Morocco—first stop Casablanca!
Though the flight from JFK to Casablanca wasn’t particularly long (a bit over 6 hours) —it was a night flight, and with the 5-hour time change and the fact that I got zero sleep, I decided I would take it easy my first day.
After breezing through passport control without any lines or hassles and grabbing my bag (which happened to be the second one out) from baggage claim, I headed outside. Happily, I spotted someone holding a sign with my name on it.
From the airport, it was a 35-minute ride to my hotel for the night, Idou Anfa, situated in the heart of Casablanca’s business district. The hotel staff was welcoming, and despite breakfast having just ended, the Desk Agent who checked me in graciously provided me with the extension to call room service to order breakfast at no additional charge.
When I got to the hotel, I saw they had a spa. While waiting for breakfast, I took a look at the spa menu in my room and thought a 60-minute Oriental massage would be nice. I called the spa and luckily, they had a noon appointment available, giving me 30 minutes before my coffee arrived.
The spa is on the first floor, six floors below my room. Besides the spa, there’s also a gym and an outdoor pool.
When I checked in at the spa reception, I was about to tell the receptionist that I wanted the Oriental Massage, but then I noticed they also offered several different hammams— which I asked about. Though she didn’t speak much English, we could communicate. At her suggestion, I chose to have a 30-minute traditional ritual hammam followed by a 30-minute massage. Though I’ve heard people talk about them, I didn’t fully understand exactly what it was or what it entailed —I was about to find out.
The word “Hammam” translates to “the spreader of warmth” in Arabic. My female attendant, also referred to as a Tellak (meaning scrubber), told me to remove all my clothing and put on the robe placed on the massage table. After doing so, I followed her to a designated room — it was warm, steamy, and smelled of eucalyptus.
There are private and public hammams—mine was private (which was good for my first time). And from my understanding, a private hammam is more like a spa treatment where someone scrubs and massages you. But with a public hammam, that is not always the case. You may purchase a kit (including a mat to lie on, a special black soap, and a Kessa glove) and exfoliate yourself, or you could arrange for someone to scrub you —your choice.
For Moroccans, the hammam is an integral part of their culture, and many locals take part in these baths weekly. Beyond its role as a cleansing ritual, it’s believed to promote healthy skin. Plus, it serves as a kind of social hub within the community.
Public hammams are usually segregated by gender.
The hammam ritual took place in a room adorned with beautiful tiles — a sizable heated marble table at its center. I removed my robe as instructed and lay face up on the table. Though initially uncomfortable laying there naked in front of a stranger, I took a deep breath and embraced the experience.
The warmth from the heated marble was comforting, but the first few minutes of lying naked stirred a sense of anticipation reminiscent of preparing for a medical procedure.
I had no idea how many steps there were to this centuries-old tradition.
To begin, my body was rinsed with warm water— first the front of me, then I flipped over, and then the back. While I was still face down, the attendant began rubbing my body with warm oil, starting with my legs, then my back, bottom, and hips, and lastly—my arms and hands. At her instruction, I flipped back to my front, where she then repeated the oiling: feet, legs, hips, then moving to my stomach and breasts, ending with my neck, shoulder, arms, and hands.
This was followed by another round of rinsing —front and back.
Then, it was time for the scrubbing. Starting with on my back (I was lying on my stomach), the attendant began the exfoliation process by using a Kessa glove along with some black soap called Beldi soap and rubbing vigorously (it felt very much like a Luffa and like a Luffa, used to remove dead skin). She scrubbed every inch of my body, and then I flipped over, and it was repeated on the front. Even my face was scrubbed – though with a lighter touch than the rest of my body had. A rinsing followed this.
Then she had me stand up. She took what almost looked like a squeegee( which you’d use to clean a window) to remove any liquid from the table. The attendant then instructed me to sit on the edge of the table; she walked around behind me and combed out my hair; then she washed it and massaged my scalp for quite a while—followed by a rinsing and another scalp massage.
There was a final rinse. The process was quite relaxing. This was followed up with a massage, and then after taking a cool shower, I dressed and sat in the spa lounge area and enjoyed —some mint tea. Now, this is how to start your first day in Casablanca!
For those of you who, like me, may have heard about Hammans but didn’t fully understand it, I hope my description has clarified things. Regardless, I highly recommend giving it a try.
I will be in Morocco for the next three weeks, and I’m looking forward to trying out a few more hammans while I’m here—maybe even a public one! If you ever find yourself in a place where hammam is a cultural thing, I’d recommend trying it.
Just a heads up, though—it’s not for the shy types.
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