This was my 2nd time ever taking a steam (See the journal entry from February 21, 2011, for a more detailed description).
Albertina, George’s mother, invited me to steam with her and her daughter after school today. George recently fixed up his late-father’s old steam house. Taking a steam is one of George’s favorite pass times. I also enjoy taking steams, because it reminds me of the Finnish sauna I enjoy in the northwoods of Minnesota. Two major differences are the temperature and jumping into a lake afterwards.
The Alaska steams are much hotter! The hottest saunas I take in MN are around 220 degrees, while the hottest steams in Alaska are 300 degrees. It was so hot I could feel my teeth burning - I learned my lesson and brought a wet washcloth to cover my mouth for my next steam.
After the steam is over, there is no lake to jump into to cool off. The natives use steams for bathing. You can get really clean by sweating out all the dirt and oils, and scrubbing clean with soap & a bowl of water --- the bathing occurs when you run out of wood or when you can’t take the heat any longer. Ladies and men usually steam separately - and the women are usually not out to prove who is tougher, so we cycle in and out of the cooling room when needed throughout the steaming process. When I was talking about the similarities and differences of steams and saunas, a native lady, who works at the school pointed to a murky pond across the tundra and told me I could take a swim in there . . . Haha, very funny I responded. Besides the water being disgusting, there was no way I was going to go skinny dipping in the daylight, within view of the school!
Albertina had gathered a tundra plant, with yellow flowers from near the airport the day before. She put the plant in the water she was pouring over the stove to make the hot steam fill the small room. The tundra plant (which only had a Yupik name) made a nice scent and I think it was supposed to have some type of medicinal purpose. . . Either way, the scent was relaxing. It distracted me from thinking about my burning teeth. George’s mom sure likes her maqii HOT!
Here are some photos to help you visualize what happens in a maqii (steam house):
Come on in . . .
The first room is the Changing room/Cooling room. This is where you store your clothes and towel and come to escape the steam when its too HOT!
Through the small door into the back room is where the stove is located. There is water in the square metal box, to the right of the stove, which boils to create steam. The metal cup at the end of the long handle (stick) on the right side of the photo is used to sprinkle water on top of the rocks on the stove. This makes the room fill with hot steam quicker.
The bowls of water are used for cooling off as well as washing.