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Advocating for Accessible Bathrooms

Advocating for Accessible Bathrooms

Jeremy sees another gas station. We are on our way to Merzouga doing development for our iconic accessible desert excursion. Next to it is a mini-mart with ramp – though a distinctly steep and not accessible ramp – but we decide to stop anyways. Maybe…just maybe their bathrooms won’t have a ramp with a slope that resembles a mountain side more than a ramp promoting universal design as we hope.  As we pull around to the far side of the building, we both get excited, “look at that ramp! That should work!”, I exclaim with excitement. As we walk in to the restaurant, there is a mix of excitement and skepticism. What is going to be the one piece that makes this rest stop not work for our clients traveling Morocco in a wheelchair? I notice silently to myself that there is no step at the door and we look right and amazingly, there are no steps into the bathrooms. Fantastic!

A waiter greets us energetically, expecting that we are there to eat. “Salam Alaykum!” I greet him warmly and explain that we have a travel company that specializes in tours for people that use wheelchairs and other mobility devices. He smiles and welcomes us warmly and asks if we like the ramp outside. “Yes, the ramp is fantastic! Thanks for being forward thinking in designing this rest stop. Can we take a look at your restrooms and take some measurements to see if this will work for our clients?”, I ask. “Absolutely, one thousand welcomes!” He bows slightly with a flair of Moroccan hospitality and gestures towards the swinging doors to the right.

Jeremy and I get to work taking pictures, measuring doors, taking notes and talking animatedly between ourselves. The bathroom stall doors are wider than most in Morocco. Not quite to ADA standards for accessible bathrooms, but definitely workable! This is a familiar routine for us. The current setup for the rest stop will be adequate for our clients. However, with a few adjustments this could be a really good option to make the 7 hour drive from Fes to the desert more comfortable for our clients. We scribble some notes into our notebook of recommendations and changes that we would like to suggest. 

As we exit the restrooms, we are offered tea and cookies by the waiter. We sit down to visit with him for a bit. “Can you honor us with your name, kind sir?” Jeremy asks in the local dialect. Language is one of the keys to working  cross-culturally and developing excellent rapport with our new friend. It is one of the values we hold as business owners and we have worked hard to learn to speak Darija – the local Morrocan Arabic dialect.

“My name is Hassan”, he says as he beams with pride. We proceed to discuss the various suggestions of changing the direction that the bathroom door opens as well as the possibility of adding grab bars in one of the stalls in the Gents and one in the Ladies. “Of course! We built this ramp for people to have access to our restaurant and any suggestions you can give us will help to make this restaurant better for all of our clients. We would be honored to work with you and your clients in the future.”

We thank him for the tea, get a business card and head out to the 4x4. This is the forging of a potential partnership for our accessible desert excursion. Increasing accessibility in the tourism service sector is often the first step in increasing accessibility for locals and visitors, alike. We will return in a few weeks with grab bars to mount on the walls and to change the orientation of doors for easy access and use for our clients as they travel to the desert.

Just another day of doing business in Morocco. Advocating for accessibility in Morocco is a vital part of our business vision.  

Making Access Happen

 

Three weeks later I return to Restaurant 7 in Ait Toughach. The 3 hour drive there flies by as I am mesmerized by the stunningly beautiful Middle Atlas Mountains. Hassan recognizes me right away with a warm smile and open arms. After the animated pleasantries of Moroccan greetings I get right to work. A measuring tape, hammer drill and masonry bit are all it takes for this adaptation.  

 

Removing the door, a few anchors with solid bolts, flipping the door hinges – really simple tasks that will have a significant impact on dignity, independence and comfort for many people in the future as they make their way to the majestic Sahara, barrier free — Moroccan and international tourists alike! How cool is that?! Creating key rest stops to break up the the 8 hour journey from Fes to Merzouga is vital for making this an accessible desert excursion. I love getting out of the office. And when it can increase access for my clients and business for our suppliers – that’s even better!

 

6 Reasons Why We Chose Morocco for an Accessible Travel Company

6 Reasons Why We Chose Morocco for an Accessible Travel Company

We have lived in Morocco for several years now and though we speak the local language, try to adapt to local customs, have learned culturally appropriate responses to life situations, we still stick out sometimes!  We don’t always fit into the box that a lot of people expect for foreigners in this land.  One of the most common questions that we get asked by people – Moroccans and clients alike – is “why did you choose Morocco to start an accessible travel company?”  Thinking about the countless options for a travel business – what would cause us to choose Morocco as the best country to start a new company?  For us, the answer is quite simple.  Here are 6 reasons why we believe Morocco was and is the perfect place for us to own and operate an accessible travel company.

 

1.  Morocco offers a vast array of landscapes 

There really isn’t another country like Morocco.  We have mountains, sea, ocean, desert, and history (1,200 year old city anyone??).  All 4 seasons are present with snow in the mountains and a dry desert to the South – along with just about everything in between.  In the same day you are throwing snow balls in the mountains in the morning you can be dipping your toes into warm desert sands in the evening.  You can roll through a 1,200 year old city one day and be at a beachside modern resort the next.  It really is an incredibly diverse country with ever changing landscapes.  The best part about Morocco is that these landscapes can all be experienced (albeit quickly!) in a matter of a few weeks.  So when you think about places with tremendous opportunity for exciting travel – Morocco is and should be near the top of the list.

 

 

2.  We wanted to come to a place where we could make a difference 

Both Erik and I have relationships with people who have disabilities.  I, Jeremy, as a physiotherapist have worked with people with mobility limitations for years.  We have seen the challenges that travel presents for those who need a little (or a lot) of extra assistance.  For us, when we looked at a place like Morocco, we saw a country with tremendous potential but underdeveloped infrastructure to meet the needs of accessible travel.  We knew that it would be a lot of work but felt (and still feel) that Morocco was a strategic place to really make a difference not only for the foreigners who travel here but also for those with disabilities in the local community.

The picture above is a perfect example of the need for education and enforcement.  Two parking spaces were developed and reserved for people with disabilities – but they are full of motorcycles!  Speaking to the attendant and having our client with a disability not have a place to park and easily access their services speaks volumes to people.  Real people, real faces, real access challenges – and real solutions. 

Since we have started, we have helped to develop accessible bathrooms, adapt hotel rooms, create dropped curbs in our local community and even create accessible accommodations at a local language school that allowed someone in a power wheelchair to study Arabic in Fes for an entire year.  Moving to Morocco and working in the tourism sector has increased our capacity to encourage change in accessibility for foreigners and locals alike.

 

 

3. Morocco is taking steps towards implementing its accessibility laws

Every time I watch this video, I get really excited about the adaptations and changes that are happening around Morocco as they continue to expand universal design in this country.  Is Morocco perfect? No – but major steps are being taken right now to drastically improve accessibility and access for all in this beautiful country.  From the 1,200 year old city of Fes to the Sahara Desert – accessibility is improving at a rapid rate. The exciting thing to us is that it is not just the government doing small steps – which is important – but also the willingness of local business owners to make adaptations as well.  It is an exciting time to be bringing accessible travel to this country receiving a major facelift for accessibility.

 

 

4.  The moderate Mediterranean climate lends itself to year round travel

Weather here is awesome.  There are all 4 seasons which allows for incredible vacations and holidays just about any time of the year.  Sure, there are times that it is just too hot to go to the Sahara Desert – especially for many people traveling in a wheelchair – but when the desert isn’t an option there are beaches and mountains. If colder weather isn’t your ‘cup of mint tea’, then you can skip the mountains and visit a 1,200 year old city and 2,000 year old Roman ruins instead.  Realistically, there just isn’t a bad time to travel to Morocco!  When we thought about people in wheelchairs that might be sensitive to the extremes of climate, Morocco makes perfect sense.  Generally mild and significant variety make Morocco a great place to visit year round. 

