don’t know what to call it) there is a bookshelf running on the wall down to a relaxation area below. I go through the collection of books and read the cover of “The Decline and Fall of Nazi, Germany and Imperial Japan” by Hans Dolinger.
I ignore ‘‘Firestarter’’ by Stephen King (great book) and then I see “Teacher Man” by Frank McCourt and almost fall off that balcony with delight. (You have to read ‘‘Angela’s Ashes’’, astounding memoir of poverty). I forget to change and get absorbed in McCourt’s first few chapters until the lady in black is suddenly standing over me, asking politely, “Oh, I’m sorry. You need more time, sir?” I don’t. I change in a huff and throw a white bathrobe over those ridiculous disposable underwear all spas have.
We are led down another short stairway, shrouded in matt earthen-like walls, into another room. (Oh, I’m sorry. Please meet my partner, she is the gorgeous one over there with those wonderfully endless legs). We enter a massage room for couples. Oh, by the way, Kaya Spa takes its inspiration from Kenya’s sacred forests.
This room is like where you go to have your soul rebooted: Candles burn, there is large beautiful abstract painting on one wall, and two Cameroonian African sculptures that stare into the semi-darkened-candle-licked room. Oriental music chimes through walls.
The room commands us to speak in whispers. We oblige. I lie face down on the massage bed where through the facehole I stare at a white ceramic bowl with floating petals. We are booked in for the their famous Bubbles for Two Treatment for couples.
Warm hands rub my feet then cover them with a towel. I feel the sensation of warm oil on my back followed by a firm but soft hands rubbing it in slow soothing motions. And you ever wonder how it would feel like to be touched by an angel.
The oil, I’m told later, is called Spasiam from Thailand. My muscles part under her touch, they resign and sigh. Soft music floods my head and I think of a canoe sitting on eerie calm pond at dawn, mist floating over its surface. I go to the land of mysticism. Then I black out.
I’m always blacking out if the massage is excellent. I don’t know how long I’m gone for but at some point I feel a soft tap on my shoulder and an apologetic whisper, “Excuse me sir, do you mind turning around?” I groan while I turn, mumbling, “Did I snore?” She giggles and says, “No, sir.” Liar!
Later, after a wonderful 90-minutes of bliss I lower myself in the jacuzzi. The Bubbles for Two comes with sparkling wine, which sit an arms length from me. My partner passes on the jacuzzi. (What a babe!). I disappear in a cloud of suds leaving only my head sticking out like a hippo. Curiously, I feel like Tony Soprano.
Across the room, my partner sits in her white robe sipping camomile tea. She’s silhouetted beautifully against the drawn shades; hair tied up in a bun, elbows on knees, long slender face stopping at a teardrop chin. She looks mysterious like a secret agent on her day off.
She’s also deep in thought. I know what she’s thinking: “What a wonderful debonair man this guy is, deceptively sitting there under that sud. Hmm...maybe I should have joined him in the jacuzzi. If he asks again I will.”
If this experience sounds surreal, I can assure it seemed like it was even for me. And for a very good reason: Kaya Spa of the Tribe Hotel was this month awarded the “Best Hotel Spa in Kenya” a top recognition by the World Spa Awards 2016.
How this goes is that the top spas around the world are assessed by mystery shoppers before being nominated for the country spa awards.
I down my sparkling wine like Jon Hamm would, blow a heap of sud from my face and lean back. Then I close my eyes. I don’t ever want to leave here, I think to myself, the next client had better reschedule.