I’ve always wanted to try a Turkish bath. Call me crazy, but the idea of paying someone to throw cold water on me,and slap the crap out of me sounds like an experience I want to try. When the opportunity presented itself after a hot and dusty day exploring the ruins of Petra, in Jordan, I jumped at it. As much as I have seen the general idea on tv and in movies, it doesn’t really prepare you for the real thing.
I got changed in a small room, wrapped a towel around my waist and stepped into a cavern like hallway. The air was damp and humid, the lighting dull. The only way to go was deeper. I walked forward towards a room at the end. “In there“, a woman pointed.
Ducking my head into the low room, I was immediately assaulted with air so hot, and damp, and thick I had to push myself through it. This was a ancient steam room, its walls jagged, yet worn smooth from generations of humid air and bodies lounging in its warm, dark embrace. I sat on a long wooden bench, sweat already dripping off my body. To my left, I could barely make out the faint glow of the heated rocks sizzling as water rhythmically drip-dripped onto them. I want to say I’ve never been a big fan of steam rooms — I’m not really a fan of the heat — but there was something about this place: so dark, so medieval, and so exotic, that instantly broke me down. The knots in my shoulders and tightness of my lower back melted away. I let the sweat run down my face, my back, and my body, and breathed deeply.
Time lost all relevance. I couldn’t see anything through the steam. I didn’t care. Eventually, an etherial voice called faintly from the distance beckoning me to the next stage of the bath. I grabbed my towel emerging from the steam room like a child from the womb. I shivered, and stood dazed after the darkness. A short, stocky man with salt and pepper hair and friendly eyes directed me back into the corridor from where I started. He led me to another room and gestured for me to lie down on a marble slab.
I lay face down, the stone beneath my skin warm and wet. For the briefest of moments I felt weightless, perhaps due to the remnants of the heat of the steam room, or perhaps due to my exotic location deep in the heart of the desert, far underground. I’ve just spent three weeks exploring the pyramids and temples of Egypt. Another few steps and I truly believe I could have walked straight into the afterlife. This is a magical part of the world with history so rich you can barely scratch the surface in a month of exploration.
With a shock like electricity, my friendly grey haired docent dumped a bucket of warm water on me, then immediately started vigorously scrubbing my body with a rough cloth. He shows me the mass of dead skin on the cloth, orders me to flip over, and repeats the entire process, whistling gently as he works his craft.
Just as I can no longer take the abuse, he dumps another bucket of water on me, helps me off the marble slab and leads me into a third room. This room, similar to the last with a low curved ceiling of dark grey stone, is blessedly warmer than the last. In the corner, a small tap gurgles hot water into a low stone sink. It overflows, causing the floor to be slippery. The air smells soapy, fresh.
Once again, I lie face down on the marble slap. I hear my grey haired companion shuffle around in the dim light, water splashing with his footsteps. He dumps scalding hot water over me, then proceeds to slop soapy water everywhere. Starting at my feet, he rubs and massages my tired muscles with strong, sandpaper hands. He flips me onto my stomach and I nearly slide right off the slab. I grip the edges with soapy hands as he continues rubbing up my legs, to my back, and finally shoulders, almost pushing me off the table in the process. Eventually, it is time to sit up. He gently tips clean, hot water across my body from a brass label. The water and suds drain off of me, splashing onto the ground. I feel the remnants of the desert, sand caked in my skin from weeks of travel, disappear down the drain.
I shower off, feeling fresh and wonderful. Afterwards, I drink herbal tea with my masseuse. It’s sweet with a hint of honey and mint. His friendly smile is just as warm as the water that still soaks my skin. This is an experience I will not soon forget.