Kampala sauna that delivers much more than just the heat

What you need to know:

Sauna from hell. That is the sense you get every time you hear stories about this one particular sauna. Weird how everyone seems to know about too. It is ubiquitous. No one talks about it in a normal tone of voice. Nor with a straight face. It is always in hushed tones, almost as if one is narrating one of those childhood legends of a supernatural old lady that wanders around the village at night looking for who to steal: hard to believe but very scary; nonetheless. . Tony Mushoborozi

The sauna in question is to be found in a small hotel somewhere in Natete. It is the flagship service of this hotel in Lubaga Division of Kampala city. The first thing that will catch your attention about it is the price. While other saunas of its class (kafunda saunas) charge an average of shs7,000 per session, this one charges more than double that, at shs20,000. No half-price days too because there is no such thing as ‘slow day’ here. 

With all those outlandish tales swirling around, it is impossible for a journalist to not get curious. So I recently decided to go pay a visit, because it is my job to do so. I would like to report upfront that everything you’ve heard about this place is true, however outlandish it may have sounded.

More than just the heat

This sauna offers more than just the heat and this becomes clear the moment you hit the heated room.

First of all, this is probably the only sauna where the women outnumber the men. But not just that. They are young, dainty and friendly. It’s a man’s haven. Hot girls wrapped in flimsy wet sheets, unafraid to partake of the usual sauna banter however sensual it may be. The ladies here are so friendly, they cheekily offer to scrub your feet. If you are not particularly enthused about that for some reason, they will request you to scrub theirs. Enchanting stuff.

You soon realize that these ladies are actually residents of the hotel. As it turns out, this is no ordinary hotel where travelers check in for the night before rising early to catch a bus to Goma. This is a randy man’s best kept secret.

The men

All manner of men frequent this place. There are men here that are obviously the type that stand in front of a mirror every morning and shave their own beard. You know the type: clean shaven, old school, responsible men. Landlords of Kampala. Men that probably sit on company boards. Men that belong in Mercedes Benzes. Men with whom you’d not share such a tight space with anywhere else but here.

Then there are younger men too. Those in their prime. Men in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Street smart young men that run several hustles in this town and often have the need to wind down with a cup of lemon team at the sauna before driving back home in their well-kept Subaru. On an average evening, this sauna attracts an average of about 50 men, all here for the special attraction at this sauna; the hot girls.

Here, you get to meet the reticent grandpa and the eloquent young man. You can tell the difference between men that have been coming here for the last five years from those that are here for the first time. It’s all in their faces.

While seated in this heated room, you get to participate in all sorts of conversations. Conversations about the Bible vs the Quran, politics, football, life and death, and of course sex. Seeing how impassioned some of those conversations get, it is hard not to imagine that some people actually get addicted to the sauna, any sauna because of this socialization.

In a world where the smart phone has killed conversation, one of the very last places where you get to have a good old banter, uninterrupted by the smart phone is the sauna. Because phones are left at the reception. Obviously this is not exclusive to this particular sauna so let’s get back to the trait that sets this one apart; the co-curricular activities.

The special steam room

Remember the feet-scrubbing offers I mentioned in passing earlier? If you say yes to the offer, you are led to a special steam room outside the sauna. ‘Scrubbing feet’ is a euphemism for much more than just that. It is a full body massage that is designed to make you yearn for more than just that, if you know what I mean.

The price for the full body massage is not fixed because of the variables that the different customers desire. One of the main variables is how badly you want the feet scrub (full body massage) from a particular girl. The main variable is what extras you desire. Everything here is much more than meets the eye, obviously.

The special steam room is almost as large as a regular-sized classroom. In comparison, a normal steam bath is a mere shoebox. There is normal steam bath a few meters away from this special steam room and it is where those that are here strictly for the health benefits of it go; filled with hot steam, densely infused with essential oils and herbs.

But things are different here. The special steam room serves a different purpose all together. First of all, it is not hot like a steam bath usually is. From my estimation, the ‘steam’ here could be produced by a smoke machine and piped in. It feels different to the eyes and to the nose, plus it is not hot. Steam has to be hot.

So what is the point of the fake steam when one could use real steam? Because it is necessary that visibility is poor minus the discomfort of the heat. Vision must be blurred enough to allow for several people to get full-body massages without being too self-conscious. The steam blunts the embarrassment. 

The silhouettes of bobbing backsides tell it all. Everyone knows the drill here, so even if you aren’t getting your freak on, you can watch as several other people get their happy endings.

Happy endings are not unheard of in the spa world. Actually, there is a widely-held belief that a good number of men that frequent these places (massages particularly) are often looking for the happy endings more than anything else. But with this particular sauna, it is not on a massage table in a private room. Plus it is cheaper.

Red light district?

After two evening hours in this sauna, a first timer would easily think that they have seen it all but that would be wishful thinking. When darkness falls over Nateete, all the sauna goers here are interested into something even more sensual. Imagine pole-dancing in one of those bars in the red light districts of the West but on steroids.   

The night that I visited happened to be titled Candle Light Night.

I was innocently seated there catching a breath after a particularly long session in the sauna when, to my pleasant surprise, a throng of about 50 women came down from the residential part of the hotel and made a beeline for the dance floor on the other end through the sauna area. They wore nothing else but very delicate lingerie and they were dancing to loud music. Each held a candle. They stopped in front of the sauna crowd in small groups and did a jig for obvious reasons. They were telling the men to wrap up with the sauna and follow the ladies. Of course it worked.

“What’s going on here?” I said my thoughts out loud.

“Just pay the entrance fee and go see for yourself,” a man next to me replied with his eyes fixed on the dancing girls.

And so I did. It was around 8:30 pm.

You pay at the cashier’s office and present the receipt to the bouncers who then give you a black-light stamp on your arm. You enter the large dance floor well-knowing that the people here are up to no good. But when you enter, you realize that your wildest imagination is not wild enough.

It is barely 9pm but the place is almost full of young men. They are not dancing but rather seated or standing all along the walls. They are watching the barely-dressed ladies dance. If a patron likes a particular girl, he walks up to her, offers her a drink and pulls her back to his seat. Now she can exclusively entertain him and probably give him a lap dance if he so wishes. And as time goes by and intoxication takes over, the lap dance can be upgraded to something more intimate. This is what they paid for.

If you haven’t noticed yet, I am tiptoeing around the actual goings on.

At the end of the night, you stand there watching all this wild debauchery and you can’t help but wonder how connected the owner must be. Either he knows some serious untouchables in this town or he keeps a huge fund from which he picks to bribe the authorities away. Whichever way you look at it, the owner is a legend for running this red light business in a country where all efforts to designate red-light districts have been roundly thwarted in the past.

And as you stagger out of this decadent place, having been shocked beyond your wildest imagination, you can’t help but pity the innocent young man that left home five hours earlier, looking for a sauna to chill at, only to be dropped in the middle of an ocean of degeneracy, far away from his guards, facing a temptation that he was ill-equipped to fight off.

Maybe we need a red light district after all. That way, you would know what to expect as you enter, instead of going out to look for a sauna only to end up participating in a hellish orgy.