I’m lying down on the wet, heated floor, naked except for my underwear. I would have taken them off too, but it did not appear to be the status quo. An elderly Moroccan lady, also naked bar her underwear, is rubbing black soap all over my body, massaging it into my feet, my legs, my inner thighs, rubbing it into every last crevasse.
I’m prodded to turn over on to my back so she can start working on my face, my neck and everything below. I lie there with my fists closed, trying not to feel uncomfortable and trying not to compare to the dodgy Thai massages I received in Bangkok two years ago. The woman unfurls my closed fist to massage my fingers, and then leaves my hands just lying there. As she works on my upper arms, in pushes one of her over-sized saggy breasts into the palm of my hand.
And that is how I came to be lying naked on the floor of a Moroccan Hammam, trying to rid myself of an inevitable fit of the giggles by thinking about abandoned puppies or worse, a lost passport.
I actually thought I would be fine. I thought it would be a walk in the park compared to all my crazy over night experiences fighting off angry ajummas in Korean jimjilbangs. It turns out nothing will prepare you for the unexpected! The Hammam was not what I had expected, but then again I didn’t really know what to expect in the first place. Essentially a Hammam is just two or three small shower rooms with heated floors and taps, full of women scrubbing each other while the room half fills up with steam. I guess I had expected more than a glorified shower area, that’s for sure.
As the woman started to scrub harder, ensuring she peeled off every last inch of dead skin to be found on my body, I was brought back to the present. I couldn’t help but bite my lip as she pressed hard and scrubbed away on my horribly sunburned back. I wondered how the guys were getting on next door and if they had funny old men massaging their most private parts or if maybe they just chickened out and decided to wash themselves.
Once the lady is finished scrubbing, and I’m relieved that her gigantic breasts are no longer slapping against my face, she makes me stand up while she pours bucket after bucket of (almost) boiling water on me…the Moroccans don’t leave anything to chance when it comes to cleanliness!
Feeling a bit dizzy from all the steam and hot water, I get dressed pretty quickly and the the cold air outside the Hammam is a welcome relief. I wait in the car (the surf school in Taghazout kindly gave me my own car to use for the week!) for the guys to come out and find myself almost crying with laughter when they regale their tales from the male section of the Hammam.
Turns out the guys are not only scrubbed with a lot more zest than us girls, but that the Moroccan men actually wrestle them to the ground in some sort of bizarre massage ritual!
When asked later on how it was they just replied, “It was….an experience.”
It most certainly was.
Further details for those feeling brave
What do you need to bring?
Just bring what you would normally bring to a swimming pool or spa. Most women actually keep their underwear on but take their bra or bikini top off. You will need a towel and shampoo and conditioner but black soap and a scrubbing mitten is given to you on arrival. You will also need a towel and some moisturizer to sooth your skin once you have dried off.
How much does it cost?
Basic entrance to a public Hammam costs 12 Dirham, which is about $1.20. This just includes entrance and nothing else. For about 100 Dirham or $12, you will be given a small bucket with a scrubbing mitten, a bar of soap, traditional black soap and some sort of body peel. You will also have 1-2 women scrubbing and massaging you for about 20 minutes.
How does it work exactly?
It’s a little intimidating when you first arrive but don’t worry it is pretty easy to figure out. You pay your money then go to the changing room (a cold room full of blue benches) and take off everything but your underwear. Put all your stuff in your bag or backpack and give it to the ladies who you paid. They keep it, and all other bags, behind the counter for safe keeping. It does feel a bit strange walking to the reception area half naked, but as only women are allowed in there is nothing to worry about. You then go into the shower area, fill a bucket with hot water then go sit in a corner and start washing yourself. Once the women who work there are free, they will come over and start scrubbing you. Sometimes you need to ask (we did) but most of the time they seem to know and will just come to you.