Story Time: A Hammam in Morocco
Speak to any Moroccans and ask what is the most integral part of their life and they will probably say; family, prayer and the Hammam. Hammam is what Moroccans refer to a steam room similar to a Turkish bath where; Moroccan men, woman and even children would habitually go once a week to cleanse themselves, socialise, broker deals and even arrange marriages. The promise of baby-smooth skin had my interest piqued and after a solid week of salty surf water, who was I to turn down the opportunity of a rub-down. Hammam we go!
5* Treatment: The Private Hammam
After getting dropped off outside the Argan Palace, my friends and I were led up several steps under the guide of relaxing spa music into the changing rooms. We were provided stylish robes and after a few minutes debating on how naked we needed to be our guide saved us the trouble by informing us that we didn’t NEED to get completely nude for the Hammam to the relief of the girls in our group and disappointment of the guys. (There goes the authentic experience!).
The Moroccan ladies moved us from the changing room into a dark tiled room, filled with steam and extraordinary heat where there were, what looked like, a sacrificial table in the centre, several taps around the room and seating around the edge…and then they left us to our own devices. ‘Sweet’ I thought, this was exactly what we all needed and so the 8 of us proceeded to enjoy our pore steaming and muscle relaxation in the heat.
Now this is the part where some research into a Hammam could have possibly paid off.
20 minutes pass
‘Is it getting hotter in here?’ We were now sweating profusely and even the slightest touch of skin on skin was becoming unbearable. ‘Is there anything else supposed to happen?’ At this point we thought that this was it. The Moroccans must just love to spend hours sweating in a room. They are super-human! How do they do this week on week?! We couldn’t even do it for a few minutes!
‘I think I might pass out’. We probably should leave, but no we couldn’t JUST leave. There must be more to this right? And even if this WAS it I wanted to see it through to the end.
‘That’s it, I’m out, this is torture.’ Just as I got up to escape two burly Moroccan women came through the door bucket on one hand, bottles of water in another. Never have I ever been so grateful for that delicious sweet nectar. All of us gulped it down right there in our self-inflicted torture chamber and thanked them profusely.
Both women instructed us one-by-one to lay on the table (sacrificial) where they protected the scrubee’s privacy by pulling a curtain across our seats so that all we heard were the muffled screams and laughter of our pals. What were these monsters doing to them!
It was my turn. They sat me on the side of the table and began to slap me with a grey lotion (which I later learn is a purifying ghassoul clay mask) and it was liberally smothered all over my body. The attendants then laid me down and began their gommage (scrub) where they thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly) exfoliated my skin. I was exfoliated in places even bae hadn’t been. I politely asked them to be careful of the sunburn that I received earlier that week which (may be due to my lack of Arabic) they continued to scrub profusely. ‘OOOOUCH!’ What have these ladies been fed? They were monstrously strong and put all my gym years to shame! After a short time I got used to the pressure and pain and started to enjoy the full body attention.
Note if you want a more gentle exfoliation you’ll have to say ‘Swiya Afak’ (gently please)
Despite the pain and the heat and the mystery of what was to happen next i have to admit that you are left with a tingling glow afterwards. We were all shipped to the shower rooms, given a few more bottles of water and then taken to the massage room for another full body rub down with some Argan Oil.
Oh and if you were wondering whether we were supposed to do something before the Hammam ladies came. Yes we were. You can hire buckets and purchase savon noir a natural black soap made of olive oil to scrub over yourself prior to being exfoliated and use the buckets to cool yourself down (instead of whatever we were thinking…).
This goes to show that sometimes a tiny bit of research before hand could save you from hot-boxing in a Hammam.
Have you ever been to a Hammam? How would you compare this to a Turkish Bath? Don’t you wish that western culture had some spa social culture? As always I’d love to hear your thoughts below!
“It’s a good idea always to do something relaxing prior to making an important decision in your life.”
― Paul Coelho
Location: Taghazout, Morocco
How To Get Around: Minibus, taxis
Currency: MAD Moroccan Dirham
Protected currency- exchange when you are there
Best Bits: Scrub-down by two lady strangers
Be Wary: Sitting in a hot room without water
I Visited: May 2015