Hammam Details

Come prepared with:
  • soap, (sabon beldi)
  • clay (ghassoul, or rhassoul)
  • shampoo,
  • scrub glove, (kees)
  • towel,
  • swimsuit or extra underwear

  • A Detailed Account of a Local Hammam:

    Hammam Laalou of Rabaat

    The short of it: The local hammam is one large, warm, tiled area that women bathe in.  Women lay down on the ground and pay someone to scrub them or women do it themselves.  As for insecurities about your body, I found women didn't even look at your body.  When they looked at each other, it was in the eyes. For the most part, everyone minds their own business unless they're friends, in which case they chat it up. You can bring your own products, or buy them at the entrance.  An additional fee of about 50 dh is paid to your scrubber in addition to the entrance fee which is usually about 10 dh. Products cost you about 37dh.  The women are very thorough.

    The long of it: I read quite  a few descriptions of Moroccan hammams online.  I would think various hammams are built somewhat differently.  This one did not have three different rooms as other descriptions would have me believe.  This hammam was just one large room.  It is “so local” and “so off the beaten path” that you can’t even find it online.   (not to say every business is listed online)

    I entered the building and oddly enough there was a boy selling tickets into the hammam; maybe around 20 years old. With him I purchased shampoo (I really should’ve brought my own. I bought a medium sized pantene), the scrubbing glove, saran wrapped up henna, black soap paste and the body clay.  It all cost me 37 dirhams, and another 10 for the ticket (Damn I wish I kept that ticket as a souvenir).

    I entered the actual hammam to find droopy bodied older women in the bathing area, and walking between rooms; very non-intimidating.  Had it been a bunch of young, toned women, I surely would have been humiliated to continue on.  I found myself surprisingly unbothered by these naked women who had clearly given life to more than one child.  I was hoping I’d be the only person in there, but there were about five women enjoying the hammam.  It was a good thing though, because I was able to be part of a community tradition.

    A woman was sitting, legs outstretched on a long bench.  Through the little French I knew, I discovered she was one of the women who you can pay to scrub you down. She asked me to strip down. I left on my sports bra and boy shorts-undies on which purposely wore for the hammam, but then I said to myself ‘ah screw it’ and took off the sports bra.  No one seemed to look my way.  I thought maybe out of curiosity for this foreigner that they might look my way, but much to my comfort, no one did.  My  belongings were put in one of the large, white cubicles.  Except for one other woman in her 40's, and the assistants, I was the only woman wearing her underwear.

    I followed my "assistant" into the next room that was a little warm.  No steam, no sauna-like temperature. She told me to sit down on the ground. I was expecting a mat, but I was not brought one. Maybe you have to pay for it. The woman had me sit down directly on the ground without the mat.  She left me there surrounded by 4 large buckets of warm water. I tested them all, looking for the freezing cold bucket of water other bloggers spoke of, but I didn’t find it.  They were all warm.  I ran my fingers along my arm to see if I was beginning to sweat like I was expecting, but not even a bead of perspiration formed on my skin.  This room was one large open room with white tiles accented by lines of tiny blue tiles.

    On one side of this room, older women sitting on benches slowly scrubbed themselves down.  They behaved as if they had all the time in the world.  As if they didn't mind being in a warm, wet room with women scrubbing layers of dirt off their body.  On the other side, where I was, one woman was already laying on her side atop a rubber mat, completely naked, being scrubbed down by another assistant on a bench. And yes, the assistant seemed to be scrubbing pretty hard. I looked for signs of torment on the woman’s face, but I didn’t see any.  Clearly these women were all local veterans of the process. 

    After sitting on the ground in a corner half-naked for about 10 minutes (lol it sounds funny when you actually describe the experience), the assistant came back in just her underwear and flip flops.  This woman was slightly tanned, about 45 years old with very short curly hair.  By contrast, her body was not saggy, perhaps because of genes or age.  I was expecting the shock of ‘ice-cold water’, as it was described by other travellers, but it was all very warm water. 

