Hammam – naked, oiled and scrubbed raw

Posted on January 31, 2015

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The Hammam we decided on is the oldest in Essaouira. According to the guide it’s a place that Orson Wells used while visiting this area. Dunno how factually correct that is. It took us some time to find it as the name of the road is spelt differently from the name on the map; which is different to the name in the guide and different again to what is actually written on the bloody road sign. Morocco, go figure! Outside it looks like a hole in the wall. And later we found out it is about as spit-and-sawdust as you can get.

Inside were two rather dumpy, large-breasted women in their 50s. They smiled broadly baring badly tea-stained teeth. We enquired about the price and were met with a shock. They wanted one hundred dirham each which was clearly a tourist price. We protested in French and they pretended not to understand and responded in Arabic. We were then dragged outside to use the local tobacconist as a translator.

“Hmmm, he’s one of them, we’re stuffed, we’re gonna get ripped off,” I thought. It wasn’t the price it’s never the price that matters in these cases, it’s the principal. I understand a small hike but when people just start taking the piss because they see you as a cash cow it really gets my back up.

It must have been quite a spectacle. I was talking in English to The Singer. She was translating and talking in French to the dude behind the counter, and he was babbling back our argument in Arabic to Mrs Hammam. We got there in the end.

Finally we knocked her down to something reasonable that was more reflective of what locals pay exclaiming that this was no spa. To our surprise the tobacconist agreed and probably told the old dear to stop being greedy. Plus we fully intended on tipping if we were happy with the service. Reluctantly she nodded at our final offer and we followed her back.

“She is gonna scrub us raw now,” said The Singer nervously.
“Yup! This is gonna hurt like hell!” I agreed.

Inside was a bit like how old school swimming baths looked in the 1980s. Everywhere is titled and wet. There are wooden pigeon holes built high into the walls for clothes to be stashed and wooden benches to sit on. This is the changing room.

We stripped down to our bikini bottoms and were led through a series of dark arches, ducking, slipping and sliding on the warm wet floor, think of a dungeon…it kinda sums up what it was like. We were led to the end room where there was a large trough filled with water which was constantly being filled up by an open tap of running water. In a desert country like Morocco Hammams are quite extravagant especially with the amount of water wasted like this.

We were told to sit on the floor. Backs against the wall and legs outstretched – we waited. Two large buckets of warm water with a scoop were placed by our feet. We started to bucket shower and had a bit of play fight to kill time. Then our woman re-appeared now naked expect for her Bridget Jones off-white knickers that tried to cover her large tummy tyre. I wasn’t sure what was bigger her breasts or the flabby muffin top. Good look. She pushed a brown oily substance into our palms and motioned for us to lather up. This stuff is argan soap. It is a brown sticky substance that is the colour and texture of melted toffee and starts to soap up with enough ferocious rubbing.

The singer was the first to be scrubbed. She lay flat on the titles face on the floor (don’t think about the bacteria) and our woman went to it. A coloured mit on her right hand she scrubbed her raw. Her beautiful porcelain skin turning beetroot in matter of seconds. Dirt rolling itself into little pieces.

“Spaghetti, spaghetti!!” The woman cackled to me as she was delighted with her handy work.
“The only English word she pretends to know is Spaghetti, really?!” I thought. I turned to The Singer, “How do you feel love? Is she hurting you?,” I asked concerned.
“No, not really,” responded the singer calmly, “Some areas are more sensitive, but it’s ok.”
After being scrubbed both front and back, neck to toes she was given more water to rinse, then more argan soap to lather up before being massaged and then more water for a final rinse.

My experience was pretty similar. It felt good and I was surprised how much crap came out of my skin. Not sure about the hygiene in this place. Your face is on the floor where all the crap, sweat and water of everyone else is falling. And you’re rubbed down with the same mit that has probably been used on the last person and the person before that. It’s only rinsed in water before being rubbed all over your body. You pay for what you get I guess. Having said that I really enjoyed the experience. Whenever I have exfoliated at a posh spa my skin has never been left this squeaky clean. I was impressed. London could do with one of these, they’d be uber popular. Note to self, retirement plan….!

I’ve not known the singer long but we have gone from 0 to 60 in less than 24 hours. Naked, oiled, scrubbed and sharing a bed. Her husband will be delighted if not jealous I am sure!!

Post Hammam, we fought our way through the fish market on the front and picked out our lunch which was cooked there and then on a grill – red snapper, a plate of calamari, fresh bread and a tomato and onion salad. Fighting off the heartburn we ran for the bus and hopped on, with any luck we would be in Agadir in three hours and in time for dinner.

Only two more days of my adventure left. Where on earth have those three weeks gone?

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