This Happened: Turkish Bathhouse Fiasco

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dolmuş in Ulus

A note on Turkish bathhouses (hamam): some are fully nude while others are partially nude, the one in this travel tale is of the latter type. All hamams are gender-separated except for the really expensive ones in resort towns (meant for those wily tourists). Typically the routine goes as follows: you undress, sit in a marble sauna for a bit, a Turkish woman exfoliates the dead skin off your body, and then you're done.

After spending a bit of time wandering around lost in the Ulus neighborhood of Ankara, Turkey, my Dutch travel companion and I asked for directions, and learned that we were standing right in front of the Şengül Merkez Hamamı, the bathhouse we sought.

We undressed and were ushered into the hot baths, where we sat by a sink and poured hot water over ourselves for 5-10 minutes. After soaking in the hot water, my travel companion was escorted to another room where a bathhouse attendant would give her an intense massage/scrubbing, while laying on a slab of marble. The sauna air was heavy with hot water, and the combination inhibited my ability to breathe. Just in time, it was my turn to be escorted into the much cooler scrubbing room. The equivalent of a brillo pad was dragged along my back and arms, and the washlady pointed out the rolls of dead skin I was shedding with the treatment (yum).

Just as I felt better, I had to sit up and get my face scrubbed. The change in brain-elevation caused me to get woozy and I began to see brown spots in my field of view. As the spots grew larger, the washladies noticed my condition and began pouring cold water on me. Considering I was overheating, the cold water felt good, but it also threw my body into a sort of mini-shock.

The older washlady decided I should get out of the hot bath room. I thought I was ready to stand, but as soon as I turned the corner I knew I wasn't. My vision completely browned out, and my hearing went funny, like I was underwater. I leaned against the wall and lost consciousness. When I awoke fifteen seconds later, I still couldn't see, but I could hear a bunch of foreign female voices. As my sight returned, all I could see was a giant spoonful of sugar heading towards my face. I swallowed, and thought, "Where the hell am I?" And I remembered.

I was in the hamam's lobby, sitting in a chair. It must have been quite a feat for these tiny Turkish women to drag me out there (at 5'11", I'm no small drink of water). As soon as I reached semi-consciousness, they carried me into the changing room where I threw myself on the bed, and I was blanketed with towels.

Nothing says Turkey quite like being dragged around unconscious and half-naked in a hamam.


Rebecca Thering said...

Oh my! Fainting is not a fun experience to begin with, but to have it happen there... you'll never forget it! I bet the Turkish ladies had a bit of a panic, too.

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