 

5.  Morocco boasts a good safety rating

Morocco is safe and one of the safest countries in Africa. I wrote extensively on safety in our blog hereAccording to the US Department of State, Morocco is a Level 1 country which suggests that travelers take a normal level of precaution when traveling and exploring. The security – both plain clothes and uniformed are attentive and plentiful. The intelligence community in Morocco does a fantastic job of keeping informed on potential threats. Crime that does happen is rarely violent in nature and usually consists of petty theft that can often be averted by paying good attention to your valuables.

So when we considered the various options of places to start an accessible travel company, security needs to play a role in the discussion. The more we researched, the more confident we have become that Morocco is in fact a safe destination for our travelers.

 

 

6.  We get to work hard AND play hard

 

One of the major benefits of owning a business in Morocco is that you get to live and travel in Morocco!  So while it is enticing for our clients with disabilities to travel to Morocco, it is also enticing for us to travel in Morocco!  Morocco boasts a bit of a slower lifestyle which affords us the opportunity to enjoy a mid-day cup of tea with a friend, ride camels in the Sahara Desert, enjoy a fresh tagine straight off the coals, or catch some sun at the beach.  My wife and I love raising our kids in an exotic culture with an endless playground of things to do with them.  Of course there is some daily grind like everywhere else but we can be in the biggest sandbox in the world in 8 hours.  We can be at the beach in 2 hours.  We can be in the mountains in 1 hour. We live in a city that is 1,200 years old. There is just not a lot of downside to living and playing in Morocco!  

 

 

7.  There is nothing quite like Moroccan hospitality

Morocco ranks right up there with one of the most hospitable countries in the world.  The hospitality that is lavished on guests in this amazing country is second-to-none and is one of the greatest assets to this country.  For any lack of accessibility that may be found during your travels to this cultural gem, it will be made up for with hospitality and a genuine willingness to do just about anything for their guests.  

We have seen wheelchair users carried up multiple flights of stairs (we officially say that is at your own risk!) to see the tanneries in Fes, see a balcony overlook of Jemaa el-Fna in Marrakech, or (as shown above) to see the Masoleum in Rabat at Le Tour Hassan.  Our clients have been invited to our drivers’ homes – and thoroughly enjoyed – eating with their families during a celebration.  

Hospitality is a vital component to accessible travel and it is readily available all across Morocco. 

 

Discover. Accessible. Morocco.

 

If you are needing accessible travel and are looking for the best country to explore – seriously consider Morocco. You will discover amazing things. You will be surprised by just how accessible Morocco can be. There are so many reasons why this is a fantastic place to visit. If you have questions about accessible travel to Morocco do not hesitate to contact us – we would love to talk to you! We are looking forward to seeing you on the winding streets of Fes very soon!  

 

5 travel hacks traveling to Morocco with kids

5 travel hacks traveling to Morocco with kids

Traveling through a foreign country is a great experience to share with your kids. It is a great opportunity to see how big the world really is, and also how small it can feel at the same time. Your kids will continue to remind you of their adventures for months to come and look back fondly on the pictures you took of them doing something amazing.

Anytime you travel to a new place, being prepared can be the difference between a smooth trip and a stressful one. Here are a few tips to make that smooth trip more likely: 

 

1.  Bring a carrier or a stroller

A good stroller or baby carrier is a must for younger kids. In cities where the primary (and sometimes only) mode of transportation is walking, it is important to be prepared. Take Fes for instance; it is one of the largest non-vehicular cities in the world.  Awesome? Yes.  Some intense walking? Absolutely.  A carrier or a stroller will make this a much more pleasant experience.

Older kids that are too big to carry will benefit from comfortable shoes and some stops along the way to rest their legs if they aren’t used to walking for long distances. Leave the flip-flops for the pool and get a good pair of tennis shoes for the trip. It definitely took our kids some getting used to when we moved here. Depending on what home looks like, this may not be an issue at all, but worth mentioning if you come from someplace that does more driving than walking.

