Saturday, July 10, 2010
We had been reading about the local hammams in Morocco since we arrived in Tanger and were first introduced to the medina. Most homes in the medinas are without running water and therefore it must be obtained from public fountains (for cooking and cleaning) and at your local hammam for bathing. So a hammam is basically a neighborhood bathhouse shared by all and separated only by a time schedule which allows use by both men and women. The idea is to pack up a towel, some black soap (made from the resin of olives), and an exfoliating glove then head off to the local hammam for a scrub down with hot water in a large steamy tiled room.
The visitors guide at Dar Roumana provided some great information about the local hammam (which made it seem a little less scary) and encouraged visitors to try their hand at an authentic Moroccan tradition. After a sun-drenched breakfast on the roof terrace I made up my mind that I was going to give it a try and would report back to Catherine about the cleanliness, safety, and overall weird factor. The first session of the men's time ended at noon and it was already 11am so I quickly packed my bag, got some directions from the inn keeper, and was off to check it out for myself.
I arrived at the unmarked door hidden off the medina's narrow road pleased that I had gotten some description from the inn keeper--"look for the green and white tiles with the sign in Arabic above the door." Posture intact, I strode in through the door trying not to look like this was my first time at the hammam. My facade was quickly squashed when a gentlemen finally came over to me and told me that I should go ahead and take my clothes off (apparently I was just sitting in the changing room looking confused). But things fell into place rather quickly after I had stripped down to boxers and was holding my jar of black soap. My attendant (I'm sure there is an official name for this person, just don't know it yet) guided me back through a door into a cavernous room filled with arched doorways, covered in colorful tiles, and billowing with steam generated from the continuous flow of water. He pointed to a corner of the room and gestured that is where I should go situate myself. He left, I sat down my things and proceeded to stand in this steamy room under the arch of my little nook trying to figure out what to do next. A few minutes had passed and no attendant. Had I only asked for the massage and not the scrub? Confused, I took it upon myself to start bathing and figured if I was doing things wrong someone would come put me in check shortly. I made it about halfway through washing my torso when the attendant reappeared in the room and instructed me to sit down on the tiles--oops, not sit, lay down on the tile. There I was stretched out on the steamy tile floor when it began. A Moroccan dude wearing some short spedo looking briefs who appeared to be shaved head to toe began massaging my arms and then beat on my chest a few times. With a mit made of material that felt like steel wool he then proceed to spend a lengthy amount of time exfoliating my top side, tapped my leg made me roll over, and continued on my back. After a solid 15 minutes of having my nice desert tan removed by abrasion I was thoroughly dosed with the buckets of hot water procured from a steamy corner on the opposite side of the wall. After my rinsing he got up smiled, refilled my water buckets (two with cold water this time) and left me to finish washing myself as I pleased. What I pleased was to pour the cold water all over myself to cool down--it was hot!
I exited the hammam's inner sanctum and made my way back out to the changing room. Back in dry clothes I felt good and not weird-ed out in the slightest--could it be that I am slowly becoming less of a tourist and more of a traveler? I pulled out my hundred dirham bill to pay the tab which I was informed would be about 40dH. Handing it over to my attendant, I thanked him and held his gaze for a moment looking for my change. Ah-ha! No change for me, I had read about this and just forgotten--always try and have exact change--if not, it can easily be misconstrued as a tip. Oh well, maybe I'm still a bit more of a tourist than I thought.