Hammam

So, one of the things that you are supposed to do in Morocco (and I had no idea that you were supposed to do it in Morocco until I got to Marrakech and everyone started offering me the opportunity of doing it and telling me I HAD to do it when I was in Morocco) is visit a Hammam. Hammam is kind of like a spa. Well, traditionally, I guess its quite different to what we would call a ‘spa’ – the whole family goes down to the Hammam together, and they all get naked (divided by gender, of course) and shower and soap up and then everyone scrubs you down and exfoliates you and then you sit around in the steam for a bit. But, of course it also has a really great effect on your skin and an opportunity was spotted to create something similar (yet different) for people who didn’t have a Moroccan family to exfoliate them and who would happily pay for the privilege.

We booked in for a two and a half hour hammam and massage, starting with the hammam. The first hurdle that needed to be gotten over was stripping. We realised with a bit of a jolt that we were going to be doing our hammam in the same steam room, which we hadn’t quite considered before. I mean, when you think about it it makes sense – how else would they be able to steam and scrub that many people quickly and efficiently? Of course they’re going to throw together the people who already know each other and are comfortable with each other. I was surprisingly ok with the prospect of nakedness, but Liz was… well, lets say she was a tad hesitant. In fact, she made me promise to not look at ANYTHING below the neck, which I dutifully promised, though was a little uncertain how I would ensure this was adhered to. We took off our clothes and bras (which Liz had also not been planning on) and then were informed we also needed to take off our underwear. Liz refused point blank, which the ladies at the Hammam found very amusing – they kept pulling at it and she kept grabbing on for dear life. I surprised myself by happily stripping down and feeling pretty darn comfortable about it. We headed into the steamy room and I suddenly realised I quite like nakedness. I don’t mean I’m about to become a nudist, or run around flashing people at football games or be filmed in ‘Girls Gone Wild’ or anything, but it was kind of nice to be in a situation when nakedness was not a big deal. It was just… nakedness. It was completely ordinary nakedness. It didn’t mean anything. There was absolutely nothing good or bad about it. It was somehow a ‘neutral’ naked body and I liked that.

The women started out by washing us, then soaping us up and leaving us to sweat it out in the tiled room for a bit. I had been thirsty before we went in, but was told there was no water in the Hammam for drinking, which seemed like an OH&S hazard waiting to happen now that I was sweating out my body weight in a steam room. Just when I thought I couldn’t handle it anymore, the women opened the door again and let some cool air through. They exfoliated us everywhere (and I mean, EVERYWHERE) with again, a no-fuss business-like attitude, which I found oddly comforting. You’re just a naked body, like hundreds of others and that is neither good nor bad, it’s just what it is. They oiled us up this time and left us to sweat it out some more.

We did NOT look this elegant in the Hammam. Found at: http://www.tunisia-tourism.org/hammam/

We did NOT look this elegant in the Hammam. Found at: http://www.tunisia-tourism.org/hammam/

We lay in the heat, our muscles slowly relaxing (it wasn’t so much a conscious choice as a necessary action to avoid any unnecessary exertion in the freaking extreme heat). It was when I started to tell Liz a story about a play I had seen at the Edinburgh Fringe the year before, which was about a guru who had killed several of his followers by keeping them in a steam tent with no water and no air, that things started to get a little bit dicey. I got quite dizzy and I wasn’t sure if it was the heat, the dehydration or the story. Also, I couldn’t remember if the guru was in Utah, Nevada, Arizona or another American state and so I just started rattling off state names slowly and uselessly until Liz interrupted and said ‘I can hear my heart beat.’ I mean, this isn’t very different from the random, delirious conversations we usually have, but we thought it was probably better to be safe than sorry and we crawled towards the door and told the women we had had enough. They came in and splashed cold water all over us, cleaning off the oil and shocking our bodies awake somewhat.

We were dressed in very stylish terry-towelling gowns, a towel thrown over our heads and lead into the massage rooms. I wasn’t given the opportunity to dress again, so down I lay on the massage table, completely naked, face in a pillow. A few minutes later, Liz started to giggle and said, ‘I guess we’ve figured out who’s the prude then’. She was lying on the table next to me and had already covered herself up entirely with a towel. I thought I’d enjoy the naked moment a bit longer. Eventually the masseuse came in and covered me up with a towel and our massages started.

It was a very gentle massage, which I have never really enjoyed before. In fact, I usually find them incredibly stressful and annoying – like being tickled by bloody fairies or some such. But this one was so sensual that I actually didn’t mind it. I keep using the word ‘sensual’ and I know it sounds dirty, especially in regards to a naked massage, but I can’t think of another way of describing it. It wasn’t about getting knots out of muscles, it felt like it was about gently waking up your entire body one nerve ending at a time. It was sensual because it was all about touch and sensation, it got you out of your head and into your body.

At some point, I turned over and the masseuse massaged my breasts, which was a whole new experience all on its own, something I’m not used to doing with someone I don’t know very well, or at least my doctor. I wasn’t entirely certain how to deal with it, but I made my face placid and said nothing. It was about this point the masseuse decided to introduce herself to me. She asked my name and if I was American. When I said I was Australian, she thought about it and then said… ‘Oh, Nicole Kidman! Nicole Kidman!’ I agreed that Nicole Kidman was also Australian. My masseuse lifted her chin with her hand and said, ‘Very very beautiful, very very beautiful.’ And then she moved her hands down to underneath her breasts, pushed them up and said, ‘Very very beautiful, very very beautiful.’ At which point she then pulled up her own shirt and showed me her breasts and pointed to her bra and said, ‘Nicole Kidman, no worries, no worries.’ I am still not completely certain if she was saying her bra was the same one as Nicole Kidman wore, or if it was giving her breasts like Nicole Kidman, or if her breasts were named Nicole Kidman, or if it was all simply an elaborate ploy to get us both to stop thinking about the fact that she had just massaged my breasts. Whichever it was, we both broke out into hysterical giggles and she assured me, ‘Don’t worry, I’m just a bit crazy.’

Despite all the unexpectedness, we walked out of the spa feeling melty, soft and deliciously happy. You definitely HAVE to do a hammam when you go to Morocco and I suggest you go in completely naked. Its awesome.

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4 Comments

Filed under 29, Morocco

4 responses to “Hammam

  1. I’d love to go to a hammam, but I’m always a bit nervous not to do anything wrong. but is it like you’re explained everything and stuff? can I do something wrong? will they tell me what to do? where to sit? et cetera? I’ve got no problem with nakedness 😉

    • The one we went to was pretty great! They were very happy to explain everything (they did start explaining things in French to begin with, but then realised we were English-speakers). I think it really depends. The public hammams are a very different beast to the tourist-orientated ones. The tourist ones they’re obviously very happy to explain things to you. Our hotel manager said he had been a couple of times to the public hammams, but he only ever went with friends, so they were, again, very happy to help him out when he was uncertain. He said the one word you need to know in a hammam is ‘Safi’ – that’s the Arabic for ‘Enough’!! Otherwise you may get some very enthusiastic scrubbing (one woman we heard about had no skin left on her shoulders by the end of it!!!)

  2. *rofl* safi! safi! I know that word – it also means “everything’s fine / will be fine” when someone’s sad and you want to console him/her. so funny! so, I guess I’ll go for a touristy one first and after some time I’m gonna try the public hammam :)))

  3. Cool! I also love hammams, and the Moroccan ones are the best! 🙂

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