The Time I Got Naked in Moroccan Hammam

I took the chance to visit a local hammam while in Marrakech. No one else in my family wanted to go. For some reason my other family members did not want to strip down to their undies and let a half naked hammam worker scrub them until gray flakes of skin came peeling off. I’m not sure why. It was amazing and my skin was sooooo soft afterwards.

I asked my guesthouse host for a recommendation of where to go and I am glad I did. The local hammam are not well marked, so I was glad to have someone to show me where to go. We were staying at Lamia Riad, also called Kech Riad, which I highly recommend. Lamia is probably the nicest most friendly guesthouse host we stayed with on this trip. Lamia’s friend walked me to the hammam and got me settled in, which was helpful since there was a language barrier.

I paid and entrance fee of 10 dirham (1 USD).  Then I was guided into a room where a woman was laying on a bench resting . She put out her hand to me, so I assumed that I was to pay her for the scrub. I offered her 50 dirham (5 USD), which I read online was the going rate.  She instead took 20 dirham. I then realized that she was the woman who would be watching my bag and a 10 or 20 dirham tip would have been sufficient.

Then I was instructed to strip down. (I left my undies on, which I read was the custom) A second female attendant who looked to be in her 60’s led me into the bath, which consisted of room with blue and white tiled floors and walls. We passed a room with several underwater clad women sitting on the floor scrubbing themselves.

In the next room the attendant gestured for me to sit down on the floor next to what appeared to be a mother and her teenage daughter. The attendant filled a bucket with warm water from a spigot in the wall and proceeded to dump water on me with a scoop.

She then handed me a blob of black soap and left.

I understood that I was to rub the soap all over myself. And so I did that for about 10 minutes. I periodically glanced over at the mother and daughter who were soaping and scrubbing themselves and taking turns scrubbing each other’s backs. They also shampooed and brushed their hair.

Eventually old woman returned wearing only a boy shorts bathing suit bottom. She had me sit in front of her and began to scrub my back with a rough glove.

She continued moving me around until she had scrubbed every inch of my exposed body part. Every once in a while she would proudly point out the large amount of  gray sloughs she had sanded off of me.

The whole experience was much less awkward than you would imagine. The woman was professional and matter of fact as she shifted my body around. It felt a bit odd when she turned me so I was facing her bare chest. And I became concerned about the cleanness of the tile floor when I found myself laying face down across the attendants outstretched legs.

When she finished the scrubbing, the attendant repeatedly dumped buckets of warm water over me until the dead gray skin was washed away. Then she indicated that she was done. I dried off with the towel I borrowed from my guesthouse and followed the women back out to the entry room.

I offered the attendant 50 dirham for the scrub and she put her hand out for more, a tip perhaps. I gave her 10 more, but I had another 10 in my hand which she eyeballed, so I gave her that, too.

As odd as it was, I enjoyed my first hammam experience. Back out on the street, I bought a glove and black Moroccan soap so I can scrub myself at home (my skin was so seriously soft afterwards!). Unfortunately the soap was confiscated at the Budapest airport. I knew I was taking a risk since the soap is very viscous ad would probably  be considered a liquid, but I had gotten through 3 other flights. I was super bummed and wished I had repackaged it in airline sized containers.

Going to a Moroccan hammam is not for everyone. But the public bath is a normal part of Moroccan life, a throw back from the days when homes didn’t have bathrooms, and I was glad a got to experience it.

5 hours in London

Thanks to a super delayed flight from Delhi to London we got to spend the night in London and had time to go into the city the next morning before our flight to Madrid.

We wanted to go into the city the first evening as well, but the cost to get into the city from our airport hotel, even using public transportation, is insane. About £130 for our family of five! Also, by the time we sorted out getting our hotel voucher and got to the hotel it was around 9 pm and we hadn’t had dinner.

So we stayed at the hotel and enjoyed our free buffet dinner. Especially the beef and pork offerings that we had been missing so much during our 4 months in India.

The girls and I were super excited to get a unexpected visit to London.

We had originally planned to stop over in London on our way home to the US from India, but it turns out London (and England) are really, really expensive, especially when you are multiplying everything by 5.

So we made plans to stopover in Madrid instead. But as fate would have it, the Delhi to London leg of our flight to Madrid was delayed giving us an overnight at a London airport hotel and time in the morning to pop into the city for a few hours.

