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Tourism in Algeria: Sand bath… centuries-old therapy, tool for promoting Sahrawi tourism

September 2, 2022

IN SALAH- The psammotherapy or arenotherapy or sand therapy or also curative burying in the sand called sand bath is an alternative medicine. Indeed this is literally sand bathing; it means to bury himself a period of time in very hot sand dunes.

Widespread activity in several regions in southern Algeria, including the province of In Salah, sand bath or Hammam, a traditional therapeutic method recommended for the treatment of certain diseases, can constitute a factor in the promotion of Saharan tourism, said local tourism practitioners and professionals.

In Salah, where this centuries-old therapeutic method is on the rise, record, each year, a large influx of spa guests seeking natural treatment for certain diseases. Today, sand hammams are reaching wider audiences as desert camps introduce sand bathing to guests in search of wellness in the desert. To this end, travelers are buried alive in sweltering hot sand in the name of health and wellness, using the earth’s natural elements to heal the body and relax the mind.

A shallow hole is dug in the hot sand, taking into account the size of the person taking the bath and about 20 centimeters deep. The hole is left open for half an hour to allow the desert heat to penetrate into the sand. Once sufficiently hot, guests recline face-up in the hole and are covered up to the neck with sand. Cocooned in the heat of the sand, the body starts to profusely sweat. Usually, a piece of damp cloth is placed on the spa client’s head or a parasol to protect him from the sun. The sand baths are typically organized during the hottest hours of the day.

The guests remain buried for no less than two hours, before heading to the tent, where they get snugly wrapped in a blanket for around 45 minutes, during which time sweat and residual sand mix to form a mud-like coating on the skin. The treatment ends when the mud is showered off.

Guests should be seconded. They are monitored the entire time they are buried. Minders set up umbrellas on the sand to protect guests from the sun and help them sip water to avoid dehydration during the treatment. It’s the custom to place less sand over the heart for safety too.

From back pain to stress relief, sand hammams are believed to have a number of wellness benefits, to wit, among others, the stimulation of blood circulation, the treatment of back pain and obesity, in addition to certain dermatological diseases, rheumatism, arthritis, sciatica, osteoarthritis and others.

The joint pains, particularly rheumatism, that people living in the urban areas suffer from in the main cities of Algeria with a humid climate are healed thanks to sand baths. These are practices of immersion in the hot sand during the summer period during which the temperatures are very high.

The hot sand is between 70 to 80° C would absorb the excess moisture contained in the whole body and more particularly that in the bones. Besides, sweating detoxifies the body, and the sand grains exfoliate dry skin. The weight of the sand helps to relax the muscles and quiet the mind. Due to the sand’s mineral composition, sand hammams are also used to combat skin conditions, such as acne, psoriasis and other medical ailments.

In this regard, Hadj Mebarek Aribi, a native of the Baraka region (10 km west of the city of In Salah), known for its sand dunes, and who is known for his expertise in medicinal herbs and also in the treatment of sand baths, explained that several pathologies could be relieved thanks to the multiple virtues of this sand therapy.

He pointed out, in this regard, that the sand bath contributes to accelerating the treatment of people victims of accidents and who have undergone surgeries, as many of them – as he said – and after leaving the hospital flock to the sand bath in order to relieve pain and absorb the remaining shocks in the bones.

Hadj Mebarek Aribi said he personally supervised the treatment of many diseases through sand bathing, which he said confirms the importance of this natural treatment.

For his part, the general practitioner, Dr. Bermaki Mustapha explained that a sand bath has “several therapeutic virtues”, as the sand contains clay particles that have positive energy, which, in turn, removes all negative energies from the body.

Sand seeds also contain several metals, including cerium which is an indispensable chemical element for health, according to this practitioner.

According to the explanations of Dr. Bramki, it is compulsory for people who suffer from chronic diseases to seek medical advice or opinion before resorting to this technique. Sand hammams are not advisable for anyone with blood pressure or heart-related medical problems, due to the intensity of the heat.

In addition to their benefits to human health and curatives purposes, these treatments are also an opportunity to further strengthen social relationships, being a space for familiarization between families of the region as well as guests. “Social relations, setting dates for marriage, as well as preparing for social occasions are woven there,” said Haja Habeitat Aisha from the city of In Saleh.

In this vein, the Director of Tourism and Handicrafts in the province of In Saleh, Hamida bin Al-Zayer, confirmed that the sector “seeks to valorize and promote the sand bath, being one of the factors of tourism promotion in the Sahara”.

“In addition to its undeniable health benefits, the sand bath brings an added-value to this wilaya which conceals great tourist assets, such as; golden sands, the oases of palm trees as well as the dazzling landscapes attracting, each year, a large number of domestic and foreign tourists,” he said.