Six months into my travels, it was time for a rejuvenating hammam. Hammams have a positive effect on body and soul that’s especially helpful for long-term travelers. I enjoy them and have written posts about my experiences in Istanbul and Cappadocia Turkey, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Moroccan hammams are similar, but also unique.
Years ago, before starting a travel blog, I visited an ayurvedic spa in Kerala India. Those intense treatments use massage and “holistic and integrative medicine principles to balance doshas,” or body composition. The ayurvedic process “enhances spiritual fulfilment and relaxation”.
There are many neighborhood hammams throughout Essaouira. To determine where I felt the most comfortable, I checked out several different possibilities – fancy hotels, spas along the seaside, and those within the walls of the Medina. The Moroccan procedure is detailed below, but each hammam has distinct characteristics. A fastidious premises is common to all hammams.
The process begins in a heated waiting room or sauna – sometimes with a pool – and evolves to a warm stone treatment room, followed by tea in a cool relaxation area at the end. A variation in temperature from hot to cold “stimulates blood flow and encourages the body to sweat out impurities”. Nights and mornings have been chilly and windy along the Atlantic coast, so the heat felt great.
Purifying Body and Soul
The main idea of a hammam is purifying body and soul. Public hammams are also a place for celebrating “major life events”. Bathing rituals are often incorporated into weddings and births. I had a private hammam, somewhat comparable to a spa visit – but it was much more.
The word hammam means “the spreader of warmth” in Arabic. The New Knew
CoCooning Spa Medina
I decided to visit Cocooning Spa in the Medina for my hammam / spa. Feeling sluggish lately, I got the works, aka “Total Relaxation Package,” and it included:
- Hammam and Black Soap Scrub
- Ghassoul (lava clay) Face Mask and Body Wrap
- Massage with Aragan Oil
- Manicure / Pedicure
It sounds indulgent, but was necessary to rejuvenate my travel-weary body and soul! Afterwards, I felt a calm sense of renewal. The amount of dead skin that came off during the exfoliation was shocking – ewwwww. It was worth the experience just to get rid of that unwanted baggage. Most accommodations these days have showers, not bathtubs. Soaking in a bathtub is not only relaxing, but also a good way to maintain healthy skin. I miss my jacuzzi tub.
The process was slightly different in that the small Essaouira spa didn’t have a pool. Showers were used between treatments and timed with alternating hot and cold water. None of the people working in the spa spoke much English, but they did a fantastic, professional job. I left the apartment in a rush and forgot my iPhone, so photos are from their website. Sorry, no pictures of me slathered in Moroccan black soap with a clay mask on my face….
History of Moroccan Hammams
Moroccan hammams are similar to taking a sauna, followed by several “treatments”. As hammams became more popular, they turned into a “traditional, weekly ritual and gathering point where people would meet to socialize”.
Today, hammams are a “mixture of traditional rituals and modern practices that have the same goal – purifying your body from dead skin and your soul from negative vibes”.
Traditional Moroccan Hammam Process
“The hammam ritual starts by sitting in a hot room for about 15 minutes to relax and allow the pores to open. Then, a thin layer of Moroccan black soap (aka Beldi – “traditional” in Arabic) is applied all over your face and body. After 5 to 10 minutes, dead skin is scrubbed away with a kessa glove. The amount of dead skin that comes off during the treatment is amazing, and your skin is left soft and glowing.
After the exfoliation, your hair is washed with Argan oil shampoo. Then, to absorb impurities and mineralize the epidermis, a purifying, cleansing ghassoul clay mask is applied to your face and body. After 15 minutes, you take a shower to remove the mask, and a hydrating layer of vitamin E enriched argan oil is applied to your skin. The final step is an invigorating massage, with you deciding the intensity – light to deep tissue.
“Since religion is the center of Moroccan culture, the first hammams were established near mosques and praying centers to facilitate the purification of body and soul before prayer rituals.”
Benefits of Moroccan Hammams
Hammam benefits are listed below. After it was all over, I slept like a baby and felt full of energy the next day:
- Physical / emotional detoxification – reducing stress and anxiety
- Beautifying body and face – removing dead skin, unclogging pores, eliminating toxins
- Skin nourishment / hydration – moisturizing and providing essential vitamins and minerals
- Anti-aging – allowing inner organs to breathe while toning and firming the skin
- Muscle tension and pain reduction
- Better sleep
- Boost to the immune system by activating blood circulation
- Improved body / mind connection – energy and balance
Mint Tea and Pomegranate Juice
Sipping mint tea in a cooling room is the Hammam grand finale. I’ve become addicted to it, and drink the tea almost every day. It’s made from gunpowder tea, a form of green tea that increases energy, improves endurance, and is especially beneficial to your health. It’s heaven when you add fresh mint, a touch of honey, and serve it with a few dates.
Fresh pomegranate juice is another favorite Moroccan drink. You can buy it in the Medina or along the beach and watch as a vendor squeezes juice from the gorgeous scarlet-red fruit.
Egyptian Pyramids Next
The time in Essaouira has been beneficial in many ways, but also challenging. It took the first few weeks to get into the local vibe. It’s not an easy place for a solo woman traveler, but my wanderings are about experiencing and understanding local cultures. The huge cultural change was more than I ever imagined.
Acclimating came with a bit of discomfort. I try not to belabor negative experiences in my blog posts, but Moroccan culture can be harsh for a western woman traveling alone. It’s depressing, and if you let it, can drive you a little crazy. I repeatedly learned how it feels to be the “oddball” in the crowd, getting “gawked” at, and experiencing firsthand what discrimination feels like. For solo travelers, larger, more cosmopolitan cities are an easier place to blend – small towns, not so much…
I learned much and got yet another lesson in the importance of self-reliance, patience, and tolerance. As I’ve said often, living life totally within your comfort zone isn’t for me. In foreign countries, challenging situations are likely to happen. Expecting anything to be the same as you’re accustomed to in a familiar environment is unrealistic and can make acclimation difficult. Even with that in mind, in our complex world “going with the flow” of a foreign country is often fraught with complications and challenges that don’t always make sense. You’re not in control of the environment. Whining and complaining aren’t helpful, so you have no choice but to be strong.
In February, I leave Morocco and continue my travels in Giza Egypt. I’m excited to visit the pyramids! It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. A taste of the desert in Morocco, sparked my curiosity, and I’m looking forward to exploring the ancient pyramids and taking excursions in the Egyptian desert. I’m staying in a small apartment near the pyramids. Later, I may venture into Cairo, and if I like it there, stay a while. I will likely be missing the energy of a larger city.