OK girls, you have to strip down to your knickers. Concealed gasps of horror from prudish Anglophones, who are not used to bearing so much skin. Clad only in good, un-holey knickers (the kind your grandmother would allow you to have a car crash in) we proceed shyly into a mysterious, hot and steamy tiled room. The girls eye themselves and other women up, and some discover after 40 to 60 years on this earth, and much to their prudish surprise, that no one is perfect. This revelation, along with the steamy mist that slowly envelopes us, seems to relax them. Seated in front of small marble basins we pour deliciously warm water over ourselves, the steam wafting around our mostly-naked “imperfect” bodies.
We are in a Moroccan hammam (traditional bath house), one of the most wonderful things to do in when in Morocco. Moroccans are some of the squeaky-cleanest people you will ever meet as this weekly bathing ritual guarantees not to leave a single old skin cell on your body. If you ever thought you were clean, well, let me tell you, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
In a beautiful, tiled steamy room, the procedure goes something like this: hot water and steam serves to soften our sun-battered and leathery Australasian hides and open pores. Taking a large dollop of “savon noir” (a natural soap made from the residue of olive oil production), we smear this glorious treacle-like substance over our entire bodies, getting others to do our backs. We leave it on for several minutes to soften and clean our skin even more, before washing it off. It feels divine. Eventually a Moroccan hammam assistant whisks us away, one by one, into the next room. Here we are laid out like a raw steak on a marble slab, ready for the next part of the treatment. The assistant dons a scrubbing glove – let the “torture” begin! “No pain no gain” could not be truer than in this moment. Methodically the lovely, smooth-skinned Moroccan “scrubber” pushes her rough glove over Sue’s body, down each arm, across her chest and nipples, leaving large rolls of dead skin in its wake. Yuck! I am surprised no one has written “clean me” on her with their finger. Sue squirms in slight pain and squeals jokingly “I think I got the wrong grade of sandpaper!” but I know she’s loving it, and not an inch of skin is left unscrubbed.
Several layers of old epidermis now lie on the floor – with our new, glowing-pink and thoroughly clean bodies we slide off the marble table and shuffle into yet another room for an other-worldly argane oil massage. Argane oil is a vitamin-rich beauty oil made from a local nut, and produced only in Morocco. Life is looking good again as the attendant glides her slippery oil-coated hands over our bodies from tip to toe. That’s the other great thing about beauty treatments in Morocco – all products used are entirely natural – and cheap as chips.
Even though I would rather walk around naked for the rest of my days coated only in lovely argane oil, it is now time to take a quick shower to reluctantly wash most of it off. (People would stare if I walked back to the hotel with my clothes covered in blotches of oil). The hammam experience is over. Everyone looks pink-faced, thoroughly clean…. and limp as ragdolls – but really we are completely relaxed and in a wondrous nirvanic state. Pulling our clothes back on, we shuffle into another wonderfully decorative tiled room for a mint tea before dragging ourselves back to the hotel…secretly looking forward to getting dirty so we can do it all again next week.