It would still cost $200 to get into the city and back to the airport, but because of the delay, the airlines fed us and gave us lodging for two days, so we still ended up ahead.

At 6 am on a rainy Monday morning, we climbed into a black town car (it cost the same as the 5 of us taking the airport shuttle from the hotel to the airport and the tube from the airport into the city and back) and made our way into the heart of London.

Our driver stopped to let us take pictures of Buckingham Palace and then dropped us off at Westminster Bridge.

Borrowed hotel umbrellas in hand, we made our way out on the bridge to take photos of Parliament and Big Ben.

Splashing through the puddles, we found a view of Westminster Abbey.

With grins on our faces and soaking wet feet, we made our way to Trafalgar Square, snapping pictures of all the iconic British sights, The Eye, double decker buses, red phone booths, signs for the tube.

From Trafalgar Square, we wandered over to the West End and wished we had time to see a show. We were giddy and sad when we came across the Theater played Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

We had planned to take the tube up to the British Library, but at peak time it costs £5 per person! And we only planned to go 2 stops. We couldn’t justify outrageous cost. We thought about walking, but we were running out of time. I was bummed not to get to take the girls to see the old manuscripts, especially the original copy of Alice in Wonderland, a book Sierra loves.

Our last stop was the British Museum. We had about an hour to admire the Elgin Marbles, see the Rosetta Stone and dry off a bit before our driver was scheduled to pick us up.

Despite the dreary weather, we enjoyed our few hours in London. In fact, Sierra said the gray sky and cool, wet weather made the city feel just how she expected it to. Even though we weren’t expecting to get to see London at all this trip.

How to Get a Free 20 Hour Trip to London

I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but this is how my family got to spend 20 hours in London for free in the summer of 2016.

  1. Spend 5 months on the Indian sub continent and be REALLY ready to leave India
  2. Arrive at the airport to find that your flight has been delayed
  3. Wait patiently at the airport until it is time to board the plane. After all, you have been traveling full time for a year, you know there is no reason to get worked up over travel delays
  4. Settle into your seat and wait at the gate for a half hour, at which point the captain announces that the plane has a small technical problem that will take about a half hour to fix.
  5. Attempt not to get claustrophobic on the warm, crowded plane while the captain announces every half hour that the repair didn’t work and another repair is being tried.
  6. Become fairly certain that you are going to miss your connecting flight to Madrid
  7. After 2 hours, be informed that the airport has permitted you and your fellow passengers to wait in the terminal. No mention is made of the impending riot that may have occurred if the sweaty, hungry passenger had been kept on the plane much longer
  8. Oh, by the way, the flight has been canceled.
  9. Try to hide your disappointment, as the shuttle bus takes you back to Delhi
  10. Look on the bright side and enjoy spending the night in a fancy hotel after a year of being a budget backpacker.
  11. Gorge yourself on the buffet dinner, but stick to the continental offerings because after five months of eating Indian food almost everyday, you don’t think you could eat another bite.
  12. Spend the evening being seriously confused about when you will get to fly to London and what is happening with your connecting flight to Madrid
  13. Finally sort out that the original flight has been rescheduled for the following afternoon.
  14. Realize you might not get to London in time to make the last connecting flight to Madrid and therefore be stuck in London overnight
  15. Get excited about being stuck in London overnight!
  16. Try not to get too excited because you might make it to London in time
  17. Enjoy a buffet breakfast at the hotel and take the shuttle back to the airport
  18. Find out the flight has been pushed back another hour and you will definitely not make a connecting flight to Madrid until the following day.
  19. At check-in request an afternoon flight to Madrid, so you have to time to spend the morning in the city.
  20. Enjoy your free 20 hours in London*
  • It will cost an outrageous £130 for 5 people to get into the city, but since you have had free food and lodging for the past two days, you will still come out ahead

Riding trains in India

The trains in India are not that good. They are also not that bad. We traveled by train quite a bit during our 4 months in India and here was our experience.

Train tickets can be very difficult and even impossible to get. They can also be purchased easily.

Before we arrived in India we tried to book some of our train tickets online. You can book tickets up to 3 month in advance. But . . . you can only purchase tickets on the railway website (IRCTC) with an Indian credit card. To get around this you can get an account on the Indian railway site and then connect it to an account on Clear Trip which will accept foreign credit cards. But . . . you have to have an Indian phone number to set up an IRCTC account. There is a way to get around this by asking for an email code, but it’s  complicated and often doesn’t work. We have a friend with family in India, so her dad let us uses his cell number. But . . . we could not get the two accounts connected. We tried for several days and then gave up.

