The loud music wasn’t near our hotel, it was our hotel. The old decrepit courtyard bar that looked like it hadn’t seen much action this side of WWII was in full swing. Furthermore, one quick look around put this whole establishment in its correct place. This “bar” was filled with Bissauian women dressed rather provocatively for this part of the world (or any part really). Not a single one was wearing something that effectively hid the inner thigh, more or less a shirt that covered the majority of their chests. Oh there were a few men here and there, but mostly they were by themselves, surrounded only by such women, or had one sitting on their laps. This, the place we would be spending the night, was clearly a brothel. A disgusting, downtrodden, shady brothel at that. It was all becoming clear now – the silky satin sheets, the lack of other customers during the day, the lady’s perplexity by our interest in passing the evening and showering here, and the shifting price of the room dependent on what time we departed. The entire area had transformed greatly, but the signs were there all along. As run down as the courtyard had been , you could barely tell now as the blaring music blocked all other senses. This was going to be an interesting evening, and we were clearly not inebriated enough for it yet. Good thing we were at a bar.
We must’ve stood there staring for at least five minutes, and a few of our fellow patrons stared back, equaling wondering as we did, how the hell did we end up here? Damn you Lonely Planet!! You’ve wronged us or led us astray before, but not like this. It wouldn’t have taken that much extra effort to add another sentence about Bissau’s single budget accommodation, stating that “and in the evenings it doubles as a brothel for the city’s most desperate and income challenged.” That is kind of a crucially omitted detail when reviewing a place. Evidently the author of the Guinea Bissau chapter took one look at this dump, scribbled out a few platitudes so there would be some sort of budget accommodation they could list, and never bothered to check out the place after the sun set (or did, had a grand time here for hours, quickly became a most valued customer, and then permanently blocked it from his mind). At any rate, we were stuck here. We had already paid for the evening, and damned if a brothel in full swing was going to scare us away from that deposit.
We collectively realized what had transpired, thinking back to events earlier, and placing them together piece by piece – they were such telling signs that we had been patently oblivious to. How could we have been so dumb? Oh well, time to deal with the consequences of groupthink (or lack there of). We walked through the courtyard, eliciting many a stares. Perhaps a couple random white guys showing up in the mood for degenerate fun wouldn’t have made such a scene, but here we were, already with rooms, bringing in our own white women. What kind of weird tourists brought their own women to a brothel? No matter, we made it through the bar, past the bouncer collecting money at the front of the hallway sitting behind a recently appeared desk, and into our rooms. We got there and laughed. We had to laugh, there was nothing else to do. We couldn’t stop laughing in fact. We joked about all the STD’s that were floating around in the air, and how we’d never be clean again (though considering us to have been clean in the past was debatable). It may not have been a laughing matter, but that was our only recourse at this point.
There was a process we went through for sleeping in dirty places like this. Whoever was on floor duty between Diego, Jaime, and I was usually actually the lucky one, as they got to set up the one tent we had, further insulating them from wanton pestilence. We would have to light multiple mosquito coils, as the place would inevitably be poorly insulated and thus swarming to the brim with them. I would push deep down my fear of insects, and suppress any rumination as to their possible existence. We each had our own thin sheet of sorts that we would place over whatever bedding had been provided (if any). I would put on much clothing before lying down, ignoring the heat and my profuse sweating, to ensure that all possible parts of my body were protected from touching anything. That meant a full pair of pants, socks, and a long sleeve shirt. Also important was chucking away whatever pillow was there, and resting my head on my own collection of dirty clothes instead, trying not to turn as much as possible so my face would remain out of physical contact with the bed. Only my hands were exposed, and I would usually fold my arms and sleep on them to prevent them from wandering about. Bug repellant was applied liberally everywhere, even though most of my body would be covered in clothing anyway. I tried to become as close to a mummy as possible (The Rock has nothing on me). To top it all off and to put the mind at ease, drugs were insisted upon. A drug specifically, our one of choice for all sorts of ailments. We would all pop a Benadryl or two, helping us to pass out as soon as possible, so we could wake up and be gone as soon as possible. All in all quite a process, but one that did keep us (most of us at least) relatively disease free throughout the trip, in pure defiance of some of the establishments we engaged along the way.
to be continued . . .