Four years ago, on September 6th, 2015, I found myself in one of the scariest situations that I have been in a while traveling, and the worst part is that I signed up for it. One of my best friends/travel buddies and I had decided to take another Eurotrip, and this time we added a few new countries to our itinerary. One of those countries was Turkey. Istanbul had always been on my bucket list, and finally, I was able to check it off. My mom wasn’t too happy about us going to Turkey because there had been several terrorist attacks in the country and well no sensible mother wants their daughter running around a country that is under attack. I can’t blame her for not wanting me to go, but I am her wild, crazy daughter, so of course, I still went.
Everything was so new to me as far as the culture and just the aesthetics of the city that I fell in love instantly. It was my first time in a majority Muslim country, and since I have Muslim friends, I had an idea of what to expect, but the reality was so much better than my expectations. The beautiful mosques, the call to prayer, the delicious food, and the gorgeous Turkish people were an overdose to my senses. My friend and I spent our first few days doing the typical touristic things like visiting the Hagia Sophia, (a must-see!) going to the spice market, trying the local food and buying souvenirs from street vendors. One of the things that we kept hearing while we were there is to try a Turkish massage or Turkish hamam. Our hostel said that they could arrange for us to go to a bathhouse where they specialize in hamam and that they always recommend them to their guests. My friend and I both thought it was a great idea and signed up. That was our first mistake.
A small, white van came and picked us up from the hostel and took us to the bathhouse that our hostel had recommended. Once we walked inside, we were both pulled away from each other and pushed towards opposite sides. The older lady who grabbed me spoke very limited English, and all I understood was, “This way, this way!” Next thing I know, I’m being shoved into a tiny room sort of like a cabin, and she hands me a towel and says, “Clothes off, clothes off!” At this point, I’m starting to get nervous. I take everything off except for my bra and underwear and sit with the towel wrapped around me. The lady comes and opens the door and sees that I still have my bra on, and she grabs the strap and tells me, “Take off.” I do as she requests and I take my bra and underwear off. She then grabs my arm and pulls me out and takes me to another room where she opens the door to this tiny dwelling. After she shoves me inside, I look around and see that there are hot coals in the middle of the tiny room and realize it is a sauna. Saunas are supposed to be relaxing, and yet here I am freaking out thinking that I’m about to be sold into the sex slave trade or the black market.
My mind was racing, and the other thing that I kept thinking was that I was being kidnapped. I was naked and afraid, literally. After minutes of sitting alone in the sauna, the door opens, and two other girls are shoved inside. I thought, “Holy sh*t, we’re being taken.” I stayed quiet for a minute, and then I looked over at them and said, “Excuse me, do you speak English?” You cannot imagine my sigh of relief after they said yes. They were both from Turkey originally, but they were living in Norway for the past few years, and they said that this is not a typical Turkish hamam. They had never experienced something like this, and they were also freaking out. I was already terrified before them telling me that this wasn’t a typical hamam, and now I was next level terrified. As the three of us sat there, terrified, I couldn’t help but think of ways that we could escape.
Before I knew it, the door opens, and the older lady who had shoved me in was now grabbing my hand to get me out. I am then escorted to another room adjacent to the spa room. The room was huge, and there was a marble square in the middle. The lady tells me to lay down on the square. I lay with my towel covering me, and then she comes and yanks it off.
There I am, butt naked on a marble square wondering how the Hell I ended up there and what went wrong in my life to get me there. The older woman grabs a bucket and a huge sponge and begins to wash my entire body from head to toe. When I say entire body, I mean my ENTIRE BODY. These woman looks like she could be my grandmother, and here she is cleaning every crevasse and touching me in places that I wouldn’t even allow former lovers to touch me. My exact thoughts were, “This is it. She is cleaning me and prepping me to be sold to some mafia guy so I can be used in the sex trade. I’m so f***ed.”
After the intense body scrub, I feel her start to massage my arms, my legs, and eventually my back. I believe that this was supposed to be enjoyable, but I was too terrified to allow myself to enjoy the experience. Once she was finished massaging my body, she pulled me up and handed me the towel. She then leads me to the cabin-like room that had my clothes still in them. She pointed and said, “Clothes on.” I go inside the cabin and dress, and when I come back, she yells, “Bye!” and points to the exit. When I walk through the doorway, I see my best friend waiting for me in the middle of the room. When I see him, I run over to him and say, “Oh my God, I thought I was being taken.” He looked at me and said that he thought the same exact thing.
As we leave the bathhouse, we take a selfie in front of it to save the crazy memory. We quickly realize that the van that dropped us off was not going to pick us up, so we make our way back to our hostel and exchange our crazy massage stories. We were both terrified during the entire massage experience, but since we both survived, we were now laughing about it. If anyone ever asks me what the scariest thing that has ever happened to me while traveling is, this is typically my response.
Side note: Although I had a wild massage experience while in Istanbul, I would still 100% recommend that everyone visit Istanbul if they have the chance. It’s a beautiful city, I’ve seen some of the best sunsets there, and the people are extremely hospitable. I would go back tomorrow if I could.