“Accomodations” in Bissau – Parte Uno

On our way back from the burgeoning narcotics transit point that was the Bijagós Islands, to Guinea-Bissau’s capital city (Bissau), we were a bit stuck for lodging.  The Shark Force didn’t want to pony up the budget-busting funds to crash at the place we had stayed on our way out ($50/room), or any one of the similar type of hotels around.  Bissau has a not so surprising lack of budget options, and with our somewhat surprisingly lack of cocaine money, that left us in a rather deep fried pickle.  The Lonely Planet guide (aka our bible) did mention one, single, hard to find yet cheap option in all of the city.  It was before noon and we had time, there wasn’t much to do in Bissau anyways (we already walked most of the city during our previous afternoon here).  We were basically bidding our time until tomorrow when we would leave for Ziguinchor, Senegal, as it was too late to start that journey today.  So the five of us could afford to run around Bissau trying to find a cheap place to crash for a night, it gave us something to do at the very least.  We hopped in a cab from the port, and attempted to have him take us to wherever it was the LP told us to go.

We drove seemingly in squares around the main market for a while until the driver ostensibly got fed up.  He randomly stopped, and told us this was it.  We looked around and there didn’t seem to be any structure that was hotel-like.  He insisted, but we persisted in our hesitance to disembark.  We tried to communicate without much Portuguese to a couple people on the streets, and they pointed towards a place not too far away.  Perhaps the old, crabby taxi driver man was correct after all, or perhaps he was late to a tickle fight with a newly-installed Colombian drug lord, that he so rudely did not invite us to.

Upon entering the place we would be residing for this fine evening, we saw a rather spacious courtyard that looked like it might have been, at best, the scene of an already decrepit bar decades ago.  It was quite rundown, and now served as no more than a large area to hang laundry.  But there were some chairs strewn about, and it seemed like a passable spot to bring back a few drinks and chill.  Through the decaying courtyard was a short, narrow hallway leading to a larger and more open adjacent hallway, with rooms lined on either side.  This was the hotel part, it existed after all.  We had our doubts from the outside, and even the beginning of the inside, but our bible could never steer us wrong.

We met an old lady who spoke mostly Portuguese, but understood a few key words in French.  She showed us two rooms at the end of the hallway, with the back windows facing out to the courtyard.  She seemed a bit surprised to see us, we couldn’t tell if it was the usual “hey there’s white people here (aka foreigners),” or if it had more to do with the fact that this entire place looked like it was falling apart (and in fact was in most areas).  Not to mention that it was completely vacant at the moment, and we were quite possibly the first tourists to pass through since the wild, cassava-filled, decade long run of MTV Spring Breaks in Guinea Bissau, during the late 1870’s.  She must’ve thought we were a bit mentally insane to choose her establishment, but we thought it was financially insane to go back to where we were before.  This place was listed in the Lonely Planet as Bissau’s sole budget option, so it had some credibility to it.  For the city of Bissau, with their bizarrely high hotel prices, it was a decent deal at 8,500cfa ($17) for the room.  But compared to what we paid in other locations on this trip (usually less than $10/room), it was pot-holed highway robbery.

There was one double bed in each room, with silky black and blue sheets.  The rooms were rather dark, with little light coming through the musty window.  There was of course no electricity or running water, nor even a monkey butler serving tea.  In the corner was a bathroom-type structure, replete with a useless toilet and nonfunctional shower/sink.  The entire room had the appearance of being quite dirty, perhaps the darkness covered much of it up, but the air had a stank-ass smell to it.  If ever there was a place worthy of being the quintessential African definition of seedy, this would prolly be it.  To be frank it was utterly disgusting, and it already took the prize for worst place we would sleep in.  But in its favor, it was relatively cheap and we would only be spending one lone night before heading north early tomorrow morning, so it would do.  We asked the lady for some water to bucket shower.  It took some creative gesturing as we all pretended to shower in front of her for a good five minutes, and she was quite perplexed in initially, but eventually she did supply two buckets full of a light brown watery substance (best not to think about it).  She was a bit more confused when we said we would be staying here until tomorrow morning, as oddly enough her price seemed change depending on what time we were leaving.  At any rate, we decided to put our stuff down, wash and shower up, then go out on the town for the afternoon/evening (spending as much time outside the room as possible).  We could now use the accommodation money we were saving on drinks, so when we came home we were nice and oblivious enough to ignore the sewage pit we willing decided to sleep in.

After whiling away the time until well into the evening at some of Bissau’s most happening spots (I think I saw 8 people together in a room at one point), it was time to stumble on home and pass out in our explicitly non-luxurious conditions.   We started our trek back, somehow remembering our way across the city, and turned the corner at the now deserted market that our hotel of sorts sat next to.  We briefly considered ourselves to be misplaced as we heard intensely distorted and ear-splitting music, but continued on.  We wondered who on earth was having a party that extreme (EXTREME!), but only for a moment, as such matters occupy the tried, inebriated mind fleetingly.  But a funny thing happened that none of us could accurately explain at the time – the closer we walked towards our night’s final residing place, the louder the music seemed to become.   Great, our accommodations must be next to some bar; hopefully they don’t rock out ‘til the wee hours.  Sure explains the budget prices though (well actually the appearance alone explained the budget prices – in fact people prolly should’ve been paying us to stay there, as like a dare or something, but alas we didn’t really know people).  So we continued walking, the music continuing to get louder and louder.  We were at the courtyard entrance about to walk in, and could barely even communicate to the person standing next to us.  We entered and all stopped in our tracks, jaws gaping wide in disbelief.  It all made sense now.

to be continued . . .

The bombed out Presidential Palace in Bissau. If that was the state of the (former) official residence, imagine the nature of our budget accommodations!

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