For those traveling with kids in a wheelchair, consider hiring a wheelchair pusher for the more intense walking or unstable terrain days such as Fes and Volubilis.  They are cost effective and highly worth it for the places with more challenging terrain.

 

 

2.  Bring the sunscreen

The sun here is intense at times, which is wonderful on a chilly winter day, and definitely needs to be factored in during the warmer months. There are a few water parks – if you travel during the summer – and many hotels have nice swimming pools. There is a extensive coast line with ample beaches all along the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. In short – sunscreen is a must.  Given the cost of purchasing sunscreen here, it is definitely worth grabbing your favorite brand back home to bring with you.

 

3.  Look behind door number 2…or 3…or 5…

For the inevitable potty stops, you are bound to encounter a few different types of toilets.  Squatty potties are very common in Morocco.  Most of the places you stop along the major tourist routes in Morocco will have at least a few “Western toilets”.  But inevitably your child will open a bathroom door at some point during their trip to Morocco and has a face that registers the fear of “What do I do with that?”.  When this occurs, know that the likelihood is behind door number 2, is a toilet that looks a bit more familiar!  For those used to life in the United States – bathrooms are referred to in the European side of things as “WC”.

Also, changing tables – outside of the Western companies that have made it to Morocco – are not a common occurrence.  This is slowly changing as updates are made around the country but it is still a less common item to find in Morocco.

Morocco is not, generally, well known for always having enough soap in their bathrooms.  As such, I always carry hand sanitizer in my purse.  You never know when it will come in handy otherwise anyhow because, well, kids.

Lastly, not all bathrooms are accessible in Morocco so make sure that you look for the “wheelchair icon”.   We continue to work with gas stations and restaurants around the country to increase accessibility. If you are traveling with us, your driver will know where to find the accessible bathrooms all around Morocco.

 

4. Motorcycles, Coke donkeys and push carts oh my!

When you visit Morocco, you will be entering into a mixed world of old and new, traditional and modern.  So while you are entering into a mystical world of ancient cultures, it is important that you – and your kids – are aware of the sounds around you while you explore.  Our kids have been trained that when you hear a motorcycle rev, you need to go to the outside of the “street”.  Generally, people are respectful and wait until you are out of the way but sometimes people attempt to go far too fast inside the medina walls and it is important to keep a good eye – and a firm hold – on a kiddo’s hand to make sure that they remain safe on the busy streets.  This is particularly true in Marrakech where there are a crazy amount of motorcycles.  So it is really important to keep track of your kids when you hear the sound of motorcycles.

 

While you are walking in the medinas, you also will hear things like “balak” or “andak”.  This is a way of saying “heads up!” or “watch out!” as people pushing carts are trying to pass.  When you hear these words, just step to the side to keep from getting bumped by a push cart!

 

These “hacks” are particularly true for the wheelchair user.  Whether it is you or your child that is in a wheelchair, it is important to be aware of your (or their) location while on the narrow streets of the medinas.  Wheelchairs, generally, take up additional space and it is important to protect the wheelchair as people – or mules carrying coke bottles – pass.  One major benefit is the hospitality and concern of the local people.  Almost always, Moroccans are excellent hosts and go out of their way to be hospitable and helpful.

 

 

5.  Have your kids barter for goods in your place

This is a little bit of a joke but also quite true!  If your kids can ask for a (still reasonable) price for some type of a good – especially using Arabic words or French words – the local people love it.  They get a good laugh and perhaps will negotiate back a bit with your kids.  Overall, it is very likely that you’ll get a fair price just because your kids are cute!

Bartering can be a fun experience for kids to learn and the goal is not just getting something cheap but that everyone comes out a winner.  They get a fair price for their work and you get something that you’ll love. Kids just can help make that happen for both parties in a good way!

