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Baths and boats in Bodrum

(written by Dave)

Our ferry doesn’t leave until tomorrow so we had another free day today in Bodrum.  We were going to visit the underwater archeology museum here in town but only discovered last night that Monday is the one day a week that it is closed.  We had to fall back onto plan B, which was wander the harbor looking at the boats and then to finally try out the Turkish baths.

First about the boats.  Bodrum is famous for a schooner-like boat called a gulet.  They started building boats of this type in the second half of the 18th century but the distinct style seen today is more of a recent invention (1970s and later) to support the tourism trade of the Aegean Sea.  The boats range from 14 to 35 meters and almost always have two masts.  They have a wide deck (to load up the tourist).  They are all technically sailboats but newer ones are not really set-up for full-on sailing.  All it takes to impress the tourists is a couple sails in the air, and then you can do the rest with diesel.

The harbor had quite a few boats, and many of them were exquisite.  Though many of them are less than 40 years old, almost all of them are made of wood.  This is probably another nod to keep the tourist happy but the affect is quite impressive.  To see 15 and 20 of these massive dual mast wooden boats lined up in the harbor almost made Nancy want to take up sailing (I say almost here with much creative license – I don’t think she was even considering it – they don’t make big enough seasick bands for her and full-time sailing to be used in the same sentence) [editor’s note – in fact what I did say is that I was game to go on many adventures with Dave but would not  fall to the ‘let’s buy a sailboat and sail around the world’ idea] .  There were a couple boats for sale but I declined to even write down the contact details – we’ll stick to dry land and bikes for a while [editor’s note – just to be clear, none of this ‘for a while’ stuff, boats are excluded forever].

Access to the boats was quite easy.  As we’ve almost now come to expect, in true Turkish laid back style, there were no fences or gates to stop you from wandering all over the docks and all around the boats.  In fact, nearly all of the boats had open gangways that you could have easily scrambled up if you wanted to get inside, though of course that would be a breach of the sailors code of conduct.  Here again, I restrained myself and stuck to the docks.  You really rather not run afoul of the gang of Turkish captains hanging out on the dock’s edge.

Next up the Turkish baths.  For the uninitiated (which included us), one of the things you are “supposed” to do in Turkey is visit a traditional hamam, or Turkish bath.  We had read about them but being squeamish westerners, we had not worked up the courage until today to try them.

So here’s the story – first up, you should know that baths are not co-ed.  There are separate men’s and women’s sections.  And only men attend men and only women attend women.   When you enter the bath, your first stop is an individual changing room where you take off all of your clothes and wrap a large towel (provided) around yourself.  The little room is for you only and you get to take the key on a wristband to the bath area.

In our case, Nancy was instructed through this whole process and getting to the bath area was pretty easy for her.  I was pretty much shown the changing room, handed a towel and then told to “go to bath” (I  think that’s what was mumbled – it was in Turkish).  The bath area was down a series of steps and around a few corners and again I was dressed in only a towel and wrist band.  It took me a while to work things out.

Eventually once  I found the bath area, there are little shower-like cubicles, a steam room/sauna and a large marble communal slab.  By checking out the other guests, I figured out that I should shower/bath first.  That is, use one of the shower cubicles somehow.  Experience from Japanese baths helped me as I easily figured out that you fill the basin and use the dipping pan to wash yourself.  But there was no little stool  to sit on, like in Japan, so I was not sure of where to sit, what to do with my towel or what the story was on soap.  You can have a look around at other bathers for clues but my general rule is that you want to be careful when looking at other naked men in a public bath.  One man’s instructional glance is another man’s “what -u- looking at”.

Anyway, I got cleaned up and moved onto the next step.  Here again, I wasn’t really sure.  The common slab was occupied with two guys getting scrubbed by staff members, and there no other visible staff in the bath area.  So, I took the next obvious choice and headed to the sauna.  It was hot, but relaxing and other guys seemed to be doing the same thing so I was ok –at least until I got too hot and had to make my exit.

This left me back in the bath common area without a plan of where to go next.  I was saved by a now free staff member.  He said something in Turkish and pointed at the slab.  I had finally reached the point that I had read about.  Here you are supposed to lie on the marble for “a while” to let your body get used to the heat, or in my case to chill a bit after spending too much time trying to figure out my post-sauna move.

Eventually, a staff member came over and gave me the full treatment.  There was no question of what I should be doing as this gentleman at least could give me general one-word instructions.  First up was a loofa pummeling of my back side, a grunt to roll over and then a loofa pummeling of my front side.  Here the bather was careful to show me how much dead skin he was getting off.  I’m not sure how long you are supposed to go between Turkish baths but I had one of those moments like when the dental hygienist asks you about your flossing history.

A few more commands and I was on a seat getting dosed with buckets of hot water, to remove the dead skin.  Then it was back to the slab for a soaping up and wash.  Backside first, followed by front side.  One more order then it was back to the seat for another rinse and a hair washing.

This whole bath process took only 5 minutes, maybe 10.  For the entire time, felt like I was part of a highly repeated process, moving down the production line.  There was little time for chit chat (as if I spoke Turkish) and not much time for relaxing reflection of what was going on.  Before I knew it, I was told “finished, sauna”.  And off to the sauna I went where I hung out long enough to catch my breath and watch a couple other guys make the move to the last step – the finishing cubicle.  I took another basin/bucket bath and tried to dry off a bit.  A staff member grumbled something at me and pointed at a pile of new towels (different colour to help staff know that you are finished – I think).  My now saturated bath towel was pretty useless so I figured this one out pretty quick, got dried off and headed back up stairs.

Upstairs I was met by another staff member who put another towel on my head and one around my shoulders.  I was then ushered out onto a very public outside deck where I could see the main street (they could see me as well).  Soon fully dressed Nancy appeared from around the corner and we compared notes and drank cold water.  Remember, I’m sitting here with nothing more on than three towels and wristband key.  It was all a bit surreal.  I actually felt pretty relaxed and very clean.  Nancy’s summary was about the same as mine.  She had a lot more instruction so it was a bit easier to follow.  She said something about women with arms as big as their legs and too much exposed skin but I was starting to get embarrassed at my lack of clothing and headed back to get dressed before I heard the full story.

Would we take another Turkish bath?  Good question.  We are glad we tried it and or skin does feel nice.  And for sure, the second time round, knowing what to do would make it a lot more comfortable.  So, maybe we will, just not tomorrow… And no, you won’t see pictures of the baths in today’s post– there is a fine line between taking photos for a blog and “what-u-looking at”  so I chose the safer path and left the camera at our guesthouse.

Tomorrow we are off to the Datca peninsula via ferry.  We’ll only have to ride 10k or so after the ferry and the seas looked calm today.  Wristbands, saltines and plastic bags at the ready, we head to the ferry at 9:30 AM.

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4 responses to “Baths and boats in Bodrum

  1. Thanks for the description. Maybe it will be easier for the rest of us when we go to get our first Turkish bath.

  2. It looks like you are following the coast more than you planned. I was comparing the plan map to the actual map. Just wondering why.

    • The before map was done by drawing lines between major milestones, making sure that the appropriate route was used (i.e. not going over mountains when we knew we’d be on the coast). The before map, from the comfort of our apartment in Nice, was always going to be an approximation.

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