Silk Road Day 11: More Tajik Spa Time and Arriving in Dushanbe

Day 11: Thursday, January 7th, 2016

We woke up at the spa and went back down to the dining room for breakfast. This morning was much less creepy now that there was daylight and a dining room full of people. Where were all these people yesterday? We filled ourselves up with buttery porridge and eggs and bacon to get energized for the spa day ahead of us.

Firstly was the mud bath experience. Take everything you know about mud baths and throw it out the window. There’s no bath, and it’s not even wet. Instead, we were ushered into a room and told to strip down for a unibrowed woman to put hot slabs of mud on our bodies. The girls and boys separate again, based on house rules. The women’s room has 5 cots, and the lady tells us to strip down to our underwear, but a couple of us go topless for convenience sake. Then comes the random visits from men, including Firuz and it’s just like “Why are we segregating men from women and then having men pop into this room of topless girls?” First Firuz comes in to translate stuff to the lady, and then a guy comes in to bring an extra cot, and then someone comes in to drop off more slabs of mud. And each time, they don’t close the curtain in the doorway so anyone in the waiting area can see us. Then we realized we didn't have enough towels, so we ask for more, but Eilidh insists Ben bring them instead of random people. Ben comes in covering his eyes and nearly trips on a chair before he drops them off, slowly backs out, and shuts the curtain, all with his one hand still over his face. He later told us that Firuz was a little upset that we were offended when he entered. Ben defended us saying yeah, it's because you're a complete stranger, at at least I'm married to someone in that room.

Next up was the full body massages, for a mere $6 USD. Everyone had hilariously different experiences. All the girls were told to go topless for the massages. It was a bit awkward since the room is communal, only separated by curtains, so you can totally hear what’s going on next to you. The stall I was in contained a TV playing some Russian sitcom on medium volume. I could hear other TVs from the other stalls in the other rooms. My massage was so aggressive and fast that I couldn’t tell if he was using self-heating oil or if it was just rising in temperature from the friction. Helen’s was the most normal, and she said it was just as she expected and perfectly relaxing in every way. The guy covered her chest and massaged her stomach and collarbone area when she flipped to the front. When Remi was flipped to be face up, she was completely exposed and the dude massaged her stomach, chest and breasts, to which she said “he was already doing it, so whatever.” Mine started massaging my stomach, which is just the most ticklish experience and I feared that he’d move upwards, so I just started shouting “NYET NYET” until he covered me with a towel.

We didn’t speak any language in common, so we had a conversation that I think was about him insulting my flabby upper arms and telling me to go boxing. Then he asked me if I knew the Australian (Eilidh) that went before me. Then he asked me how much a masseuse makes in Chicago. Then after I told him to stop massaging my stomach I think he was attempting to teach me the Russian word for “ticklish.” Again, all of this is unconfirmed as neither of us knew what the other was saying. Eilidh, who knows Russian, confirmed that he did tell her to exercise more. After the massage he plopped me on a chair and gave me a scalp massage and cracked my neck. At the end I was nearly done getting dressed as some random dude opened the curtain to go next. Well thankfully I am just putting on my shoes here, thanks for waiting!

Anne did a head and foot massage, and she said the head part was a helmet that sent electronic impulses to her brain. One of the options that was offered that no one accepted was an electric bath, which is essentially a tanning bed in a radon-water steam room. Cancer for all!

Matt, Remi and I went to the gift shop in the hotel/spa which contained the most random and absurd items. There were medicines and essential oils, socks and underwear, lip balms, scarves, model toy cars, jewelry, and a plastic “POLICE TOY SET” containing a plastic gun, badge and handcuffs. Everything you would ever need in a spa getaway! There was even a bar of soap that had a picture of a man and topless woman having sex, and labeled as “MAN SEX SOAP.” It enlarged and enhanced, according to the label. I purchased some tins of vaseline-based hand cream that were completely in Russian since they smelled nice and were only $0.14 USD each.

We originally planned to do one more dip in the sauna before we left, but we were running out of time and had to leave around noon for Dushanbe, so we hopped on the bus as soon as Calvin finished his massage.

