May 29th 2011, 00:00

Two unusual treatments at Lanzerac spa in Stellenbosch will leave you floating in an ocean of bliss. Isn’t life wonderful? Just when you’re getting a slightly jaded, ‘been there, done that’ kind of feeling, suddenly you hear of a new craze that restores your faith in human wackiness. Take the latest beauty fad: exfoliation by fish. Dubbed Dr Fish, the treatment consists of fish nibbling dead skin from your affected body parts. This raises a myriad of questions: Does it hurt? Do the fish get indigestion? Is it ethical to feed fish on a diet of athletes feet? On a quest for answers, I set forth to Lanzerac spa, the only place in the Western Cape offering this bizarre treatment.

At the entrance to the spa, corpulent koi fish mouth hungry hellos at me. Are these the bloated results of fish fed on human flesh, I wonder? I’m offered a choice between having my lower leg exfoliated by the original Turkish fish or a new strain with more vigorous nibbling abilities. Opting for the virile variety, I’m coaxed to lower my feet into the pool where hundreds of tiny minnow-like creatures, at most four centimetres long, swim randomly. Just as my feet enter the water, the therapist warns that the sensation might be a little hard to bear at first.

Argh. No kidding. I have to use all my powers of restraint to keep my feet immersed in the water while hundreds of tiny fish, like something out of a Hitchcock movie, magnetise onto my feet and legs. Suddenly my five-minute feet treat begins to seem like a torture invented by the Greeks to make their myths more interesting. Just hang in there for 30 seconds and you’ll get used to it, I’m advised. Then miraculously, the swirling fish vortex becomes mesmerising; the nipping sensation accompanied by the caress of the fish fins begins to feel like something akin to … pleasure? All fear and guilt vanish as I realise that through my feet, these fish have found a purposefilled five minutes.

The fish are well schooled, excuse the pun, eating only dry, flaky unwanted skin. It’s possible to submerge fully; the fish are very discrete and avoid private parts. They have enormous appetites: even after a marathon 62-nibbling-session day they still wolf down their evening feed. After my piscine encounter, I’m led to another new experience: the wave massage – a technique that combines rocking movements with stretches and presses along the entire body, followed by a baptism of lashings of hot aromatherapy wax.

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