    She took a little dish and poured the warm water over me. In another dish, she mixed the warm water with the packet of powered-henna and a package black soap (a hard gel-like paste).  She rubbed the watery mixture over my body. I helped with some of the crevices and under my arms and legs.  She let it sit for a few minutes.  While we both waited, I looked around and observed the other women doing their ritual and how they interacted with each other.  They were thoughtful with their process, sometimes exchanging a few words.  When women look at you inside the hammam, they look at you in your eyes and smile, just as they would outside when you're fully clothed.  That normalized the whole experience for me, and calmed any discomfort about being naked

    My "assistant" took a turn observing my behaviour as I sat there pretty much naked on the ground, hunched over, massaging my own feet that were sore from getting lost (purposely) in the souks.  Returning to her duties, s
    he washed the mixture off with the water and running her bare hands over my body to ensure the mixture had completely ran off of me .  She did not wash much of the mixture off my face.  Her hands were soft and gentle, whereas I was expecting her to be a bit callused and rough. I think part of this expectation of roughness comes from how my mom used to bathe me as a child (lol).   Occasionally another worker would fills buckets of water and bring it for her.

    Next she had me lie down on my stomach. Based on the description of other travellers, I was expecting to be scrubbed unreasonably hard.  Someone previously mentioned they thought chunks of their skin were coming off and that maybe they would start to bleed.  I clenched my fists and used them as a head-rest.  She began to scrub.  It was not unbearable.  It felt like when you have this really irritable itch and you want itch it with a brillo pad or steel pad.  Yes, I would say it felt like a brillo pad.  She was not pressing down extremely hard.  It made me think, “Is she scrubbing me more gently than she would anyone else?”.  Next she had me turn on my side and scrubbed me with her abrasive glove, then on my back, and then my other side.  She had me sit up, and she continued to scrub my back, my neck, and gently scrubbed my face.  Around my neck, a more sensitive area, was a bit harder to bear, but not unbearable.  Most of the times I had my eyes closed.  But when I opened it for the first time to see her scrubbing my arms, there were thin dark rolls forming as she scrubbed.  This must’ve been the layers of skin coming off that people were talking about.  “This really is effective”, I thought.

    Once she completed the scrubbing stage, she doused me with buckets of water. "This really isn't a big deal", I thought to myself. "I am totally cool with this and I hope it takes a while.  I could do this again in another region of Morocco before I leave".  Next, in a little bowl, she mixed the clay with water.  The mixture was very watery.  It was not a thick clay or mud-mask like I imagined.  She rubbed that over my skin and let it sit. In the meantime she scrubbed another (local) woman’s back without even being asked.  I observed to see if she was scrubbing any harder than she did me. I am proud to say she scrubbed us with the same vigor.  This means “I can take it like a local”.

    She sat infront of me again waiting for the clay to settle in.  This time, I tried small talk. “Shno smeetik? (What’s your name?)”.  “Najeema”, she replied.  I told her my name and where I’m from.  She asked if they speak French where I come from (because I know a little).  When she was ready, she washed it all off with warm water. 

    She shampooed my hair twice.  As she was doing this,  I thought to myself, “So, how do I feel?”, being the true clinical counselor that I am. I didn’t feel uncomfortable or awkward.  I didn’t feel out of place. I didn’t feel dirty sitting on the ground.  I didn’t feel ashamed of my body.  At times I was reminded of being bathed as a child, but never so gently.  I didn’t feel like I was a princess, too wealthy to be bathe myself.  I didn’t feel luxurious or like I was at some kind of spa.  I just felt ‘present’ and grateful and humbled to experience a local culture first hand.  I felt proud of myself for being courageous enough to try something as “strange” (to my local culture) as this and to give up my pride and 23 years of insecurity about my body.  After all, if they don't give a fuck, why should I?! 

    As she gently shampooed my hair twice, I had to get in there and scrub at my scalp.  None of this gentle stuff is gonna get rid of the hair products us Western girls put in there (lol).  She asked me if I wanted another rep of the shampoo and I declined.  Again, she doused me with a bucket of water.

    Finally she said "vous avez fini" (you have finished).  So I stood up, after nearly sliding across the floor, and she had me take off my underwear.  That's your last bit of dignity you were holding on to, that underwear lol.  There it goes, who cares! I guess she had to, due to all the mixtures getting caught between my clothes like sand at the beach.  She did her final rinse. The final "hurrah".   This final bucket of water was cooler than the others, but not cold. The kind where you tilt your head up and let the water flow over your mouth.

