Nikki’s Nest: Riad Joya (Marrakech, Morocco)

The amazing Riad Joya courtyard

The amazing Riad Joya courtyard

Planning a trip to the majestic city of Marrakech? I recommend staying at the fabulous Riad Joya (designed by the eclectic & posh Umberto Maria Branchini). Featured on The Today Show’s 2012 “Hotlist”, this decadent riad captures the essence of different African cultures and each suite is light & airy.

Located in the very heart of the Medina (in the historical and protected area of the Mouassine quarter), Riad Joya is just a short walk from main monuments, the souk and Djemaa El Fna square (where you can buy spices, get a henna tattoo or take part in snake charming). You can also see some of the most exciting attractions of the red city, such as the Coranique School, the Koutubia and the Museum of Marrakech.This elegant boutique riad is a welcome retreat of peace & tranquility after spending the day exploring the chaotic Medina. I had the pleasure of spending 3 lovely days at this riad last year and can’t wait to visit again.

What’s a Riad?
Historically, it is a traditional Moroccan home with an open garden or courtyard. However, now most function as hotels/resorts. Riads are more inward focused. You won’t see large exterior windows. In fact, the exterior is rather plain and you are unable to tell if the home is upper or lower class. There are clay walls with a huge (and in some cases, ornate) door. Once you enter thru the massive door, you will be amazed at how lovely the interior is. This is where the magic happens..beautiful tiles & mosaics, water fountains, lush fabrics…riads offer you the opulence of a grand mansion combined with a cozy atmosphere. These lovely “homes” only have a small number of rooms (i.e. 5-10). Riads provide you with a unique Moroccan experience that you won’t get staying in a traditional hotel. You receive special attention & stay in beautiful surroundings. It’s like a slice of heaven.

Getting There

Riad Joya will arrange for a taxi from the airport, train station, or other cities at your request. Your taxi will drop you off just outside one of the gates to the Medina. The streets are very narrow inside the Medina so no cars are allowed…only push carts, donkeys & mules. They will also arrange for a luggage porter to greet you at the gate and lead you to the riad which is just a few minutes walk away. My advice…do not try to find the riad on your own. The Medina has many streets and this riad is located off a side street from another side street. A 20 Dirham (which is about $2 USD) tip to a luggage porter is money well spent. Plus, this will allow you to take in the sights and sounds of the Medina while walking to your destination.

Promotions

You can book directly via the website or go thru a 3rd party discount booking agency (i.e. Jetsetter; Trip Advisor).

The Courtyard

This riad surrounds a breathtaking courtyard that has a water fountain and beautiful plants & flowers. There are open lounge/sitting areas surrounding the courtyard. Each area makes you feel comfortable and relaxed.

View of the Riad Joya from the rooftop at night

View of the Riad Joya from the rooftop at night

Marrakesh 442Rooms & Suites

Riad Joya is an elegant 7-suite luxury boutique hotel. Each suite has a theme based on a particular African region. The riad website describes it best, “The overall atmosphere is of an elegant private house where understated luxury fuses with eclectic style and bespoke service and attentions.”

This hotel also has a “Butler service” which offers tailored services “from the assistance with transportation and luggage, to recommendations of activities, Joya‚Äôs Butler is always ready to ensure that all our guests have everything needed for an enriching stay.” We were spoiled rotten! He anticipated our needs, handled getting our laundry washed & pressed; walking us to and from the hammam and inquiring about our favorite fruits & vegetables to help with dinner selection. I really needed him to come home with me ūüôā

Each suite features a private seating area and large dressing room. The bathrooms are amazing!!! They are “all made in natural stones combined with the traditional tadelak, are bright and spacious and features large shower and a vanity corner.”

Be sure to check out the pictures on the riad website (linked above) or tripadvisor.com as each suite is different. Upon arrival, we are told we can pick from a variety of suites since the riad was not fully booked (fab-u-lous!). After we chose our suite, we were taken to our room and given time to relax before heading down for dinner. Words really can’t capture how wonderful this place is.

We stayed in the largest suite — the Dar Arabe…absolute luxury!

A writing alcove in the Dar Arabe suite

A writing alcove in the Dar Arabe suite

Vanity area

Marrakesh 431

Soaps, shampoo & conditioner

Marrakesh 411

Seating area

Seating area

I was also given a tour and was able to photograph a few of the suites that weren’t in use.

The Tuareg suite (inspired by the Berber people). Love the eclectic look & feel of this room (even if it is the darkest suite of the bunch).

Entrance to the Tuareg suite

Entrance to the Tuareg suite

Sweet dreams in the Tuareg suite!

Sweet dreams in the Tuareg suite!

Marrakesh 425

Check out the sinks!

A copper bathtub surrounded by a circular cloth shower curtain.

A copper bathtub surrounded by a circular cloth shower curtain.

Marrakesh 426

Seating area

Seating area

The Naos suite – in Egyptology, naos refers to that which is hidden and unknown inside the inner sanctum of a temple (source, Wikipedia).

Naos suite

Naos suite

Naos suite

Naos suite

Naos bath

Naos bath

The Domus suite…

Domus suite

Domus suite

Domus seating area

Domus seating area

Dining

The chef at the Riad Joya is PHENOMENAL! You can dine in their beautiful dining room or on the terrace (which is up several sets of very steep stairs). The riad provides a bountiful breakfast of fruits & pastries (you can request eggs as well) and a daily set menu.

A bountiful dinner

A bountiful dinner

Ambient lighting in the dining room with their beautiful Moroccan lamps.

Ambient lighting in the dining room with their beautiful Moroccan lamps.

Delicious dessert

Delicious dessert

The Hammam & Spa

What better way to unwind from a day of sightseeing than to enjoy a hammam & spa? Unfortunately, the riad’s hammam was out of service during our stay but they did set us up with an appointment at another hammam a short walk away (and the massage is fab-u-lous)! You pick between a couple of fragrant oils (my choices were “orange flower” and “jasmine”). Those magical hands lulled me right into a light nap. Want to know more about what to expect when visiting a hammam? Check out my Tale of 2 Hammams post.

Overall

If you are looking for the perfect place to unwind and relax during your visit to Marrakech, this inviting sanctuary is the place. Have insightful conversations over mint tea while learning about Moroccan culture from the locals. I must warn you that this riad is not suitable to those who are wheelchair bound or have mobility issues due to the amount of stairs. Other than that, this place is perfect. Centrally located with delicious food and an absolutely phenomenal staff, the Riad Joya is a wonderful place to stay during your exotic trip to Marrakech. So forget using hotel chain rewards points and enjoy the unique experience of staying in a riad!

