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MOROCCO | Thursday, 10 April 2008 | Views [6336]

Imlil in the mountains

Imlil in the mountains

Imagine a beauty salon/theraputic massage African style. That is a hammam. And that is my most enduring memory of my trip to Morocco with Mum and Dad. Well, it is right up there with Mum on a camel, a sandstorm in the Sahara desert and goats in the trees :)

My first hammam was in the tiny little mountain village of Imlil. It is so tiny that we drove to the end of the road and we walked up a little track with our bags on the back of a donkey to get there. Seriously.

The village has little square mud houses which all cling on to the side of the mountain. I don't think any of them have hot water, which is partly why the hammam is so important in Moroccan life. That's where everyone goes to get clean, warm and relaxed. Being a Muslim country, men and women can't go to the hammam at the same time. And being a woman, I went before 4pm, along with my Mum, three kiwi architects and an English teacher. Two girls who were about 14 and one girl who was 8 stood and waited outside the little entrance door with us. Apparently the guy with the key was having a siesta...

When we were let in, we followed the girls into the changing room. They were naked in a flash. Us modest New Zealanders looked awkwardly at each other and started peeling off our clothes slowly.

So there we were, six nervous naked white females and three totally comfortable naked Moroccan girls in a wee mud hut with a concrete floor next to the bakery in an isolated little Muslim mountain village. Cute.

We went through to the hammam room and the girls sat our naked bottoms down in a line on the concrete floor. Which was pleasantly warm as they has sloshed buckets of hot water over the floor. The water is heated by the oven at the bakery, hence the next-door-to-the-bakery location. The girls filled plastic buckets with hot water and doused us down. Then they gave us this greeny brown slime to rub over our bodies. Seemed pretty weird at the time. Turns out it was olive soap which softens your skin. Rubbing in squishy olive soap is a great slippery massage!

Then one girl got me to lie face down on the concrete, in very heavily accented French, mixed with Berber. When I finally understood what she wanted, I did as I was told, and she started scrubbing me down with mittens that felt like scratchy velcro. And you should have seen what happened!! Half my skin came off in pale rolls of spaghetti, and the skin that was left on my bones glowed rosy red. Go the slimy olive soap! You just can't get stuff like that in your average western supermarket.

When the whole back of my body was as smooth as a baby, she got me to turn over. Slightly strange situation to find yourself in: staring up at the ceiling baring your nakedness to a line up of four girls you've known for three days and your mother, and getting scrubbed down with a velcro mitten...

When I was smooth and red all over, I had to stand up and get sluiced down with hot water. The next step was soaping. The girls rubbed up a great lather and poured more hot water over us and the floor, and then gave us back massages. It was lovely.

The next part was a bit harrowing. They insisted on washing our hair, despite the fact that we hadn't brought shampoo with us. Good thing Mum had Sunlight soap with her. Our hair was squeaky clean. Literally. Many buckets of hot water later, we were done. And it was our turn to scrub down the Moroccan girls! I guess that's how it goes for NZ $5!

Hammam in mountain village = tick! And my skin was just so lovely and baby soft that when we got to Essaouira, Mum and I decided to give it another try, and being a bigger town, it was a slightly more upmarket affair.

A woman with the most beautiful perfume came in a taxi to take us to the salon. In Morocco they rub solid blocks of amber, musk or jasmine perfume into their skin and hair. So delicious! The salon smelled just as good, and there were soft pink towels and pink jandals to put on. The hammam room even had smooth benches(!) for us to lie on.

The whole experience followed the same pattern of olive soap, scrub, soap and massage. But it was much more relaxing with trained therapists doing it, and the massage was done with essential oils like we use at home. And they didn't use Sunlight soap to wash our hair :) And I also found that the second time round, the whole naked thing wasn't such a big issue anymore.

When we were dried down, we sat wrapped in our fluffy pink towels and drank camomile tea, before moving into the massage room and having a full body massage for an hour. Bliss!


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