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04/02/11 – eventually almost not quite kind of leaving Damascus

March 5, 2011
by

Our free bed was warm and comfortable, and our free breakfast was hearty and generous. The only thing to ruin this good day was the PITTER PATTER (that’s loud pitter pattering) of rain on the plastic roof of the hotel – a sign of not such good things to come. I have decided to stay another day in Damascus, to catch up with some cyclists I briefly met on my wanderings around the city who happened to be staying in the hotel we were in when we saw Harry off. Julian decided to leave today despite the rain, so after much stalling and internet procrastinating, we make our farewells and he leaves. It’s a strange sight to see old Ju bags disappear round the corner, but I know that this period of solo cycling will be an awesome experience for both of us. I kick back in the hotel and make some adjustments to my bike, nice and slowly and in a rather therapeutic manner, with help from the son of the hotel manager (he insists on pumping up my tyre, bless him). I get chatting to a French guest in the hotel by the name of Nicholas – a mathematician on his travels who has a love of Islamic geometry. His sketch books are filled with scarily accurate drawings of patterns with the most beautiful blacking out I’ve ever seen – he has the keen sharpness of an architect. We get along great, chat for an hour or so and even agree to reconvene to go to a Hammam together (a thoroughly heterosexual affair!) We head for the Hammam about 8, and I am keen to see what the Syrian take on the public bath has to offer. I was somewhat disappointed with the hammam we had in Istanbul – the building was beautiful but I felt we got the tourist deal for the service – something that definitely wasn’t in evidence at this hammam in Damascus. As soon as you walk in the door you are in the relaxation chamber – for want of a better term – and a man in a robe approaches you and instructs you to take all your clothes off – All of them. As you do this he skillfully wraps you in a towel to save you any embarrassment- you don’t even have to make any concession for him, as soon as your trousers are off there is a towel round your waist. You’re then led into the wet area and handed a bowl, sponge and soap, and instructed to wash yourself down and chill in the steam room. This is a great space and is comfortably hot. The mixture of hot and cold water is a great way to refresh and sitting in the steam room albeit crowded (6 dudes in the room the size of a shoebox) was great. Afterwards you move into the massage room where a guy sitting on the floor beckons you over then proceeds to sand you down with a glove made of the coarsest sandpaper. He chuckles at the dead skin falling from your red raw limbs and tries to up sell you a facial. I politely decline. Next you’re laid out on a table and a brute of a man begins to crack every bone in your body. He rolls you over with effortless ease and cracks your shoulders and rubs you down with all his stocky flabby weight pressing hard on you. Finally he beckons you to sit up at which point he grabs your head, tells you to relax (relax??) and then clicks your neck first one way then the other. You get off the table feeling somewhat pulverized, but strangely suppler than before… After our beating we’re led back into the relaxation chamber and another act of towel gymnastics occurs, this time ending up wrapped head to toe in what seems like a multitude of patterned bed sheets, where you are served tea and cold water (the whole process is somewhat dehydrating) and cigarettes. We sit and chat about France and Syria and how I claim to speak French but actually can’t when put to the test. Eventually at the point at which we feel we could just fall asleep there wrapped in our sheets we decide to leave and head back to the hotel.

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