And taking’ a bath in the creek. That’s the stuff that really made it worthwhile. Anybody can stay in a motel. – Chris LeDoux
There is nothing in the world like a Hamam.
If you’re anything like me, being naked and exposed in a room full of other women (or men, for that matter) isn’t exactly the most appealing experience. However, I think travel is a major opportunity for new experiences that contribute to personal growth. When in Rome…
I knew I had to have a Turkish bath when my colleague and neighbor, J, explained her own experience with the baths. I don’t know J all that well, but she is one of the most animated, boisterous, and hilarious people I’ve ever met. She had nearly our entire apartment floor in stitches explaining the process of what happens on that marble slab.
For those of you who don’t know, here’s how it all goes down.
At the front desk you are given a towel large enough to cover your left thigh and you are escorted to the changing room to deposit all of your garments into your locker. This is your last opportunity to turn back and run for cover. I sincerely vacillated on whether or not to abandon the whole thing and preserve the dignity I had left. Having already spent the money, my miserly ethos would not let me turn back.
This next part was great: the ladies paint your face with some kind of sticky mud mask and stick you in a sauna for 15 minutes. You all clamber in together, trying to sit comfortably on scorching hot seats all the while trying to cover yourself with the face-cloth sized towel that they provided for you. When the mask dries, you hop into a shower and then into the baths proper. It’s quite a sight to behold.
At my particular bath, there was a giant hexagonal marble slab in the center filled with rosy red naked women. Around the outside is marble seating on which you can sit down and very awkwardly look everywhere but at the women who are experiencing what can only be described as a vicious sanding of the body by half-naked lumberjack-esque women. It appears so torturous Jack Merridew would be pleased.
Hamams started out as places for socializing as well as ritualized cleansing and purifying techniques for the elite classes. It’s safe to say that not an inch goes uncleansed or unpurified.
When it was my turn, I ambled over to the marble slab careful to keep my “towel” in place. As I opened my mouth to greet my masseuse, she ripped my towel off me in a way that can only be described as the exact opposite of delicate. She then gesticulated for me to lie belly down on the marble slab. She was an enormous woman, and I was at the peak of my vulnerability, so what choice did I have? I complied.
First I was covered with warm water and a lather of soapsuds – this was an extremely pleasant sensation. The masseuse gave me a total body slippery massage. Next came the exfoliation portion wherein I was relieved of approximately four layers of skin. My gentle friend used some sort of knitted washcloth to sandpaper every nook and cranny of my body, making sure to scrub away all decorum I had left. By the end of the massage I was chaffed and polished into complete apathy for any spectators in the room. Wobbly-kneed I stood up and re-wrapped myself in my accoutrements and exited the baths. My skin has ne’er been softer save for infancy.
Three other girls on the tour finished up at the same time, and having been naked around each other already, we opted to go for a naked swim in the private pool as a cool-down and conclusion to our Hammam spa night.
In all seriousness, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I got over feeling uncomfortable about being naked in a room full of women pretty quickly. And, despite the roughness of the massage – it actually felt invigorating and rejuvenating.
Until next time, keep wandering!