 

6.  Don’t forget to bring a camera that will keep up!

If your kids are anything like ours, they don’t pose well.  Instead of 1, 2, 3….great picture!; it tends to be 1, 2, 3….seriously?!?  Thankfully, gone are the days of slow digital cameras.  Make sure that you bring a good camera if you have one – which may just mean that you bring your 12 megapixel smart phone that now seems to be the standard.  You will find an endless amount of photo opportunities across this gorgeous country.  Whether you are a professional photographer, a novice or nearly always have your finger over the lens, you are bound to grab some excellent shots that will be great for a photo book to remember your time in Morocco together.

 

Bring Your Kids to Morocco

 

The moral of the story here is bring your kids to Morocco.  They will LOVE it.

World’s largest sandbox? Check.

Beaches to play in the waves? Check.

Incredible mountains to throw snowballs at their parents? Check.

Morocco’s got it all!  Check it out – you’ll be shocked at just how much you can experience while traveling – including traveling in a wheelchair – to Morocco.

5 Foods Your Kids Will Love While Traveling Morocco

5 Foods Your Kids Will Love While Traveling Morocco

Moroccan food is amazing. Moroccans cook with locally grown vegetables and change their dishes based on which vegetables are in season, so it is always changing. Everyone will devour the tasty food that is rarely spicy, but always full of flavor.

More than all that, the kids not only get to eat with their hands and not get in trouble, they get to watch you do it too! (So wet wipes and a fingernail brush wouldn’t hurt to toss in a bag!)

This is our second blog of 3 that will help you travel to Morocco with your kids like a champ.  It is a fantastic country to share with little ones and a plethora of things to do and experience.  So here are ‘5 Foods your Kids Won’t Want to Miss’ during their time in Morocco:

1.  Tagine de Kefta (Meatball Tagine)

Photo courtesy of http://www.mymoroccanfood.com
This is just about every kid’s favorite tagine – and a favorite for adults as well. Hand-rolled bite-sized meatballs served in a tomato sauce. Simple, tasty, and a little bit messy. Your kids will get to pick up the meatballs with fresh, hot khubz (fresh bread direct from the bakery!). It takes a bit of practice but these tasty meatballs are the perfect subject to practice on.

 

2.  Meloui

Picture from www.steemit.com

 

 

Imagine an amazing crepe that is buttery, flakey, and piping hot.  Then serve it with jam, honey, olive oil, nutella – really anything.  That is meloui. Pure flakey goodness.  It goes well with savory.  It goes well with sweet.  Pretty much it just rocks.  You’ll see this as an option most days at breakfast or teatime in the afternoon.  Pour a cup of classic Moroccan mint tea, slap some nutella on a nice piece of meloui and delight the tastebuds.  Kids and adults won’t be able to get enough!

 

3.  Sandwiches/Paninis 

 

When you’re looking for an easy and inexpensive lunch, stop into a snack shop to grab a panini. These are quick and easy lunches – available everywhere.  They generally come with piping hot french fries. The 3 kid favorites are turkey, chicken, or ground beef (dinde, poulet, or viande hachee is what you’ll see on the menu in French). Beware that they are usually served with green olives and some lettuce and tomato, so depending on your kid’s taste buds, you can ask to have them left off your sandwich.  No matter how you and your little ones prefer your sandwiches, there isn’t an easier lunch to have during your time in Morocco!  Oh and it helps that the flavor of fresh grilled meats on a fresh panini made that morning makes for a great sandwich!

 

 

4.  Sfinj 

Picture from www.thespruceeats.com

 

Sfinj are awesome. Doughnuts taste amazing no matter where you are from or what country you make them, I think. And kids love doughnuts! So when you come to Morocco, find a way to get a sfinj that is nice and hot. Dip it in a bit of sugar and delight in every bite! It is well worth every bite. The best news is that they are calorie free too since you are on vacation so have two! Ok, maybe not calorie free but still amazing.

