A Moroccan Hammam Day.
Morocco has many skilled craftsmen and tantalizing shops with a colourful and sweet smelling assortment of goodies that we couldn’t resist. Rick was the first one to break the Cardinal Rule of Travel “if you can’t carry it with you; leave it behind.” Of course I was encouraging him to buy that finely crafted olive wood box because I had my eye on a few kaftans. Obviously, we broke the Cardinal Rule of Travel, rationalizing that we can mail stuff to our parents’ home.
I have international post office experience, limited French (the second language of Morocco), a fist full of dirhams, and Google Translate on my smart phone so I feel prepared. First step, locate the post office on the map. Simple. Next, we navigate through the labyrinth of Chefchaouen Medina to the post office. Not as simple, but ultimately accomplished. We then find ourselves in front of a generic government building on a modern commercial street. We go in with our bag of goodies, take a ticket and sit down.
I notice that the ticket number sign has not advanced but several people have been ushered to the counter by a security guard. Perhaps this will not be so straight forward. Soon enough, the guard approaches us and gestures to a wicket. Hurrah, the smart looking young man speaks English! No, they do not sell envelopes, I must go to the “library” next door. I hadn’t noticed a library; but nevertheless, I leave Rick with our bag of goodies and rushed out the door. I walk up and down the street and don’t see any library. I know the French word for library so I ask the security guard in French where the “biblioteque” is. He says two doors down on the right. All I see is tiny kiosks selling newspapers, tobacco and the sort. I ask one of the vendors where is the biblioteque, he is confused. I don’t remember the French word for envelope so I mime it out. He understands and points to the next stall. I stand there dumbfounded. The first vendor speaks in Arabic to his neighbour, who rummages under the counter and hands an envelope to me. The little kiosk sells paperbacks and all assortment of paper products. Apparently “library” is not always English for “biblioteque”.
Back at the post office, I address the envelope and look up the translation of “Do Not Bend” for the envelope containing original paintings and “Fragile” for a make-shift box. When I’m done, the security guard efficiently escorts me to the same English speaking clerk. Postcards – done! Envelop – Google’s translation of “Do Not Bend” triggers a little grin and question “Do you speak Arabic?” Ah, Google is not always right. This term applies to people, as in, do not bend at the waist. He shares our little blunder with a coworker and continues with our transaction.
Now the box. Our makeshift packaging seems acceptable. But something about the box causes concern. The clerk summons all of his coworkers for a pow wow and my mini interrogation begins. “What’s in the BOX?” After a little explaining, the clerk admonishes that “Hashsh” is not Arabic for ”fragile”, but just what it looks like. A misspelling of hashish – something you do not want to be mailing! He strikes out the word and tosses the box into a pile of outgoing mail. But wait, there is more “Hashsh” written on the back of the box! Too late, the efficient clerk is on to the next customer. The box may arrive, or my Dad and I may be arrested. Stay tuned.
With that little task masterfully accomplished, we move on the major event of the day. We are planning to hike half way up the Rif Mountains to an historic mosque. The riad manager told us that the last time he did this hike he was escorting a gaggle of old women. He assures us that old Moroccan women are strong and vigorous in an effort not to insult us.
We are sidetracked by pretty girls dressed in traditional Berber costumes taking selfies beside a stream. I notice a young man get out of a taxi in the parking lot below and head toward the hills. He’s carrying an assortment of cat crates and a wicker basket with three feet of white and green feathers extending from the basket. Curiosity calls and we head his direction…
La voila! He has a flock of exotic birds, including a blue-green and a white peacock. He sets the birds on stands with a sign offering photos for a small fee. Ah, the mystery of the ostrich in the parking lot upon our arrival is explained. We are on the opposite side of the stream and conserving energy for the hike, so we take our photos from afar and for free.
