Nearly naked in Morocco: My first hammam experience

“Take off clothes,” she mumbled as she handed me a one-size-fits-all string bikini bottom wrapped in plastic.

“Right here?” I hesitated as I pointed to the carpet beneath both of our feet.

“Oui!” she said in French, not bothering to turn around or cover her eyes.

Desperately wanting to make small talk with this stranger (because somehow that could make this situation less uncomfortable), I stripped in silence, wondering how things were  going for Spencer.

After struggling to understand which way was up on my new budget bikini bottom—seriously, that’s not a game you want to play when someone is impatiently watching you undress—I found myself nearly naked in front of a large Moroccan woman at a hammam in Marrakech. This was never how I imagined I would celebrate Super Bowl Sunday.

I followed her into the next room that had four marble tables. A different, larger woman wearing a white one-piece swimsuit entered the room and motioned for me to sit on a wooden stool. I was apparently now assigned to her.

She repeatedly filled a bucket with warm water and poured it onto my body. When she felt that she had appropriately drenched me, she gestured for me to lie on one of the cold, marble tables.

Shivering, I did as she “said,” wondering how the in the world anyone could compare a hammam to a spa. She covered every inch of my body with Morocco’s famous black soap—which looked like a pile of poop, but thankfully didn’t smell like it.

Then, it was back to the stool for another “bath.”

She then grabbed my arm and led my soaking wet body into a large, circular steam room. I sat on the frigid concrete platform and awaited the steam’s arrival.

“Should I sit? Should I lie down? Is anyone watching me?” I pondered. I haven’t spent very much time in steam rooms, and not surprisingly, no instructions were provided.

I awkwardly tried both and decided it was probably better to sit. Thank god I was alone.

Finally the steam turned on, my lungs filled with moisture, and I could no longer see. I’m such an amateur at steam rooms, and occasionally I had to put my head between my knees to breath the fresh air that hid at the bottom of the room. After about fifteen minutes of fidgeting and antsiness, I went down for another breath and looked to my left. I was startled to see another pair of feet resting very near to mine. I immediately popped back up to the steamy atmosphere.

“OMG, how long has she—oh, I hope it’s a she. It’s got to be a she, right?—been sitting there?!” I thought.

Suddenly, I heard a grunt and felt someone grab my arm. I was about to drop some naked self-defense, but just in the knick of time, I recognized the large faceless figure as my Moroccan lady.

Obviously, this was exactly the serene experience I had been hoping for.

Exiting the steam room, I had this image of myself in my head. You know the one. Sleek hair, moisturized skin, a soft, natural glow. Although I felt far from refreshed, I assumed I looked somewhat like an Herbal Essence model fresh from the shower.

This image swiftly vanished when I passed a mirror and was reminded of the makeup I had so carefully applied that morning. In case being frazzled, dripping wet and pulled around by a Moroccan woman wasn’t agony enough, the mascara from each of my eyelashes decided to participate in a rat race down my cheeks. I was certain my dear Moroccan friend would help dissolve this mess on my cheeks, but no… I guess she preferred to bathe me in this pitiful state. Who was I trying to impress anyway?

Now it was time for the scrub down, the chief purpose of this entire experience. Once again, I lay down on the table, and my Moroccan woman reapplied the black soap. She wore a red cloth glove with a rough surface and scrubbed away at my skin. I actually quite liked this part, and when I opened my eyes, I was rather horrified to see the mountains of dead skin resting on the table. I instantly thought this whole strange and uncomfortable process was worth it. I felt like a new (soft) woman!

Then it was back to the stool for my third bath, followed by the massage room.

I hopped onto another cold table covered in plastic, ready to be lathered with argon oil and massaged.

I assured myself I could definitely relax here.

After about five minutes another nearly naked and blushing tourist, probably the one I was so surprised to find in the steam room, interrupted my meditation as she was assigned to the table next to me.

After adjusting to this undesirable version of a couple’s massage, I was ready to zone out again when giant drops of icy water started falling onto my stomach and forehead. I assumed it was just condensation carried over from the steam room, but they were bitterly cold and far from pleasant. The drops were soon joined by howls of laughter coming from a nearby room—most likely employees scheming up new ways to humiliate tourists like myself. As she massaged my neck, her ample, dangling breasts smashing into my face, my Moroccan lady made her first attempt at making this a somewhat pleasant experience and hushed the laughing hyenas in the other room.

After my “45-minute massage” (but who’s counting, anyway) it was back to the marble table for a loofah scrub down and my fourth and final bath. This time, there was a naked French girl on either side of me, leaving no safe place to rest my eyes.

But alas! The end was near. I was handed a bathrobe and led back to the changing room where it all began. After delighting in how soft my new skin felt, I eagerly changed my clothes and returned to the lobby to sip on some mint tea and wait for Spencer. After about ten minutes, he came around the corner with enormous eyes, sat down, and poured himself some tea without saying a word. I smirked at him, feeling slightly guilty but mostly tickled for convincing him to do this.

What an experience. I didn’t love it, nor did I hate it. It was weird and uncomfortable and far from what I expected, but my skin has never been softer! If anything, it was only 25 euros, and I got to keep the scrubbing glove.

Have you ever been to a hammam? Would you be interested in experiencing one? 

18 thoughts on “Nearly naked in Morocco: My first hammam experience

  1. Andy Dunn says:

    If you ever go to the bath houses in hit springs Arkansas it is a strangely similar experience except my Moroccan woman was an older African American man (think Morgan Freeman) who was less than thrilled with my shyness! Great story.

  2. Sylvia B says:

    That had to be quite an experience! I visited a bath house in Budapest recently and was taken aback by the freeness with which european and south american women undress. I was talking with a woman and her daughter from Argentina(i think), and the entire time i didn’t know where to look because they just stripped in mid sentence. Maybe we are all just a bit prudish in america haha.

  3. Mari says:

    Loved this! Quite the experience! Nudity outside of the States is a normal state of being. It is not revered with the shame as it is here. Fortunately, you were at least given a bikini bottom to wear. In Bali, we were given NOTHING and had to lay naked on tables for massages and baths. We got to know our travel mates really well in a hurry! And when they massaged you, they massaged EVERYWHERE. Very uncomfortable! But hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?

  4. Heather Shackel says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post! It sounds like you had a great time and made some fun memories! Next time, I will have to wait to read your posts after class so that I don’t bust out laughing and distract my professor in the process.

  5. Single Malt Monkey says:

    Fun post. My wife and I had the Hammam experience in Istanbul last year. A centuries old building with communal areas for couples to “suffer” together. It was fun but somewhat weird. I would do it again even though I felt a bit pummeled. You just have to. 🙂

    • Erica Connolly says:

      Thank you! I’ve heard they’re a little different in Istanbul and Turkey, but interesting, nonetheless! I would probably do it again, too. Maybe it’s better when you know what to expect!

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