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Nikki’s Rating: Absolutely Wonderful 5

Rating Scale 1-5 (1 = GET OUT NOW; 2 = Seriously?; 3 = Eh, it’ll do; 4 = Fabulous; 5 = Absolutely Wonderful)

Looking for a place to stay in Fez? Check out my review of the Riad Laaroussa. Interested in visiting Morocco? Check out my travel adventures here!

Hassan II Mosque (Casablanca, Morocco)

Chandeliers & windows inside the Hassan II Mosque

Chandeliers & windows inside the Hassan II Mosque

The Hassan II Mosque (named after King Hassan II) is the second largest mosque in the world (St. Peter’s Basilica can easily fit inside) and built partly on water. The largest mosque is in Mecca. It has the highest religious minaret in the world at 200 meters high. The mosque will fit up to 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 in the courtyard. It is magnificent! This is also one of the very few mosques open for non-Muslims to visit.

When you enter the mosque, you are given a plastic bag to store your shoes (as you are required to walk barefoot while visiting). As I stated above, the mosque is enormous with beautiful chandeliers and mosaics. In the center, you will see a glass floor that reveals the ocean below which is said to be a reminder of the Qur’an‚Äôs statement that God‚Äôs throne is upon the water.

In the basement is an ablution room (where you cleanse yourself of your sins) and an absolutely beautiful hammam with a large pool.

Ablution Room

Ablution Room

Pool in the hammam

Pool in the hammam

Sign at the entrance to the mosque

Sign at the entrance to the mosque

View of the mosque on a foggy day.

View of the mosque on a foggy day.

For me, the Hassan II Mosque was the highlight of Casablanca. If you visit Morocco, most international flights fly into Casablanca…my recommendation is to visit the mosque, then keep driving towards Marrakesh to start your adventure!

Photos of the Day: Camel SUV

Sup?

Sup?

One of the items on my bucket list was to camp out & ride a camel thru the desert…and I am so freaking excited to have accomplished that! Who needs a SUV when you’ve got a sweet ride like that? After a magnificent camping experience (which I write about here — it includes a recap of how the night turned into the Morcoccan Blair Witch Project with alleged cow-sized scorpions…seriously), we wake up and hike the sand dunes as the sun is rising. Then, come back for breakfast and ride our camels from our camp site to the edge of the desert (about 45 minutes or so). The camel I rode is actually known as a Dromedary (because it has only 1 hump). What a great experience!!! I highly recommend you try it. The camels were very gentle and the ride was pretty smooth. I felt like a little kid at Disney World…all smiles and “more, more, more!” Honestly, this is one of my all-time favorite travel experiences. Kinda like my travel world is complete…until I find something else that I absolutely must do. Happy travels, y’all!

Me & my sweet ride thru the Sahara dunes

Photos of the Day: Nomad Girls of the Sahara

The expression on this little girl's face really moved me.

The expression on this little girl’s face really moved me.

Nomad friendship

Nomad friendship

During my sunrise hike over the sand dunes in the Sahara Desert, I was approached by three adorable nomad girls selling trinkets. They spoke absolutely no English, but luckily, my guide was with me and able to translate for us. I was able to find out that they are between the ages of 8 and 9 and only one of the girls attends school (she lives in the city of Merzouga with her mother but visits her father in the desert on the weekends). I was also lucky enough to visit with and interview the women of a nomad family during my camping trip. You can read the interview here. I highly recommend adding a visit to Morocco and the Sahara Desert to your bucket list! You won’t be disappointed.

Camping Out in the Magnificent Sahara Desert

Fes, Sahara 256

How can I adequately describe the Sahara Desert?¬† Awe-inspiring.¬† Magnificent.¬† Beautiful.¬† Serene.¬† All of those adjectives and more.¬† During our 8 day trip thru Morocco, we decided to camp out overnight in the Sahara.¬† Upon arriving to the outskirts of the desert, we switch vehicles from a van to a 4×4 and visit the village of visit¬†Khamlia, a village founded by freed slaves known as the Gnawi brotherhoods who play spiritual music.¬† As we entered the tent, we were given mint tea then treated to a performance which was really nice!¬†During the performance, they asked us to form a circle and dance…it sort of turned into the Soul Train line.¬† It was LOADS of fun!!!

dancing!

dancing!

Gnawi brotherhood

Gnawi brotherhood

After the performance, we take a¬†4×4¬†into the Erg¬†Chebbi dunes of the Sahara Desert to watch the sunset and spend the night in a deluxe Bedouin-style tent (because, um we¬†aren’t really “roughing it” kind of girls).¬† The tent had 2 twin beds (complete with mattresses on frames), bathroom (which included a shower) and sitting room.

Fes, Sahara 172

dining tent

After we get settled, we head over to the “dining tent” which was gorgeous.¬† We were the only people in camp that night so it was kind of quiet but we ended up having a lot of fun.¬† After a delicious dinner and great conversation with our guide, Tata, and driver, Haji, we walk over to an area set up with pillows, rugs, a small table, lanterns and music equipment (mostly various types of percussion instruments).¬† Tata and the other guys working at the camp performed traditional songs and invited us to play instruments with them (and I am not ashamed to say that I channeled my inner Sheila E on the bongos…until they asked if I’d just like to clap instead…maybe it was too much, too soon and they weren’t ready for the funk I was bringing?).

Fes, Sahara 180

entertaining under the stars

I suggest EVERYBODY visit the Sahara.¬† At night,¬†it was so quiet you can hear a pin drop.¬† There were NO CRICKETS!!!¬† I’m so¬†used to hearing them that it was a jolt to my system to be immersed in quiet and complete darkness.¬† Once the lanterns are extinguished,¬†you only have the¬†moon & stars.¬† Tata and I took a late night¬†hike thru the¬†sand dunes so I could take it all in.¬† It’s hard to describe the experience…like you truly disconnected from the world (because you also can’t get cellular service).¬† I don’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed and stress-free!

tents

tents

Once I got back to the tent, my Mom was ready to turn in.¬† But she was having reservations about the tent because she had expected there would be a door.¬†¬†Yeah, it’s a deluxe tent…but¬†it is still a tent‚Ķin the Sahara.¬† I don‚Äôt know if she thought we were¬†staying at the¬†Ritz Carlton ‚Äď Sahara or what.¬† Now,¬†I had¬†prepared myself for the fact that I would encounter a bug or 2.¬† I already had my Avon Skin So Soft and Off (courtesy of my Mom).¬† She was okay until she thought she saw a bat.¬† I didn’t actually see it but she claims she did and after that, it was a wrap.¬† She came up with the game plan that we’d just keep the lights on in the tent to keep the bats away…but then the camp operators had the nerve to shut the power off at night (they said it is to conserve energy).¬† So my Mom couldn‚Äôt keep the lights and now feared that bats would swoop in, turn into Dracula, and bite us.¬† What would happen if we turned into vampires?¬† We didn‚Äôt have any True Blood in our emergency preparedness kit (there wasn‚Äôt¬†enough space with all the toilet paper).

