By Philippa Roberts.
For travelers who like to get right amongst local culture, do what the locals do, see what the locals see and eat what the locals eat – here are my top three local hangouts to visit on your surfer’s “rest-day-out”:
Visit the local Hammam in Aourir (Banana Village): Hammam is the Arabic word for bath. A weekly or fortnightly ritual of local Moroccan people is to go to the public hammam to wash themselves. There is a separate hamam for men and women, so I can only speak of my experience in the womens’ hamam.
Be prepared for some serious nudity. A clear contrast from the street, where people are more or less covered from head to toe, to the inside of the hammam, where you will be one of maybe 100 or more women, in briefs. Just briefs. Nothing else.
Be sure to buy a small bag of the rich Moroccan olive soap as you enter. This comes in the form of a deep green paste, wrapped in a piece of cling film. You will also need a hammam glove and some shampoo, which you can also buy at the entrance for a few Dirhams each. You might like to bring your hairbrush too.
Once inside the changing area, strip down to your knickers and hand your bag to the lady behind the bag counter. In your best French or Arabic, ask if you could please have a lady to wash you (as opposed to washing yourself) – this avoids the awkwardness of trying to find your own space once inside the hot steam rooms, as one of the ladies will direct you where to sit, when to lie down, when to turn over etc etc. (If I’m making this sound like a weird experience, that’s because it is a weird experience. But if you want to do what the locals do…) You will be scrubbed like never before, shedding what will feel like a few kilos of dead skin. You will probably even get a bit of a massage at the end!
This all happens in very close proximity to many other women who are concerned only with washing themselves, their children, their family, their friends. Each time I go to the hammam, it feels a little less weird, but I don’t know how many hammams it will take before I start to feel like a local. Probably infinite. I asked a local male friend how his hammam went and whether he paid a man to scrub him down like I had. He said no he didn’t need to, because he ran into a friend inside, “which was perfect, because I scrubbed his back then he scrubbed mine”. A most fabulous answer, and a sure reminder that I was in Morocco, some 18000 miles from home.