So I’m laying face down, ass up (but skivvies on), on a marble floor. The room is hot, steamy, and there are three or four other men in skivvies getting hot rubdowns by other half naked Moroccan men. They scrub with hot water, some sort of soap and a rough brush that scrapes off the dead skin from my body. And boy, who knew there was so much of it! There’s also something called a “massage”, but it’s more like a twisted, half yoga-half chiropractic twisting session. It did feel good, but there were times, as I was being lifted against the half naked man’s legs, that I thought “Oh my god this hurts, I hope I don’t pop out of place!”. I didn’t.
The main rubdown room was in the back. It has no lights other than small holes in the domed ceiling. There’s another room you walk through, that has some sort of open shower stalls, though no one was in these. The front room of the bathing area is cooler, and is the rinse room. And through a door, and a VERY low ducking under a ceiling, you enter the entry way, which is a 50 foot tall starred dome, with star shaped vents that have sun streaming in.
This is a Hammam. A traditional Moroccan (and Turkish too, I think) bath house. The one I was in is hundreds of years old, and is the place you go to really get clean. It was probably more important back when there weren’t showers and plumbing, but it is still an important part of Moroccan life. Naturally, the men and women have completely separate hours. It would be a bit impure (And really very counter to the whole way Muslim’s do things here) to be getting a hot wet rubdown from a man while topless women were getting hot wet rubdowns from other topless women right next to you.
But that’s how it works for the gals too. I met two Belgian gals on my birthday, and they described their experience, and it was remarkably similar to mine. Though they didn’t mention anything about the strong smell of cigarettes on the attendants breath. Maybe they didn’t have it.
It was really fun, strangely enough. And I haven’t felt that clean in a long time. He cleaned everything but my crotch and butt crack. (But he got the cheeks!).
So for my Birthday, on Monday, I went down to the Djeema El Fna, the 1000 year old square at the center of Marrakech. I had some street food, enjoyed the jovial, fun, playful way the vendors try to get your attention to eat at their stalls. They mostly have he same menu (minus the one with the goat heads), but the food did vary in tastiness. I never could find my buddy Mike. He stayed at a different hotel, we set up time to meet and somehow missed each other. A strange way to end 10 days of good travel together. Never did get to say thanks or goodbye.
So I hung out with other travelers. The aforementioned Belgian gals. And an Aussie who looked a lot like Jesus. And a fun Italian guy with a great laugh, who was only there for the dinner parts. We chatted, we swapped stories, we laughed of the Moroccan sales method, and I told them it was my birthday and I was determined to find a beer in Morocco.
Judging from stories of the Australian couple in Fez who, on a search for alcohol, were sent down back alleys to an unmarked door. They were let inside and the men (all men) sitting inside drinking looked up guiltily at the door like teenagers caught by their parents. Around the corner in the next room was the “bar”, where a man showed them a bottle of wine while looking around to make sure no one was watching. He wouldn’t let them hold it either. And when they bought it, they were ushered out a side door into another alley.
OR, the two Belgian gals, who were led to an equally dark alley and door, and when they entered… it was all women! Who knew, women in Morocco drink. So they ordered beers (Flag Special) and sat down. Then realized that these women were sure dressed provocatively. And there were indeed a couple of men in the room, and…oh, Hookers! A whole room full. They had no problems, were not assumed to be hookers, enjoyed their drinks and left.
So, I figured, this i going to be one hell of an awesome quest down the back alleys of Morocco. Leading to adventures, strange tales and odd happenings. So in French, Florine (tall belgian girl) asks the waiter “where can we find some beer?”. He says “At the end of that street there is a hotel called Tazi. They have the only bar in the Medina.”
Well that was easy!
So we went. Had three beers. Talked lots more. I had a Moroccan man say “Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy wuzzy had no hair, Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy was he?”. And he wanted to know what it meant…um, ok.
Oddly in a place where drinking is so hidden (though technically not illegal like it is in Kuwait), they sold us our last beers as they were closing and said we could drink it on the street. So we walked along, drinking beers to the Djeema El-Fna. We did slip them into pockets when we got within sight of the big Mosque though. We know enough to not be THOSE tourists who essentially give the finger to the mosque. Not going to that, that’s not cool.
And when I headed back to my hostel, I fully expected to get offered hash and pot about 10 times, since I had been offered it tons of times in Marrakech. But I wasn’t offered it once. Without the scooter traffic and shops and noise, it’s almost like I walked back in time hundreds of years as I cruised through the alleys.
The next day was a rainy, walking tour of some palaces. Some shopping. Some more eating in the square, with Monkeys climbing all over me (for a tip of course).
The final day was the Hammam rubdown, and a final tour of Marrakech, where I got way off the tourist track. And the touts seemed to pick up to take me to the tanneries and other places, but I politely declined “No thank you, I’m just exploring”,
and they would be insistant “Just a quick look, no pressure.”
And I’d say, what turned out to the be magic words: “I’ve been here for three weeks. I’m good.”
They would smile the knowing Oh-yes-you’ve-seen-all-our-techniques smile, and say “Welcome Morocco. Have fun.”
If you need to get the touts to go away, politely decline, then say (whether you have or not), that you’ve been here for 3 weeks, and they will leave you alone willingly. (Now don’t ALWAYS do this, as you’ll miss out on some fun adventures (see the jewelry buying in Meknes for instance), but if you’re not in the mood, you now have your magic spell to use.
The walking, wandering led to a cool photography museum, with pics from 1870-1950 Morocco. And strangely, a lot of things looked almost exactly the same. And many things were different. It was a great way to end the trip, with this sort of time machine into the world of Morocco before. Some really cool images. Back in the day, the female coverings (which I’m blanking on the name right now) were all white. Completely white. Like ghosts. Now they tend to be black if it’s a total covering, except the eyes. Though if it’s not that complete, the colors vary wildly and the clothes are very beautiful.
And I had a cobra put around my neck. And other snakes too. And took pics with the snake charmers on the square. It was fun to do, and of course required a tip. But it was “Good price, Moroccan price”.:) (After I talked them down from 200 MAD (That’s $25USD, ) to 50 MAD (Tha’ts about $6…still a bit pricey, but what the hell. When am I going to have a cobra on my neck…)
I asked “Isn’t it poisonous?”,
They said “Yes, yes, very”.
I said “How do you make it not bite? Has it been devenomized?”
Them “Yes, very poisonous.”
And so that’s the scoop. That’s the journey. That’s the adventure…
But wait, we’re not done. There’s one more story to be told…
Craig Ouellette is a world traveling, independent filmmaker, and karaoke fiend. He has been to dozens of countries, made dozens of films, and sung more karaoke songs than he can count. He hopes the tales of adventure will entertain.