Around 1am, I startled awake¬†by my Mom screaming about scorpions.¬† She‚Äôs got her flashlight on and pointed towards her face like it‚Äôs the Moroccan Blair Witch Project.¬† I‚Äôm trying to figure out what is going on.¬† I mean, I know she isn‚Äôt serious.¬† I must be dreaming this.¬† Did my mint tea have another type of herb in it?¬† I‚Äôm confused.¬† At this point, she has moved into my twin bed and made the proclamation that she will NEVER sleep in that bed again because there is a scorpion the size of a ‚Äúcow‚ÄĚ in it.¬† But, before I could find Bessie the Scorpion and lead her out of the tent, my Mom wanted me to see if her arm was swelling.¬† Sigh.¬† After confirming that there was no swelling, I check the bed and can‚Äôt find the Velociraptor-sized scorpion.¬† I did see a big cockroach though.¬† Lest you think we are going to sleep peacefully together in a small twin bed, I‚Äôve got news for you‚Ķwe are not.¬† Labor Layaway¬†requires counseling sessions as well (wait, you don’t know what Labor Layaway is?¬† well, you need to read my post Travelin’ Mr./Mrs. Daisy¬†to find out).¬† And, my Mom had to question why there was no actual¬†door on the tent.¬† You read that right.¬† And, I‚Äôm sure that will go into the survey feedback she is working on right now.¬† See, as you get older, things don‚Äôt have to make sense.¬† A tent in the Sahara to young people means just that.¬† But to older people?¬† It means a cottage with a fireplace, butler and an exterminator on speed dial.

I'm pretty sure it was the Scorpion King who came into the tent.

I’m pretty sure it was the Scorpion King who came into the tent.

After we survive the night, we wake up around 5:30am to hike the sand dunes and watch the sunrise…and it is AMAZING!¬† We see various vegetation and end up meeting 3 girls from a nomadic Berber tribe.¬† I cover our time spent them and a nomadic family in my previous blog post, Life of a Nomad.

I MADE IT!!!

I MADE IT!!!

Once we complete our morning hike, we take showers, get dressed and head off to breakfast before going on our camel ride thru the desert.¬† And I have to say that the camel ride was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.¬† Unlike the camels in Egypt, ours didn’t stink (so yay for that!), they weren’t temperamental and it was a very smooth journey.¬† The nomad that owns the camels was very nice, spoke limited English and provided us with the experience of a lifetime!

AWESOME!!!

AWESOME!!!

After our camel ride was complete, we went 4-wheeling thru the sand dunes.¬† THIS WAS AWESOME!!!¬† I felt like a little kid!¬† Speeding up and down hills, making crazy turns, trying not to get stuck in sand…what more can you ask for?¬† But, all good things must come to an end.¬† Once we finished playing in the sand, we headed back to the city, said good-bye to our camp operators and guide, then headed to Ouarzazate.

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The Life of a Nomad

The life of a nomad isn’t an easy one. Sweltering heat, freezing cold, scorpions and snakes…these are just a few things to worry about living in the desert. ¬†I had the pleasure of meeting a nomad family during my visit to the Sahara.¬† My first reaction was one of sympathy…but by the time I left, I felt humbled.

Nomad camp

In order to get around in the Sahara, you have to either walk, ride a camel or drive a 4×4.¬† As we were on our way to our own camp, we were invited to visit with an interesting nomad family.¬† Luckily we had our fabulous guide, Tata, to translate and inform of us traditional customs.

I was told that there are 9 people who¬†make up the nomad family I spent time with (a mix of men, women and children).¬†¬†What immediately struck me were the “structures” that were built for cooking, showering and shelter.¬† I assumed that nomads were constantly moving from place to place with no sense of permanency.¬† However, I found out that these nomads usually stay in a place for 3-4 months before moving on. The catalyst for the move is usually the fact that the food source (grass, etc) has dried up for the camels & animals they raise.

The Sahara covers 3.5 MILLION MILES. ¬†And while the popular thought is that deserts are dry & barren, the Sahara has pockets of areas that are abundant with food and water sources.¬† However, these sources aren’t unlimited which is why nomads have to move on in search for new sources. ¬†They do tend to come back to the structures they built before…after enough time has passed so that grass has been able to grow again.¬† Kind of like these settlements are their 2nd, 3rd and 4th homes.

sleeping quarters

The ladies allowed me to spend time investigating their housing structures and asking questions.¬† I noticed that there were 3 separate sleeping quarters.¬† One area was completely covered on all sides to protect them from rain and harsher elements, while the second was more open to allow for air during the hot, dry months.¬† The third seemed to be a combination of the two…walled but open ceiling.¬† I also noticed that there were a lot of toys…big wheels, bikes, dolls, Transformers, etc.¬† The kids had plenty to entertain them.¬† I don’t know what the adults do…there is no television.¬† And they don’t seem to understand how much their life is lacking because they can’t watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

While these women did not have a lot of “wealth”, they were so gracious to offer us mint tea.¬† Which seems to be typical of Moroccans.¬† They may not have a lot of material things, but they are the most hospitable people I’ve met.¬† You can count on being asked to stay for tea and cookies.

Since our guide knew this family, the ladies were open to answering my questions.  And I had a lot.  Below are some highlights.

kitchen

Q.  Why do you opt to live in the desert moving from place to place?  Why not living in a city with a more permanent home?

A.  This is what we know.  We grew up as nomads and find the desert to be peaceful.  Cities are too chaotic and noisy.  Too many people and sounds.  We like the solitude of the Sahara and not having to constantly see other people.

Q.  How do you get food & water to feed your family?

A.  We dig wells to get water.  Once a month, our family will drive into Merzouga [the city right outside the Sahara] and get supplies.  Mostly grains to make couscous and vegetables.  We are also able to find food here in the desert which we will catch or gather.

Q.  How do you get to Merzouga?  Do you have a car?

A.  Sometimes we are able to borrow a car from another family.  Other times we use our camels to get us to the edge of the Sahara then ask for a ride into town.

