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    Fab Africa Travel

    Magic & Mud at the Moroccan Hammam

    Chapter Eleven Scrub Down

    I’ve had some pretty remarkable “spa” experiences over the years and through the travels of My Fab Fifties Life; a massage by a blind woman in Zanzibar stands out; the public baths in Budapest were fun; a most memorable Korean Spa Experience (read about that one here); soaking in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland on a cold winter night remains a highlight;  the Thai masseuse jumping up and down on my back I won’t soon forget.

    And now, here in memorable Morocco a new experience – the ancient way of the Hammam.

    A Hammam is a cleansing experience, a social event, and a structure.  The ancient buildings were often the only source of hot water for the people of the medina and villages and these places became the social center of life in the old times.  To have a Hammam in your neighborhood was a much sought after addition.  Usually built near to a mosque to share a water source for cleansing.  The Hammams old and new are designed to trap warm air and vent steam, usually through a domed ceiling with small star-shaped holes.

    A Hammam experience is very different from the Korean Spa experience where you “soaked” in tubs of different temperatures.  Instead, in Islam it is considered unclean to “soak” in water.  Instead it involves a lot of pouring water and scrubbing and spraying.  Islamic people are fastidiously clean, washing hands and face three times before praying and praying up to five times a day.

    Today’s Hammams are usually open for women during the day and men in the evening.  Women flock to the Hamman to enjoy the ritual cleanse, relax and get away from their daily duties, and to gossip and socialize with their neighbors.  Just like fasting, a weekly ritual for devout muslims, a weekly visit to the hammam is part of both a religious and social Moroccan life.

    When we were in Asillah I visited my first Hammam, but it was not purely authentic although I enjoyed it immensely.  It was geared more to tourists and was located in a hotel.  Here I spent two hours having a woman scrub and cleanse me and wash my hair.  Following this I also had a massage and a manicure and pedicure.  It was all very lovely and relaxing and my skin felt so fresh and new.

    My second Hammam was a very authentic one in the city of Fes with my friend Sarah.  Fes is Morocco’s second largest city and the world’s largest medina (and oldest – a Unesco Heritage site).  The city of Fes has so many hammams, nearly one in every neighborhood. Even though there are so many they are nearly impossible to find.  The medina is an incredible maze and since few businesses of any kind have signage, you can easily walk right by and not know you just passed a Hammam.

    So we were taken to the Hammam by the housekeeper of our Airbnb.  She took us to the hidden one close to our Riad. She helped show us how it works. She brought all the things we needed and proceeded to create a very magical authentic cultural experience, even though she speaks not a word of English.

    At first it was a bit weird hanging out naked with our housekeeper. But we got over that after we were doused over and over with hot water. While we sat on the tile floor she slathered us down with African black soap, a mixture of several oils and plant extracts that looks like mud. It is solid but greasy and turns to liquid when rubbed on your warm skin. It felt pretty nice. She then used a scrub mitt and scrubbed the hell out of my skin. She was pretty proud of how much skin she sloughed off. Doused. Next she mixed dry henna with water and slathered that all over (I mean ALL over) my body. The green henna smelled exactly like spinach. Doused.

    Next she washed, conditioned and combed out our hair. Doused. I thought at this point we were done. Not.

    Next she lathered a loofah with jasmine soap and scrubbed us down again. Doused.

    Next she poured dry rosebuds in giant buckets of hot water. While the roses soaked she cleansed herself while we relaxed.   She then took the rose-water and doused one final big time. At this point my contact lenses and my inhibitions floated away.

    The room was abuzz with about a dozen other women of all ages including two small children.  The women all helped each other scrub their backs.  There was one very ancient women who seemed to be the hammam madam.  She refilled water buckets and cleaned up, dressed in what looked like board shorts and nothing more.

    This experience although unique, was similar to rituals in other countries. It seems to me everyone except the USA has some kind of ancient communal bathing ritual. If you can relax and let the magic take over, you should try it.  It was fun to experience it so authentically here in Fes.

    Fab Africa Travel

    Morocco on my Mind

    Chapter Eleven

    Location: Morocco

    Morocco on my mind. We’ve been in Morocco for 15 days and in Asilah for a week already and I am enchanted.  And so very relaxed.  Morocco is just about everything I could have hoped for.

    View from Our airbnb

    Except warm.

    No, in November Morocco is not warm.  I’ve layered up a lot, buried myself under blankets and comforters at

    Tea by the fire

    night, and cuddled up by a roaring fire in the evenings.  But it’s actually nice.  It’s sunny during the day, and comfortable and dry and we know we have heat and humidity coming up in destinations in the near future, so we are enjoying a bit of “winter” in North

    Moroccan Harira soup

    Africa.

    Morocco on my mind.

    Casablanca was “meh”, Chefchauoen was “bright”, Tangier was “confusing” but Asilah – ahhhh Asilah.  I will never forget you.  We are right on the ocean where the crashing waves lull us to sleep.  Where our morning coffee and breakfast is served on the terrace with the wind and salt air cooling our coffee mugs.  We walk on the beach each morning, with the resident camels, and wander the quiet “off-season” historic medina.  We visit the mercado with the locals, no other tourists around and we are both

    Mercado

    Latifah makes Couscous

    accepted and stared at by the amazing variety of residents of this region.  Asilah has been a spectacular, laid back, relaxed place to recuperate and regroup  on the Grand Adventure.  Exactly what the doctor ordered.

