mercredi 11 avril 2012

To Hammam, or Not To Hammam? That is the Question

Last year we had the wonderful opportunity to spend a week in Marrakech, Morocco. I knew very little about Morocco so relied on good friends and Trip Advisor to locate our accommodation at the Riad Sekkat. 

Khalid and his wife, Najah, looked after us at the riad, taking care of all of our needs and preparing our meals. Khalid, I am sure, knows everyone in Marrakech. We couldn't go for a walk or a trip on the back of his motorbike without lots of friendly waves.  It was obvious that if I was to venture to a hammam that it was best to seek his advice. He clarified if I wanted a 'tourist' or 'local' hammam.  I was adamant that I wanted the authentic 'local' one.  

Price list and hours at Bain d'or 

The next day Khalid led me the short distance along the winding streets of the medina to the local hammam. I was relieved to find out that the hammam had set times for men and women. I stood behind Khalid's large frame as a heated discussion in Arabic was conducted at the doorway. The elderly lady kept looking me up and down, not seeming to be too thrilled about this foreigner entering her hammam. Khalid's sweet-talking worked and I was allowed to enter with my towel tucked under my arm and cardigan under the other one. Khalid was insistent that I would need the cardigan afterwards for the walk back so that I didn't catch a chill.

I entered the first room which was a gathering area. Women of all ages and shapes were undressing or dressing. No anglo-saxon self-consciousness evident here (apart from myself). Thankfully Khalid had explained to the lady what I required and details regarding payment. I passed over my money to the attendant who was charged with taking care of me. Unfortunately I was unable to establish her name. Like most of the women in the hammam she spoke no French and I of course spoke no Arabic. She went to great lengths to show me that part of my money was paid to the lady in charge for the entrance, another portion was for the black Moroccan soap wrapped in a piece of torn paper and some shampoo. The balance was for her services.  She gestured to undress and to place my clothes and towel on a shelf. This gave me time to survey the room. There were a number of other rooms leading off from this main area. I was passed a plastic bucket and led through the sea of naked bodies to the furthest room. This room was full of women chatting, laughing and washing each other. 

The room was hot and steamy and light poured in from a hole in the roof and high openings. The women were gathered at the opposite end of the room to where I was seated on the floor. I realised later that this was the low end of the room and the direction the water flowed. My lady lathered me up with the black soap and then scrubbed me and scrubbed me some more. And then some more again. My skin was tingling all over. She lifted my arms, my legs, had me lie on my tummy on the floor, all the time scrubbing me. I was scrubbed all over!! The plastic bucket was filled and emptied over me. Another lady joined in scrubbing me ... some heated words were exchanged between the two. Eventually the second lady stopped scrubbing me and slunk away. I watched as the lady next to me washed her two small children and cleaned their teeth. Community bathing at its most intimate. My hair was washed with the sachet of men's shampoo that I was given at the counter. Hot and cold water was dumped over me leaving me gasping for breath. My lady left me alone for a short period of time and of course I had no idea what her instructions were. I think usually you go from one room to another, alternating between various temperatures. I was not sure about the process so I just stayed on my little corner of the floor. She returned, beckoning me to return to the changing area. I went to follow, but was confronted by a large derrière blocking the doorway. Its owner was leaning over. I tried a couple of excuse me's but all to no avail. Unsure if I should gently tap the protruding derrière I remained immobile whilst the ladies around me, sensing my predicament, started to giggle. Eventually someone on the other side of the door screamed out to the derrière propriétaire to move. We all had a great laugh. 

Khalid returned to escort me back to Riad Sekkat, in case I was unsure of my way.  He asked me if I knew why the women go to the hammam. He assured me that the bathing side of it is almost incidental. It is about socialising, gossiping and checking each other out.

Although the Bain d'Or may not suit everyone, I would thoroughly recommend the experience of going to a hammam and having your skin scrubbed and buffed. I have never felt so cleansed. Your skin feels even softer than that of a baby. I, on the other hand, will definitely go back to Bain d'Or the next time I am fortunate enough to return to Marrakech.

5 commentaires:

  1. What an experience! I'm not sure I would be brave enough. I'm not sure I like the bit about being at the lower end of the room though ...

    1. Next time I will be heading for 'high spot' in the room. :) Experience is a great teacher.

      I forgot to mention in the post that the entire place was very clean.

  2. I did exactly what you did in Asilah, Northern Morocco. We were staying in a small house in the medina and the moroccan housekeeper took me and my daughter to the local hammam with her own daughter and we enjoyed it all together. She spoke a little french which helped enormously and we didn't have to contend with any derrieres! I wonder what the tourist hammam is like? A watered down version I expect!! (

    1. What a wonderful experience going with another mother and daughter.

      I am a bit tempted to try the hammam at the mosque in Paris when I am there. I am not sure how it will compare to what you and I have experienced or the tourist hammams.

      Am really enjoying following your blog. I love Rouen and Normandy!

  3. My goodness! How brave of you. I went to a local hamman in some lost corner of Tunisia many long years ago with two French friends, one of whom spoke Arabic. I have this mental image of innumerable breasts floating on top of very sudsy water. The women all kept their knickers on. I have never really be tempted back, but I didn't get the black soap scrub.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...