Q.  How do you earn money to buy supplies?

A.  The men offer the camels to tourists for rides thru the desert.  The women and children sell trinkets.  Usually small toy camels or dolls that we make from scraps of cloth we are able to find.

During this time, a little boy around the age of 2 has started crying.¬† His mother tells the guide that she is worried that something is wrong with his legs as he has refused to walk all day.¬† We take a look to make sure there is no swelling, redness or tenderness.¬† Then, the guide says that he will escort them to the hospital to have the boy examined.¬† But, the mother says that she cannot leave without permission of her husband.¬† She pulls out a cellphone (I know…who knew they had those?¬† And the next question I wanted to ask was where she charged it since they had no electricity?) and tries to get in contact with her husband to no avail.

As we end our visit, our guide gives the mother his number with the instruction to call him once her husband came back so they could take her son to the hospital.  He even offered to pay the medical bills. 

The next morning, while hiking thru the sand dunes, I am stopped by 3 little girls.¬† They told me they were 8 and 9 years old.¬† When I asked if they went to school, only one said yes.¬† She lives in Merzouga with her mother but comes to the Sahara during the weekends to visit with her father.¬† During the time I’m asking questions, they have spread out their trinkets to sell.¬† While I didn’t buy anything, I did give them some money so that I could take their picture.

3 nomad girls

I grew up with plenty of advantages…and the expectation that not only would I graduate from high school, but I would graduate from college as well.¬† So, it was mind-boggling to meet children who don’t go to school.¬† While it is hard for me to grasp living without electricity (I mean, I get the shakes when my iPhone dies and I don’t have a way to charge it for a couple of hours), there is a certain tranquility in being able to unplug from the world and just enjoy the solitude.¬† No emails or text messages to answer.¬† No demands.¬† No stress.¬† No noise (not even crickets…it is dead quiet).¬† Just stars lighting up the sky.

While some children grow up and leave the nomad life, others are content to raise animals and move from place to place following in the footsteps of their forefathers.¬† It’s an interesting life…one that I know I’m not strong enough to live, but I am smart enough to respect.¬† If you ever have the chance to visit the Sahara (and I strongly suggest you do…it is unbelievable), please take time out to visit with a nomad family (but definitely go with a guide…don’t just show up saying, “Hi, got some mint tea?”).¬† The next time I visit, I plan to take them supplies (grains, vegetables, toys for the kids, blankets, etc.).¬† If you can, I recommend you do the same.¬† As Oprah says, “pay it forward.”¬† The great thing about that?¬† You can pay it forward anywhere in the world.

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Morocco Mania Day 1: Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Volubilis & Moulay Idriss

As-salamu alaykum from Morocco! The adventure has officially begun. In fact, it started on the plane ride to Casablanca. During our flight, 2 things happened. First, I started reading “The Cadogan Guide to Morocco” by Barnaby Rogerson. This guide has a bit more color than usual guides. For instance, Mr. Rogerson says the following about sexual attitudes in Morocco, “Moroccans also tend to think of themselves as immeasurably more virile & potent than Western men. However chaste your intentions, why not pack some condoms beside the sun cream and romantic fiction?” Really, Barnaby? Stop it. Second, I noticed 2 young men taking pictures with an older gentleman who had just come out of the bathroom. I guess he is famous…kind of looks like the Dos Equis man. But I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to ask less the young men wanted to borrow my romantic fiction. And, it would be my luck that if I took a picture with this “celebrity”, he’d end up being the Moroccan Ron Jeremy.

My Mom and I are doing an 8 day tour through the Imperial cities of Morocco. I customized the trip thru Journey Beyond Travel (I will provide a detail review and rating of their services after the trip ends…but so far, it’s been a fabulous experience). The typical Morocco tour packages last a minimum of 10 days. But, I like to do “taster tours” of new places/countries before I commit a long period of time to touring. JBT and I crammed a lot of stuff into 8 days. Our first day consists of a stick-and-move approach to Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Volubilis and Moulay Idriss. I will tell you now that this is not for the faint of heart. It’s a very long day (11 hours from the time we left the airport).

Casablanca

Our driver, El Haj (known as Haji) is waiting for us at the airport to drive us around Morocco for 8 magnificent days. The Casablanca airport¬†is an experience…and a test of patience. Allow at least a couple of hours to get your bags and clear customs. Also be aware that people will try to “help” you with your bags (even if you are at the car…they will just want to put the bag into the trunk) for a tip. Do not allow this to happen if you don’t have any Dirhams. Trust me. They will demand that you provide them with some money…to the point of getting belligerent. Either politely decline their help up front or be prepared to pay 10-20 Dirham for their assistance.

If you are itching to quote Humphrey Bogart and say, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”…do it while taking the first road out of town. Otherwise, it’s not a city you want to dwell in. Casablanca is gritty. I’d describe it as a mixture of Cairo & Mexico City. It’s Morocco’s biggest city with a population of over 3 million people. In my opinion, the only thing worth seeing in this city is the Hassan II Mosque.

The Hassan II Mosque (named after King Hassan II) is the second largest mosque in the world (St. Peter’s Basilica can easily fit inside) and built partially on water. The largest mosque is in Mecca. It has the highest religious minaret in the world at 200 meters high. The mosque will fit up to 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 in the courtyard. It is magnificent! This is also one of the very few mosques open for non-Muslims to visit. When you enter the mosque, you are given a plastic bag to store your shoes (as you are required to walk barefoot while visiting). As I stated above, the mosque is enormous with beautiful chandeliers and mosaics. In the center, you will see a glass floor that reveals the ocean below which is said to be a reminder of the Koran’s statement that God’s throne is upon the water. In the basement is an ablution room (where you cleanse yourself of your sins) and an absolutely beautiful hammam with a large pool.

Hassan II Mosque hammam

The ablution hall has 41 fountains

prayer hall

Rabat

After leaving the mosque, Haji drives us to Rabat which is about 2.5 hours from Casablanca. Rabat is the capital of Morocco. We only spent 30 minutes here. Just enough time to visit the Mohammed V Mausoleum which houses the bodies of King Mohammed V and his sons King Hassan II and Moulay Abdellah.

Rabat mosque and library

Bab Mansour

Meknes

Next stop…Meknes. A popular day trip from Fes, this city is home to the many creations of Moulay Ismail. The most popular one is called Bab Mansour…which is a great gate. Its name comes from its architect (who was a Christian that converted to Islam). The local story is that the sultan inspected the completed gate, then asked El Mansour whether he could do any better. Which is a Catch 22 because when he answered “yes”, he was immediately executed (source, The Rough Guide to Morocco).

