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January 3, 2011

Morocco Part 2: The Hammam

The thing I was most excited to do in Morocco was to visit the hammams, or bath houses. I was pumped for the cultural stuff too, of course, but the prospect of spending time in a spa-like setting, getting all renaxed and shiz, really appealed to me.

There are different kinds of hammams you can go to, depending on how pampered you want to get and how much you want to spend. We went to one where we just paid 30 dirham (the equivalent of 3E) so we could take a hot shower. There were no frills, no extras, just a room with a showerhead and a bucket. As I understand it, there are also ones where you strip down and sit in a shvitz for awhile, soaping and exfoliating yourself while trying really hard to forget how uncomfortably Minnesotan you feel about being in a room full of nakey people.

But we decided to go for the full-bore, 100% luxury experience at a fancy modern hammam for a whopping 100 dh, plus 30 dh for the exfoliating glove (about 13E total).

Having never done this before, I was full of trepidation. Were we supposed to be naked? Were we supposed to wear swimsuits? Would they be offended by my circa-2007 teal-and-red flowered bikini? After a brief conference in the dressing room, Emily and I decided to go with both halves of our swimsuits, with our towels clutched tightly around us. The Moroccan woman in charge of us indicated we should bring our soap and shampoo, as well as the tokens indicating we had paid for fanciness.

We descended to a marble room that I like to imagine resembled the old Roman bath houses. There were showers in one corner, a steam room on the opposite side of the room with a jacuzzi adjacent to it, and four raised marble tables in between, where women in black tank tops and skorts were exfoliating their bodacious clients--all of whom were topless. Got it. I hung my towel on a hook and nervously plucked off my bikini top, mentally assuring myself that no one was staring at me and everyone has a body and it's OK to be half-naked--really!--it is.

Our Moroccan lady beckoned us into the steam room and handed each of us a gob of gooey, caramel-y savon noir (black soap) that kind of reminded me of Gak, miming  that we should rub it onto our skin. She then left us to our own devices. This was our first time around hot water in two days, after a night spent in Charles de Gaulle and a day of dusty touristing, so I was eager as could be to de-stinkify. My handful of savon noir took a surprisingly long time to run through, so I got really, extra, super clean.

After we'd soaped and rinsed to our heart's content we didn't quite know what we were supposed to do, so we did some awkward stretching and lounging on the tiled seats. "See?" I told myself. "You're a champ at being half-naked! Ain't no thang! Nobody's staring at you! Oh wait. Everyone's totally staring at you. Better cross your arms over your chest and act real casual. Good."

The lady finally came to fetch us, and pointed that we should get our tokens and exfoliating gloves and go to one of the raised marble tables in the middle of the room, where more black-clad women were waiting for us. I smiled meekly at the one assigned to me and handed her my token, which she promptly stuffed inside her skort.

After hosing me off with a shower head, she took to me with that black, sandpaper-y glove, and exfoliated the crap out of me as if my skin were a scourge on humanity that the King of Morocco himself had ordered her to remove with whatever force necessary. Great gobs of grayish dead skin cells came wilting off me as she violently rubbed me EV-ER-Y-WHERE. Parts you wouldn't think someone other than your partner would see, much less touch: oh, she went there. Sensitive parts you'd think she'd go a little easy on: ha! nope. At one point she flipped me onto my stomach and yanked my swimsuit bottom up so she could get at my cheeks, giving me the worst wedgie of my life as I stiffled a yelp.

My skin tingled all over when she finished, and I gave thanks to God that I didn't suffer from eczema or any other ouchy skin condition. She hosed me off again, and then squirted half my precious bottle of Aveda rosemary mint body wash onto me as she massaged me. "Ahhhhhhh," I thought. "This is nice. I could just lay here for--" She abruptly yanked on one of my legs, trying to flip me over. I was slip-sliding all over the soapy stone table, trying desperately not to fall and crack my head open, as she pushed and prodded me into different positions.

When that part was over, I stumbled over to the shower where I was blessedly allowed to wash my hair. The first Moroccan lady cut my shower a bit short, and ushered me over to the bubbling jacuzzi. I didn't mind; I could go for a nice relaxing sit in a hot-- holy mother of nards the water was freezing! I suppose the point was to close our newly cleansed pores, but come on! A little warning!

Our final stop at this Sadist Spa was the Chambre de Relaxation, which was actually quite nice. We lay there for awhile on lovely leather recliners, meditating on what we had just been through and making plans to come back.


  1. FAB-u-lous post, but WHERE are the PICTURES???? JK ;)

  2. If the folks in my gym locker room are any indication, strolling around naked for as long as possible, unshyly as possible, is the single most relaxing thing ever. So maybe the Moroccans are on to something?