We ate lunch in a beautiful tea building with detailed ceiling decorations. We had “French salad” which was a variety of pickled and fried items under a grid of mayonnaise. We had lagman for our soup (my fave!), and then we ate plov where there was yet again some confusion over the food. For the vegetarian version, they removed the meat, but Ben pointed out that the rice is made in lamb fat so the dish wasn’t an option.

We checked into the Dushanbe hotel and we all had suites, with one room containing a couch AND two large armchairs. In Ben and Eilidh’s room, there was a massive round table with ten chairs around it and a lazy Susan on top.

The hotel had nice d├ęcor, but was also dumpy in some ways. The lobby had a hole in the ceiling that was covered up by some plastic vines. Our room had a super fancy looking shower with tons of buttons but upon entering, I realized the buttons did nothing and there was a hole where one panel should be that instead just led to the outside of the shower where there were a bunch of electrical wires. Who needs a soviet spa when you can get an electric bath at home! In the hallway by Ben and Eilidh’s room there was a ladder that led to an open attic filled with gravel where you could hear the rain hitting the rooftop.

We went to the museum of antiquities where we were required to wear paper booties over our shoes. Seemed a bit odd and unnecessary for a fairly modern museum. However, the museum was much nicer than the first Tajikistan museum we went to, because this one knew how to label things. You take it for granted when a museum has a little information card next to artifacts that tells you where the object was found, when it dates to, and what people used it. There was a large Buddha statue in the museum, the largest in central Asia. We had a guide in this museum as well but she seemed to keep everyone’s attention this time around.

We went to the local green city market, another outdoor bazaar of sorts. I enjoy going to places like this over museums because it really gives you the flavor of the local life. However, the markets are all beginning to run together. This one had several stands selling freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, of which Helen bought a bottle.  

We drove to the Ismoili Somoni monument in the main square near the second largest flagpole in the world (formerly the largest) and took lots of pictures. Ben, Calvin, Remi, Matt and I went to the main square where a cop happily took many photos of us. Then he handed back the camera and asked us to pay him for said photos. We all lied and said we had no cash, even as Ben emptied his pocket with a pack of cigarettes and some local currency. The cop didn't see the money but saw the cigarettes and asked for some of those instead, which Ben begrudgingly gave him.

After the tour portion of the day we went to a fancy dinner in a private room with a classical yet modern design and a bright green ceiling. Ben played cheesy music off of his iPod, Calvin ordered shisha and we recapped our spa experiences, comparing them with those of the boys.

Matt said his masseuse had “hands like shovels” (he lifted a dinner plate for scale) that beat the living hell out of his back, shiatsu style. Then the guy did cupping with glass cups and a flame, and I told Matt he probably has bruises. I look at his back for him and sure enough he does, so he goes to the bathroom down the hall and Helen and I can hear him shout “BLOODY HELL” as a reaction.

After dinner, some of the group returned to the hotel and some of us went bowling. Calvin, Ben, Eilidh, Matt, Remi, Velvet, Firuz and I went out to the local bowling alley and got an entire hour of bowling for about $2 USD each. When we got the shoes, the lady gave us mini socks to wear over our socks while wearing the shoes. All about that sanitation.

It was cosmic bowling, so everything was glow in the dark. They played Western music, starting with Taylor Swift “Blank Space” which was great since we haven’t had any dancing since new years eve. They also played DJ Snake’s “Get Low” and then a slew of Spanish-language top 40, which felt out of place...are there even people here that know Spanish?

There were no racks on the side holding extra bowling balls; instead there was a cluster of loose balls on the floor. Our lane had some issues which resulted in pins falling over when the lane reset for a new player, which worked to our benefit since I once hit only 4 pins but got a strike out of it. We brought most of our own drinks and bought one bottle of vodka and were able to make it last among the 8 of us.

After bowling we ran to the local mini mart that sold kids toys and booze and we stocked up on drinks and snacks. We brought it back to the hotel and hung out at Ben and Eilidh’s round table. They passed around some local version of string cheese that was smoky and salty as well as a tube of Pringles and we chatted until the wee hours.

Tomorrow we're off to Kyrgyzstan!