Just show up to the Goreme Hamam. No swim suit or towel necessary. But don’t come at all if you have any hint of a sunburn. That is for certain. Or probably not if you have a heart condition, or any sort of back or neck problem. Or if you are at all thirsty, like I was (note that it wasn’t the first time I’ve gone to a hamam a little on the dehydrated side, as I recalled while sitting in the 70 degree sauna). Oh, and apparently 4:00pm is ideal as you beat the evening crowd that way.
A man leads me down the stairs. He speaks English fairly well which is encouraging. Shows me my locker and gives me my boxer shorts and sandals. Seems pretty straight forward so far.
Exit the locker room and I find myself sitting on a couch having face mud applied. As usual the man wants to know where I’m from and then starts spouting off cities from my country other than the one I live in.
I’m taken upstairs into a marble room; the secondary room of the Goreme hamam – if you were looking at the building from the outside it would be the smaller dome. The tepidarium as the Romans would have called it. In there is a huge, bubbling cold pool as I’ll later learn, and beside that is a typical dry sauna which I’m shown to.
After about 5 minutes in there sweat starts dripping from my eyelashes. 10 minutes go by as I see on the old school hour glass timer stuck to the wall. I start thinking about the last time I went to a hamam in Libya without any water as I glance up and notice a thermometer that is pinned at 70C. I think to myself that if no one shows up after 15 minutes, I will make a move. And right on cue, Riza my man peaks through the door and waves me out.
Riza isn’t the typical Turkish masseuse you probably have in your head – he’s about 5’2″, 140lbs, and very fit looking. His English is not great but by this point I’m just glad to be out of that sauna and hoping to spot a water fountain.
I’m lead into the main room now (the big dome), and told to sit down on the marble bench that lies on the perimeter of the room. Riza proceeds to dump water on my head and everywhere else and indicates that I should rub my hands around like I’m rinsing the soap off in a shower. I take a few necessary gulps of the water as it runs down my face (it’s fresh water from the tap and I hadn’t had any issues drinking it thus far in Turkey).
I’m told to lie on my stomach on the big marble slab in the centre of the room. I’m expecting it to be hot as its been in the past but its not. The scrub down commences. I was given a scrub cloth at the beginning which I gave to Riza, but he seems to have his own favourite one and that’s what we appear to be going with. Who am I to say.
Perhaps 10 minutes of vigorous scrubbing on the back side (this is where a sunburn would become life threatening), flip over, the same on the front side. Back over to the perimeter bench for a rinse off and some more scrubbing – back of the neck, top of the head, face, ears and arms; Riza changes to my wimpy scrubber I offered him earlier for the face which I assume is protocol, but then I later see someone else using it for the works so now I’m not convinced.
Back to the centre slab I go, and Riza has this crazy looking pillow case thing that he’s swinging around. Next thing I know I’m buried under enough soap suds that would fill a small car. The beating begins. I’m pushed, pulled, prodded and punched in every way imaginable. The worst was him running his thumb along a tendon in the bottom of my foot – I honestly thought he was going to put his thumb through it like a wet paper bag. I can normally bear it all but for this I couldn’t help but to moan, “too much, too much!” But it was no use.
Again, perhaps 10 minutes on the back side then 10 minutes on the front side, over to the perimeter marble for a few more pretzel positions then I final rinse. I made it through.
I’m told to go take a shower, then some other instructions which I don’t really understand but pretend I do. A quick shower and luckily Riza is there to show me to the bubbling cold pool. When I say cold, I mean comfortably cool. I’m in there for perhaps as long as 30 minutes when I start to really wonder what those instructions were. Another 10 minutes goes by perhaps and Riza shows up giving me a bit of a funny look; he leads me downstairs which I would imagine I was supposed to do 20 minutes ago. Wraps me in a couple towels, boxers off, hands me a tea and tells me to go sit down.
As I sit watching some graphic story on the news while enjoying my tea, Ozman comes and gets me for my final, optional olive oil rub down that I sprung for. Really I’m regretting it because I’ve been in here for quite some time, and I’m already feeling pretty fulfilled by the experience. But I know there’s no backing out now.
I enter the dark and pleasant tunnel room and am told to lie down and relax for a few minutes. Ozman returns and again, 10 minutes on the back side, but much more relaxing this time. The music ends and Oz zips out of the room for a moment. What comes on next? A quiet piano version of Nothing Else Matters by Metallica. I lie there unable to put my thoughts together about how perfect it all is now for the final 10 minutes.
Up I get and am told to just rub the excess oil off for maximum benefit, on with my dirty street clothes, and I’m good to go. Upon exit both Oz and Riza are keeping a close eye on me ensuring a tip goes in the appropriate box hanging on the wall. I slip a $5 note into the slot above each one of their smiling faces, a couple quick handshakes, and its time to go find a suitable terrace for the day’s sundowner.
For those that might be considering it, my experience was at the Goreme Hamam, Cappadocia, Turkey, the basic rubdown cost 60 TL (around 35USD), plus the optional olive oil bit was 30 TL (around 18USD) for 20 minutes. You can also go for just 10 minutes, or a full 30 minutes at appropriate prices, or non at all of course.