    Of course our perfect Airbnb plays a major role in how happy we are here.  Not only is the space perfect but it comes with Latifah, our personal chef and housemaid who is talented, kind, funny, and one of the hardest working people I have ever met in my life.  We have not eaten out at all during our

    View from our room

    time in Asilah – we have instead allowed the talented Latifah to pamper us beyond reason.  And I am so happy.

    Morocco on my mind.

    Our friends from California Sarah and Steve arrived two days ago and they too are loving Asilah and Latifah and we all are learning to cook the incredible Moroccan cuisine together.  Expect a blog soon about the cuisine of this amazing country.

    Two weeks in and still two weeks to go.  We relax

    Beautiful spices

    here in Asilah for a few more days and then we pick up the pace again; four days in Fez where we have a lot planned, five days on a tour that includes the desert and then three days in Marrakesh.  Feeling satisfied and welcome, enchanted and enthralled in this colorful, ancient and fascinating world.

    Morocco on my mind.

    Fab Africa Travel

    Artistic Asilah Sur La Mer

    Chapter Eleven

    Location: Title


    We came to artistic Asilah to do nothing.  Seriously, that was the plan.  We really needed some true relax days – to stay in bed all day if we so desired.  We chose Asilah because of its location, sur la mer, without knowing much more about it.  And it’s perfect.

    Only an hour south of Tangier, this teeny ancient town is nestled on the beach on the Atlantic Ocean.  In November it’s very quiet.  I mean really quiet.  In fact the year round population is about 20,000, with significantly fewer inside the medina perched on the ocean surrounded by Portuguese walls and ramparts.  During the summer months the population swells to more than 120,000, especially on the weekends, as Moroccans flock here
    for the cool ocean breeze.

    But November – how lovely.  The sun is shining but we need a sweater and at night the temperatures really dip.  Our Airbnb sits right on the sea, comes with a full-time maid and cook and we are only paying $72 a night.  There is very little to do here, but that’s okay with us.  Exactly what the doctor ordered after the past two months of constant motion.  Peace and quiet except for the crashing waves – like a lullaby.

    Annually Asilah hosts an art festival (in July) where murals are painted on the whitewashed walls and buildings inside the medina.  This began  in 1978 as a children’s art event and now defines Asilah.  The small town is known now as an artist haven, with galleries and working studios as well as the murals that are painted fresh each year during the festival.  The festival also includes music and dance and other arts, and draws about 200,000.  Too many for me.  Glad to be here in quiet November.

    The murals are a treat.  Some done by children, but most done by Moroccan artists.  My favorites are the ones that incorporate parts of the buildings – such as doors or windows or the ever present historic grates on the windows.

    The murals have certainly made Asilah a popular stop for visitors, many bus tours from Casablanca will stop for a couple of hours on the way to Tangier.  But in November we have only seen perhaps a half -dozen tourists.  And that’s the way we like it.

    So we get up and do some Yoga and then maybe take a run or walk on the beach.  Our cook Latifah then serves us breakfast on the seaside terrace.  The rest of our day is free – maybe we read.  Or blog.  Play scrabble and chess.  Maybe we nap.  Or walk through the quiet medina and enjoy the murals.  Latifah then serves us a midday Moroccan meal – sometime around 2:00pm.  This is our choice to eat at this time.  Later we might have fruit or a snack or step out for some tapas.  Who knows?  We have no plans.  We are relaxed in artistic Asilah sur le mer.

    Fabulous.

     

     

    Fab Europe Travel

    Turning Portuguese, I Think I’m Turning Portuguese, I Really Think So

    Chapter Ten

    Location: Portugal

    For the last few days I’ve had that 1980’s punk rock song by the Vapors rolling around in my head – but with one change in the lyrics;

    “I’m turning Portuguese, I think I’m turning Portuguese, I really think so. ”

    Weird. I know.

    But here is the thing – oh my gosh I love it here!  So I kinda think I’m turning Portuguese.

    First of all I clearly can pass for a local – as long as I don’t open my mouth. Olive skin just soaks up the sun.

    Turning Portuguese.

    Secondly I love the weather. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve been. I totally expected it to be high humidity and tropical. It is neither. It’s like living in Arizona but with an ocean. The air is so dry. Hot days turn to cool, even nearly cold nights and mornings,  just like in the desert. But on the ocean. No air conditioning needed.

    I think I’m turning Portuguese.

    And then there is the food.  It’s heavenly.  A bit like Mediterranean, a bit like Spanish, but mostly unique and completely delicious.  The freshest seafood I have ever had.  Incredible beef, pork and cheese.  And the produce – especially right now.  It’s mind-boggling.  Top it with amazing wine and port and well- it’s purely Portuguese.

    I really think so.

    So the Vapors are rolling around in my head and I’m okay with that.  It reminds me of college – and it makes me happy to be Portuguese… at least for two more weeks.

    That’s why I’m turning Portuguese, I think I’m turning Portuguese. I really think so!