It was our final day in Marrakech today, and we were sad to leave the friendly staff of our riad! But before catching our train, we scheduled a hammam experience, which is a traditional spa originating in the Ottoman Empire and widely used throughout the Islamic world. I'm sure the experience varies by spa location, but in a word, here's what it was like for us: Intense!
The spa room itself was quaint, accommodating only two people at once. Two platforms joined in an L, so Sean took one and I took the other. It was steamy and smelled of oranges. Our hammam technician was swift and efficient! In limited English, she told us "Robe" and gestured for us to remove our terrycloth robes. Sean was in his swimming trunks, and she told me to remove my bikini top. And then the splashing began! With a small bucket, she repeatedly splashed my face and body with warm water. Soon my hair had come loose from its braid and was falling in my eyes so I couldn't see. I had to time my breathing with the moments in which she refilled the bucket. When I was sufficiently soaked, she rubbed me
all over with a clear sugar scrub, telling me to "Turn" from front to back and then back to front, and then to "Sit" (up) so she could begin the scrubbing. With an abrasive glove that felt not unlike sandpaper, she rubbed my skin until it was raw and strawberry red. Old dead skin came off in wet gray clumps. "Your skin!" she said, smiling, clearly loving her job of helping people feel refreshed and renewed. But in that moment, I just felt sore! After the scrub-down, she smeared black soap all over my face and body (I'd be cleaning it from my bellybutton later), and told us to switch places. Presumably I was to relax while Sean had his turn, but I was having too much fun watching him experience what I had just gone through. He kept his eyes closed, equally startled to be splashed in the face with warm water, but said later he enjoyed the exfoliation process. Once we were rinsed of our black soap, the technician shampooed my hair and rinsed me one more time, not too concerned with keeping the soap from my eyes or water from my nose. But when it was all
said and done and she had helped us back into our soft, warm robes, we felt nothing if not awakened! She was clearly happy with her work and we "shukran"ed many times before leaving the spa. As I said, it was intense!
With wet hair and a bit of a dazed "so, that just happened!" feeling, we lunched at the Argana that overlooked the Jemaa El Fna square. It was surreal to be drinking Fanta and sharing a kebab on a rooftop terrace where in 2011 there had been an explosion that killed 17 people. Apparently they are still unsure what caused the explosion, but their rebuilt 2nd floor maintained its original cultural integrity. From the terrace, we watched the snake charmers and monkey-men, and when the call to prayer came, we could see dozens of Muslim men kneeling on their prayer rugs, facing Mecca. It's no wonder this place was established as a cultural world heritage site.
We took the 3-hour train back to Casablanca, and by evening, we had joined the throngs of people walking along the ocean-front promenade to watch the sunset. We noticed one lot would be covered in piles of trash, or contain
One of the monkey men
I have serious moral concerns about their exploitation of these intelligent animals for tourist entertainment! I snuck this picture to tell the story, but did not pay him; this only reinforces their practice of abducting baby monkeys from the wild. So sad!
an abandoned building with exposed rebar and stray cats. But then right next door would be a fine dining restaurant or thumping night club. It recalled scenes we had seen in Tanzania, too. Poverty juxtaposed with wealth. "That's Africa," we kept saying. For dinner, we broke down and ordered a margherita pizza (after so many tagines!) and watched the sun dip unceremoniously into the gray horizon of the Atlantic. When Morocco won a qualifying game for the Africa Cup that evening, people went crazy! We watched two guys nearly come to blows in the street below our balcony (maybe over a lost bet or searing insult?), music pulsed, and car horns blared all night long. You just never know what's going to happen in your travels!
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