An Experience with Nudity in Turkey
People argue about the best way to experience another culture. Through the food? Through their history? Through their art?
Apparently Ryan and I have chosen to get to know new culture through their naked rituals. (see the Sauna/Sea experience from Malmo, Sweden)
So, for one last cultural experience, we checked out the Turkish baths at Cemberlitas Hamam in Istanbul. We were there in a group of couples, so the first hurdle to overcome was for the girls to convince the boys that it was a worthwhile experience. Faced with an alternative of more shopping in the markets … I get the impression that none of the options were really winners in Ryan’s opinion. So, two couples headed to the hamam for adventure!
As soon as we walk in the door we choose a spa package, and then the men & women are immediately separated. I was given a pair of black bikini-style underwear, a wrap, and a pair of flip flops and we were led to a locker room. We stripped down and stored all of our belongings in a locker, put on the bikini bottoms and wrapped up in the wrap. The good thing about going to a slightly more touristy hamam is that they always tell you what your’e supposed to be doing. That’s a great relief when you’re naked, and don’t want to do the wrong thing.
The main area in the hamam is as pictured above. In the center is a very large stone (maybe 20 ft in diameter) that is heated from underneath. (And covered with lounging topless women). Around the outside of the stone are little alcoves with running water and silver bowls. I had no idea what the bowls were for … but apparently you catch water in them and pour it over yourself. It’s very luxurious. Except I couldn’t find the guys with the palm frond fans, which was a little disappointing.
After luxuriating with the bowls for a bit … we went and laid on the warm stone with everybody else. Apparently the way it works is that you lay down your wrap, and then you lay yourself on the wrap … and you hang out and wait for your turn to get washed. Did I mention that that’s the whole point of this thing? Apparently not everyone used to have their own bath – so they’d go to a public bath house. Though I’m confused about who actually couldn’t afford a bath, but could pay for someone to wash them. (But I’m too lazy to look it up.) Anyway … so around the outside edge of the big hot stone are turkish women who touch your foot when it’s your turn. Then you arrange yourself at the edge of the stone, face down (and then face up), and they scrub you with a washcloth glove thing (that you get when you walk in) and lots of soap. And you’re covered in suds, and they give you a combo massage/scrub thing. It’s pretty interesting. Then they bring you over to a water spout, rinse off the soap bubbles, and wash your hair.
After that cultural experience … we hung out in the warm pools, and relaxed, and then got massages.
Apparently the guys had been waiting about an hour and a half by the time we came out. They must not be very good at luxuriating. Either that or they were weirded out by all the men with wraps tied around their waists stepping over them on the hot stone. It’s tough to determine.