Selcuk & The Turkish Hamam

“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter ‘till they bloom, ‘til you yourself burst into bloom.”  - Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I was told at least a dozen times along my trip how amazing the ancient city of Ephesus and how much I would be blown away by it.  I arrived in Selcuk on an overnight bus.  After checking in and freshening up, I headed out and walked the 3 kilometers to the site.

While it was impressive, I realized after an hour of wandering around that the main sites are a massive ancient theater and the facade of a huge building.  Beyond that it all was just ruins of various buildings that are now piles of ancient stones.  And to quote Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Over the rest of this post I will have to admit to several things in order to tell this story properly.

On my second day, I decided that I was going to partake of a traditional Turkish Bath, or Hamam.  I told the man in the lobby that I was going to the Hamam as I left the hotel.  At first, I thought the fact that he didn’t ask if I needed directions was a sign that I seemed confident in finding a business in such a small town.  After all, I knew that it is right near the police station.

So off I went, walking around the town.  I went one way and then another.  I like finding my way around in different cities…for a while.  Then as the rain started to gently fall, I decided to man up and ask for directions.  One thing that I’ve learned about Turkish people is that as nice as they are, they are lousy with directions (especially with judging distances).

One man (a cop) tells me about 200 meters, so I go 200-300 meters and walk the block to find nothing.  Then I ask a different man in that area and he says keep going another 500 meters.  I walk on and finally ask a third man.  He tells me to take the first left and it will be like 10 meters.  Turns out he’s close, it was the first left but more like 50 meters or so.

The first thing I am confronted with is the language barrier.  We agree on the 35 lira price (about $20-22) and I am directed to a small room to change.  I strip down and wrap what feels like a small table cloth (and it looks like one too) around me.  I go back to the lobby wearing the small plastic bath shoes provided and am led through two doors to a steamy room with stalls on each side.

The man pours water on me and tells me to lay head first on to an octagon shape slab of marble.  I lay there for a long while face down and finally turn over.  The heat coming through is relaxing my muscles quite well.  A couple more men come in and they go to the stalls first and then join me on the marble.

And then the old man reenters and directs me to lay on a different area.  I was quite comfortable where I was, but I obligingly get up and go to lay on the new space.

Holy searing of skin, Batman!  You know those times when you would challenge your friend to drink a slurpie faster than you just to watch the brain freeze expression on his face?  And then you pull out all your persuasive powers to see if you can get him to do it again?  Admission number one, I was usually the one getting the brain freeze, but in a sick sort of way I kind of liked the experience.

I am not sure, but I’m pretty certain that I was the butt of a “let’s see how long the stupid American will lay here” joke.  I made about 5-10 seconds on my back, and then I let him convince me to try it on my stomach for another 5 seconds or so.  I’m not kidding when I say that I thought my skin might actually start cooking.  I cried “uncle” or whatever word for I give up you want to use and quickly got up.

I made it back to the marble octagon and shifted back to a state of relaxation.  Soon a Turkish man in his 40′s who was sporting one of the best Burt Reynolds in the early 80′s mustaches I’ve ever seen came over and motioned me to one of the slabs at the end of the room.

I started on my stomach as he took a brush that falls somewhere between a loofah and a brillo pad.  Admission number two, I used to own and use a loofah…and I liked it.

As he scrubbed me from head to foot on both sides, I felt like he was scrubbing away a week or more worth of stress.  Next he had me move to another slab where I was soaped up and scrubbed again with a slightly less harsh brush.

Once that was done, I was given a quick but very intense massage.  Then he had me sit up so he could pour hot water over me to rinse me off.  I could literally feel layers of dead skin being washed away.

After all of this, it was back to the marble octagon.  I laid there for a long while before going and rinsing off in the stalls along the side.

As I left the bath area, my head was wrapped with a towel and I was instructed to sit for a while to cool down.  I get a special joy from trying to figure out what is going on while watching foreign television stations and this time was extra special as it seemed to be a Turkish day time talk show.  I tried to guess the theme and the closest I could come was some sort of couple counseling episode.

At long last, I got up and went back to the room to change.  I paid the 35 lira and as I walked out of the door I felt almost like a brand new man.  I was definitely a layer of skin cleaner and my core body temp had been raised for quite a while.  All in all, I had a great time.

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