Travel makes you gross. There is really no way around it. If you are on the road for a decent amount of time it will take a toll. The constant changing of climates makes your skin freak out. Flying limits the amount of shampoo/conditioner/body wash you can travel with. Next thing you know you’re in a shop in Greece trying to decipher whether you’re looking at a bottle of shampoo or conditioner only to get home and find out you purchased a bottle of body lotion to wash your hair with. So when we arrived in Turkey I decided that a Turkish bath was exactly what I needed.
Most of the websites I found in my quest for information about Turkish baths will tell you that the baths are not mixed gender, but in the first two towns we visited in Turkey there was at least one mixed gender bath. In Bodrum I was considering going to Bardacki Hamami. It has been written about on several travel blogs, and I liked that it was mixed gender so that I could bring Patrick along with me.
Until Patrick did some research of his own.
A Turkish bath involves someone scrubbing you all over with an exfoliating mitt in a steamy room. After the scrub down they soap you up and rinse you off. In a mixed gender bath, from what I can gather, the attendee could be male or female. Patrick didn’t think he would enjoy being scrubbed down by a man, and I certainly didn’t want to be hanging out with a bunch of mostly-naked old men without him. So I scrapped that idea.
The next city we found ourselves in was Selcuk. Again, this city had a mixed gender bath. However, on Friday afternoons they offer a ladies-only bath experience. So I put on my nicest pair of panties and headed to the Selcuk Hamami.
I stepped through the door and into a dim reception area. Nobody was at the desk, and I had no idea how to tell who actually worked there. So I put on my best help-me-I’m-a-confused-tourist look and waited. After what felt like minutes but was probably only seconds a woman came up and said, “Hamami?” I nodded enthusiastically.
She indicated towards a box and said, “Passport.” I started to panic. I wasn’t expecting an ID check. The only item I had brought with me was some cash to pay for the bath. It turns out she was just telling me I could put my valuables, such as a passport, into the box. A few charades later I figured it out and put my watch and cash into the box. She locked it and handed me a key to keep around my wrist.
Once my valuables had been properly secured, the woman handed me a large cloth and pointed me towards a little changing room. The changing rooms have two beds, one on each side, and hooks on the wall to hang your clothes on. There are also slippers to wear in the bath. I hear it gets quite slippery. I stripped down to my panties, wrapped the cloth around myself, found some slippers that were close enough to my size to stay on, and stumbled back out into the reception area.
Again, no one seemed to be working here. My grey-haired angel of a guide had disappeared and there were only a few sweaty women gossiping on a bench. One of them noticed me and pointed her thumb towards a door behind her. I walked through the door. Then through another door. Then through another door. I guess they have so many doors to keep the steam in, and it seems to work.
The third door led me into a large marble room with the climate of a tropical jungle. On either side of the door was a marble slab, like a bed of stone. A woman was laying on each one. The woman to my left was lounging languidly. I tried not to stare. The woman to my right was getting scrubbed by an employee who flashed me a welcoming, toothless grin. The center of the room was dominated by a bit octagonal table of sorts.
In the blog posts I had read about visiting a hamam, people all seemed to say that they were told to lay down on this table. In my case, though, no one was telling me what to do at all, and no one was on the table. I really did not want to be the only person laying on this table. So I looked around to see what everyone else was doing. As it turns out, I couldn’t see them.
The walls of this hamami were lined with small, private shower areas. Everyone seemed to be in those doing…something. I decided to follow their lead and stepped into the nearest one. I took off my cloth, draped it over the shower wall, and began to pour cold water on myself. I will admit, the cold water felt pretty good in that steamy hot room. Once I was good and wet, I peeked out of the curtain. Still the same scene so I nervously bathed some more. Finally, I told myself I’m just going to have to go out there.
I put my cloth wrap back on and stepped out from behind the curtain. Just as I was about to give up, a woman walked through the door. She looked at me and pointed to the octagonal table in the middle of the room. Finally, some direction. I eagerly sat myself down and waited. The woman who was doing the scrubbing looked over at me. She didn’t speak any English, but, using hand gestures, asked if I wanted a scrub down. I nodded and waited for her to finish with her current patron.
She finished, rinsed the table off, poured some cool water on her breasts, took a quick shower, then looked at me and gestured towards the marble slab. My time had come.
I lay down on my marble bed and tried to be as relaxed as possible. The toothless woman put on a mitt and started scrubbing. She scrubbed everywhere – my neck, my chest, arms, legs, hands. When she came to my bum she just pulled my panties right down. She scrubbed the cheeks then pulled the panties right back up, wedgie style, and scrubbed again- just in case she’d missed anything the first time. It was over in minutes. She doused me with cool water then traded in her exfoliating mitt for a soapy rag. She soaped me up, using exactly the same method she had with the scrubbing. A few more buckets of water and I was done. Clean as a whistle.
I ducked back into my shower cubby for a few more splashes of cold water before deciding I was ready to go. I walked back through the three doors into the reception area where I sat down on a bench to dry off. There is actually a seating are in the back where most people dry off, but I didn’t realize that until it was too late. When I was dry-ish I changed back into my clothes. I found someone who seemed to work there, returned my towel and key, paid my 50 Lyra ($16) and walked out the door.
When I stepped out into the sunlight, a man who was walking down the street started to stare. He chuckled a little and said, “You look so white.” I’m not sure if it was because of my freshly exfoliated skin or if I just looked nervous. Could have been either one.