We took the opportunity to treat ourselves to a hammam (Turkish bath, widely used in Tunisia) today thanks to a generous donation by regular reader, Jeanne Juneau. Thank you so much Jeanne! For our last night at Hotel Pansea, we'd like to thank our Italian friend Loredana Ventrella as well as a local friend, Bill Volk for his. Bill also had a hand in sending me to France for a year after high school, an experience that was infintely rewarding at the time, and continues to be useful on our trip as I speak French every day in Tunisia. We've enjoyed every minute of our stay, thank you everyone!
While on this voyage, we get tired and dirty so often and encounter bathtubs so rarely that I covet each opportunity to use them. On the whole in my "normal" life though, I do not truly appreciate them. Tyler loves taking baths and can stay uncharacteristically zoned out, soaking in the heat for hours at a time. I on the other hand, grow restless after about five minutes, becoming either too hot, too cold, or just plain bored.
All of this being said, I was the most excited for the hammam and scrubdown we'd signed up for at Hotel Pansea this morning. Tyler was curious, but spent a lot of time grumbling about how he thought it was too expensive. Normally hammams are cheap, single sex only establishments; women frequent the baths in the morning, while men have the place to themselves in the late afternoon and evening. Since we're at a fancy tourist hotel, ours is co-ed and a little more pricey.
Immediately when we arrive at the spa, we are instructed to remove our clothing (except for undies) and are given thin, woven linen towels to wrap ourselves in. After a few minutes of privacy, the spa director returns and opens a thick, impenetrable-looking wooden door leading into the hammam. As he does, enormous billows of dense white steam collide with my face. The intense heat takes my breath away and the cloud of fog before me completely obscures what lies beyond the doorway.
I turn my head back towards the cool entrance, having second thoughts. I take a deep breath of refreshing, cold air, feeling as though it may be my last. Entering the hammam behind Tyler is like walking into the whiteout of an extremely hot blizzard. Eventually my eyes adjust, and I can vaguely see that we are in a round room. I can barely make out the lines of marble benches, creating corners along the perimiter of the hammam. There is another ring of marble benches in the center of the room, surrounding some sort of indecipherable black hole.
Steam pours out of the wall by the floor, roaring and gurgling with a peculiar rhythmic beat. Four small lights pierce through the stifling fog, lighting the room with their yellowish beams. Maybe we've been watching too much X-Files but the whole scene with it's strange ambient noises makes Tyler think of being abducted by aliens. He is more enthusiastic than I. As the oppressive steam fills my lungs, I panic slightly for a minute until I become accustomed to the weighty, wet fog that has replaced fresh air.
I lay down, totally incapable of seeing Tyler who is sitting less than two feet in front of me. The marble feels mercifully cool. Unsure of what exactly we're supposed to do, we wait. Suddenly I can't take the heat anymore so I push the wooden door open (it sticks a little, having expanded in the steam) and find relief in the cool anteroom. Tyler will stay in steaming hammam for the entire hour, later joking that he was waiting to see if he'd pass out and have "a weird vision or something".
Outside the hammam, typical meditative spa music is playing lightly in the background and there is that specific scent of incense or perhaps lotion that seems to be found wherever massages are given. Condensed vapor drips from my body onto the floor in a little puddle by my feet. A little reluctantly, I hit the hammam once again. Shortly after, we hear a knock and I am called out for my seaweed treatment.
In the massage room, I am instructed to lose the towel. Standing in my underwear and bra, a shirtless Tunisian man expertly grabs handfuls of green paste from a bucket and slathers it all over my body. The algae-based product is mentholated and I am glad of it because when he is finished, I enter the hammam once again, this time much more comfortably. I now have a what Tyler calls "very expensive Vick's vapor rub" all over my body, keeping me feeling cool and making it easier to breathe.
A few minutes later, I watch when the man enters the hammam to scrub Tyler down. He dribbles water over his body, rubs some soap into a loofah mitten, and goes to town removing dead skin cells. When he's done, is is my turn to be exfoliated. By this time, I am officially a fan of the hammam experience. Where at first I was nervous and uncomfortable, I am very relaxed and at peace with the steam by the end.
Finished with our hammam-o-rama, we are escorted to the massage room where we can lie down and rest a little before getting dressed and leaving. This is my favorite part. I pilfer a bit of massage oil and rub it in to my now silky smooth skin, and then we get dressed, pay, and make our way outside into the cool breezes and sunshine. We are relaxed, almost in a daze, as we wander back to our tent for a nap. This is the life!
Here are a few more photos from today, taken on a quick walk to the desert, and a wander around the hotel at night: