My passport has a lot of stamps in it. A lot. I get off on them and am not afraid to admit it. So landing in the United Arab Emirates for the first time—country No. 79, but who’s counting?—fresh off a 50-day submersion in the diesel and dust of India for a guidebook, I was all but delighted to head straight for Abu Dhabi’s signature hotel, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, for a little R&R&R (last R for recovery). But I quickly realized I had gotten the reason I needed it all wrong.
On the 30-minute taxi ride in from the airport, I was mesmerized by Abu Dhabi; it was like nothing I had ever seen before, which speaks volumes to my earlier point: I have seen a lot of places. First of all, nearly everything is beige, presumably to ward off the white-hot heat of the Arabian Peninsula. Secondly, there is almost nobody in the streets. Not a soul. And, lastly, everything is eat-off-the-sidewalk clean and built to sultan quality. There was no life in the streets, yet there was an entire country to unravel. I felt disoriented. I felt out of place. I felt like I needed to get my bearings. So, if being a stranger in a strange land isn’t a recipe for some serious self-care in the nearest spa, I don’t know what is. I needed somebody to set me right. Hello, Talise, nice to meet you.
If being a stranger in a strange land isn’t a recipe for some serious self-care in the nearest spa, I don’t know what is. I needed somebody to set me right. Hello, Talise, nice to meet you.
I’m not normally a fan of same sex massages, despite being fully aware that men—generally speaking, anyway—give deeper and stronger massages. I prefer the soothing touch of a woman, it relaxes me much more. But when I was scheduling my treatments at Talise Spa, they were quick to point out that this tired, confused, and road-weary male journalist would not be enjoying the soft hands of a desert angel. . .as dictated by law (Geesh!).
“Well, can he at least look like Jude Law then?” I asked.
No dice. But Budi was Indonesian. In the spa world, that’s the golden ticket.
I booked a Royal Hammam Ritual ($168), which includes a 60-minute Talise Signature massage. Budi and I would be spending the afternoon together in this gorgeous 12,465-square-foot spa, steeped in every-bit-as-over-the-top details—freestanding African rosewood plunge baths, atmospherically controlled air environs—one has come to expect of the UAE and Jumeirah.
First I’m given a shot of “crystal water.” Now now, I’m not a fan of these particular spa rituals, I’m here for therapy, not New Age hokeyness. Thankfully, that was the end of that, and Budi got to work. As he slathered me with a special black soap, he warned, “It may be uncomfortable for you,” “It’s to clean, not relax.” But as Budi pushed me off into a 120-degree steam room, I started to feel the stress and tension flow out in a river of curry sweat.
By the time I laid down for the Talise Signature massage, I was on the road to revitalization, and this massage brought me straight to my destination: I must have dozed off to the land of milk and drool at one point, as there was a breathless whisper coming from the spa music—”Don’t be afraid!,” it said—that jolted me awake and caused me to blurt out, “Huh?,” like a daydreaming Tourette’s sufferer in a sensory-deprivation tank. That’s exactly the kind of deep relaxation I was looking for.
Kevin Raub is a European-based journalist who has covered travel and entertainment for a variety of publications, including Travel+Leisure, Condé Nast Traveller, and New York Times T Magazine. He is also the author of over 80 Lonely Planet travel guides. Follow Kevin's adventures @RaubonTheRoad on Instagram and Twitter; and at www.kevinraub.net.