The International Writers
Last month I stayed
at the very accommodating but sauna-less beach front YHA in Newcastle,
NSW. After an airport delay in Melbourne and a cabin choir of screaming
children, a therapeutic sweat was top of my agenda. Blank looks all round
as I asked for directions to the nearest sauna, but undeterred I stumbled
upon Steamworx Spa & Sauna on Newcastles main drag. Up two flights
of stairs and into a softly lit atrium, I allowed my mind to wander, conjuring
images of grandiose marble steam rooms, splendid splash pools and soft
embroidered bath robes. And at $23 a pop I should think so too. I managed
to blag a backpacker discount, but even with a concession I half expected
toga draped women on call for massages and manicures. I paid my money
through a faceless slot in the tinted glass from which a receptionist
informed me that I could come and go as I wished, closing time being 2am.
A touch eccentric I thought, but perhaps this was some new form of all
day sanctuary that in an increasingly stress warped and anxiety fuelled
world would grip the masses in times to come. I was intrigued to say the
you cant stand the heat, dont go looking for it.
Travel can be
tiring. Whether lugging around a backpack or sitting in first class,
a long journey can take its toll on even the most seasoned globetrotter.
Time permitting, I like nothing more than a good blow out in a sauna
to speed up my recovery, but as I was recently reminded, it pays
to be prepared when visiting new places.
So, through the entrance and into a darkened room. No massages, no manicures.
As it turns out it was far more hands on than I was prepared for, but
it wasnt until I reached the rose lit locker room that I realized
the gravity of the situation. Although dark, I could see the room was
partitioned into small furnished cubicles. Okaaay. A few toweled gentlemen
wandered around, clearly having bunked off work early, but something a
little more mischievous was going on here. Huge plasma screens offering
the only real light played movies of men celebrating each other in a manner
that my relative naivety has never dared imagine. Oh dear. Suddenly I
felt like todays special as I nervously caught the eye of a curious
pot bellied onlooker. No sign of a sauna as of yet, but I began to sweat
buckets. I bolted through some double doors, nearly flattening another
chap and found myself in a bar. More porn. More men. I could see, which
was of momentary relief, but an unlocked display cabinet of bondage gear
and sex toys is hardly a sight for sore eyes (or any other part of my
anatomy, thank you).
This is whats known as a cruise bar. This is where inquisitive men
come to meet other like-minded fellas and as far as I could work out just
about anything goes. Quite how the advertising standards council would
feel about them trading a spa and sauna is a matter for the courts, but
I wasnt hanging around for the verdict and bailed, managing to get
a full refund thanks to my little boy lost story. They do actually have
a sauna on the premises, and free internet should you wish to check your
email (or any other males for that matter), but be warned; contrary to
their name these establishments are anything but plain sailing.
Although only a stones throw from the main high street I suspect the majority
of passerbys are blissfully ignorant about what goes on here, whilst those
in the know are fluent in the rules of engagement. But for the unsuspecting
visitor looking to unwind, Im afraid this is not the place to let
your guard down. The language barrier alone, which appears to be more
body than the spoken word, is enough to leave even the most cunning linguist
running for the door. But then again I suppose thats the great thing
about travel; it doesnt matter where you are, who youre with
or what youre doing, its all about embracing new experiences.
© Ed Freeman July 2007
*and if inclined to go to Australia where it's a man's world http://www.steamworx.com.au/bodyworx.htm
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