These past few months, my approach to travelling had been kinda lax. I’d think of a place where I want to go to, when I want to go to, if I want to go with others, and some general idea of things I wanna do and that’s that! So for this trip to Morocco, I’d let my travel buddy, Jessica, do the planning. I’ve looked into everything before as I was planning to do this trip with another but it fell through. So I wasn’t really keen to plan for it (again).
My must do for this leg of our trip was to try a local hammam. Hammam is a steam room where people routinely go to cleanse themselves. We asked a lady working in one of the spice shops about any she’d recommend for us – basically, a place she’d even go to herself. She pointed us to one a few streets down from theirs. When we got there, we asked for the price etc (120 dirhams for a wash with massage each). We walked some more and found another one. There’s a discreet sign on the outside – only a marker. We went in and asked too (70 dirhams for a wash with massage). We resolved to come back the next night then we headed back to the big plaza.
The next night, armed with our gloves and mint soap/ gel, towel, and a fresh set of undies (knickers, pants, however you want to call them) and 150 dirhams for the two of us, we then set off for our night’s adventure. First, we had to drop off another friend of ours at Jemaa El Fna so she can spend time with her friends while we do our thing – she’s not really a fan of super local stuff (*think: maybe unhygienic, probably not the safest nor the most relaxing thing to do).
At the plaza, I told Jess that I think we should be turning right. She was absolutely certain that it was on the left though so to the left we went. A minute in to the walk, I told her I’m hungry/ dizzy. She knows me well so she agreed that we have to get something that we can share. We then stopped by a patisserie and got a slice of a moist sponge cake (5 dirhams) to share between us. We had to be conscious of the price as we’re on a tight budget – the rest of our money were with Raquel.
I was happily munching away, letting Jess lead the way while I followed closely behind her. Keeping an eye out for the hammam signage, we ended up walking at least 15mins and no luck. We found ourselves in the “heart” of the medina. Purely locals, dead end tiny square and it looked like it may be surrounded by houses – but it was already dark – and the place looked relatively rough. We looked at each other. Turned around without saying a word and started walking back – all the while projecting a look of, of-course-I-know-where-we-are-and-where-we’re-headed-to-and-nope,-we-are-totally-not-lost-and-f*cked-up,-and-besides,-how-can-one-be-lost-when-they-don’t-know-where-to-go-in-the-first-place? look! 😂
Speed walking our way back to the square since we told Raquel we’d take around maybe an hour only, we then agreed to take that right turn that I originally suggested. I was pretty certain now, Jess was doubtful. Either way, we were prepared to be lost
again, I was getting more sure that I even jokingly told her that if I’m right, she has to pay for my hammam! It was probably only a mere 20 metre walk from our turn when lo and behold – le bains pour femme! Tadah!!!
We entered the place, headed for this really tiny window to ask but the man behind it was still busy with his prayers – we can see him bowing, plus the call to prayer was being sounded when we started to turn back from our previous turn. After a few minutes of waiting, he finished and was ready to listen to us. He basically confirmed that it’s 10 dirhams to go in, 70 if we’re going to get scrubbed and massaged too. We were a bit hesitant on what to do next (note: we were hesitating all throughout this experience 😅). Then a kind looking lady came out of an inside door and signalled for us to follow her. Also, the man behind the window, urged us to follow her.
As soon as the door opened, Jess took a step back “oooh, lots of naked women” she uttered. I tried not to burst out laughing from her reaction. It was a rectangular room with lockers and seats lining its walls. I saw a few tourists putting their clothes back on. We went in, then the lady told
signalled us to leave our stuff on the seats. They were asking for money to keep an eye out for them, by this point we only had 5 dirhams left as we’ve given them the 140 already. We think that it may be 5 dirhams per person but when Jess showed them our totally empty coin purse, they let it be. She also signed for us to get undressed. We took off our clothes til we were down only to knickers and wrapped with our towel (that we took from the riad 😅). Another lady, she’s quite robust, came out and told us to follow her – we had our kit with us (gloves and the mint gel). We were led to another set of chambers. This was a dark room, marble and tiles all around, with several faucets strategically placed and lots of pails/ buckets, with a few dippers. The water faucets were always paired – one boiling hot, the other cold water. The entire room was covered in steam from it. This time around, a few semi naked women were seating on tiny plastic stools and/or mats. Some were shampooing their hair, others were covered in soap lather, scrubbing themselves. Others just seemed so chill, chatting away but in hushed tones.
The 2 of us kinda just stood in a corner. Another lady, she’s a bit tiny and looked elderly, told us to come closer to her. She got out a mat, had us sit there and she proceeded to pour (hot) water over the 2 of us then walked off. We weren’t so sure what to do next but I’ve been to a hammam before (one that caters to tourists and another one in Istanbul) so I told Jess that we should apply the mint over ourselves. Several minutes later she came back. She told Jessica to refill the bucket then signalled for me to lie on my front and scrubbed away my skin with the gloves we brought along. A few minutes later, told me to face her and scrubbed away
my skin again. Then instructed me to sit down while facing her then scrubbed my face and arms all the while pouring water every now and then on me. When she was satisfied, she told me to go to the other lady (the robust one) who signalled told me to sit on the mat she prepared in front of her. She then proceeded to shampoo my (really long) hair then massaged my head. Rinsing off soap suds all over me, she patted my shoulder to signal that I’m done. I came back to see that Jess was being scrubbed by the old lady so in return for her filling the buckets earlier, I filled up 2 empty ones. Not wanting to just stand idly by, I then washed my hair again as it didn’t feel like it was washed enough. We dried ourselves off then went back to the first room to get changed.
Before even getting there though, Jess whispered to me that they told her that she has to give a tip later. The thing is, we have absolutely no more money with us (in case our stuff gets stolen while in the midst of the wash). She was jokingly – though in a serious voice – told me that we have to bolt as soon as we’re dressed. I was being careful when dressing coz I didn’t want any of my clothes to get wet and with quite a handful of hair to dry, and coz of that, I was too slow for her liking. By this time, the elderly lady came out – dressed in a bath robe – asking Jess for tips (hmm.. did it look like I had no money so they kept going straight for her??? Hehe). We apologised and tried to explain in broken French that we didn’t bring extra money with us. She looked quite upset. She sat on a corner seat and was grumpily talking away to the kind looking lady who would signal us to not mind the elderly one. However, when I was beside Jess sorting out our stuff, the elderly lady came up to me – I was holding a plastic bag of toiletries – and she rifled through it “looking” for something. I wasn’t minding it really – well, I don’t understand neither French nor Arabic so I was kinda alright with it. But they all got my friend on edge that when I asked for my comb, she looked like she was ready to kill me for dilly dallying instead of just heading straight for the exit. Eventually eventhough my head was still wrapped in a towel, she pulled me out with with urgency that I just had to follow suit since the third lady was starting to get all worked up. Again, we apologised before bolting!😂
Moral of the story: always bring a little extra! :D