 

 

5.  Couscous 

 

There is a reason that Moroccans share couscous at their family tables every Friday. It’s just that good. Full of stewed meat and vegetables, not only is this a beautiful dish, it tastes incredible. Your toddler might very well eat more than you, if my experience holds true. And you won’t mind at all because they are eating good, hearty and healthy vegetables and meat.  Generally served Fridays at lunch, I recommend requesting this at your riad, where it will likely taste closer to a local grandma’s expert home cooking.  This is a classic, must-have while you are in Morocco.  There may not be a more “Moroccan dish” than couscous – and it is a delight to your tastebuds!

 

 

BONUS! Moroccan Mint Tea

Ok so mint tea isn’t exactly a “food” but yum. Just yum. There is nothing quite like Moroccan mint tea. They grow a special type of mint here – actually many different kinds – that give their tea a distinct flavor. It is served really hot, so ask for an extra glass and pour your child’s tea back and forth between 2 glasses a few times to cool it off, or ask your host to cool the tea for your child.  Some people think their kids probably won’t like tea but Moroccans tend to like a little tea with their sugar so it is plenty sweet and usually quite a treat for kids to have such a nice hot, sweet drink to enjoy that makes them feel like they are encountering true Moroccan culture!

 

A Happy-Tummy-Dance is a Family Affair

These are just 5 of the great foods (and an awesome warm drink!) you will experience here in Morocco. With a menu full of other favorites, your family will all be doing a happy tummy dance together as you travel around Morocco!

If you are interested in learning more about a family trip to Morocco, click the button below and get in touch.  We can’t wait to connect with you!

 

5 Places Your Kids Won’t Want to Miss in Morocco

5 Places Your Kids Won’t Want to Miss in Morocco

Your kids will love Morocco; ours surely do! And Moroccans love kids.  Whether your kid is interested in wildlife, mountains, beaches, art, history, culture, religion, or great views – they will appreciate the trip through the ancient cities of Morocco. There is a continent worth of excitement packed into this country: beaches, cliffs, mountains, desert, waterfalls, and so much more.

So without further ado, here are 5 places that should not be missed on any trip to Morocco with kids.

 

1. Visit the majestic Sahara Desert

The world’s biggest sandbox. Need I say more? Our entire family loves the desert – kids and parents alike. We play in the sand, dig trenches, slide down dunes on rugs, gather around a bonfire, star gaze, and ride camels together. 

With one person in your party riding in our accessible camel saddle, the whole family can ride into the sunset 6 feet in the air on the back of a camel. There is nothing more exhilarating for our kids than getting the chance to ride a camel in the desert!  After the camel ride (and some great grilled food!), the kids will love dancing to the fun beat of the Berber drum circle. Kids are often invited to join the music – giving their best effort on a African drum or traditional Berber cymbals called “qraqeb“. 

We truly could have spent a full second day playing in the sand and are excited to return to this magical place.

  

2.  Feed monkeys in Ifrane National Forest 

For your outdoorsy kids, get away from the city and drive through the massive Cedar forest near Ifrane. Roll down the windows and smell the fresh air of the mountains. While you drive, keep your eyes peeled for a barrel of monkeys and be ready for a barrel of laughs. Your driver will know just where to find local Barbary apes, and it’s definitely worth stopping to feed them some peanuts.  

Afterwards you can roll in to Ifrane and enjoy a hot tajine directly off the hot coals and some piping hot french fries!  Ifrane also boasts a really nice lake and places to enjoy picnics as a family if that is more your “cup of tea.”   

The nice part about Ifrane is that it is an easy drive for a day trip from Fes without huge driving distances.  There are plenty of sites to see along the way as you gain elevation so your kids are sure to stay engaged throughout the hour and a half long drive. 

  

 

3.  Encounter wildlife from around the world at the Rabat Zoo

Having been to some of the best zoos in the United States, I honestly had pretty low expectations for the Rabat Zoo. Wow, was I wrong! It’s beautiful, well laid out, with smooth, accessible sidewalks, and lots to see. We’ve now been 3 times, and I think we’ve finally seen all the animals at least once. The animals are close up and easy to see. You can see animals from around the world but also animals native – or once native – to Morocco, including Barbary lions.  

