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Latakia In Leisure

Suddenly it was morning.  We rose early as the light poured into the oddly shaped room from the balcony, where the remainder of our watermelon recovered from the previous night’s feast.

Woody was feeling a bit under the weather, with one foot off the merry-go-round as we say.  Whatever the diagnosis, coffee would certainly be part of the cure.  Walking outside, we found the lobby to be full of travelers mulling about in preparation for the day.

Woody had opted for a haircut the night before, one of the minimal variety, which brings a certain intensity of persona.  Coupled with sunken eyes and oblique posture resulting from his stomach aliment, the other travelers silently moved back from his and Claudia’s path as they descended the stairs.  They crouched down to inspect an insect on the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, I chatted with the travelers who seemed like an odd bunch.  One slight blond man with short cropped hair wore tight black cheap monday jeans and carried a cheap monday tote bag.  “Do you work for cheap monday?” I asked.

“No, I just like the brand.   But I am Swedish.”  In conversation, we shared plans for the day with each other.  A student of Arabic in Damascus,   he was spending the weekend in Latakia.  Today he would take a bus north to the “beautiful and deserted” beaches outside the city.  Somehow Latakia seemed to be filled with a mysterious contingent of Scandinavian hipsters.  I pictured him walking in short James Bond style swim trunks with an orange sunset in the distance as Syrian families gazed on.

Bidding him farewell, Claudia, Woody and I began strolling in search of coffee.  At an odd time during the weekend, the people’s coffee was not an easy find.  We settled on a basement-level cafe that served it up piping hot in paper cups.  At times like this, with a member of the team under the weather, we self prescribe water, rest, and if it can be stomached, food.

Food was the next order of business, and with the known quantity of Samer’s paste restaurant, we ventured up the hill to feast again.

Next door, the hookah establishment and tea house did not yet have customers, and graciously allowed me to photograph a few of their paintings, which had been done on the large mirrors that hung on the wall.

Woody was just on the better side of being able to wheel, and with the perennial pull of the activity we find so magnetic, we headed out on the cycles to explore.  Our first encounter was with the same bicycle mounted coffee vendor, and one of his clientele.   He smoked 100 millimeter  cigarettes which dangled from his triangular head like the hand of a metronome.

Bidding adieu, we mounted the cycles and passed through the impressive port of Latakia in the midday light.

As we continued to ride through the center of town and began to break into the northern sections of the city, Woody called a waypoint.  The stomach problem persisted, and it was time to take a rest.  Conversing about the best course of action, I decided to continue wheeling, heading north and visiting one of the fabled beaches.  At a field of green stalks, we parted ways.

The road north was a gorgeous and wide highway with light traffic and even a few other wheelers.  The breeze, sunlight, and road conditions made it especially enjoyable.  Riding alone was a new feeling, and one that returned my frame of mind to many past lives on my road bike in California, Japan, Long Island, and Cape Cod.  Eventually, the resort district of the north enveloped me, and I had the opportunity to wheel around scoping out the different offerings.

With a penchant for typography, I opted for Le Meridien, with its gutsy use of ornate script paired with ultra-utilitarian Futura.

AsiaWheeling has a penchant for crashing hotels, and so naturally I wheeled through the gate and began to make my way around the the edifice to the beach.  I was past security and the beach was right there.  But something didn’t feel right.  I felt like asking for trouble and seeing what happened, to be at once legitimate and naive.  What was the process of being a strange customer here?  How would I be treated by all levels of the staff?

So beginning my experiment, I wheeled the bike over to the distracted security guard, who then motioned and huffed that I could not have my bike within the confines of the parking lot, so I locked it outside.  Returning, I asked him where the beach was, and he pointed me toward reception.  Inside the grandiose lobby, the young staff plastered on smiles for a busload of demanding guests.  “Where is the beach?”  I asked, and they waved me through without a question.  Outside, something was still not right.  I sauntered down to the beach and found a prime chaise lounge where I rested my camera and Panama hat.

Now I would have to change into my suit.  I walked into the locker room, and thought for a moment to change, but my experiment was not yet complete.  I still had not been asked to become a customer.  Plus, it seemed as a customer, I would  earn a locker key.  Outside, I asked they young man attending to the beach admission kiosk how I could acquire a  locker key, and he showed me the price schedule with ultimate cheer and understanding.  For guests, it was free, and for families and women during off-peak hours, there was a nominal fee to visit the beach.  It increased during the weekend (today was Saturday), and for single men, the fee was double.  Here I was looking at a complexly tiered schedule of prices, and if I indeed wanted to be a customer, I would be subject to poignant price discrimination.  At the very least, I consoled myself, the beach would probably not be full of single men.

Paying the fee, and now a customer, I began to ask for things.  Did they have a newspaper?  No.  Nothing to read?  No Economist or National Geographic?  Nothing.  Just me and the beach.  All in all, the experience was relaxing and zen-like.  Swimming in the water, watching the jet-skiers play, taking a dip in the pool, and spilling a million thoughts down on paper about gourmet ketchup cleared the head quite well.  Soaking up the sun for hours and draining my water bottle, I thanked the team there and mounted back on the cycle to return.

Casually, I had been exchanging text messages with Hiba, the Palestinian Swede we met on the bus to Latakia. We planned to meet up in the evening.  She explained that her brother would be joining her, and that her strict family wouldn’t allow her to come home later than ten.  Stopping by the hotel to freshen up, I found Woody increasingly on the mend though not yet at 100%.  With a bit of faith, I dawned a white shirt and headed out, wondering what this experience chaperoned by a 19-year old B-Boy would be like.

We met on the seaside overlooking the Mediterranean as the sun was setting, and she explained that her brother didn’t speak English.  No worries, as he seemed like a total chiller.  We ventured down to a cafe on the beachside and drank tea and smoked hookah, as her brother puffed Marlboro Lights and played us electronic music on his blinged out mobile phone.  Where on earth was I?  Hiba and her brother were great cafe companions, and we strolled around a bit in the evening.  Finally, it was time for all three of us to go home.

After giving the download to Claudia and Woody back at the hotel, we settled into bed.  The next day we were heading north.


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