Hotel Riad Nakhla, Essaouira
I am glowing. This afternoon I arranged to meet a local woman for a traditional hammam. Our first stop was at the spice market where she bought cloves, henna, a lemon and other mysterious ingredients. Then we wove through the medina until we reached the Pabst Hammam. A plaque at the entrance announced that Orson Wells frequented this Hammam while he was in Essaouira filming Othello. In spite of that particularly famous visitor, it is a local hammam and I was the only tourist there.
After stripping down to our underwear we entered a steamy warm room through what looked like a massive dungeon door, about six inches thick. There Halbia fetched buckets of water and motioned for me to sit down. The room was full of women and girls in various stages of scrubbing. Many of the older women were working vigorously on their children while they let their own green goop facials do their magic.
The process began with something that looked like petroleum jelly but smelled much nicer. After I was completely coated she went to work, somewhat unsuccessfully, on the calluses on my big toes. The next step was the gommage or exfoliation which she did with an intensity that was bordering on scary. Although the idea is to remove all the dead skin, I think a lot of the living stuff was also successfully liberated.
After so much of my DNA was rinsed down the drain I was coated in a new oily concoction of cloves and other spices. This was for the massage stage which involved almost no pain and a great deal of pleasure.
After the massage I was rinsed again while Halbia started mixing up henna, water and the lemon. This mixture was then applied to all my skin and allowed to steep for a while while she worked more of it into my palms and the soles of my feet. Let me just say that fresh lemon juice on my chaffed tummy was quite an experience. Halbia giggled when the rinsing revealed my new orange palms; not quite the red/brown tones the Moroccan women get.
Finally we made it to the washing stage where I was soaped up only to see, to my horror, the return of the abrasive mitt. Fortunately covered in soap it was not too scary a weapon.
With my hair shampooed and my skin gleaming I headed out into the warm evening feeling cleaner than I have ever been. I would do it all again if I only had more skin.