We loved that this zoo has several interactive exhibits, a petting zoo area, and the kids were even able to have a red parrot on their shoulders!  There are loads of experiences and well thought out spaces for kids to run, explore and burn off some energy during the day.  Just about every time we go, our kids are dozing off on the car ride back to Fes!

The rhinoceroses are another highlight, especially if you get the chance to see these giants run!

 

4. Take a stroll along the corniche in Agadir

Agadir is a great mix of beaches and relaxation.  Our kids love going to the beach in Agadir. The waves are great and the water is warm.  There is never a dull moment on the beaches of Agadir with pickup soccer games, building sand castles, frisbee and even camel rides on the beach.  For families that include someone using a wheelchair, there is an excellent, accessible corniche (boardwalk) area where you can take a stroll together as a family. There are places where you can rent bikes for the kids for them to ride alongside if they need to burn off some extra energy! 

There are also plenty of places to grab snacks and meals along the beach so grab some french fries or a fresh squeezed juice and take in the sun set over the waves – just before bedtime! 

 

5.  Get lost in the ancient city of Fes

Fes is home to us, and Fes is a home worth bragging over in any elementary classroom. Fessi people are notorious for bragging on their awesome city. Young kids will giggle with glee when they round a corner and see a donkey laden with Coca Cola bottles, carrying them to the corner store. There are bright colors everywhere: pottery, carpets, scarves, and spices to excite the senses. Local vendors will often allow kids to experience many of their goods, even smelling the rich freshly ground spices, and coffees for Mom and Dad.

Fes is a place that is a delight to the senses. Sights, smells, and sounds will captivate your little ones’ imaginations!

Accessibility

Whether you yourself have a disability, or your child does, we have experience meeting the needs of both and are excited to build a tour that peaks your child’s interests as well as your own. We can even consult our mini travel experts for you – at least until bedtime!

What’s to Come

Keep an eye out for our next few blog posts coming in the near future.  We’ll be doing a series of blog posts focused on traveling with your kids to Morocco like a champ! 

 

Moroccan Hammams – A Cultural Experience

Moroccan Hammams – A Cultural Experience

Before I even walk through the door, I can smell the exotic aromas wafting through the hallways.  The steam emanates from the warm sanctuary I am about to enter. The warmth – from floor to ceiling – welcomes me in along with the flicker of candlelight that fills the room.  After settling in on the warm marble slab, my skin enjoys the revitalization of locally made argan oils mixed with a variety of other essential oils as I am exfoliated head to toe.  Afterwards, I head to a private massage room where I am pampered with an hour-long massage that relaxes away any stress that I might have been holding on to…

   Picture of Avanti Beach Hotel and Spa in Mohammedia, Morocco 
There’s nothing quite like the experience of a Moroccan hammam (bath house). It feels like stepping into a beautiful piece of history and enjoying a luxurious spa at the same time.  Moroccan hammams are often tiled with beautiful patterns, filled with luxurious scents, and calm lighting. Many riads and hotels have taken this wonderful experience and upgraded it to a new level of luxury that other spas cannot match. 

Traditional

Traditionally, there is a hammam in every neighborhood or town. Depending on the size of the area, there are either 2 separate hammams, one for men and one for women, or there may be separate hours in smaller communities. The hammams used by locals are made up of 3-4 rooms with temperature increasing as you get closer to the center. Hammams are generally heated by wood fire underneath the building or, in certain areas, even from natural hot springs. Moroccan women often go with their friends or family to spend hours relaxing in comfort, and catching up on each others’ lives. Men also enjoy their time relaxing, though often stay for shorter periods of time.

I have been to a local, neighborhood hammam with a trusted Moroccan friend as my guide. I needed her as a guide as I had no idea what I was doing!  Moroccan women have a common routine and method of how they go about the experience.  My experience has been that local friends are invaluable to making the traditional hammam a cultural experience to be remembered.  My daughter’s friends taught her to tell the lady “bshwiya” (slow down or slowly) if the scrubbing was too hard or fast. Don’t be shy. There’s no reason to be uncomfortable. Those working in the hammam will want to give you their best work, so they might want to scrub a bit harder than you are accostomed to. Luckily, this is less of an issue at a hotel or riad spa, where they are used to “first-timers.”

