Have you heard of hammam before? People pay to be scrubbed!
April 23 — I’ve been waiting for this day all week! A luxury spa day with my first hammam, massage, and pedicure at one of the world’s best luxury spas (awarded 2015). I didn’t think the day could get better and wondered how I would pass the time since the appointment isn’t until 2pm. Then I looked at my phone and had a message from my son.
We haven’t spoken in a while and he misses me. He asked to FaceTime. He’s working a late shift on Pacific Time so with the time change (I’m eight hours ahead) we’ll talk as soon as he gets home.
It was great to see him. He’s been working so hard (he’s always been a hard worker) and getting all the details together for his early move back to college. I’m so proud of his decision and the mature changes he has made. This time he’s on a mission and making things happen.
Fortunately for him he has enlisted the help of my sister. I get stuff done. However, if there was one person who rivals me it would be my sister. How I will ever repay her I don’t know. She treats him more like her own son than a nephew. I’m glad he knows how good he has it.
The last time we exchanged messages he was excited to be taking steps to get his replacement Social Security card so he could apply for a passport. I was thrilled he could possibly come and see me. I’ve tried not to get my hopes up too much. He has a lot going on and I didn’t want delays to make it impossible for him to visit.
A big step in the right direction is he has the Social Security card already! This might not seem like a big deal but I’ve been on him to get this taken care of for years. He’s finally done it. I told him to get the passport process expedited and I would pay for it. We’re looking at Germany for him to come visit. I’m beyond thrilled not only to see him but the opportunity to introduce him to other Roamers. I talk about him all the time and how much fun he would be on a trip like this. Now they’ll get to see for themselves.
Arriving at the Sofitel you can’t help but be impressed. While there are beautiful buildings in Morocco it has more to do with history and how different they are than what I’m used to. This hotel is beautiful because it was designed to be.
Walking into the lobby you know you’re in for an experience. A beautiful water fixture with fresh flowers and eye-catching chandelier greet you as you walk in. To the left there are shops and a sitting area which I think might be for drinks. Continuing on the reception desks are on the right with beautiful seating areas and relaxing chairs all around. Plenty of people are at each reception desk to ensure you don’t have to wait.
I walk into the spa lobby which is much brighter than the lobby and decorated in black marble and royal purples. Upon check in they give me a nice tote with my robe, towel, and slippers and locker key. I’m told to change and someone will come get me shortly.
A woman, dressed in all black comes to get me and sits me down in an open area with all kinds of different seating arrangements. There is another fountain in the center and a very heavy flow of water sound coming from somewhere but I don’t know where. No one offered me water or tea but there is a station where you can serve yourself. Seemed out of place not to offer it to me. That was quickly put out of my mind when I see men walking around.
In a country with such obvious distinctions between men and women it seemed severely out of place to have us all in the same area with only robes and slippers on. I quickly sat up and proper. Previously I had been laying back more carefree with my legs exposed and crossed at the knees. Now I was sitting up straight, robe covering everything I could, cinched up to the collar and legs crossed at the ankles.
Minutes continued to pass and the excitement started to wear off. Soon it turned to hesitance. I’ve never had a hammam before and knew very little. When some of the Roamers started posting about their experiences I wasn’t even a little intrigued. From the type of self-service places they went to military style scrubbing this was one event I passed on without batting an eye.
Then I spoke with another Roamer and she came here. She swore by it and said it was completely worth it. The main draw is this place isn’t anywhere near a medina and not at all self-serve. Meaning I’m not bringing my own towels or supplies. Still I really only know I’ll be naked and get scrubbed by a woman. It’s tradition which has been around a very long time. All this waiting makes me wish I would have researched more or they would explain to me what is going to happen.
Finally, another woman dressed in all black but different uniform comes to get me. We go into a room and she takes off my robe and slippers then leads me into a hot room. Not as hot as a sauna and made of marble not wood. She grabs a bucket scoops up some water and leads me to a marble bench. One of many. She proceeds to pour the water onto the surface and motions for me to lay down. I’m somewhat afraid because I don’t know how hot it will be. The floor was too hot for the bottom of my feet and it kind of burned.
The surface is warm like a hot towel but not as uncomfortable as you would think considering I’m laying on a stone. I was told to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Am I supposed to know when time is up? Will she come back and get me? When I entered I was the only woman. Now there are women on all the benches and some are being taken away. Where is my lady?
She did come back to get me and leads me into a open room with large marble table. There is a tray of treatments and I have no idea what they are. Before I know what’s happening she is spraying me in the face with water and wetting down my whole body. I’m then told to lay face down on the table.