Sultan Moulay Ismail had great achievements (conquering territories within Morocco so that they were all under government control for the first time in 5 centuries). However, he was also known as tyrannical and basically blood thirsty. He began his reign by displaying 400 heads (mostly captured chiefs) in Fes. Over the 5 decades he ruled, it is estimated that he was responsible for over 30,000 deaths (not including those killed in battle). He was known to kill indiscriminately in order to keep his subjects on their toes.

Moulay Idriss

If only Idris Elba were here. We didn’t really stop…just cruised right thru the town.

Volubilis

More Roman ruins. Seriously. If you have been to Italy…or really anyplace in Europe, you’ve seen ruins. These are no different. Volubilis was once the Roman Empire’s most remote base. Roman rule lasted just over 2 centuries. Most Roman cities follow the same layout (streets with stores & cafes, huge homes for the rich and brothels). Volubilis is probably most well-known for being the key location for Martin Scorsese’s film “The Last Temptation of Christ.”

As we were on the tour, the guide was telling us about the brothels. I started to tune out because it was hot and I was thirsty. Next thing I know, the guide asked me if I wanted to see the “pennies.” I thought he had moved on to telling us about currency. It was hard for me to understand his accent at times. So, I said, “sure.” Next thing I know, he has led me over to see this:

It was at that moment that I realized he had said, “penis”…not pennies. The best Roman ruins is in Pompeii. If you have been there, I would suggest you skip Volubilis.

Overall, the day was filled with a good mix of the highlights of Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Volubilis and Moulay Idriss. If I had to do it again, I’d probably spend more time in Rabat and skip Volubilis, Moulay Idriss and Meknes all together. Have you been to these cities? If so, what did I miss that is a definite “must see”?

Travelin’ Mr./Mrs. Daisy

This post is intended to help you learn how¬†to travel with your parents.¬† Once your parents are eligible for social security, something happens.¬† I don’t know what it is.¬† But trust me.¬† Here are some handy dandy tips to make your family travel experience smoother.

1.  Guidebook Dilemma

Most of us use guidebooks to prepare and use for travel.¬† It makes sense to follow the advice of someone who has been there, done that.¬† Unless you are my Dad.¬† I swear by Rick Steves.¬† His guidebooks have always provided me with helpful tips.¬† However, a map (usually hand drawn in the books) was off/unclear during our trip to Rome.¬† Which meant that Rick can’t be trusted to tell you the time of day.¬† Sorry, Rick.¬† You had your chance.¬† No second chances with Mr. Daisy.¬† My Dad acts like he suffers from Rick Steves PTSD.¬† When I suggest some international¬†destination to visit, his response is, “Did Steve Bob’s recommend that?”¬† Because he is not going to get Rick’s name right.¬† That’s what happens when you have 2 first names & you mess up directions.

My Mom, however, has to find every book related to the country we plan to visit.¬† I usually stick with the big 3:¬† Rick Steves, Lonely Planet or Eyewitness Travels.¬† She found The Cadogan Guide to Morocco by Barnaby Rogerson on Amazon.¬† This guide has a bit more color than usual guides. For instance, Mr. Rogerson says the following about sexual attitudes in Morocco, “”Moroccans also tend to think of themselves as immeasurably more virile & potent than Western men. However chaste your intentions, why not pack some condoms beside the sun cream and romantic fiction?” Really, Barnaby? Now I have to put an “elderly lock” on my Mom’s laptop.

Do yourself a favor and just handle all the travel and prep.¬† Monitor their internet & tv usage because this can lead to trouble.¬† Retired people find time to explore & become scholars based on the latest gossip from “Spacebook”.¬† My Dad has become an international travel expert based solely on 60 Minutes reports from Mike Wallace that aired 15 years ago.¬† It doesn’t matter if you have been there and he hasn’t.¬† You don’t know the real deal.¬† Don’t become a victim.¬† You will only get confused trying to wade thru their attempt¬†at using hip jargon.¬† My Dad can’t grasp the concept of BFFs.¬† He keeps saying BSFF…like it’s Best Super Friends Forever.¬† I don’t know.¬† See how I just got sucked into that?

Only 8 kilometers?  Whatchu talkin' bout, Willis?  That should say 12!

The look they give you when you suggest something “exotic”.

2.¬† You’re Taking Me Where?

Not all elderly parents (and by elderly, I mean anybody older than you) can handle “exotic” trips to Miami.¬† I blame Mike Wallace.¬† My Dad isn’t into traveling to Africa and Italy was full of too many basilicas.¬† When I suggested London, I was met with “I don’t want to look at butter teeth.”¬† I tried to explain that their dental care has improved since the 1800’s but Mike can’t verify that since he passed away.¬†¬†I then attempted¬†to talk my Dad into going on a safari.¬† His response?¬† “I haven’t lost anything in Africa.”¬† See a pattern?¬† Don’t try to force it, kids.¬† Let your parents go on a jazz cruise where they can fall asleep on the Lido Deck after slurping down a 189 ounce daiquiri while listening to the sleepy time music of Brian Culbertson.

Now, if you happen to have an adventurous parent, keep it in perspective.¬† Your type of adventure isn’t theirs.¬† There will be no backpacking or taking public transportation.¬† Understand that now.¬† You can’t make your mother walk 3 blocks after she spent 202 hours in labor with you 40 years ago.¬† You are still paying on that.¬† It’s like labor layaway.¬† Ease them into the adventure.¬† Morgan Freeman didn’t¬†tell Miss Daisy¬†to take¬†MARTA.¬† He made sure she was comfortable and that her needs were attended to.

3.  Once, Twice, Three Times Too Much

Some parents like to overpack.¬† You know how you grew up hearing, “You can’t ever be too prepared”?¬† That is a lie.¬† You can be too prepared.¬† Don’t fall for that.¬† And, the older they get, the more “prepared” they get.¬† During one trip, the guidebook said we should plan to bring toilet tissue as some bathrooms may not have any.¬† I bought a 24 pack of Tush Wipes and told my Mom not to worry about that.¬† So why did she show up with 3 rolls of toilet paper?¬† I don’t know.¬† Apparently, 24 wipes + 3 rolls of Quilted Northern seemed like the right amount for a 12 day trip for 2 people.¬† Don’t let your parents take a Sam’s Club approach to packing.¬† You’ll be the one hauling it around.¬† Remember, labor layaway.¬† Some things you can’t get around.¬† Do you remember Titanic when Rose came on the ship at the beginning of the movie and had 44 trunks and 132 picture frames?¬† That is what you are battling against.¬† Don’t let your Mom bring every item from Magellans…or your Dad bring his tool belt because you never know when something will need to be fixed.¬† Have an intervention if you need to.¬† Because if you don’t, Delta will.

4.  Picture Time

I took a travel photography class to learn how to capture creative images that don’t look like Honey Boo Boo took them.¬† This requires setting up your shot…which means you must have patience.¬† Especially for someone new at it.¬† I’ve got some news for you.¬† Elderly parents aren’t patient.¬† They don’t have time to wait on you to set up a shot.¬† Take the picture as you are walking.¬† Who cares if it is blurry.¬† That’s your fault.¬† Practice walking and clicking.

The deluxe “ghetto”

5.  25 Star Hotels

Elderly parents have a¬†Kanye¬†West¬†mindset to travel.¬† Which means that 5 star hotels may not be enough.¬† Ask yourself this question…Would Oprah stay there?¬† If you are not 100% certain, then find someplace else.¬† Yeah, you might have to sell yourself on the streets but that’s what happens.¬† Labor Layaway.¬† That’s the Big Joker to any argument you may have.¬† Parents will always win.¬† You can’t make your Mom stay someplace that is 4 stars after you ripped her open and then refused to sleep thru the night for weeks.

For example, my Mom and I did the 5 star hotel option for our recent trip to Morocco.¬† Which included an upgrade to a deluxe tent in the Sahara Desert.¬† The tent had 2 twin beds (complete with mattresses on frames), bathroom (which included a shower) and sitting room.¬† But, it is a tent…in the Sahara.¬† My Mom was like, “What is this?”¬† I don’t know if she thought there was a Ritz Carlton – Sahara or what.¬† Now, in my mind, I had already prepared myself for the fact that I would encounter a bug or 2.¬† I already had my Avon Skin So Soft and Off (courtesy of my Mom).¬† The operators had the nerve to shut the power off at night so my Mom couldn’t keep the lights on for fear that bats would swoop in, turn into Dracula, and bite us.¬† What would happen if we turned into vampires?¬† We didn’t have any True Blood in our emergency preparedness kit (there wasn’t¬†enough space with all the toilet paper).¬† Around 1am, I awake to my Mom screaming about scorpions.¬† She’s got her flashlight on and pointed towards her face like it’s the Moroccan Blair Witch Project.¬† I’m trying to figure out what is going on.¬† I mean, I know she isn’t serious.¬† I must be dreaming this.¬† Did my mint tea have another type of herb in it?¬† I’m confused.¬† At this point, she has moved into my twin bed and made the proclamation that she will NEVER sleep in that bed again because there is a scorpion the size of a “cow” in it.¬† But, before I could find Bessie the Scorpion and lead her out of the tent, my Mom wanted me to see if her arm was swelling.¬† Sigh.¬† After confirming that there was no swelling, I check the bed and can’t find the Velociraptor-sized scorpion.¬† I did see a big cockroach though.¬† Lest you think we are going to sleep peacefully together in a small twin bed, I’ve got news for you…we are not.¬† Labor layaway requires counseling sessions as well.¬† And, my Mom had to question why there was no actual door on the tent.¬† You read that right.¬† And, I’m sure that will go into the survey feedback she is working on right now.¬† See, as you get older, things don’t have to make sense.¬† A tent in the Sahara to young people means just that.¬† But to older people?¬† It means a cottage with a fireplace, butler and an exterminator on speed dial.

I’m pretty sure it was the Scorpion King who came into the tent.

6.  Hustled

Hustlers target older people because it’s easy.¬† Older people don’t like to be hassled and would prefer to pay you 110% more than you deserve just to get you to leave them alone.¬† Younger people?¬† We will protest on basic principle.¬† If the guidebook says that you should tip $2 to a porter for getting your bags out of the car, you can best believe that that is what you are going to get if there is nothing exceptional about the service.¬† Are they pushing the luggage up a hill?¬† Okay, they get extra.¬† But to take my luggage that I lugged all the way thru the airport and just move it from my hand to the trunk?¬† TWO DOLLARS, buddy.¬† But, this philosophy can only work when you aren’t traveling with older parents.¬† Just pay the man.¬† I don’t care that you had to ask your guide to go to Lowes –¬†Marrakesh to find a storm door for the tent.¬† Make it rain.

7.  Trying Something New

Not all parents will try something new.  My Mom is really good about being open to certain things.  But, my Dad?  Forget it.  Here are some examples of new things I tried to expose him to:

Me:  Hi Dad, I brought you some boisenberry jam back from London!  Try it.

Dad: *puts the jam on a biscuit…then spits it out*¬† This is the nastiest stuff I’ve ever tasted in my life.¬† Do me a favor and don’t ever bring me back anything to eat.¬† This must be why they have yellow teeth that look like they’ve been chewing on rocks.

——————–

Me:  I went to a public hammam in Morocco.  It was a surreal experience.  You should try it!

Dad:¬† I don’t need my booty scrubbed.

——————-

Mom:  I learned how to make chocolate molten lava cake at a Pastry & Desserts class in Paris.  What do you think?

Dad:¬† This doesn’t have anything on Chili’s chocolate lava cake.¬† Where is the chocolate sauce?¬† Why isn’t caramel drizzled over it?¬† You don’t have any Breyer’s ice cream to go with this?¬† Paris seems awful plain to me.

I’m sure that my Dad is finding a cooking class at the local Chili’s right now.¬† That will be his Christmas gift for my mother.¬† Bottom line, if you are traveling with elderly parents (or just folks that are older and like to go on Robin Leach-style vacations), do yourself a favor and take my advice above.¬† Need further convincing, read my post from Las Vegas.¬† Last tip for you?¬† Pack a flask and your favorite spirits.¬† You’ll need their guidance ūüôā

A Christian Among Muslims

I had the pleasure of spending 8 days in the Muslim country of Morocco.¬† To be honest, I was a bit nervous after reading the warnings in the guidebooks.¬† I was aware of a bombing of a tourist cafe in Jamaa¬†el-Fnaa¬†square in Marrakesh in April 2011 as well as a general anti-American sentiment from people who had visited the country in the early to mid-2000’s.¬† However, I was assured by the local travel agency I used that it was completely safe for Americans to visit.¬† And, I am so glad that I did.

I’ve traveled to many countries and, on the whole, Moroccans have been the kindest and most generous people I have met.¬† The people I met treated me as a family member as it is a very family oriented society.¬† When an old friend passes by, Moroccans don’t just say “hi”…they take time to ask about the individual’s health, family, job, etc.¬† They also greet each other as “brother” or “sister”.¬† In addition to treating each other (and people they don’t know) warmly, they gave money to the disabled and elderly, and they made religion their priority.¬† Everything revolves around Allah.¬† You will hear a call to prayer over loudspeakers five times a day.

