It was possibly only a matter of minutes (as I walked around the streets of Malaga) until I spotted a sign pointing towards the local Hammam. Before I had a chance to think it through I was standing at the doorway being ushered inside by a well-groomed Moroccan man. Last October, in the heart of Marrakech, there were numerous occasions to step inside a traditional Arab bath and I regret never taking up the offer.
I’ve never experienced a professional massage and so I didn’t find it difficult to justify buying 15 minutes of relaxation time. After all, I would be carrying a rucksack on my back for the next 5 months. The man assured me that this was a new concept of Arab bathing so being naked was not permitted and the room would be shared by both men and women. Nor would the dead skin from my back be scrubbed until red-raw; instead I was handed a bowl so that I could gently pour warm water over myself. I have to say I was a little disappointed but I shrugged my shoulders and headed to get changed.
I was given a Pareo to wrap myself in and a pair of flip-flops to avoid slipping over. To prevent any unwanted flashing I gripped the Pareo together with one hand and sheepishly wandered into the baths. One sign on the left door showed a picture of someone shushing and the one to my right strictly read ‘DO NOT TAKE OFF YOUR PAREO’. Done.
The place was empty. Soft, deep musical tones filled the silence as I decided on what seat to sit on. In the middle of the room was a large circular stone slab and I could feel the heat radiating off of it. Before I sat down I used my trusty bowl to test the water temperatures of the mini baths situated around the room – I had underestimated how soothing it would be.
It must have been about half an hour before my masseuse came looking for me, although I have to say I let him walk past me twice before it clocked that is was in fact HE who would soon be massaging my back. Ok well, I had come here for an experience after all.
Unlike the well-groomed Moroccan man that greeted me, this chap didn’t speak a word of English. However, he was very good at sign-language. As much as I would have liked to play dumb, it was evident that he wanted me to remove my Pareo. But what about the signs?! I compromised; awkwardly laying down on my front I shimmied my Pareo down as far as necessary for a back massage. All of a sudden I could feel the bottom half being pushed up as far as necessary for a leg massage, oo-er! Next came a soaking of very warm water all over, including my head. I realised I had signed myself up for a whole body massage as soon as my feet were touched – how I stopped myself from giggling I will never know. The feeling of complete relaxation was somewhat disturbed by the constant sniffing of my masseur, with an occasional throaty cough. That really did make it hard not to laugh.
A whisper in the ear after a short head massage let me know that my time was up. Sheepishly covering myself I managed to slip in the slip-preventative flip-flops only to be saved just in time by the sniffley masseur.
An offer of Green Tea was the perfect end to my Hammam experience. I found a seat on the terrace, sat down in the sun and relived the surreal event that took place in the dark arab bath and prepared myself for the unknown streets of Malaga city – what else might they bring?
Other things I came across during the day: