Hey, miss! You want massage?!

Classic Cimaja taken from Nurda's, our accommodation

The cat calls in Bali (Indonesia) can be a hassle. But in West Java there’s a lot less international tourism and finding a massage means keeping your eyes peeled.

We are in Cimaja and the surf has been pumping non-stop. There is a lady who we’ve both got a couple of massages from – she appears around our accommodation every so often on the off chance – and she’s ok. A pro at the legs and feet but not so proficient with our aching shoulders – her fingers work like cattle prods as she pokes around the flesh. But for five bucks it’s nice to have someone touch your body for an hour.

We’ve heard the usual stories as well, about the toothless crone who reaches up inside your shorts to take a handle on things and then cunningly inquires, “happy ending?”. Of course as a woman I’ve never had the pleasure (?) of this request…

Down the main street Mike points out a sign, Tradisional Reflexy. I raise my eyebrows and shrug and we keep walking. Later that afternoon when the onshore is up and I’m at a bit of a lost end, I wander down to investigate.

Tradisional reflexology

The sign points down an alley so I follow the path to reach a small courtyard surrounded by people’s homes. I figure out which house it is and am told that the husband, the hands, is not home. The wife and I somehow work out that I should return at 7.30pm. Her English is about as good as my Indonesian, which doesn’t say much.

I return at said time and am invited to sit on a mattress on top of the concrete floor in the small living room. It is otherwise sparse, with a TV and small fridge as the only other objects. A 2-year-old, a 13-year old, mother and grandmother are watching an Indonesian drama that looks like a styalised version of Xena: Warrior Princess on a 1980s TV, a young son wanders in and out between playing with his friends and answering his mother. Soon Herman enters the house, dressed in full Muslim garb. After a quick introduction he slips into a side room where the door is covered by a thin curtain and reappears a few minutes later dressed in ordinary sports shorts and a t-shirt.

Herman and his very welcoming keluarga (family)

He asks me to lie face down and then sets to work. It is not your typical Indonesian massage. There is no prodding and poking and excessive pulling and popping of fingers. There is no set formula, no time limitation. Herman feels his way around the body intuitively, without asking he zeros in on the hot spots.

I lie in the living room and can’t help but feel a little touched at being part of this family’s evening as they sit on the floor, all within arm’s reach.

Husband and wife chat quietly while watching TV…occasionally Herman’s hands pause as he becomes engrossed in the programme’s melodrama, but only for a moment. He gently reprimands his tearaway two-year-old and it all seems so harmonious to me, so familiar, as I lie half naked in a stranger’s living room in West Java.


Herman has large, meaty hands and a firm touch. His hands start by tenderising what would be my fillet steak along the left side of the spine; he works with long, slow strokes downward instead of the usual upwards. It’s one of those massages I think of as telepathic, where the masseur keeps placing his hands over the parts that need most attention. At last, I think, a really good massage.

Strong hands reach the lower back and as it loosens up my tummy rumbles, signaling relaxation: the muscles at the back are linked to the front, the gut also unwinds. Working around the hip joint extensively, I can feel my legs being stretched out, longer down my body; I wonder if I might have gained an inch!

As he kneads away the knots in the shoulders my mouth falls open and both eyes half close.

There are some tender spots (pressure points in the feet) and some areas which when pressed make me feel delirious and slightly nauseous (where the trapezius reaches underneath the skull).

But overall his massage is perched perfectly on the fence-line between pleasure and pain.

Afterwards I’m offered a glass a water, which I gratefully accept. Then Herman asks if I’d like to eat dinner, which I decline kindly, explaining that I have been sick and am not eating.

So it isn’t a massage with a happy ending, but it is intense, therapeutic and awesome all the way through.

Go check him out if you’re in the area.

About Keri Algar

Keri has an insatiable appetite for travel, discovery and surf. You may find her among the happy isles, smiles and empty barrels of Melanesia, or swinging her hips at a Spanish fiesta, underwater in Mexico, on top of the Argentine alps, or at home in New Zealand with her nose in a book. She is delighted by difference - both people and places, and is inspired by those who follow their own path through life with passion and courage.


  1. Crissygoldman says:

    Sweet story, Keri!  I’m going to have to have a visit with Herman one of these days.  I’m sold.  -  Crissy Gol dman

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