Whatever she’s rubbing on me smells strong like Noxema. Not too bad so far. Then she begins scrubbing me. This hurts and isn’t at all relaxing. It makes sense you have someone else do this to you because to inflict this pain on yourself would be too much to ask. When she asks me to turn over (no easy task when you’re covered in ointment on a marble surface) I take a moment to see what she is scrubbing me with.
I think I’m going to see the same type of scrub brush Cinderella used to scrub the castle floors. I was wrong. It’s a black glove. Probably with steel wool weaved into the fabric.
Next she’s telling me to sit up. I don’t understand at first. While I try to decipher her words she is pushing my body all around. She’s constantly spraying me with water to rinse me off. Now she’s dousing my head and face.
I don’t know when it all started but for a few years now when I wash my face or put my face under the shower head I hold my breath. No idea why. So I can imagine I’m acting like a baby with the faces I’m making and gasping for air as though I’m trying to resurface.
What happened next I wasn’t expecting and no one said. She begins washing my hair. No one’s washed my hair like this since I was a little girl. Sure, when I get my hair cut but there is a big difference. I’m fully clothed.
When I think it’s all over as she takes my hand and we walk out of the room. It’s not. She sits me on a bench and begins to take the bucket and dump it over my head. Four times. Can I be done now? The answer. Yes. Thank goodness because I’m completely out of breath.
After leaving the area and back in the disrobing room she toweled me off, dries my hair, puts my robe and slippers on, then takes me to the most comfortable chair ever.
Now I know a hammam is not for relaxation, it’s for preparation. I’ll have to do some research but I can only imagine it was used to prepare someone for something like a wedding. In the Bible they are plenty of stories when the queen would prepare herself to see the king — her husband — and it would take days. Servants would prepare her body with scents and fragrances. Maybe they scrubbed her too and left that part out.
Sitting in this chair, being served tea, and enjoying a wonderful view I literally said out loud, “This is the life.” Then I laughed. I wasn’t really joking though. My whole life I never thought I had expensive taste. Turns out I do. Well I have a taste for experiences and sometimes they are luxurious. I can afford it here because of the exchange rate. Not sure if I would have jumped at the same price in the States.
I wonder if there will be a place on the trip I enjoy enough to live that has a really good exchange rate. I could live there half the year and be able to experience things like this on a regular basis. Or maybe my income will get to the point I can do them in the States as well without having to think about it too much.
A woman comes and gets me for my massage. The experience was good. How they take care of you before and after is nice. The massage itself was just okay. She didn’t ask what is bothering me or if there were any areas to concentrate on. My neck and hips have been killing me. I thought it might be stress or a heavy backpack. Turns out it’s my mattress. It’s gotten to the point where I sleep with my travel neck pillow and put extra padding underneath my hips.
I’m not a fan of massages where the procedure will be the same no matter what. The best massage I’ve ever had was in Tracy, CA at the Bikram Yoga Studio. Their masseuse, Sidonia, is amazing! She’s never given me the same massage twice, always asks me questions, and when I leave there I’m a completely new person. You can tell it is more than a job for her. It’s a lifestyle and art.
Next was the pedicure. As the day went on it became less of an experience. They sat me in the main lobby still in my robe to wait for the water basin to fill up. People are walking by and they look at me strangely because it feels out of place for them too. I could have easily waited in the other area where everyone is in a robe.
Cleaning ladies are walking around looking for things to constantly clean. Turns out they thought my water basin needed to be cleaned so they emptied it and were cleaning when I was brought back. The woman who was about to give me a pedicure was very upset. I didn’t mind. It showed how clean they are which is exactly the reason I’m getting a pedicure here. I could get one for much less elsewhere in town. However, cleanliness and sanitary procedures aren’t high on the list here and I won’t take my chances. This time when the basin was being filled I didn’t have to go back out to the lobby I was able to sit in the chair.
I enjoyed how thorough the pedicure was. It was very good. The experience was not. Doors were constantly slamming and kids are running through the lobby to get to the pool. Where they provide pedicures and manicures is just off to the side of the lobby. So there I sit in my robe while people walk by. Not everyone notices me, but it’s not at all what I thought. By the time it ends I couldn’t be happier because if I hear one more door slam I’m going to flip out. Have they not heard of silent doors?
Too bad the day had to end on this experience. Not that it truly matters. These are completely first world cares. There were a lot of other ways I could have spent my day. I‘d choose today over a lot of other days I’ve had here and elsewhere.
My end of day gratitude:
- FaceTiming with my son.
- My first hammam.
- The opportunity to have a spa day at one of the best spas in the world.