It’s so true that the best experiences are the ones you don’t expect.
When I went to Morocco I was expecting, uhm… well I had no idea what to expect, but for sure I didn’t know what was waiting for me behind that small, hidden away door in the Medina of Fez!
But let’s start from the beginning. My first stop in the country was Marrakech and there I tried a hammam (steam room) for the first time. I followed the advice of the hostel owner and went for a massage + scrub package, but I found myself in a somehow upscale, obviously touristy environment that looked more like a spa than a hammam. Quick (as in hurried) service, people asking for tips at every corner, not a good massage, and a not so hygienic environment where the same sponge was used on everyone for scrubs (ew). It was OK but I didn’t love it. But I was later on told that the real Moroccan hammam is not like that.
So when I reached Fez I decided to give it another try, and this time I was reassured that the experience was going to be authentic (I know how many of you hate this word but believe me it’s appropriate in this case).
Ok I need to make a little introduction here. Coming from an extensive period of time spent in Egypt, where nudity is a big no-no even between close friends, I was expecting the same thing from Morocco. WRONG.
This is why I was in shock when I found myself in the same room with like 50 other women of all ages and shapes, all naked and not embarrassed at all, while I timidly sat in a corner trying not to being noticed but failing at it, being the only foreign person there and also the only one who obviously had no idea what to do. Imagine my face while I faked confidence keeping a smile on my face while desperately looking for someone to help me or explain what to do. That someone finally showed up.
A big, elderly, naked woman with, uhm, humongous boobs (yes this is pretty much all I remember of her) approached me speaking her Berber dialect and telling me God-knows-what in a loud voice making sure that everyone was staring at me and that’s when I accepted the idea of looking funny to the “audience”, and to just wait and see what was going to happen. And enjoy it if possible!
Before entering the hammam, I was told I had to buy some typical black soap and a glove for my scrub. Apparently everybody in Morocco owns a glove for their regular visits to hammams, and I was happy to buy one – for a dollar or so – as it’s definitely the most hygienic option.
So there I was, sitting on the wet floor, when the big woman came and filled two big buckets of hot water and placed them in front of me, then she somehow let me understand that she was going to take care of the whole situation for me.
She emptied a bucket of hot water on me, grabbed me without too many compliments and put my head on her lap so that we were both on the floor, me laying and her sitting, and she started scrubbing my whole body with unimaginable strength. She scrubbed me everywhere and by this I mean even my armpits and other sensitive areas, and that hurt! While doing so, she was singing and saying something in a loud voice, and everyone would laugh at what she said… I was trying to understand what was going on but gave up on that too.
Alright, I knew I was probably being made fun of – but what could I do?
The woman was amused (but didn’t look grossed out) by the amount of dead skin my body produced – I thought I was a clean person but apparently showering every day is not enough folks! She showed it to me every now and then, making funny faces and I was trying to justify myself without knowing how to do that, and probably just looking funnier and funnier.
Did I mention that I was naked? And that she was too? Well while my head was on her lap I had this view of those boobs getting dangerously close to my face every time she leaned over to scrub my body and in the meantime I was in pain and all that was extremely uncomfortable.
I felt naked-er than naked!
But I found myself smiling, because after all that was too funny and while on one side I was happy that nobody in the room knew me, at the same time I couldn’t wait to go back to the hostel to tell my new friends about it and recommend the experience to everyone.
In the end, the woman took a comb and washed my hair, and that was painful too, but I couldn’t stop her. She wouldn’t listen. She just did it. It reminded me of when I was a kid and someone would wash me and my hair… same thing, except that I am now 30 and I haven’t allowed anyone to comb my hair (hairdressers included) in years! But I had to make and exception.
This exception was well worth it, because I came back to the hostel with a huge smile on my face, probably the cleanest I have ever been in my whole life, and on top of that I brought a special memory back home with me.
Now, if only I remembered where in the Medina that hammam is. All I remember is that it was a small door, in a corner, in one of the countless alleys of beautiful historical Fez…
Did you try the hammam while in Morocco and how was it? I am curious to hear all about your experience!