Hammam in Tangier, Morocco
(This post has no pictures and is lengthy. This Hammam experience needed to be thoroughly documented… read on and you will understand)
A Moroccan Hammam. A spa treatment that’s purpose is deep exfoliation, which involves intense scrubbing of an individual’s body. I had never heard of this before our trip to Spain, Gibraltar, and Morocco. It was our dear friend Christian’s sister, Anna, who enlightened me. It was her experience with a Hammam that inspired me to seek one out. As she described her spa treatment over dinner one evening, I was weeping from laughter. She ended up going to the Hammam with 2 other girls that enhanced the treatment. I wish I had recorded her because she acted out the intense scrubbing while setting the scene with words. Too funny.
We traveled to Morocco with two other girls so I was hoping that we could be a united front and go through this inevitably hilarious experience together. Once we got to our hotel- I made it a mission to figure out a way to get this authentic Moroccan Hammam. The other girls were apprehensive and still on the fence if they were going to participate.
While lounging around the common areas of our residence, there was a door set off of the main foyer that was labeled, “Hammam”. Bingo! After asking the staff, it was confirmed that there was a Hammam on site and they have Moroccan women that perform the treatment on retainer. It was decision time and out of the three girls, I was the only one that decided to go through with it. I scheduled it for 2 days out and it was set in stone.
After Anna described her experience, I had a general idea of what to expect. In summary, you would be in your underwear, a woman would wash you, she would then scrub you (until your skin is almost raw), you rinse off, and you are done! Sounds okay in theory but it was different in person.
The day of, the group had gathered to have breakfast and I was patiently waiting to be called in the room. The woman that was to be performing the treatment arrived and brought me through the door that I had seen two days prior.
There was a language barrier, which made this experience all the more fun? She spoke Arabic and French while I speak English and some Spanish. We communicated with simple one to two word phrases and body language. As we entered the room and the door shut behind me, she told me to take off all of my clothes. I did as she said and was standing in my underwear. She looked at me and simply stated, “All”. Any humility I had was now out the window as I am completely naked in front of a stranger.
She leads me through another door to a beautiful spa area. It was floor to ceiling marble with benches carved out. I was instructed to sit on this marble slab. Although they had clearly heated the room, the marble was still chilly and as mentioned, I had not one stitch of clothing to warm me. Uncomfortable would be an understatement.
The woman was wearing the clothes that she had worn on the street and was mostly covered except for her face. She excused herself for a moment to change into the appropriate clothing. She returned in a polo shirt dress and was clearly more comfortable in the hot room.
She began the treatment by pouring water on me, which she did with an ornate silver bowl. Bowl by bowl I was warmed with hot water and I began to relax. After I was thoroughly rinsed, I was instructed to lay down on my back. My anxiety about being naked in front of a stranger heightened as I laid flat and flew out of my (briefly adjusted) comfort zone. It felt as though I was completely exposed; open to the world to see. She began by rubbing a slimy substance on me, similar to Moroccan Black Soap, which prepares the skin for exfoliation. She applied this to both sides of my body. She then put up 10 fingers on her hands as she walked away. I learned that this needed to sit on my skin for 10 minutes.
When she came back, the real fun began. She put on her exfoliating glove and started to rub my leg. The glove turned out to be made of rubber that was textured. Her first stroke on the back of my calf was a shock to say the least. I initially thought she was joking. I clenched my teeth a put on a brave face- luckily I was face down on the marble slab so she couldn’t see. She quietly said, “Okay? Medium”. This meant that the level of scrubbing was considered medium. Medium?! I have no idea how this tiny, dainty woman gathered the strength to push so hard. What would the ‘hard’ level feel like?
She continued the aggressive strokes my whole backside and rinsed away the soap that she had used. I was told to turn over and as I sat up, I noticed dark specks surrounding me. I laid on my back and prepared myself for an equal amount of torture on this side. Except this time, she was able to see my face that read pain in addition to being able to see every other part of me. As she scrubbed my arm, I figured out what the dark specks were. My dead skin. I completely grossed myself out. I had taken a shower the night before and I thought I had exfoliated.
News to all women: You have no idea what exfoliating is.
She continued my to scrub my front side and I continued to block the pain and imagined myself in a completely different place. I was wondering if she would shy away from scrubbing specific parts, for example- my chest. Nope, she went right for it with no shame. Because she was so comfortable doing it, it made me feel the same. After she was finished, she rinsed me (and my dead skin) away with the same sliver bowl. I have sensitive skin and my entire body looked like I was sunburnt. I was then covered in a mud mask and given the sign for 10 minutes again. The mask immediately cooled my skin and was clearly intended to calm skin. After 10 minutes, she led me to a shower in which she washed my hair and me.
As I finished the shower, she greeted me with a fluffy robe and fresh squeezed orange juice. It felt luxurious and fit into the spa archetype. Because I was staying in one of the rooms of the hotel, I was able to go to my room in the robe. As I left the room in the robe, Max looked at me as if he had been waiting with baited breath. I came out alive, a few hundred layers of skin less, but still alive.
I am happy that I took the plunge and put myself into an initially uncomfortable situation to gain experience. I am proud that I immersed myself in something unknown. My Hammam was different that Anna’s because she went to a local Hammam that was meant for local Moroccan women. I went to one that was clearly meant for people staying at the hotel. I would recommend jumping in and trying something new. It was a fantastic way to get a different view of the country- through the culture.