Women’s Hamam © photo westcoastwoman
” I must be a Mermaid, I have no fear of depths, and a great fear of shallow living”
Naked in Yalova
“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 Hamam ( Turkish Bath) as something one must experience and I resolved to book an appointment on my return to Istanbul from the small village where I would spend the next week.
My destination was the Turkish village of Gokcedere, Yalova where I was to attend a workshop. One afternoon following a bus excursion my seat mate Caroline mentioned she was going to the local Hamam before dinner. I expressed interest and when we reached the hotel headed down together into an older part of town. As we walked and talked it was revealed that neither of us actually knew what was involved in Hamam but both naively agreed that this would no doubt be an ‘authentic’ experience.
Our first assignment was to actually locate the women Hamam, signage was minimal and even when located it was in Turkish. Once inside there was no doubt that this indeed was 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 local women. Hanging on the wall behind them were numerous signs in Turkish that I assumed explained everything we needed to know.
Caroline took charge, held up her bathing suit and through sign language deciphered that we should put them on and head into the marble catacombs below. It was at this juncture I realized perhaps I should have done a little research as to what exactly was involved with Hamam. Caroline somehow deduced that we had not paid for a ‘full treatment’, more lira was exchanged and down we went to the pool area.
The building was ancient and the marble stained by years of running water and bathing bodies. There were two circular rooms attached by an archway, marble sinks located every six feet that contained bright plastic coloured bowls. The only other participant, a large voluptuous naked Turkish woman 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 mine down around my knees getting ready to fill mine.
Standing naked except for a tangled bathing suit at my knees we were confronted by a loud angry attendant attempting to communicate to us in Turkish some transgression that was not obvious to either of us. Frustrated by our lack of comprehension she grabbed a Turkish sign off the wall, held it in front of her and continued to berate us.
Desperate to translate what was being said I searched the signs on the wall behind her looking for anything 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 it appropriate to take photos or videos in the baths and at the same time it crossed my mind what a priceless video this would make.
Out of the corner of my eye I observed 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 resisted cooling even when doused with buckets of cold water and breath in a sauna that was just this side of suffocating.
The large local 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 (the same one who had scolded us) came to collect me, I followed dutifully behind.
We travelled a narrow marble cave like opening to a small room and into a rather awkward situation. There were two marble sinks and our fellow bather was still in the room pouring water on herself. I was motioned to hoist myself on to what looked like a picnic table draped with a red plastic tablecloth. My look must have said “you got to be kidding me” because she then threw a bucket of water over the plastic thinking that should appease me.
I am not sure what words were exchanged between the two women but eventually the attendant and I were left alone in the room. What happened next would best be described as having your whole body scraped with sandpaper, totally, front, back and face. Unable to communicate with her verbally I mostly endured and sometimes used sign language as we navigated the procedure. Grateful when it was over I positioned myself at the side of the table about to hop off when without warning a bucket of water was poured over my head leaving me gasping for air. I made my way back to the baths, gave Caroline a little smile and warning and off she went.
We were planning on 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 had never felt so soft.
So my well travelled friend, I did Hamam in Turkey and survived.