There are many moments that I regret having not documented via camera; these usually happen because I am bad at NOT living in the moment and because of my clumsy shutter finger. One moment, however, was not a result of either; instead, it was because I was barred (morally and ethically) from taking a camera into a hamam, or Turkish bath while I was in Cappadocia.
Every hamam is different in regards to EVERYTHING. Some offer mixed sex hamams, some require bikinis, some scrub you within an inch of your life, etc. With my temporary travel buddies, a cool couple from Australia, we chose to go to Elis Turkish Bath in Goreme.
Because it was my first hamam experience, I had no idea what to expect. Not only was this my first time in a hamam, but it was also the first time for ANY type of spa experience. I’ve never gotten a manicure or a pedicure—and I’ve certainly never treated myself to a massage! Today, however, I was to get the full experience… minus the nails.
I descended the stairs and was guided to a locker room that looked like a classier version of the Y. In it, I found pink slippers, a scrubby glove, and a towel. The various groups of women around me chose differently their degree of nudity. The old, large Brazilian women made up the largest group and they all chose to wear nothing under the extremely short towels. I chose to proceed with my bikini.
I highly respected those women. Being so completely comfortable in their skin no matter their age or size has always been something I admired, and they epitomized it.
As a single group now, since this hamam took us in time slot rotations, we were all led to a half-circle of beach chairs where we were each offered warm apple tea. We chattered away as a woman came around to slab mud all over our faces. As she finished, she then herded us like sheep into a sauna.
“Ok, ladies. Everyone speak English?” A few of us nodded yes. The Brazilians shook their heads no. “No? How about Spanish? Yes? Ok.” And then she continued in Spanish, leaving Heidi and me in confusion until we asked her to repeat what she said, this time in English.
“Ok, so you guys will stay in the sauna for 15 minutes. Afterwards, take everything to the next room and wash the mud off your face. Then, head to the massage room where they will wash and massage you. After the massage, come back into the shower room to shampoo your hair, wash your body, etc, and then go into the warm pool.”
So we did just that. Heidi, being the more hamam-experienced, said she was disappointed that there was a timed order to things. “In the hamam I visited in Istanbul, they let us take as long as we wanted throughout the entire process. It was so nice.” We snuck a few more minutes in each segment of the process, however.
As we walked into the very large tiled massage room, I felt like I was thrown back in time to when the Greeks took public baths together… but with music blasting from overhead speakers. In the middle of the room was a large, raised platform in the shape of an octagon. On each face lay a naked Brazilian woman all lathered up in soap and being massaged and scrubbed by a Turkish lady in a black bathing suit. Raised platforms were also lining the walls of the room but when standing closer, it becomes clear that these were sinks. Perched on these sinks were the women that were waiting for their turn at a massage. On this day, I saw boobs and hairstyles of all different types.
We sat there for about 3 rounds of women before I started getting dizzy. Oh no, I thought, this can’t happen here! I’ve had problems with heat and random fainting attacks before, but I certainly didn’t want anything close to that happening here. Thankfully, the sinks deposited cold water that I was able to splash on my face to calm down.
But the cold water wasn’t necessary because immediately afterwards, one of the Brazilian women jumped onto the middle platform and started gyrating and swinging her towel in helicopter fashion over her head. If you remember what I said earlier on, the Brazilians were the ones who decided to go fully nude under their towels. The towels that she was using to helicopter herself. The only thing that was missing was a stripper pole. Her friends cheered her on as she strutted on her stage; the Turkish ladies all chuckled and shook their heads. Eventually, they ushered her down, but not before the end of the current song.
Needless to say, I walked out a changed person.
The rest of my experience was less entertaining but more hands-on. A woman came over and I decided to embrace the experience and stood there topless while she scrubbed 5 inches of dead skin off my body—hey, I’d been traveling for about 3 weeks by this point! At one point, I think she said “oh, very dirty,” but because that was also a line you’d hear in a porn flick, I blocked it out.
Afterwards, she had me lie facedown on the slab in the middle, my face less than an inch from the bare soles of the woman in front of me. Using what looked like a huge underwear laundry bag, she whooshed it over me and a crap ton of warms suds covered my body. I was scared of what would happen afterwards because the only massages I’ve ever gotten had been for physical therapy after a grueling high school match, so I thought it would be equally painful. But what started was one of the most relaxing massages ever.
We finished off with another round of apple tea. When I walked out, my skin felt smoother than it’s ever been since birth… and for the weeks that followed, it stayed glowing and acne-free.
In total, it was about 60€—only because we received a 15€ discount from our accommodations. I’ve heard this was about average for the hamams in Turkey, although I’m pretty sure you can find a cheaper one in the larger cities, depending on the experience you want.