During my visit, I had some great conversations about religion.¬† I wanted to understand the basics of Islam as well as the culture.¬† I am a Christian and being American, I’ve heard a lot of “anti-Muslim” rhetoric since 9/11.¬† Quite honestly, I get tired of people and certain media demonizing an entire religion based upon the actions of extremists.¬† As my late grandmother used to say, “not everybody who¬†goes to church is a Christian.”¬† Every religion has its own sect of crazies.¬† Westboro¬†Baptist does not represent me or my beliefs.¬† Yet, they call themselves “Christians.”¬† Hitler saw himself as Christian.¬† And, I am sure the Catholic priests who molested little boys see themselves as¬†Christians too.¬† Just as al-Qaeda sees themselves as Muslims.¬†

Claiming a religion doesn’t¬†automatically make¬†you the representative of it.¬† Everybody has their own set of beliefs…whether they believe in a form of religion or not.¬† But, all of us have a belief system.¬† Whether we worship God, Allah, Buddha…or a set of gods…or none at all.¬† The bottom line, I feel, is that we should be able to respect those that are different from us.¬†

In speaking with some Muslims in Morocco, I was able to learn the following about the differences in our religions:

1.¬† They regard Jesus¬†as a respected prophet, not¬†God. I think this is the¬†biggest difference.¬† That’s the essence of the message of Islam…which is to call upon people to worship the one God of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Jesus, etc.

2.¬† They don’t believe in the original sin.¬† I’m told that the Quran mentions the story of Adam, Eve and the apple but places the¬†blame on Adam and Eve equally, then forgave them. Thus, Jesus didn’t die on a cross nor did He die for anyones sins (since we are born sinless). He was raised to heaven and will return before the end of times.

3.  They are accountable for their actions. On the day of judgment, their deeds will be weighed.  Belief alone does not guarantee them Heaven. Their good actions have to outweigh their bad actions. These deeds could be anything from praying to God to serving for a better humanity.

Islam has 5 pillars that every Muslim must practice:

1.  Shahadah = the declaration that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.

2.  Prayer (Salat) = establishing of the five daily Prayers.

3.  The paying of alms (Zakat) = which is generally 2.5% of the total savings for a rich man working in trade or industry, and 10% or 20% of the annual produce for agriculturists. This money or produce is distributed among the poor.

4.  Fasting (Sawm) = refraining from eating, drinking or satisfying other needs from dawn to dusk in the month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar (usually around August/September).

5.  The Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) = this is done during the month of Zul Hijjah, and is compulsory once in a lifetime for one who has the ability to do it. If the Muslim is in ill-health or in debt, he or she is not required to perform Hajj.

While there are differences (mainly that Christians recognize God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit), there are some similarities (we fast from time to time, pay tithes, help the less fortunate¬†and pray).¬† I’m not saying that one religion is better than the other.¬† I am a Christian.¬† However, my grandmother is¬†a Jehovah’s Witness.¬† I’ve had to learn from an early age to figure out differences and make a decision on what I believe is true.¬† Just because I don’t agree with the tenets of certain religions doesn’t mean I should disrespect them.¬† As long as¬†our rights and person aren’t infringed upon, we should be able to live in peace.

The terrorists from 9/11 and from the recent U.S. embassy attacks are horrible people.¬† And so was Queen Mary (also known as Bloody Mary) who burned Protestants on the stake for refusing to convert to Catholicism.¬† History is riddled with those who want to use violence & murder to uphold their “religious beliefs.”¬† Let’s not judge an entire religion based upon the acts of a few.¬† Making Muslim synonymous with terrorism is wrong.¬† Just like the anti-Muslim movie that has caused a firestorm recently was wrong.¬† I think if we quit judging others, we will find that we are more alike than we realize.¬† Of course, this is just my humble opinion.

A Tale of Two Hammams

You can’t¬†travel to Morocco without experiencing a hammam¬†(public steam bath).¬† Hammams¬†are an important part of weekly life for most Moroccans as they usually visit at least once a week.¬† You can easily spend 2-3 hours since a hammam is not only for cleansing the body, but for gossip and socializing.¬† I found there was a ritual to the cleansing and by the time you leave, you feel like you are floating on air with supersoft skin!

I’m the type of traveler that loves to try almost anything once…and meet as many locals as I can.¬† I’d read that there was a difference between the local public hammam and the hammams located within hotels & riads.¬† So, I decided to try both.¬†¬†I had researched and felt that I was ready for this experience…I was not.¬† Seriously.¬†I have never experienced anything like this before in my life.¬†¬†Well, maybe as an infant but my memory isn’t that good (I blame my Mom for not supplementing my formula with Ginkoba).¬†

I consider myself a modern Western woman who craves adventure.¬† But, um…I’m reserved with showing all my goodies to strangers.¬† Moroccan women are not.¬† While they may be covered from head to toe in public, it’s underwear-only (maybe) in the hammam.¬† I had read that you could bring your bikini or bathing suit to wear if you aren’t comfortable wearing just underwear (or going completely nude).¬† Apparently, swimsuits aren’t the norm in hammams (thanks, internet research).¬† Know that now.¬† Be ready to strip down and bare it all.

Public Hammams

Men and women bathe separately.¬† This could mean that there are 2 separate buildings, or that one gender is allowed to bathe in the morning while the other bathes in the evening.¬† The public hammams are much cheaper¬†than the “spa” hammams (I paid around 100 Dirhams¬†which is approximately¬†$10 USD).¬† Partially, because it’s a “no frills” environment and you have to bring all of your own supplies.¬† The hammam I went to in Fes¬†did provide buckets for water.

What do you need to bring with you?¬†¬†A bag (to hold your towel and clean clothes); towel¬†(I just brought one from the riad I was staying in); shampoo & conditioner; comb/brush; flip-flops (just like you’d bring to a gym shower); soap (most will tell you to buy black soap which has the consistency of a gooey gel but smells divine.¬† This is readily available in the medina.¬† I suggest finding some with Argan oil.); loofah (you can pick this up in the medina as well for 6 or 7 Dirham); henna (readily available in the medina); razor (if you want to shave); mat or stool (to sit on while you bathe); a bottle of water (it’s a steam room so¬†you will get hot);¬†deodorant (no use in spending 3 hours getting clean if you get funky within 30 minutes of leaving); lotion (say “no” to ashiness);¬†fresh clothes & underwear (the underwear you wear into the hammam will get soaked); and a bucket¬†(to hold all the aforementioned items).

