While in Chefchaouen I decided to finally check out a traditional Moroccan Hammam, or bathhouse. Plenty of Morocco’s larger cities have hamman’s specifically catering to tourists, which offer a range of other beauty services, with prices to match. I was only interested in the local hammam though, and after being pointed in the right direction by my riad owner, and two restauranteurs, I finally found Hamman el-Blad which dates from 1549 and was the first hammam in the city.
Upon entering I was met by an older Moroccan woman who spoke no English. This was the beginning of an hour of hilarious communication and awkward naked moments. She pointed me in the direction of a wall of lockers and I was instructed to undress to my undies. With a pair of cheap plastic slip on sandals on my feet I then followed her through three sauna type rooms, each getting progressively hotter, as I tried in vain to hide my nakedness behind my hands. This was no place for modesty though.In the last room she laid some plastic mats on the floor, indicated that I lie down on them, and then proceeded to throw three buckets of hot water over me before leaving me to lay there alone and sweating for what seemed like an eternity. In reality it was probably about 10 minutes, and during that time some local women came in for their cleansing ritual.
My ‘cleaning woman’ returned with a small stool for me to sit on, she now also naked down to her undies. She lathered me up with the gooey black soap I’ve seen being sold in all the markets, and washed it off by flinging more buckets of hot water over me. Then out came what looked like a small black oven mitt, which she placed over her hand and began to slough the dead skin off my body. What looked like an oven mitt though felt like a scourer, and as I watched the dead skin build up with the scrubbing I feared that the tan I had built over the last months was in fact just a layer of dirt and I’d walk out of there lily white. She seemed to pay special attention to my chocolate coloured birthmark on my right hip, and I wondered if she thought it was an extra dirty spot that she could scrub off! Finally the scrubbing ended and more hot water was poured all over me to wash away the dead skin. Ew!
I was pointed back to the plastic mats on the floor and to lie on my stomach. This was the massage portion of the experience. She poured some type of liquid onto my back, sat on my butt and started massaging my back and arms with the oily soap she was using. When she indicated to me to roll over I was so slippery that I slid right off the mat and caused much laughter in the other women as I tried in a rather ungainly fashion to slide back onto the mat.
Massage over, it was back onto the little stool, which was an experience in itself as I was still slippery, so I slid on my knees (kind of like on a slip n’ slide) over to the stool as I couldn’t stand up, and the woman had to help me position myself so I wouldn’t slide right off. Cue more laughter from the others in the room. More hot water thrown at me, and this time also poured over my head for my shampoo. Now, don’t imagine that this is like a shampoo at the hairdressers. No siree. No head massages with water gently poured to stay off your face and out of your eyes. No, this involved bucket loads of hot water dumped over my head, as I held my breath and squeezed my eyes shut tight. This was followed by a harsh brushing, more water, more brushing, and repeat until I feel like I’m drowning and will have no hair left.
Finally it was time to stand again, and my lovely lady threw buckets of water at me for a head to toe rinsing, which was rather difficult for her given she was two feet shorter than I. Finally I was draped in a towel and led back to the locker room where I dried off and dressed. I think my cleaning lady really liked me, because she blew me a kiss as I left!
Was it a relaxing experience? Er, no. But I haven’t felt so clean in forever, and my skin is silky smooth (what’s left of it). I recommend this to anyone coming to Morocco. It is part of the Moroccan everyday life, and something that should be experienced.
Hammam el-Blad is located just off Chefchaouen’s main square. Any one of the restaurant touts can point you in the right direction. Mornings are for men. From midday onwards it is women only. It only costs 10 MAD to enter, but for the full scrubbing and massage experience expect to pay 150 MAD. Bring a spare pair of underwear as yours will be soaked. The hammam provided everything else, though you can bring your own shampoo if you have a specific brand you want to use. They even gave me a bottle of water at the end (the heat will make you dehydrated). The total experience lasted about one hour.