My experience at the hammam is definitely part of my top 3 favourite things about my recent trip to Morocco.
The hammam (public bath) is an integral part of Moroccan culture—as Moroccan as mint tea and tajine. Men and women often head to the hammam for a weekly thorough cleanse. In the past, public baths were a necessity given that most homes didn't have running water. But the weekly trip to the hammam became part of tradition. One of our guides mentioned that he uses the hammam as a relaxation tool.
The cost for the hammam treatment and the massage were included in the trip fees. I don't know how much they were. Prices vary from one hammam to another. A couple years ago, a friend of mine paid 15 USD for his treatment in Marrakech. Similar services are offered for upward of 150 USD at luxurious hammams.
I went to the Bain Maure Hammam Mernissi Spa in Fès. (You can check them out on Instagram.) And it was an experience! It is frequented by locals and tourists alike. Cameras were not allowed.
Welcomed with drums, songs and dances
Upon our arrival, women working at the hammam were waiting for us. They provided instructions on what to wear and placed our belongings in a locker. I wore a one-piece bathing suit and kept my glasses—I can't see without them. An employee tried to convince me to wear a disposable thong, but I refused. I can be a bit prudish.
Once we were ready, the women started to beat drums, sing and dance. It felt as though they were welcoming us as part of their circle, their sisterhood. The little knowledge I had about hammams indicated that one of them would get to know me up close and personal. The welcoming dance thawed the ice, but didn't completely break it. I was a bit nervous.
Easing into it
We were lead to the "jabia", the main room, and each of us was placed in front of a washbasin. The room was steamy and warm. Two taps continuously poured water in the washbasins. The water from one tap was scolding hot, the other ice cold. It was left up to us to find the right balance. We were left to our own devices for a few minutes.
The room was covered with marble: the walls, the washbasin, the scrubbing tables. Everything was clean. The temperature in the room remained the same. While my body quickly acclimated, my glassed kept on being foggy. Dipping them in the warm water helped.
I poured water all over my body, my bathing suit remaining steadfastly on.
Oiled up? Or soaped up?
It turns out that what I thought was oil was actually black olive soap. It didn't lather as the woman rubbed it all over my body. By that time, I had rolled down my bathing suit. There was no way around it.
The woman ensured that every inch of my body, with the exception of the parts that were covered by the bathing suit, was covered with soap. I sat there for a moment, letting the substance work its magic.
Then came time to rinse it all up. The hot water removed all traces of the oily soap on my body. My skin felt soft and clean.
There wasn't a lot of talking, aside from a few whispers and giggles. The sound of water flowing from the taps into the washbasins and from the washbasins to the ground became white noise. It felt as though time stood still. All I had to worry about was cleansing my skin.
We were then taken to the scrubbing table. The women wore a "kassa", a glove-like scrubbing cloth. Exfoliation is serious business. It's not tender, it's thorough. I wouldn't say it was rough, as it was done with love.
I expected the scrubbing table to be cold. Marble usually is. The overall warmth of the room kept the stone at a pretty decent temperature.
First, I lay on my stomach. Vulnerable. She vigorously scrubbed my back and the back of my legs and thighs. When she got to my buttocks, she pulled my bathing suit inward, giving me a wedgie. (When I told you she got to know me up close and personal... ) To say that I was stunned is an understatement.
She told me to turn and lay on my back. For a moment, I saw myself sliding off the marble table. But I didn't. She made sure I was secure. She proceeded to scrub me down, working around the bathing suit this time. As she worked her way from my chest to my toes, I could see clumps of dead skin on the table. I was mortified.
See, I travel with a scrubbing pad. And I thought it was doing a pretty decent job. I guess I was wrong!
As she helped me sit down on the table so that she could tackle my arms, I apologized. She explained that this was totally normal.
Full body clay mask and shampoo
My skin had never been so soft before. I mean, an entire layer of gunk (they said it it was dead skin, but I have my doubts) was removed from my body, leaving my pores breathing for what seemed to be the first time. The clay mask served as a much needed balm after that vigorous scrub.
I was offered a shampoo twice, and only accepted on the second offer. I didn't want to be rude. But I knew that they might not know how to deal with my tight coils. The hesitant rub and the fingers having a hard time to find a way confirmed it. I smiled and took over.
My body and my hair were then thoroughly rinsed. Every inch of my skin thanked me for the extra attention. To say that I was refreshed would be an understatement. I was energized while being fully relaxed at the same time. It was the strangest feeling.
Get steamed up
I was then offered to go to the sauna. I declined. My travel companions who went in before me got out pretty quickly: it was too hot. I felt that I hadn't hydrated myself properly that day to safely go into the steam room. This would have added to the relaxing experience.
The traditional hammam experience includes a moment of relaxation while sipping some mint tea. Because the hammam I went to doubled as a spa, i went for a massage before drinking my tea and snacking on some Moroccan sweets.
It's been a week since my hammam experience and my skin still feels soft. I've decided to look for a hammam in my region. The closest one I've found is in Montreal, a 2-hour drive from my place. I'll gladly drive there on a regular basis if the experience is half as good.
If a trip to Morocco isn't in your near future, I highly recommend that you look for a hammam near you.
For those of you who have been to a Hammam, I'm curious... Did you get naked?