Hotels and Riads

Hotels and riads have taken the hammam experience to a whole different level.  A. Really. Great. Level.  Certain hotels and riads even allow couples to enter the hammam together, privately. The person working inside, in this case, will be female.  Hammams in riads hotels are often beautiful and full of culture. Many guests find that they feel they are experiencing true Morocco as they enter.  My first hammam experience was in a hotel spa and I loved every minute.

In the private hotel hammam, we were walked through the whole process seamlessly. We arrived and undressed to swimsuit bottoms (or dark underwear works too) and flip-flops and put on the provided robe to walk into the hammam across the hall. Though Moroccan culture is modest, there is a time and place for modesty and the hammam isn’t it!

The lady working in the spa was so unfazed by my nudity that I was instantly set at ease. On a side note, I took my tween daughter to the local, public hammam, expecting her to feel a bit uncomfortable. She didn’t even seem to notice the nudity after a couple of minutes. She loved the experience, pouring the hot water over herself and getting scrubbed down right beside me.

Once inside, we removed the robes and laid on stone benches (surprisingly comfortable) that were warm, but not hot. Hot water was poured over us and then we were left for 5 minutes to sit in the steam before the scrubbing began. You will be scrubbed down by a Moroccan woman (or male if in a men’s only hammam), either with a special exfoliating glove called a “keese” or a specially mixed scrub of sand or sea salt and scented oils. This will remove more dead skin than you could have imagined was on your body!  There are a few stages of scrubbing, rinsing, soaping, rinsing, oiling, etc. Your attendant will walk you through each of these stages.

One of the luxurious parts of a Moroccan hammam experience is the ample use of argan oil.  The argan tree is native to Morocco and one of the only places that it naturally grows.  Moroccans have taken advantage of this tree and perfected the creation of this luxurious oil.  Argan oil is often produced by several women’s co-operatives in the Southern regions of Morocco.  An oil that coveted by many European cosmetic companies is native and widely available in the spas of Morocco.

Spa Services

Traditional hammams will often offer someone to help scrub you down and perhaps do some light stretching and massage in the warmth of the room.  Most hotels, however, offer a robust menu of experiences for your visit to the hammam.  You will, often, have the option of a massage following your hammam experience in most riads and hotels. Other services often available include manicures, pedicures, and facials, to name a few.  

 

What to Bring

An important part of the hammam experience is being prepared.  Here is a list of things that will be helpful for your first visit to the hammam:

Hotel Hammam

Swimsuit Bottoms or dark-colored underwear (You can opt for a bikini swimsuit if it will help you feel more comfortable!)

Flipflops

Everything else will be provided by the hotel


Traditional Hammam

Swimsuit Bottoms or dark-colored underwear (You can opt for a bikini swimsuit if it will help you feel more comfortable!)

Flipflops

Stool

Small bucket (to pour over yourself)

Large bucket (to fill with your water from the taps)

Keese (exfoliating glove)

Hair clip (if you have long hair)

Towel

Traditional Soap

Body wash, shampoo and conditioner

After your experience, ensure that you drink plenty of water to rehydrate and cool down. Also, if you are leaving the building after, it is best to dry your hair or wrap it in a towel to make sure that you are culturally appropriate.

 

Are Hammams Wheelchair Accessible?

In general, the open layout of the hammam lends itself to accessibility. Local women of all ability levels obviously need to get clean. As is the case in Morocco, however, narrow entrances and stairs are common in architecture, therefore Morocco Accessible Travel Consultants personally verifies the measurements and accessibility of the hammams in our partner hotels and riads to ensure accessibility. If you are interested, please request this service with our accessible travel experts and they will include this as a part of your tour experience. All of our Luxury Tour Packages include a hammam and spa experience as a part of their package.   

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