Getting Steamed in a Moroccan Hammam
By Kristin Rust
When in Morocco, there is nothing more local then the public hammam. A Hammam is a public bath house with an ancient history dating back to 600 AD. When Mohammad recommended the use of hot sweat baths to his followers, Islamic Hammam were like Starbucks. It remains so now. Typically they are for women during the day, and switch for men later in the evening.
This is a standard part of life in Morocco and I would not miss it when visiting. It can be intimidating and you will most likely feel clueless, I did. Few things up front: you will be naked in front of many people, there is no pampering, so be open to the experience.
It’s the scrub you’re after, but they may call it a massage. Bring a towel, soap, flip flops, shampoo and buy a kissa (scrubbing mitt) in the medina. When you enter, a woman will pair up with you to give the scrub. She may take her shirt off as you enter the building. Pay the nominal entry fee (extra for scrubbing mitt if needed), which includes a scoop of black soap. She will take your things and a bunch of buckets, and after you have changed down to your undies, follow her through the mysterious steam room door.
The domed-ceiling room will be steamy and dim. She will order you to sit on the wet and surprisingly-warm tiled floor, surrounded by other bathing women of all shapes and sizes. She starts scrubbing every inch of you with the abrasive kissa (it can be rough), and seconds later, about 1,700 layers of dead skin has been sluffed off your body. Next, she shampoos your hair. She finishes with body soap and douses you first with a huge bucket of cold water, followed by a hot one. At this point, you have lost all inhibitions.
It takes about 40 minutes, but you can linger in the steam if you’d like. The whole thing is quite social and brings female bonding to a whole new level.
Hammam – $2. Abrasive scrubbing mitt – $3. XXL all-nude, foreign scrubbing service – $6. Glowing, exfoliated skin – Priceless.
Kristin Rust is a Colorado native and spent most of her 15 years in public relations within the ski industry. An avid traveler, she has visited 30 countries and six continents, with an ongoing “Must Go” list. She’s currently experiencing a career hiatus/mid-life Renaissance to explore the field of international service and is currently doing volunteer work in Morocco, working at the local Children’s Hospital.