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Eeeeeeeeeeeeepic. Three hours at Les Bains de L'Alhambra. Hammam, rose petal bath, massage, with assorted extras sprinkled throughout. I was originally going to go to Les Bains de Marrakech, which were strongly recommended by my coworker, but L'Alhambra was marginally closer, cheaper, and advertised at my hotel. It's very new, very small, and very awesome.

Okay. So. You walk down this back alley past the shoe repair guy and the various-meats-grilling guys, hang a right at the dodgy candy shop, and knock on the door at the very end. When the door opens, it's this completely ridiculous oasis of good smells, low lighting, dark wood, and decorative lanterns. It's designed to look like a riad, with a center courtyard surrounded by archways, white stucco framed by heavy dark wood. No direct lighting, all the fancy punched-copper-and-colored-glass lamps you see everywhere.

First they usher you into the (tiny) communal changing room, where you strip to your undies and put on a robe and slippers. Then you're escorted two feet away and introduced to your hammam lady (if you're a lady; your hammam dude if you're a dude), who ushers you two more feet away into a tiny little cave of the room. Heated marble floors, two squishy, waterproof benches, the high ledge ringed with tealights and roses.

Let's get one thing very clear, my lady friends - if you hammam, you are going to be topless. Period. (If you go more traditional and less foofy, you may be just plain starkers.) Relax and get over it. The only weird part is when the very nice lady takes what feels to be sandpaper and rubs it vigorously over your entire chest.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First you sit on the squishy bench, feet all toasty on the heated marble, and your hammam lady dumps hot water all over you. (For the record, a lady dumping buckets of water on you is infinitely more soothing than a shower. I wish someone would manage to recreate that for home use without the necessity of having your very own hammam lady at home.) Hot water everywhere, a brief rubdown, and then she puts a sea salt soap with eucalyptus all over you (and I do mean all, though underwear is generally respected), and then she leaves you to marinate in your little marble box for five to ten minutes. She even cranks up the steam.

Then you're doused with cooler-but-not-cold water, and out comes the sandpaper loofah. She's not aggressive with it so much as she is assertive. It was a pleasant sort of skin-scraping, and the only iffy part was when she scrubbed my feet, which are notoriously ticklish. But, yeah, like a solid ten minutes of loofahing. I had no idea I had so much that could be loofahed - the crease of my knees, behind my ears, in between each toe, etc.

More cool water rinse, and then she actually washed my hair. Lots of good scalp massage, good smelling bubbles, and just the rinsing buckets of water over the head is ridiculously soothing. Then came the rose petal foot bath and foot massage. I say again - EPIC. My feet have not felt this good in months. Lots of heavy pressure but not too ticklish. The rose petal bath was in a giant wooden tub, and it was colder than the cool water dumpings.

Both feet massaged and rose petaled, it was on to the body mask of something-or-other. Black sand, maybe? I don't know. It smelled good; she glopped it everywhere; I dozed on the squishy benches for fifteen minutes. One more lengthy rinse, and I was hammammed.

I stumbled my way out of the tiny marble box, thanked my hammam lady profusely if dazedly, and then they parked me on a padded recliner sprinkled with rose petals (are you sensing a theme yet?). They brought me mint tea and ice cold water, and I dozed in and out for another fifteen minutes or so. There were more Moroccan lamps (which I find endlessly fascinating and pretty), more eucalyptus smells everywhere, more vaguely Japanese new age music.

After a suitable snooze, they shuffled me off upstairs into the bathtub room, which is all in grey stucco (with excellent spongework and details - I blame HGTV for my noticing of this), with notches for candles and even more exciting lampwork. Everything - everything was covered in rose petals. The water, the stairs, the candles, the towels - everything. I lurched my way into the tub, which was slightly less warm than it could have been, and I submerged myself in roses for a half hour or so. The tub was tall and long, but there were a couple of convenient sticky-uppy nubs for you to brace your feet on (or at least that's what I did). Mostly, though, I just floated. It was deep and long enough to get totally weightless but still have your nose out of the water. Of course, there were a couple of candles floating in and amongst the rose petals, because really what adds that extra bit of relaxation is worrying whether you're going to stick a toe (or something even more personal) into the fire.