I was lucky to meet 2 women thru my local guide who volunteered to take me to a public hammam.¬† And, I can honestly say that I would have been completely lost without their patience and guidance.¬† As we enter the changing room, I notice that there are open cubby holes surrounding wooden benches.¬† There are no lockers so you are just going on faith that nobody will steal your things.¬† My strategy was to watch and follow the lead of my 2 companions.¬† They stripped down to their underwear, put on their flip-flops and took their bucket of supplies¬†thru a¬†spacious tiled room into a narrow steam room (which was also tiled with mosaics).¬† So, I did the same.¬† Of course, while my companions had on pretty panties, I was wearing¬† disposable underwear that I had bought as a way to save space in my bag during my trip.¬† Yeah, I was stylin’.

As we enter the steam room, there are other ladies bathing.¬† I take a deep breath and walk right in.¬† I mean, I will never see those ladies again and I told myself this is a way to become comfortable with my body.¬†¬†From there, it’s a series of rituals:¬† (1)¬†We¬†lay out our mats and stool, fill up about 10 buckets of water to varying temperatures (some were really hot, others were lukewarm while a couple were cool).¬† Then, my companions took off their underwear.¬† And, I’m like, “Um, are we supposed to be butt booty naked?”¬† (not sure how to translate that into Arabic so I just stood there with a blank look for a few seconds then took my panties off too).¬† (2) We use bowls & ladles to pour hot water from the buckets over our bodies.¬† Then, we use our hands to massage black soap over our skin.¬† This is a community effort as other women will ask if you can soap their back.¬† Of course, there was a lot of communicating with me in hand gestures since I only knew the word for “thank you” in Arabic.¬† Once we were soaped fully, we rinsed ourselves by ladling¬†hot water over our bodies again.¬† (3) Next step is adding a small bit of water to the henna powder so that it would make a paste.¬† Then, we took our hands and smeared the henna paste over our bodies and let it sit as a masque for a few minutes.¬† I’m told this helps to soften the skin.¬† Then, we went thru the rinse cycle again.¬†

(4)¬†After we rinsed, my companions got up and took their mat & loofah to another room.¬† Now, I was distracted by making sure I had my supplies so I didn’t realize that one of my companions had put their underwear back on until I’m in the next room…in all my big booty glory.¬† Sigh.¬† But, the only one who is concerned is me.¬† This room is where the women who work at the hammam will use your loofah to scrub you down.¬† They are wearing only underwear as well.¬† So, I am motioned over to a nice lady who says “Sleep”.¬† I’m like, “What?¬† We take a nap too?¬† But I don’t have any clothes on!”¬† I was so confused.¬† They start doing charades and then just move my body into the position they want it to be in by pushing me back into this woman’s arms so she can cradle me while she scrubs me.¬† I’m not going to lie,¬†I was uncomfortable being naked and held by another almost-naked lady.¬† There was nothing sexual about it…but it was so weird to me.¬† Eventually, you are pushed into a lot of different positions (kind of like yoga) from laying on your side with your arm stretched over your ear to laying on your tummy with your face down.¬† Once I laid down, the lady grabs my ankles and pulls me towards her then starts scrubbing my back & booty.¬† I’m like, “WTF?”¬† Lord help me.¬† But, then, you kind of go into this relaxed state.¬† Don’t ask me how.¬† Every part of your body is scrubbed over the span of 15-20 minutes.¬† It’s clear that I’m a foreigner by my reaction and not being able to communicate in Arabic.¬† But, the lady was so nice and once she was finished she took my face in her hands and gave me a quick kiss on each cheek.¬† I think I still looked dazed from all of our “togetherness”.¬†

(5)¬† After the scrubbing, I was given my loofah back and headed back into the steam room to wash with black soap again.¬† Then we went thru the rinse cycle once more.¬† An attendant (wearing only underwear…seriously, nobody is clothed) keeps filling up our buckets with water.¬† (6)¬† Now it’s time to wash & condition our hair then rinse with the lukewarm water.¬† (7) Once finished, we move onto¬†exfoliating¬†our face.¬† I continue to do this while my companions shave their legs.¬† (8)¬† Then, my companions motion me to lay down on my tummy again (and I’m looking at them like, “Again?¬† I’ve already had my booty scrubbed.”).¬† They begin to massage my legs and back then have me turn over to massage my chest (I know), tummy and arms.¬† (9) Once the massage is complete, we do another rinse (this time with cool water) and I’m given some special shampoo for the va-jay-jay.¬† (10)¬† Finally, it’s time to go.¬† We walk out of the steam room, thru a cooling room into the changing room to dress and leave.

During this entire time, ladies come and go and everybody is talking like we are at a cafe instead of a steam bath.¬† It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and I noticed that the women bring in their young daughters so this is something that they start doing at a very young age.¬† Which is why they are not bashful or ashamed of their bodies.¬† I found this refreshing (once I got over being uncomfortable).¬† I felt so clean and so light.¬† But, after almost 3 hours, I was ready for a nap too.

Riad Hammam

This is a totally different experience than the public hammam.¬† The hammams located in¬†riads¬†(i.e. hotels) are geared towards tourists.¬† If you aren’t brave enough to be nude in front of other women, this is your best bet.¬† The riad¬†hammams are like spas where you¬†reserve an appointment time.¬† Once I arrived, I was shown to a changing room with lockers where I stripped out of my clothes, donned a bathing suit and robe.¬† Then, I was led to a shower to rinse off before being shown into a beautifully tiled steam room.¬†¬†I was handed a pillow¬†and instructed to lay down on the tiled bench.¬† I was given a bottle of water and a few minutes to relax before the treatments begin.¬† You can wear bikini bottoms but any top will be removed eventually…I found that out the hard way.¬† Once the attendant comes back in (she is fully clothed by the way), she starts to rub black soap over my body, then rinses¬†me with warm water.¬† Next, she uses the loofah to scrub my body.¬† After that is complete, I was rinsed again, then led out to a small pool which was filled with cool water.¬† I stepped into the pool and soaked for a couple of minutes then was led upstairs for a traditional massage.¬† One thing I’ve noticed about massages¬†that I get overseas is that they massage everything…and I do mean everything.¬† Booty and breasts.¬† So, you just have to either roll with it or let them know you are uncomfortable.

Overall, the hammam experience was great.¬† While I initially had some misgivings about exposing myself, I was able to move past it and really try to understand the true meaning of “cleansing.”¬† In an odd way, I became more comfortable with my body while developing a kinship with my companions.¬† If you go to Morocco, I highly recommend you experience the hammam.¬† I promise that you won’t forget it!