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Sahara

Day 5: Chefchaouen to Fez

Chefchaouen, Morocco 
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The calm before the storm. On my way to the hamman clutching my new shorts.
Michael Palin - SaharaThis raises the question of who will be there if it's closed to the public. Our drivers and our police escort sportingly agree to be extras, though, to my deep concern, they assure me that I will be stretched by a professional. The baths are located in an old building at the bottom of a steep, cobbled street. You wouldn't know they were there, except for a blackened hole high on the outer wall, from which a telltale plume of steam issues from the boiler. The door is low, studded and painted pale blue. It gives onto a cool stone-flagged passageway, at the end of which is an open changing area, laid with coloured raffia mats and lit by daylight from above.

My Chefchaouen shorts, though long and suitably modest, are a trifle narrow at the waist, not helping an already delicate digestive situation. I put my clothes in a locker and heave open a hulking metal door. A concrete counterweight on a rope slams it shut behind me. I find myself in the first of three chambers graded by heat. Gentle in the first, stronger in the second and in the third and final room, where the action takes place, powerful enough to send the sweat surging. The rooms are dimly lit, with vaulted ceilings and white tiles halfway up the walls. There are alcoves in the first two rooms, for resting and cooling down, and in the hot room a series of partitioned stalls where the intimate parts may be washed in some privacy.

As the heat pumps up through the floor the washing begins. You can wash yourself or be washed. In my case, Ali my driver, round as a Buddha, takes on the task of cleaning me up, first with extensive lathering and shampooing, then by rubbing me with a viciously abrasive mitt, which reduces my outer skin to thin rolls of dirt.

Meanwhile, the masseur, thin and wiry, with a villainous slash of a moustache, is at work on one of our other drivers. By rocking him backwards and forwards, with legs and arms interlocked, he seems intent on elongating Youssef even beyond the 6 foot 5 he already is.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 5
  • Country/sea: Morocco
  • Place: Chefchaouen
  • Book page no: 29

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