Photo of woman’s Hamam in Yalova, Turkey
” I must be a Mermaid, I have no fear of depths, and a great fear of shallow living”
“You must have a Turkish Bath in Istanbul!” my well travelled friend advised me before I set out on my latest adventure. Upon arrival in Turkey I continued to hear about a Hamam ( Turkish Bath) as something one must experience and I resolved to book an appointment on my return to Istanbul.
I am in the small Turkish village of Yalova built on Thermal Springs and my destination for a dance and whirling workshop attended by a group of beautiful and diverse women from all over the planet.
Sitting in the van on a return from an afternoon excursion my seat mate Caroline told me she was going to head down to the local Hamam before dinner, I expressed interest and when we reached the hotel we both headed down into town. Neither of us had ever had a Hamam and naively agreed that this would no doubt be an ‘authentic’ experience.
We bought tickets at a kiosk and then proceeded to try to find the actual building that housed the ‘women’s’ Hamam. After a few false starts we were rescued by a street artist who spoke some English and handed us over to a woman in an official looking jacket that ushered us to the entrance.
Once inside there was no doubt that this was indeed going to be an ‘authentic’ experience. No pampering North American mood music or lush white robes offered here, we were confronted with two no nonsense Turkish women surrounded by numerous signs all in Turkish that I assume explained everything we needed to know. Caroline took charge by holding up her bathing suit and through sign language we figured out we needed to put them on and head into the marble catacombs below.
It was at this point I realized that perhaps I should have done a little research as to what exactly was involved with Hamam. Caroline figured out that we had not paid for a ‘full treatment’ so after more money was exchanged, down we went into the pool area.
The building was old and the marble stained in places by years of running water and bathing bodies. There were two rooms, both circular with marble sinks every six feet containing bright plastic coloured bowls .The only other participant was a large voluptuous naked Turkish woman who had filled her sink and was pouring water on herself as she sat on the floor.
Caroline and I sized up the situation and decided to take our cue from the only other customer and by the time one of the attendants had made her way down to check on us Caroline had her suit off and was filling her sink and I had my suit down around my knees.
Standing there naked except for my tangled bathing suit at my knees we were now confronted by a loud angry attendant attempting to tell us that we were breaking a rule that was not obvious to either of us. Frustrated by our lack of comprehension she then grabbed a Turkish sign from the wall, held it in front of her and continued to berate us.
Desperate to figure out what she was saying I searched the signs on the wall behind her looking for something in English. The only English sign in the entire building said “No Photos or Videos”. Even in the heat of the moment I found it amusing that anyone would think to take photos or videos down there and at the same time considered what a priceless video this would make.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed our large naked companion had risen to her feet and it was revealed that she was not completely naked, she had some form of bikini bottom on. It became clear this was our problem and we quickly remedied the situation.
Now half naked we attempted to soak in the too hot pool, lie on the burning hot marble that could not be cooled even when doused with buckets of cold water and breathe in a sauna that was just this side of suffocating.
The large Turkish woman was led away to have done to her whatever we had each paid an extra 30 Turkish lira to have done to us. It was decided I would go first and when the attendant came to get me I followed dutifully behind.
We travelled a narrow cave like opening to a small room and into a rather strange situation. There were two marble sinks, our fellow bather was still in the room pouring water on herself and I was told to hoist myself on to what looked like a picnic table draped with a red plastic tablecloth. I am not sure what was said between the two women but eventually the other woman left.
What happened next would best be described as having your whole body scraped with sandpaper, front, back and face. I sat up ready to leave and then without warning a bucket of water was poured over my head and body leaving me gasping for air.
I went out and got Caroline gave her a little smile and warning and off she went. We were going to do a bit of shopping afterwards but Caroline’s comment as we left was “I would like to get back to the security of the hotel”which had us both chuckling.
Authentic it certainly was, fodder for a great story and I must say my skin has never felt so soft. So my well travelled friend I did the Hamam and survived.