    She left and I
    dried myself off.  I opened up a pipe to wash my hands but got burned by the extremely hot water raging out of the pipes.  After shaking the burning sensation off of my hand and turning off the pipe, I looked back it and realized the pipe painted in red, and the separate pipe painted in blue should have been some kind of indication as to the temperature.  But I took as a lesson learned not to touch things that don't belong to me.  

    I went to the first room and put my clothes back on.  I read online that other travellers tipped the woman who scrubbed you down.  So I thought myself gracious and shook the woman’s hand and gave her the two Arab kisses and offered her 10 dirham.  She looked at me and said  “C’est tout?!!!”.  (Meaning, "That's it?!" LOL)    I get so sick of this game from the souks.  You never know if you’re short-changing someone or getting scammed.  So I gave her 10 more dirhams.  Then she recollected for me all that she did.  I asked her “How much?!”.  She said “cinquant (50)”.  Holy crap man!!! I thought coming to a local hammam is supposed to be cheap. Some spas charge 150 for the basics.  37+50?  That’s getting too close to “spa caliber”.  Then I asked her “for what?!”. She said how everyone works together as a team (i.e. the women filling the buckets, the women guarding my stuff and her etc.). So I gave her another 20 dirhams (40 in total) and left feeling like that whole interaction soured the whole experience.

    I went back to the hotel and asked them how much it should have cost, and they said about 100 dirhams.  They said about 40 or 50 dirhams for the workers is about right, in addition to the entrance fee and bath items.  To think, I was only going to give the poor woman 10 dirhams, thinking I was being kind (LOL).  But that’s the thing about being a tourist in countries where everyone is trying to scam the punk-oblivious-unsuspecting tourist.  You never know if you’re being realistic or not.

    So one thing I wondered, do they scrub your vag and ass crack too?  No...No they don't.  (lol) But they do scrub around your vag and your butt. 

    A lot of travellers report feeling light and super clean after.  I have to say I felt neither.  It was a great cultural experience, but I personally felt I was paying someone to do something I could do myself, though I’m sure I could never get those layers scrubbed off.  I didn't seem as mysterious and magical as I thought. Perhaps more steam and dimmer lighting would have done the trick.

    Well, I'll do it again at a different hammam to see the differences and for the novelty of it. I'll be going to a spa-like one in Marrakech.  But at least now I can say I have bragging rights: “I can take it like a local”.

    Anyways, if you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them. Post your questions in the comment field.

    The Contrast of a Hammam-Spa
    Heritage Spa of Marrakech

    When we entered, there was a very relaxed feeling.  We were greeted and seated in a tight little waiting room.  There we were offered drinks.  We asked for water.  We were brought water full of mint leaves with a slice of lime, and mint tea.  We were ushered one at a time to another tight change room with wooden lockers where we could lock our valuables and clothing.  The bathrobe and the thin disposable thong was also waiting for us in that room.  And of course here, all the bathing products are included in the price.

    After we changed, we were taken up to the hammam rooms.  Instead of one big bath area, we had small rooms covered by a curtain somewhat floating in the breeze.  The elevated concrete that we laid on was hottish-warm and in an L shape to accommodate couples, one person on each section.

    Instead of buckets of water that patrons are bathed with, there was a detachable shower head that we were rinsed down with.  We were offered a bottle of water and told we could always ask to have the door open if it got too hot, the door was already fully open.

    The same application process was completed.  Rinse, sabon noir, wait, rinse, scrub, rinse, infused clay, wait, wash off, shampoo, rinse...done.  I found the spa to be just as thorough but less repetitive.  They did not scrub over most areas more than once or twice, nor did they scrub as hard.  Their products seemed less earthy, and more processed.

    After, we were wrapped again in our robes and taken to a tented area on the same floor.  We were offered water and green tea along with little butter cookies.  Once we were ready, we could return to our change rooms.

    Overall, I prefer the local hammam because they are more thorough, and somehow I feel like less of a car when I'm being bathed with buckets of water than a detachable shower head.

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