Sweating It Out At The Hamam

I admit it, I am a kiasu when it comes to holidays. I *do* have a checklist of quintessentials. Be it the food, the culture, the sights... even the baths.

Enter hamam. 

Hamam - is a spa, or a public bath where the Turks go for a bath, scrub and a massage, and are usually segregated by gender. I was keen to try out the centuries-old tradition.

Since there is a hamam close to our hotel (and pretty much scattered everywhere else throughout the city),  V 'dropped' me off so he can dust his hands off from babysitting me.

The hamam was a small family-run business. A fan lazily creaked from the ceiling, a couple of middle-aged woman lounged and chatted, while a chunky telly was playing some telenovela. Furnitures look old and a little tacky. 

No turning back, now. 

A few options are provided - soap massage, oil massage, male or female masseuse. I opted for the regular hamam - just a soap massage, no oil massage.

Payment was made in advance, and I was shown into a small little massage room, to change out into a towel - and nothing else. 

One of the masseuse, a middle-aged matronly woman, led me further into the establishment. She showed me the sauna and indicated for me to bask in the heat for 20 minutes. So in I go, towel and all. It started getting hot, until it got almost unbearable. I contemplated. It's hot outside. I was already sweating earlier. And now this sweating business indoors isn't enjoyable. It'll be nice to soak in cool water. I stayed just a teensy bit longer, debated that thought and sweated for 5 minutes. Finally I got out and searched for my masseuse. 

I called out to her (from the entrance of the women's section). No answer. I spotted a young male washing towels in another room. He heard me and hollered to my woman. She came over, indignant. "Not yet -- twenty minutes!". I said, no, too hot. Okay, she said, and ushered me into a bath area, about 4mx4m large. 

There are 3 wash basins, and she indicated for me to take off my towel and demonstrated scooping water from the basins. Then she said: 10 minutes; and left.

For the record, I honestly tried being cooperative. I scooped some water, and rinsed. And I was finished in 1 minute!! The bathing duration could have been stretched further, had there been soap. But there wasn't! And let's be realistic, there's only so much water you can go on scooping!!

Yet again, I crept out and called for my masseuse. She came around, definitely with a hint of annoyance - "But 10 minutes!", I insisted I was done, and she said, ok wait, while she goes to change.

She returns in a pair of tank top and shorts and I was led into yet another room. In the middle of the room was a marble table top. She indicated for me to lie on top of the marble (with only my thin, wet towel on it - not comfortable, I assure you). She was out of my radar for a few minutes, and when she returned, just entering my peripheral vision: She had undressed - she is in her underwear.... and just that. Mammaries in full display, she scooped some water and unceremoniously splashed me.

It was a most strange sensation. I have never quite been bathed by a stranger before, but this, an adult being washed by a matronly woman - it does feel like my mother was giving me a shower.

Why do people pay for this experience, remind me?

With about 100litres of water splashed on me, she started with the soap bubbles. A long, thin cotton cloth (looks like a bolster cover) was soaked in soap water. She then blew into the pseudo-bolster-cover and transformed it into an airy sausage. She then squeezed the bolster sheet and a thick layer of soap foam covered me almost entirely. It was wonderful (for a change), light and tingling.

Then came the "soap massage". Armed with a loofah, she climbed over me and started scrubbing me vigorously. It sure felt like she was trying to remove my epidermis - I could feel myself being rubbed raw! From my neck, down to my butt and to my legs. She showed me the dead skin accumulated on her loofah (grimace), and then gestured for me to flip around, facing upwards.

This has got to be the most awkward feeling I've EVER had to endure. Me, staring at the algae-covered ceiling, determinedly averting gaze with the woman (and her hanging bosoms) while she hovers over me and scrubs my armpits, breasts, and well, everything else.

Once that was done, I was asked to sit upright, and she started shampooing my hair and briskly massaged my scalp. Rinse, and a dry towel handed to me. I accepted the towel gratefully.

The hamam experience is finally completed by lying face down on a heated marble slab (10 mins, please), presumably to relax a bathee. I finished my 10 mins of hot marble relaxation, got up, got dressed and anxiously left the hamam.

The entire experience left me feeling like a baby - raw and red, but clean - reborn again.

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