Maria has been pounding my buttocks for what seems like an eternity, but is probably only three minutes, when she taps me on the shoulder. “It hurts?” she asks, nodding at my rear end. “It is soooooo tense.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” I squeak.
It’s just too difficult to explain to a middle-aged Indonesian woman why her vice-like grip is not melting my gluts.
I’m sprawled out in the Novotel Bogor’s Oasis spa with only a towel to preserve my modesty as Maria introduces me to a very hard version of the traditional Sundanese massage.
If a week of having my body kneaded like a lump of precooked sourdough has taught me one thing, it is that Indonesian women have hands of steel. And they are certainly not afraid to use them on my buttocks, which I am repeatedly told store a lot of tension.
Maria works my backside a little longer before finally satisfying herself that she has had the desired effect.
Later, it feels like five pairs of hands are on my back as she works away. Then she grasps my head and yanks firmly, as if she’s trying to pull it from my shoulders. “I think you no longer tense,” she declares.
Top-end hotels are scandalously cheap in Indonesia and after you’ve lazed around the pool, gorged on the breakfast buffet and drained all bars within a five-kilometre radius, one of the best bargains you can score is inside the hotel’s spa.
A one-hour massage with Maria costs just 150,000 rupiah (roughly $19) and is money well spent after a hard day of eating, drinking and sightseeing around Bogor in West Java.
However, you cannot tell the quality of a nation’s massage from only one pair of hands. So in the fearless pursuit of truth and supple muscles, I sign up for an outdoor aromatherapy session a couple of days later at my next hotel, Novotel Benoa, in Bali.
It’s basically the same massage, with smellier oil administered in an open-air hut next to the hotel pool and overlooking a beach filled with sunburnt, scantily clad Russians. A stiff breeze keeps blowing off the towel covering my backside as Arsani rubs love oil into my feet and legs. Happily, years of communism have inured Vladimir and Svetlana to shocking sights. Arsani, too, seems concerned only by the rigidity of my inside leg. “You have pain?” she asks, sliding her hand firmly down my thigh as I arch my back like a cat. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, slam my legs shut or smoke a post-coital cigarette. A groan escapes, which I desperately hope is not misinterpreted.