Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What the hammam just happened?

I laugh out loud as the ‘petit taxi’ stops in front of the Park Hyatt hotel in Casablanca. It’s the tiniest taxi I have ever seen. It’s also siren red.

The girls and I are going to try out hammam, a traditional Moroccan beauty treatment that involves exfoliation. The little car only takes a few minutes to get us there, more because the driver is speeding than because it is close.

Pretty tiles line the entrance of our destination, an authentic hammam chamber called Hammam Ziani. We walk inside, choose a full treatment package and prepare to be pampered.

Tiny pieces of fabric are (almost) all we are allowed to take with us as we enter the steamy marble chamber. The lady who meets us inside belly laughs as she sees us trying to cover ourselves up with the sarongs.

“No this must go,” she says, as she rips it off our bodies and leads us into a small steam room.

“Sit down.”

We follow orders in slow motion as our jaws drop to the marble floor. Big, fat women are bathing, shaving and conditioning their hair in here. We are too stunned to talk, but we try to catch each other’s eyes – should we leave now before it’s too late?

“You stay,” orders the lady who brought us here, “10 minutes.”

So we stay and gasp at our bizarre surroundings. Do these people not bath at home? Does the water have medicinal properties? I am so intrigued that I forget I am naked and by the time we are led to another room I am too relaxed to care.

We wash ourselves with bowls of lukewarm water and lie down on marble slabs to get scrubbed down. Excess layers peel off my skin like macaroni and get washed away into the slits in the marble floor.

I try not to think about all the body waste that passes through this place at any given time. It seems clean enough. The marble gets washed with boiling water every time they finish a client.

When I am done I get to wash with olive soap and bowls of water from the marble basins again and then there’s another marble slab for me. This time there is plastic on top of it. I slide down onto the plastic and immediately feel hot sticky stuff being smeared onto my skin, from my toes to my hair line. They don’t waste any time in here.

Then I get wrapped in the plastic like a sticky toffee. Whatever is on my skin is really hot and it stings. I would guess it’s peppermint but a local later tells me that it’s more likely henna.

I fall asleep until I get woken up by the girls.

“Are you ok?” they whisper from their plastic wrappers.

“I’m not sure,” I answer.

After another wash there’s another marble slab and a very forceful massage. I get moulded and shaped like a piece of clay. I want to say: “Take it easy,” but my face muscles are too lazy.

All of a sudden we are done. We get handed our tiny sarongs for the two-second walk back to the changing rooms. Why bother? After getting dressed we sit in the room next to the marble chamber for what seems like an eternity. Without saying a word.

What on earth just happened?

By the time we are ready to take a taxi back to our hotel I laugh out loud.

However weird that was, it felt really good. My skin is super smooth and all my stress is washed away with the skin macaroni. What an experience, hi-hi.

For more, see http://www.hammamziani.ma/


pierre said...

Did not think of an experience like this when I first heard the word "hammam"...a male work colleague of mine had to research a "hammam" as part of possible incorporating it in a spa design for a hotel, and his description was consistent with yours, although he went to one in Turkey...seems like they have standard operating procedures, Turkey or Marocco! Enjoyed reading your account.

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