Back on the hiking trail we are approached by a man offering to sell us something. Even though he is speaking Arabic, we determine that he’s offering to sell us hashish. Well, we have already been down that road so we politely decline with a Canadian “Non, merci.” He follows us, assuring us he has the best price on quality hashish and could provide 10 Kilos. That’s a lot of pot! I don’t know what a Moroccan prison looks like nor do I want to find out. We quicken our steps and refuse in every language we could muster “no, non, nein, ne, nyet” and are relieved we he set his sights on a younger pair of hikers.
Along the way we encounter an old woman tending goats, women baking bread in a communal oven, a man drinking from a well, and a lovely old lady stringing wreaths of flowers. I plunked myself on the ground next to the wreath maker and she sizes my little head for my own wreath. We have a nice nonsensical conversation and pose for photos.
When Rick and I reach the mosque, we chat with other hikers and enjoy the views.
We aren’t worn out yet so we go a little further but all the entertainment seems to be behind us. Besides we need to get back to the medina for our Moroccan Hammam appointment.
We had read in Trip Advisor, that our riad makes reservations at a tourist friendly Hammam for guests. One of the young men from the riad escorts us to the Hammam so that we can find the right one. He leaves us on a doorstep and we head into an empty inn. A clerk emerges and after a broken French conversation escorts us down the street to another hotel. The manager there doesn’t seem to be expecting us. He tells us to wait 20 minutes and picks up the phone. During the wait, Rick reads up on reviews of this “tourist friendly” Hammam – they are harrowing! If this is the gentle tourist version, what happens at the local’s Hammam? I want to run, who cares about 300 Dh; isn’t that only $40? Rick calmly encourages me to experience local culture. Easy for him to say; I’m going in first and he can change his mind if I merge as sweaty bleeding pulp.
Thirty minutes later a woman in burqa and hijab ushers me upstairs with no explanation. We go into a anteroom and I understand that I am to strip down to my knickers as she does the same. At this point she introduces herself as Zora. Uh oh, I seem to remember some folklore about a warrior named Zora.
Zora and I, both in flip flops and knickers, move into the steam room. The steam room is not as hot as others I’ve been in – maybe this is a sign that Zora will go easy on me. The steamroom has benches around the perimeter, so I take a seat. Zora splashes buckets of warm watert on the heated floor. This, I figure out later, is Moroccan disinfecting. Zora then motions me to sit on the floor. Uh, what’s wrong with the benches? She pours buckets of warm water over me. OK, this isn’t so bad, the floor is warm; maybe even hot enough to kill germs, I tell my germophobia self.
Zora motions me to lay on the floor. The writer of the recently read Trip Adivisor review lived to tell her tale, so I lie back. No, I’m to lie face down. I lie face down, trying not to let my face actually touch the floor. Zora tosses more warm water on me. I tell myself to drop the Western attitude and take everything in stride. Next, Zora gives me a wedgie and applies a mud scrub to all exposed skin. I lay on the floor feeling like a beached whale as I continue to hold my face off the floor. A swat on the butt is my signal to flip over for more muddying. Then, like a pink pig, I’m left to wallow in warm mud for a while.
I hear the buck of water sloshing towards me so I’m prepared for the dousing of warm water to rinse off the mud. Splash. Swat. Flip. Splash. Swat. Flip again. Another ointment is applied. Without warning, Zora straddles me and starts to scrub off my skin. How do you say “go easy” in Arabic? The guidebook said most Moroccans speak French. Zora is not one of the most. I altered between thinking about “my happy place” and thinking about bolting for the door. Zora pokes me to get my attention and shows me how much skin she had scrubbed off. Yuck, I must be half a pound lighter! I’ve had tougher diets, I think to myself; maybe it’s worth it. I’m then treated to a brief massage and hair shampoo. Finally, up off the floor for a shower. Can I have some soap please? Zora goes the whole nine yards and throws more buckets of water on me while I’m standing under the shower head in the steam room.
At last, I stagger out of the steam to the change room. The first question that comes to mind is, what do I do with my wet knickers? If I put my pants on over them, I will be soaked through. I still have to wait an hour for Rick’s treatment before walking back to the riad in the cold night. Second question, do I warn Rick? Just enough to make him nervous.
The wet knickers? Into my hat they go.