We were able to book some of our tickets before arriving in India by sending money to our friend’s father via Western Union and having him go to a travel agent and book e-tickets for us.

Once we arrived in India we found it very easy to purchase tickets through a travel agent. We tried a couple of times to get tickets at the train station, but we were always turned away at the window with a gesture that we needed to go somewhere else. We could never figure out where to go. In one city,  we couldn’t find a travel agent, so our hotel staff spent two hours booking tickets online for us. Any extra fees the travel agents or hotel staff tacked on were totally worth not having to deal with the hassle.

Most train stations in India are pretty gross. They smell like urine and body odor. They are crowded.  The beggars are heart-wrenching and relentless. They will grab your arm and follow you through the station. At first, I thought all the families sitting on blankets on the ground at the stations were waiting for their trains, but it turned out they were mostly families who are homeless. Because of the crowds, there is rarely anywhere to sit except for the ground, which is often wet.

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Rand likes to be early everywhere, but we learned to arrive no more than a 45 minutes prior to departure  to lessen the amount of time we had to spent in the stations.

Most of our train rides were overnight trips. We rode in 3A/C class. Meaning each berth has 3 bunks per side and 2 bunks across the isle. And the car is air conditioned. The cars in this class are clean . . . enough.

The middle bunk is up during the day and passengers sit 3 across the bottom bunk. At night you pull down the bunk and make the beds with sheets, blanket, and pillow provided. The beds are skinny and short, but Rand at 6’1” managed OK. The bed’s padding is minimal, so I often found myself having to roll over throughout the night due to hip and shoulder pain.

My favorite bunk was the side upper. There is room to sit up and you can go up during the day and be away from the fray below. I hated the middle bunk. It made me feel claustrophobic.

The bathrooms are, well, train bathrooms. The waste goes straight onto the tracks. On one side, the stall has a western toilet. The other side has a squatter. I always chose the squatter. Even with the train rocking I would rather hang on and squat than have my butt touch a train toilet seat. BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper).

A couple of times we rode sleeper class for shorter train rides during the day. This class is similar to 3A/C, but has no air conditioning, so it can get hot. And the windows are open for air flow, so you get covered in times thin layer of dust.

Once we rode chair car from Amrita to Delhi. The car had air conditioning and we were fed breakfast and a snack during the 6 hour ride.

Riding Indian trains is not the most comfortable thing, but it was an affordable way to get around this giant country. By traveling overnight, we saved money on lodging and (mostly) slept through the long journeys.  I’m not going to lie, we were very excited to be done riding Indian trains at the end of the four months, but if you want to see the world, especially on a budget, you sometimes have to get out of your comfort zone.

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Delhi

Is Delhi as Bad as Everyone Says it Is?

By most accounts Delhi is a pretty awful place, but we thought we might like it. We like big cities and we had been in south Asia for 6 months, so we were used to the craziness and dirtiness. Continue reading

Amritsar Golden Temple

Amritsar, India: Border Ceremony, Golden Temple, and Jallianwala Bagh

After almost a month in the Indian Himalayas, where it felt like we were in a totally different country with blue skies, clean(ish) streets, and cool weather, it was time to return to low land India.

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Tur Tuk

Road Trip in Ladakh, India

The roads from Leh to Pangong Lake to Tur Tuk and back to Leh are not for the faint of heart (or stomach). When we began our week long journey in Ladakh, I was not feeling so well. So I spent most of the cliff-hugging-switchback-mountain roads drive with my eyes closed to keep my head and belly from spinning.

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Naranag

Horseback Riding in Naranag, India (and a car chase)

I felt safe in Srinagar. I mean, as safe as you can feel in a city where you have to walk/drive past officers with guns every few blocks. So I wasn’t too worried the morning we were paddled across the lake to our driver and guide who would take us up to the mountains in Naranag for the day.

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Srinagar

Is it safe to go to Srinagar, India?

We almost didn’t go to Srinagar. Located in northern India’s Kashmir region, this area has had episodes of unrest since India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947. Border disputes and grievances with the Indian government have resulted in protests throughout the region.

This area, however, has been mostly quiet for the last 5-10 years, so we booked flights Continue reading