Anyway, halfway through my float, one of the ladies came back in to give me a neck, face, and scalp massage. I thoroughly approved, even if the depth of the tub and the shortness of me were slightly incompatible. She left me for one last float in the water, and she had to call my name four or five times when she came back to fetch me, I was that relaxed out. (Also, my head was underwater.)

Then the massage. I went for the "relaxing" but asked for strong pressure, and it was perfect. One of the best massages I've ever had, bar none. Amazing pressure point work on my feet and ankles, great neck and shoulder stuff, really good bow-to-stern in general. (I will say, though, that the stomach massage was a little strange. Apparently my digestive system is...sensitive to outside poking? I kind of wanted to say a couple of times, "Hey! That's my spleen!")

One last little doze with a towel wrapped around my face, and that's all she wrote, kids. Three hours, a frillion treatments - all for less than $100. I <3 Morocco.

The spa was a huge hunk of my day, but I also did a little meandering. I tried to go to the Saadian tombs but managed to catch them right at the start of the three and a half hour lunch break. Instead, I bargained for an hour's caleche ride through the medina (and only ended up paying fifty dirhams more than I should have, sigh), and traveled much of what I walked yesterday, only this time in a horse and carriage. We briefly picked up a friend of the driver's and her two children, and later my driver stopped to buy two cigarettes, and it wasn't anything new or particularly thrilling, but it was a nice, lazy hour in the sun, soaking up a little atmosphere without diving into the melee.

But I dived into the melee afterwards. I had the caleche drop me off at the Jemaa el Fna, and I strode off with purpose into the souks. I'd missed most of it yesterday, what with my enormous tannery detour, and I was determined to wallow in it a little.

Which I did. Really, the only thing I can think to compare it to is The Labyrinth, only with real people instead of Muppets and David Bowie. (I did see a monkey in a tutu today, though.) There is nothing straightforward about the warren of streets - and I use that word loosely - that pack into the area north of the Jemaa. Many of them are covered, which is a relief in November and an absolute necessity in July, I imagine, and then it's just city-wall-to-city-wall shops, selling god knows what. (I swear I saw the Swiffer souk this morning. Nothing but floor wipers and little rolly-brush sweepers.) Lots of repetition - hundreds of slipper stalls, leather goods, tagines tagines and more tagines, pottery, jewelry, and more knicknacks than I ever knew existed. My guidebook calls Marrakech the "land of 1001 interior designers," and they're not far off.

Sometimes it's piles of random crap; sometimes it's something the owner swears is a unique-one-of-a-kind when you can see its twin in the stall across the way, and sometimes it's something genuinely unusual. My guidelines have been "buy it because you like it not because it's special" and "you can always walk away." So far that has led me to a silver and genuine-but-deeply-flawed turquoise necklace that I got for a third the going rate (according to the fixed price shop), a carpet at again a third of the going rate (according to my guidebook and the fixed price shop, so wow), and some small ticket items that I got completely hosed on. Totally and completely. Like, double the fixed price shop. But that comes down to just a few dollars, and I more than made up for it on the other items. When knew I could bargain? I certainly didn't.

Tonight I'm having dinner at the riad again, since it's far cheaper and far better than most of the restaurants I've read about (and I don't really need belly dancers or fire breathers with my couscous). Tomorrow is the cooking class. Wednesday I leave! Shall try to fit in a little more culture and a little less shopping these next two days...

on 2009-11-16 08:42 pm (UTC)
abka: painting of daffodils and pear (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] abka
This relates to all of your trip so far, but mostly today:

OMG awesome!!!


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