You can’t come to Morocco and not experience a Hammam, so we set out to find one in Fez. We literally had no idea what was involved in one of these Turkish bathhouses though so we did a little research online and spoke with our riad hosts. It seemed to be a variety of hot steamy rooms where you scrub yourself down or pay for someone to do it for you. Apparently locals have Hammams because they feel a shower doesn’t make them clean enough. It’s also a social event where ladies can gossip and also a place where people can actually have a proper wash in communities where hot water is scarce. I soon found out that men and women visit at different hours, which was a bit of a pain for us so we considered going to one of the touristy Hammams which would cost €30+ but it wouldn’t be an authentic experience, and we couldn’t really afford that. So we got a recommendation by our hosts for one near our riad which was a safer option to walk to alone at dark.
I’d love to tell you the name of it but I have no idea because most Hammams are unlabelled buildings and the only tale-tale sign is a arched mosaic entrance and if your lucky a little hairdressing sign. Our hosts said it was next to a motorcycle repair shop near the Cafe Rcif. Well….we found it and Craig stepped in, expecting a sort of front desk or someone to ask about male/female times. He rushed right back out “Erm…there was a naked lady right there!” I was shocked that it all happened behind that unmarked door, hundreds of naked women washing and there was no one standing outside or a big ‘no entry’ sign for men. I said I’d go in instead, but I was also confronted by this lady slathered in bubbles and I pretty much had the same reaction as Craig and quickly escaped. We decided to go back and get our gear, then I could go in with the females a bit more ready then just stepping in off the street. We both had to buy a kiis which is like a scrubbing glove because if you don’t they use a communal one which made me feel a bit sick.
So here I go…I stepped into a room with about 20 women either half naked or getting dressed. The entrance room was basically the changing room with a big desk at the back and boxes to store bags. The sweet lady pointed to the sign saying it was 12 Dirham (€1.20). I didn’t just want a Hammam though, I didn’t have a clue what to do in there and thankfully she asked the question “you want help” – “YES” I beamed. I paid €5 extra and she pointed for me to take a seat while I waited for a helper. The ceiling was tall and the room muggy. Occasional drips of water dropped from the ceiling and splashed me like a bird pooping from a lamppost. A few ladies started conversation with me and I had no idea what they were saying. I don’t know any French except for the very basics, so I just awkwardly said “Anglaise” and smiled and then I tried to work out where to look. There were tits everywhere and it was such a weird thing for an English lass to be surrounded by something we keep so hidden. A Hammam is to be had naked or with just knickers and thankfully most people were wearing knickers there, although they were all so wet and stretched that there was arse cracks all over the place.
After about 10 minutes of twiddling my thumbs my helper came along. She was mid thirties or forties and was also only wearing knickers. She instructed me to get undressed and I handed my bag to the desk lady. I was led through a door and into a dark, steamy room. This room led directly through to two more, the final one being the warmest. It was quite a shock to the system; there were women and children everywhere and the floor was covered in buckets. It was much busier than I expected and almost how I imagined prison shower time to be in one of those weird South American prisons where families live together in jail. Water was splashing everywhere and the arched ceilings echoed all the conversations and shouting taking place. Saying that it certainly went quiet as I walked through, everyone looking up at the very obvious tourist. A tiled platform formed a seating ledge around the room and my helper found a place for me and poured some water on it to ‘clean’ it. There was even orange peel on the bench, who the heck comes to a place like this and sits eating an orange?! I was covered in soap and left while my helper collected buckets of water.
So I was sat there and now there were even more breasts surrounding me. Literally every shape and size imaginable, it was quite interesting how many women had one boob way bigger than the other. And I realised it’s probably really common but we’re so sheltered about our bodies in England that we don’t realise the varieties of boobs.
There was a whole load of commotion in the far corner of the room where ladies were almost fighting to get to the hot tap and fill up their buckets. The noise erupted through the room and then my neighbour began throwing buckets of water on herself and I didn’t particularly like being splashed with dirty water so I discreetly shuffled along. A teenager in the corner of the room saw me and just said “it’s ok” and gave me a sweet smile. Across from me was a little baby actually in one of the buckets which was super cute!
The helper finally came back with two buckets of hot water and began scrubbing my arm with the kiis. She started off quite light and after awhile she stopped and lifted my arm up to her eyes and gave my skin a bit of a scratch, sort of testing if it was tan or dirt…I guess she decided it was dirt because she became extremely rough from then on. In the meantime my hand was sort of being pushed amongst her large breasts. Regular Hammams must do wonders to the skin though as she was as soft as a baby!
I was in a seated position but then the helper got up and motioned her arms wide…so I wearily spread my legs thinking that’s was she was suggesting (and ever so grateful that it was a pants on Hammam). Turns out she wanted me to just lie down, so that was a bit awkward. Now I had my face squished against the tile seat…where numerous butts and fannys have been. She then got me to lie on my side which was absolutely impossible on the slippery surface and I was slipping everywhere like a freshly caught fish in a bucket. She then stood me up and rinsed me down before seating me on a kids stall for two very thorough hair washes. I could hardly catch my breath between buckets of water being flung on my head and face. It was funny being sat on that little stall because I looked around and obviously everyone was just cleaning and scrubbing themselves, a few friends scrubbed each others backs, but it was just me and a little 8 year old girl having the full scrub and hair wash done for us. I felt like a kid having my hair washed by my mum like the little girl was. It was finished off with another soap down and buckets of water poured over me and the whole process took about 45 minutes. It was a totally bizarre experience! I didn’t hang around after my scrub so I went through the various steam rooms to exit and passed a little kid eating an orange.
Craigs Hammam Experience
The male Hammam didn’t begin until 9.30pm so Craig headed down as soon as it opened. I’d given him the low-down about where to go, how much to pay and what to expect so he felt well prepared. He returned a couple hours later and had quite the story to tell me. It couldn’t of been more different from my experience and I was in absolute hysterics. His helper was a 70 – 80 year old man just wearing a pair of saggy y-fronts.
He was taken into the middle room and put on the floor where the old man actually gave Craig a massage. It wasn’t exactly a conventional massage and this is when the laughter began as Craig sat on the bed and tried to demonstrate the positions this man put him in. Apparently he wrapped his skinny legs around Craigs legs and then lent all the way back pulling Craig into the air!!! He repeated this move three times! Then he began twisting Craig sideways and I gagged when Craig told me this part…he was instructed to hold the old man’s feet as he stretched him! Again, for three times! Craig said he couldn’t even open his eyes because he didn’t want to see people’s expressions as he did sycronised gymnastic moves with a man as old as his grandparents.
Craig was then given a full scrub down and wash, so overal the rest was rather similar to my experience. But when Craig left he accidently said the word in Arabic for hello instead of thank you and then I was done…tears in my eyes from laughing too hard.
It gets slightly worse though…I looked at our kiis’ the next day and was really confused why mine looked so well used – “Craig…I’m really worried that the lady didn’t use my kiis and gave me a used one!! It’s really beaten up compared to yours, yours looks brand new!” He smirked a bit but fobbed me off by saying that maybe I was dirtier and the woman needed to scrub me more! However the next day he eventually admitted “I didn’t want to tell you, but while he was scrubbing me I had my eyes closed, and then over half way through I looked across at him scrubbing my arm, and it wasn’t my kiis he was using and it was too late to bother telling him…so that’s why mine looks brand new, it was never used”. EWWW!!!! That totally grossed me out! And then he said “yeah, he seemed to keep his personal kiis tucked in the side of his y-fronts. I wasn’t laughing anymore.
So I hope that explains to you all what to expect if you go to a traditional Hammam….ENJOY!