The road from Aleppo to Hama was quite tough. I had planned to do this leg in two days but due to general lack of any kind of shade on the way, I pumped it out in one, only stopping to visit some Byzantine ruins on the way. Outside these ruins I met a man who stopped me for tea. When he discovered my age (21), he became quite excited. My Arabic is horrible but I did understand that his brother had a daughter who was 16 and would make a good wife. He pulled out a picture of his brother's family and pointed to a woman in full black coverings with only eyes exposed. For all I knew there could be a man under all that covering, so I felt it was ridiculous that he was showing me this.
"Jameela jidan (very beautiful)" I said as a joke. He didn't get it.
"Oh yes very very beautiful."
Hama was exactly what I needed. I was wrecked the night I arrived and slept soundly out on a roof mattress (until the dozen mosques surrounding the hotel went off at 4:00 am!).
A woman from New Zealand who didn't know much about Islam asked me, "What are they saying during the calls?" I was curious to know what she thought they were saying. She responded, "Something like, alright everyone it's time to tell God you love him, he's feeling insecure... AGAIN..." I shouldn't have laughed.
At the hotel I met another traveler on two wheels, except she had an engine. Ania was riding a motorcycle from Poland to Jordan and back. We spent a day together wandering the city and enjoying Arab hospitality. I had to go for a shave and out of curiousity she joined me. It all started quite normal until they shaved president Bashar's signature mustache on me. I felt a little bad about making them cut it off, but it was just too ridiculous. From there it got more and more bizarre, as next came a face scrub with a bizarre humidifier, a mud mask, and then they slathered some green crap just about my beardline. Then they stuck two cottonswabs in the same gunk and shoved them up my nose. At this point I thought they were just making fun of me. I tried to express my concern but I got the reply, "No, no it's Italian." Still trying unsuccessfuly to figure out what this was I got my answer from a swift tug on the cottonswabs in my nose and the resulting pain. Wax. Then, to add insult to injury, they spiked my hair and sprayed on a silver layer. I looked like a hip Syrian and have never felt more ridiculous.
A half kilometer of walking later, I found a man with a hose to spray the silver out of my hair and Ania and I moved on to the next objective: to find wine. Unfortunately it was Sunday so all the Christian shops were closed (Syria is 10% Christian) but the Syrians came through again and found us a bottle of Lebanese wine. Covertly drinking on top of the citadel and looking down on the peaceful city, I could not help but think how fast things can change. Just 27 years ago, large parts of the city were obliterated by the Syrian government to crush the Muslim Brotherhood and 10,000 people died.