I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a good massage from time to time. Usually, when I get one, I go for a deep tissue and or Swedish massage and usually done by a massage therapist that speaks my language.
Recently, I was in Marrakesh and while shopping, I kept seeing buckets of something that resembled very thick caramel and the colors though dark, varied from different hues of green to blue to brown, depending on the vendor), it turns out it was black soap.
The soap, although called black soap, has a gooey like consistency and is made of olives. The saponification process (the making of something into a soap) is done by adding potassium hydroxide. This soap is used in world famous hammam spa treatments in Marrakesh.
The hammam ritual is a Moroccan tradition, which has endured for centuries into the present day. In the hammam, your body is cleansed from head to toe. The ritual takes place in a humid steam room, where a hammam attendant, will douse you with water before applying the black soap to your skin and exfoliating it with a kessa glove (Kessa Gloves are used with black soap to deep cleanse the skin by removing dead skin cells, toxins and impurities. Blood circulation is stimulated, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the skin).
The hammam treatment can be enjoyed is a group or be enjoyed in private setting. After the ritual, you usually are served a glass of traditional Moroccan mint tea to help restore the balance of fluids.
Sounds amazing, does it not? Think again…
I was staying at the Hotel 2 Ciels in Marrakesh, this hotel had a spa that was offering a deal on a hammam treatment followed by a massage, a combination I could not pass up, so I signed up.
I was looking forward to my 1 ½ hour treatment + massage. The time for my appointment finally arrived and I was changed and waiting for my masseuse, out comes a short heavy set woman 10 minutes after the appointment is set to start, she spoke only French and Arabic while I only spoke English, Spanish and preschool French (this should have been my first sign and frankly, my opportunity to run out and request a masseuse that spoke my language)
Since we could not communicate thru our combined 4 languages, she proceeded to communicate with the universal language of signs and I understood I needed to follow her. We walked into a steam room where she basically ripped the robe off my body and suddenly I found myself naked with a paper panty and very aware of my nakedness, as if I had just had a bite of the forbidden fruit.
The masseuse signals to me to sit on the ledge and proceeds to douse me with warm water from head to toe in a manner that was almost as if she was trying to bath an unruly 5 year old kid, she did not care how she dosed me with Water, I mean, even when I wash my dog, I make sure I am careful that I’m not running water thru her eyes, her ears; this women ( I think! ) found pleasure in throwing water at me. She then asked me in French if I was ok. Already in a state of shock, all I can respond was: “oui, oui”.
At that moment I could not stop thinking of Queen Latifah on the last Holiday when she was in the spa having a treatment and her masseuse starts hitting her with a bunch of leaves, in the movie, Queen Latifah gets up her massage table, grabs the bunch off the masseuse s hand and starts hitting her instead, very funny in the movie, terrifying in real life!
Next she signals me to lay down, so I do, stomach down, she then proceeds to cover me in black soap with a speed that felt more rushed and punishing than relaxing and enjoyable, after she was done with my back, she signals me to turn, I do and trying to keep my dignity I cover my breasts with my hands. Well, this lady was not having it, she almost wrestles me to uncover my lady bits and frankly got way to close for comfort to the bits below my stomach, I was mortified and already unable to enjoy the treatment, I decided to just let her finish the job and hopefully enjoy the massage that followed.
After her the marathon effort to smother me in black soap, she proceeds to scrub me with the kessa glove at the same speed of “this is not relaxing and can this be over please? After the scrubbing, she leaves me in the room for a few minutes while the steam filled the room and became a warm and welcomed companion, soon after, she enters and doses me with water again and finally hands me my robe and asks me to follow her.
A massage was supposed to follow immediately, instead, she leaves me in a sitting room, gives me some tea and then disappears for about 10 minutes before she reapers to take me into the massage room.
At this point I was stressed, disappointed and wanting the experience to be over. No surprise that the massage was as short and as disappointing as the hammam itself. Although, less traumatic.
Once the treatment was over, I changed, paid and left as quickly as I could to get ready for a group dinner. During dinner, I was sharing my hammam experience with the group a few them and they just burst into laughter, telling me how they just had the most marvelous same but different experience at the Mamounia hotel. As they recount their experience there, I immediately regret my decision to not go with them that day. They had invited me, but I decided to stay behind and go to the Medina early in the day and have the treatment in the hotel that afternoon instead, but in true travel reasoning, I can always use this experience as an excuse to return to Marrakesh and have a proper and relaxing hammam treatment @ The Mamounia