22 Feb 2017

You know the famous quote by Gandhi “Be the change you want to see in the world”? It was re appropriated by Austin Kleon, a New York based writer and artist, to motivate creatives with the phrase “Create what you want to see in the world” and inspired me to write this post. While I was researching Morocco and compiling experiences for my bucket list, visiting a hammam was a recurring list topper but none of the articles that I came across really provided the unvarnished, uncensored account of the experience that I was looking for. In the age of information overload where “googling” has become a verb, I was so frustrated that I decided to “write the blog post that [I] want to read.”

So, what is a hammam?
A public bathing establishment as well as a method of cleansing, in Arabic, hammam means “hot water bath” and is the Islamic version of the Roman steam baths/sauna or the Russian banya but with a focus on the water (versus steam). It’s a traditional purifying and beauty ritual that combines heat, fragranced steam, warm water, and a cold plunge pool.

What are the benefits?
Beyond the relaxing effect of this spa-like experience, the hammam eases the recovery of stiff muscles, boosts the immune system by activating blood circulation, provides essential vitamins and minerals to rehydrate and nourish the skin, sloughs off dead skin cells to unclog pores and eliminate toxins from the body, induces torpor that helps with sleep, and opens up the chest to ease congestion.

Where did you go for a hammam treatment?
While you can find numerous local public bathhouses in every neighbourhood in Morocco, after a 10-hour drive back to Marrakech from the Saharan Desert, Kelly and I were feeling rough and decided to splurge on an authentic hammam experience at the Royal Mansour. This opulent palace was conceived and bankrolled by His Majesty the King of Morocco to showcase the local craftmanship for which the kingdom is famed for. Just to give you an idea of how fancy this luxury hotel is, it’s where Michelle Obama stayed during her time in Marrakech! F.Y.I. it’s a cool $10,000 for ONE night stay.

Where are other good spots for hammam?
La Mamounia (Similar price but includes lunch)
Hammam Rose Bonheur (Inexpensive option)

What does the hammam ritual involve?
The Royal Mansour Marrakech spa has three signature hammam treatments and we opted for the 60-minute Hammam Evasion (1,400 MAD). First they exfoliate the dead skin off your body by rubbing you with a traditional kessa massage glove followed by slathering you in a detoxifying body mask of “Miel D’Ambre” – inspired by the traditional Moroccan black soap – that leaves your body feeling silky soft. Then you are massaged with a soothing orange flower water soap – a scent characteristic of Morocco. The ritual is finished by pouring buckets of warm water over your head and body and then being led to a cold plunge pool that stimulates blood circulation.

But, what was it REALLY like?
So I’ve detailed the gist of what a hammam involves in Morocco, but I want to provide a more in-depth account of my experience by letting you get in my head. The following are 51 thoughts I had during my first hammam experience in Marrakech:

Upon arrival at the Royal Mansour spa reception area:
No. 01: Holy sh%# this place is fancy AF!
No. 02: This room looks like it was built out of snowflakes.
No. 03: This is what Elsa from Frozen’s ice castle would look like IRL.
No. 04: I hope I’m dressed fancy enough to not be mistaken for a vagrant.
No. 05: Good thing I didn’t let Kelly wear her yoga pants.
No. 06: We have to fill out a form for the spa?
No. 07: “How do you want to feel after hammam? Energetic. Lively. Animated…” All those words mean the same thing!

Getting changed in our own private dressing room:
No. 08: Oooh our lockers are full of what I assume are hammam accoutrements – fluffy robe, slippers, hair ties and bobby pins…disposable thong…oh no.
No. 09: So tiny and no give! What size is this?
No. 10: No size….so “one size fits all”?!
No. 11: God help me if “one size fits all” does NOT in fact fit all.
No. 12: Success! Got it on…but it definitely does NOT fit ALL.
No. 13: I wonder if I can take the fancy soaps in the shower home.
No. 14: People who come here are probably rich so it’ll make me look like a scrub.
No. 15: I don't want no scrub. Scrubs is a guy that can't get no love from me….
No. 16:That song is so catchy.
No. 17: Whatever, I’m taking them.
No. 18: It’s so expensive here that I practically paid for it already.
No. 19: These slippers feel like they’re exfoliating my feet.
No. 20: For such a fancy place, you’d think the slippers wouldn’t be so painful.

Being ushered into the hammam antechamber by two female Royal Mansour employees who will be doing our hammam treatment:
No. 21: Oohh it’s all marble and warm in here!
No. 22: I wonder which room they're going to take Kelly to.
No. 23: I’m supposed to take off my robe now? Don't I get my own room?!
No. 24: Do they think we're doing some kind of couples hammam experience?
No. 25: Realizing that Kelly and I have only known each other for less than a year.
No. 26: There’s nothing like mutual near nudity to bond friends fo’ life.
No. 27: Well….if we weren’t close before, we definitely are now.
No. 28: If only I could shed my embarrassment along with my clothes.

During the hammam cleansing in a heated room made entirely of pink marble with two platforms on either side and a fountain of hot water in the middle with buckets:
No. 29: So warm and enclosed that it feels like a womb in here…
No. 30: No massage table? You just want me to lie down on the marble…naked?
No. 31: But my fats will jiggle…
No. 32: These Royal Mansour ladies must see worse than this.
No. 33: The marble is heated!
No. 34: So awkward, sliding around this marble like a beached whale.
No. 35: A little push and I’d fly across the room like it’s a slip-n-slide.
No. 36: This kessa glove feels likes she’s rubbing my body with sandpaper!
No. 37: Yes, thank you for pointing out how much dead skin I have.
No. 38: Seriously, my armpits too?? Ow…
No. 39: This hammam lady must be so strong if she does this every day.
No. 40: Being covered in this soap makes me feel like a turkey being basted for thanksgiving dinner.
No. 41: I wonder if anyone has ever peed during this.
No. 42: Did I go to the washroom before this....yes. Whew.
No. 43: I feel as useless and as coddled as a baby.
No. 44: I'm such a sucker for washing myself this whole time.
No. 45: If I were rich, I would never bathe by myself again.

After showering any residual soap off, we’re led to a little pool near the entryway:
No. 46: Is that pool cold or hot?
No. 47: Looks like a jacuzzi so it’s probably hot.
No. 48: I’ll let Kelly go in first…
No. 49: She isn't freaking out so that’s a good sign.
No. 50: CRAP it's cold!!! Why didn't that jerk say anything?!
No. 51: &%^3$# how long do we have to stay in here?!

ETC is the overflow of thoughts in the mind of Teri Yeung. It’s a place full of stories of travel adventures, imparted lessons learned from life’s achievements and failures, behind-the-scenes of projects and experiments, and anything else that inspires excitement and joy.

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