So you decided to try a Hammam. What were you thinking? Do you even know what one is? Do you know what to expect? Do you have any idea what the etiquette is at one of these things? Well, if you are Dave and Deb, the answers to these questions would be no.
We were in Marrakech Morocco. The day before we were on a walking tour of the Medina (the old city) and a guy invited us in to check out his hammam. He was great! He had lived in California for years, spoke perfect English and understood the Western mentality of not wanting a hard sell. If we look at it and like it, we'll probably come back. So we looked at it, we liked it and we came back.
So what is a Hammam?
A Hammam is a hot steam bath followed by a massage. Sounds simple enough doesn't it?
Well there's a little more to it than that.
Let me tell you about our day. Dave and I were each led into separate rooms to begin our 90 minute hammam experience. Dave went to the men's part of the building and I was sent to the women's.
We've had our share of strange spa experiences, check out our Ayurvedic Massage in Alleppy
I followed a petite woman who spoke little English to a change room where I was given disposable underwear, a towel, a robe and some rubber slippers. She sat me down in a booth and left. I didn't know if I was to follow after I changed or not and as the confusion set in on my face, a friendly group of women from Malaysia who had just finished their experience told me what to do.
“No time to be shy in here.” They said. Strip down, sit down and wait. Oh and don't put on that robe, that's for later. So I sat naked (save for my disposable black underwear) in my cubicle and waited.
Separate Hammam for Men and Women
Dave followed a guy into another room where he was given a loin cloth. He indicated that Dave should strip down while he stood and watched and then proceeded to put the loin cloth on for him. If that wasn't awkward enough, the door to reception was open the entire time! But, in a couple of minutes he was wrapped up and ready to go. He was sent through a door where he was greeted by a wall of steam. It was here that he did his own waiting for his next instructions.
“No Cameras Allowed, naked people inside“
Back to Deb's Hammam Experience
After a while of sitting alone in my cubicle (the Malaysian women had long gone) a woman came in and took my hand. She led me to a stool and sat me down. I guess the early Moroccans didn't believe in bathing themselves, because in a hammam, you get bathed. Scorching hot water was poured over my head as she washed my hair and body. I winced and sighed, but she didn't seem to care or take any notice.
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After my grime was washed away, (but it seemed that a lot of soap was still sticking to my skin) I was taken by the hand by another woman who led me to the steam room. She pointed to a corner where I was to sit and it was here that I stayed until my next order was given. The steam was hotter than any other steam room I've ever been in and as I took deep breaths to try to relax, I also took deep breaths to try to keep myself from bolting out the door.
What's Dave been up to so far in his Hammam?
Dave had the same experience I had of standing awkwardly while he waited, but instead of a cubicle, it was in a steamy room full of massage tables. He stood half naked in his loin cloth with a stunned look on his face before he was saved and finally lead to his own steam room.
It turns out that Dave had to clean himself instead of being bathed like me. He was handed some black soap and motioned to rub it all over his body. Dave obeyed and covered himself in black soap thinking someone would be back. But they never came. He sat in the steam for another 10 minutes or so as the soap seeped into his pours. “Was I supposed to do this?” he wondered. Can anybody tell me what's going on?
Enjoy this quick video Dave snuck in before his Hammam
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Back to Deb's Hammam
In the meantime after sitting in the steam for what felt like forever during my hammam, I finally let my mind and muscles relax. I was feeling pretty good. When I saw a faint shadow enter the room of steam, I knew that it was time to go. I was led out by my hand and was laid down on a marble slab in another hot room where my body was exfoliated. When I say exfoliated, that's an understatement. It's more like having your skin peeled off with sandpaper. At one point I was sure that there was a trickle of blood pouring down my leg as she rubbed up and down my calf.
I didn't have it half as bad as Dave though. When they finally came to get him, he was lead in his loin cloth, to a plastic massage table where he was sanded and scrubbed and slapped around in like a wet fish until there wasn't a scale left on his body. The male masseurs are tougher on the guys. Dave's skin was stinging as they constantly poured hot water over his body. He was alarmed when he opened his eyes and saw his skin peeling away. Could there be that many layers coming off or is it just the soap? It's better to close your eyes and pretend you didn't see anything.
Soon enough, you'd be sitting pretty and enjoying the moment you've been waiting for. The Massage.
I was still walking around half naked with nothing but my disposable underwear and rubber shoes and Dave was still wrapped up in his loin cloth but things were winding down. It was time to get our aching muscles worked on. I was led to yet another room where I was placed on a massage table made of slippery plastic. I had a half hour massage that was on one hand very relaxing and on the other quite amusing. The woman kept massaging my breasts. It seemed that with each pass of whichever body part she was massaging, she always made her way to my boobs. All I could think was “That's funny, I didn't think that my boobies held a lot of tension.” But I just laid there and went with it. I was expecting a much rougher experience, but it was more like a light rub down and I grew frustrated because I really wanted my shoulders and back kneaded out.
I was so jealous when I talked to Dave and he told me that his massage was a killer. He was bent and pulled every which way in positions he didn't even know his body was capable of. He came out a good 15 minutes later than me with a big grin on his face saying his staple phrase when he loves something “That Was Awesome!”
The awkward moments, the hot steam and the painful soap paid off. His muscles were loose, his mind was relaxed and he had an experience that he'd never forget. And maybe never try again. But when you go to Morocco, you'd be crazy not to go to a hammam.
Check out our Top 5 Memorable massages in the world.
The name of the Hammam we stumbled across as we wove through the Medina was Hammam Ziani and you can find out how to get there and experience your own hammam at their website