Experiencing a traditional Moroccan Hammam

I had heard of hammams (traditional bathing houses) while we were in Turkey but didn’t get around to trying one.  While we were in Essasouira, I decided to do something that scared me and took myself off for a hammam.  Why was that scary? Well, I didn’t want to go to a tourist hammam or a hotel hammam, I wanted the authentic experience.  The lovely local woman at the guest house we were staying at told me about the local hammam for women and showed me how to find it on the map, so off I took myself.  I did a bit of reading first about what to expect, so it wasn’t a total surprise…here’s my experience. (Obviously no photos of the inside – the photo of the outside is of the street it was on!)

I arrived at the hammam, which had no signage and nothing whatsoever to distinguish it.  However, it was exactly where it was supposed to be on the map…so I went in and found some ladies at a reception desk.  It was a very good thing that I speak a bit of French as I am pretty sure none of them spoken any English and I don’t speak Arabic.  We managed to communicate that they would buy for me shampoo and soap, then I went to get changed.  I stripped down into my undies (black were good) and wrapped myself in a towel.  (One wears undies in the hammam but not a bra.) Leaving my bag at the desk, I was led into the hammam by my assistant…who had already stripped into just her undies.  Nothing like meeting someone for the first time when they are topless!  We headed into a steamy room, dark but with holes cut in the ceiling, where I hung my towel and sat on a mat on a ledge around the edge of the floor. About four other women were there, so I copied them in splashing warm water on myself from the buckets that had been brought to me.  (When in doubt, follow the locals!)

Next, the assistant came over to me and washed me all over my body with a soap which was then washed off. After that she put a hand loofah on and began scrubbing all of me – strips of dead skin came off in a most disgusting way, and it was definitely a little painful on some parts. I regretted my sunburn of two days before!  After that she washed off all the dead skin, then rubbed a massage lotion into me.  After washing that off, we went into a cooler room, where she shampooed and conditoned my hair and then combed it out.  She then brought me more warm water to wash my own private parts and then cold water to finish.  I then went back to the changing room to get changed. Happily I had known to bring a spare pair of underwear!

Some reflections:

1.  I definitely got a tourist price – apparently it’s ten dirrhams for locals and then a tip for the attendant.  I paid 50, plus a tip of 20 for the attendant, plus 3 for the girls who watched my bag and 5 for the shampoo and soap.  It still only worked out to about $10 NZD.

2.  This is not a place for the modest! The attendant literally washes your breasts, back, stomach, thighs…and all while being topless herself!

3.  This is not a place for the scrupulously clean.  I saw hair and dead skin not too far from me…you just have to not think too much about it and remember that you will be very clean afterwards.

4.  It was interesting – Morocco is a modest country, but in the hammam women of all shapes and sizes have no problem stripping off and washing communally.

5. This might be more fun with a friend, but I found it surprisingly peaceful being washed.  Give it a go even if you are travelling alone.

6. You can go and not have the attendant give you the gommage (treatment) – it costs less, but then you have to wash yourself.  Definitely fun to try the gommage.

7.  Afterwards I felt amazing.  Clean, scrubbed and very smooth skin – albeit a little horrified at the amount of dirt that my skin was apparently carrying around!

8.  It was great to do something outside my comfort zone – and this definitely fell way outside my comfort zone! I would recommend a hammam – just ask a local about where the local women go if you want the authentic experience.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. hayley says:

    oooh I cringed through that – definitely not for me I think but I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

    Like

  2. Rachael says:

    haha awesome, go you… all I can think is, wow that sounds uncomfortable… but that is probably more to do with the massive bump I carry round… I would probably be quite the novelty!

    Like

  3. Aunty Moira says:

    Good on you Karen, what a great experience !

    Like

  4. Mum Bunn says:

    I so like the way I can have this experience vicariously through your writing!

    Like

  5. Lachlan says:

    Having another woman scrub you down sounds pleasant enough to me! 🙂

    Like

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