Feeling French in Turkey

Over the last few days, we’ve had 2 experiences, both designed to achieve the same result, but in polar opposite ways. Better planning probably would have had us do it in reverse order, but c’est la vie.
We were just in Fethiye, and decided to go to our first hamam (Turkish Bath). We had seen the pictures of people, lying in a large marbled out communal space getting scrubbed down and knew there were a bunch of other steps to it. Mari’s anxiety got the better of her, so before we went we did our homework on the process. How long is it and how much do we tip? Do we go sans clothing?
We went at night to avoid the crowds, and were led immediately into a sauna. The attendant sprayed and placed menthol on the charcoal, and left us in this modern day sweat lodge to prepare our skin for the exfoliation part. He probably told us how long we would be in it, but since we can only count to 4 in Turkish, Mari’s guess was as good as mine. Mari doesn’t like heat, so this amounted to a slightly torturous event for her. She initially tried to be calm, but ten minutes in started a repetitive chant of “I need to get out of here, I need to get out of here…” About 15 minutes in, our attendant came back and we jumped up, thinking he was going to let us out, but instead he sprayed the charcoal more, and left again to our muttered curses. About 25 minutes in, he came back and let our withered, but gleeful selves out .

He led us into the communal bath area, the relatively cooler air almost convincing us that maybe the sauna wasn’t that hot. As we tried to tell him that the sauna felt good, he led us into a steam room and closed the door before we could protest. Mari’s face that had just been exhibiting relief, now was a mixture of sadness and fear. We sat in the steam room, wondering how we could have offended our attendant for him to treat us like this. Mari started to count. We talked a little to keep our minds off the heat. 1 minute… We talked about previous steam room experiences at the gym. We talked about how nice the communal area looked. 2 minutes…we wondered whether our attendant forgot about us. 3 minutes…We talked about symptoms one feels before fainting. 5 minutes…We asked each other where the hell our attendant was before finally giving up and exiting the steam room prematurely.
In the communal bath area, we laid out on the marble center, or goebektas, as our respective washer, or tellak, went to work on us. Alternating between cups of water and a scrub mitt, or kese, they scrub your body down. After my tellak was done, I looked at the amount of dirt and dead skin that had come off of me. Disgusting. I wondered whether I was actually lighter now that I wasn’t carrying all of that on me anymore. I was rinsed off using one of the sinks and bowls, then laid out again on the marble and got soaped down. A pillowcase-like device created unreal amounts of bubbles of the olive oil soap. After I was rinsed off again and shampooed and rinsed off again, the experience wound down with my being wrapped up in multiple towels to chillax a little more. I’m not sure why, but Mari started her bath first and ended way after me…go figure. We left the hamam clean and as soft as a baby’s butt.

Today, in a river town called Dalyan, we went to one of the city’s principal attractions—the hot springs and mud baths. The mud pools and thermal pool areas contain slightly radioactive mineral waters good for the skin and rheumatism.
As we arrived at the mud pools, the smell of sulfur hit us first. Then we saw them—the mud people. They were covered head to toe in a greenish-gray slime, camouflaged into the mountains behind them. But they looked happy—smiling, laughing. So we ventured nearer and worked up our courage to join them.
The pools themselves were warm and squishy. You float to the top, in spite of your efforts. After swimming in the mud awhile, we exited the slippery pools slowly doing our best Toxic Avenger impressions. We rinsed off and topped it off by hanging out in the thermal pool. We left the mud pools dirty, but smooth as a baby’s butt.

The mud pool/hot springs made me think back to Nicaragua. A couple of months ago we were swimming in the crater of a volcano, Laguna de Apollo, said to have a similar mineral composite as the hot springs here with some of our Spanish language classmates. Our French classmate exited the lagoon, impressed with the sulfur’s effects on his skin and proclaimed to the rest of us “I feel French again!” …as French as a baby’s butt.

Posted: May 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Turkey | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »