I'll start at the good end and work back to the rough beginning, because the end was quite nice indeed - two hours at the Al Pasha Hammam. I've been in a few hamaam before, but this one was over the top. Billy and I went around 8pm Thursday night, the beginning of the weekend here. It was crowded, and we didn't have reservations, but they managed to fit us in. A young man led us through an ornate lobby to a locker room. We changed into surf shorts, they gave us slippers, and we stepped through a glass door into another world.
The main hamman was larger than any I'd be in, a dimly lit room that was all arches and octagons and shadows. There was a large marble jacuzzi in the center, and alcoves surrounding the perimeter were men were being bathed, massaged, and oiled. We showered, and the boy led us into a small opening at the back of the hamaam. Get down, he told us - and then shoved us into a minor anteroom to hell. I stood up, and felt hot air seeared my ears. Stay down! he yelled from beyond the opening. I crouched back down, to where the air was slightly less hot. I could make out shapes in the mist, wreathing shadows occasionally crying out in pain for their sins as burning sulfur rained down upon all our heads.
I slid my way onto a bench, and learned very quickly to stay down and crouched like the rest. The thermal layer was low, brutal, and unforgiving. There was no way to protect ourselves from the drops of boiling water that would condense on the ceiling and drip down onto our backs. I tried to get a look at our cohorts in the hamaam, but it was hard in that cramped space.
After - I don't know how long - we all decided that we had suffered enough, that our sins had been cleansed quite throughly, and that we could leave. Which, for the record, is my kind of hell - one that you can leave when you think you've had enough. We stepped back into the hammam, and were led to round two: The jacuzzi. This was much nicer. We were told that normally the hammam is a quiet, restive experience, a retreat from the world where the only sounds are the music and water. Tonight was the weekend, and instead the hammam was loud and full of voices. We finally met some of our cohorts - a businessman wondering where his belly had come from, a man who had quit work to open a think tank for economic development in the Levant and North Africa, and a Saudi bodybuilder who needed to lose two kilos for a competition the next day, and his shy buddy who wore a bkini instead of longer trunks. Add two pickled Americans, and you've got a damn fine jacuzzi.
Step three involved a burly man, a scrub brush, lots of soap, and the removal of an outer layer of skin. Step four involved a muscular, Italian speaking masseur, lots of oil, and a burning face mask. We wound down with fresh squeezed lemonade in the lobby. It was, really, a perfect start to a weekend, and a great way to spend two luxorious hours of your life.
For me it was the high point of Amman. I had mixed feelings about the city. I was still feeling rundown the first day, but had decided to walk from our hotel to the downtown area for a walk recommened by the increasingly unreliable Lonely Planet. The walk downtown was long and uneventful. Amman is a car-driven city, and not made for walking. By mandate all the buildings are made of white limesone, which might have been a good idea if there had been some air-quality controls. But instead of being the White City, as planned, it was a grimy grey city with all the white stained to a dull color by diesel exhaust. It was the kind of grey that inspired Dickens to literature and Kropotkin to revolution. My initial impressions were of the sounds of horns and the smell of diesel and burning brakes.
After a few hours of not enjoying it I ducked into a barber for a shave. I've written about this before - I love getting shaved in the Islamic world. They turn it into an art. The barber talked me into getting a full facial treatment, all for about three dollars. I left feeling pretty good, and thought that I was ready to face the chaos of the streets.
I was wrong. I wanted to grab lunch, and there was no good food to be had downtown. I usually love street food, but not in Jordan. Everything was either too salty, too sweet, or too lemony/tangy. There was no balance. Even the hummus was drowned in pickeld chile peppers and lemon juice. I was starving by the time I went back to the hotel to wait for Billy.
I'll save my complete bitching about the Caravan Hotel for the online review sites. I waited for two hours & he never showed. I asked if he had called, and the front desk manager told me that they had looked for him at the airport and he never showed. It would have been nice if they had told me that rather than letting me sit all afternoon in the lobby. I was stuck. I wanted to leave Amman, but couldn't until I knew where he was.
Turns out he was at the airport after all, and had had to bus in. He arrived right when I was leaving for dinner.
We wandered again the next day. I was feeling more energetic, and enjoyed the town a bit more. We went to some more middle class and mixed neighborhoods, and while we saw nothing fantastic I could at least envision Amman as a liveable city. At night we grabbed dinner in one of the nicer neighborhoods, and it was full of chic restaurants and nightclubs, with women in fashion and beautiful men left and right.
So - in the end Amman was interesting, but definitley not a vacation spot.