“Accomodations” in Bissau – Part Three (of Three)

This place would require all that, plus more.  We began our usual preparations.  Even in our rooms we had to shout to communicate with each other.  Worse still, the room reeked of piss.  One look out the window to the lovely sight of multiple people peeing on it explained why.  I took three Benadryls, a never before used combination, but this night required some ultra-extreme measures.  I was setting up, having taken my Benadryl, hoping to get drowsy enough to pass out worry free soon – but then came to the conclusion that sleep would be essentially impossible at this juncture.  Disregarding everything else, the earsplitting music would prevent any sort of peaceful slumber, no matter how many Benadryls ingested.  So me and Diego knew what we had to do, there was no other option really.  If you can’t beat them, might as well join them.  Besides, we would need to be really hammered to even dream of sleep, and we were at a bar.  A bar that in fact served drinks cheaper than the restaurant we had just been to – we should’ve come home sooner.

Diego and I went out, in the midst of the brothel in full swing, ordered some drinks and sat down at a table.  We were immediately approached by various women, ostensibly looking for light conversation and nothing else.  Diego thought it would be funny to leave me there by myself for a few minutes, under the false pretense of going to the bathroom (on our window of course).  I had to rebuff a lady who looked pregnant and about 40.  This was obviously not the choosiest joint in the world of Bissauan brothels.  Most women in fact looked quite a bit older, or busted, or both.  But since this was Bissau’s sole budget option, in all its grandeur, I suppose the women were of similar mark.  Diego returned, the rest of the crew came out to join us briefly.  It was quite an interesting scene, though most women didn’t look like they would be getting paid tonight.  The girl to guy ratio was quite skewed, but occasionally some would be lucky enough to bypass the bouncer to the back rooms.  We temporarily tried to get people to pee elsewhere, to little avail.  All in all we got a few offers, politely declined (there was no room in the budget to all of a sudden start throwing prostitutes in the mix, regardless of how budget they themselves might be), finished our beers, decided we had had enough of this and successfully bypassed the bouncer on the way to our chambers.  I’m sure everyone left in the bar had a slightly different idea about what was going to happen in our rooms than we did, when first Bobby, Megan, and Jaime went back together, then Diego and I following ensemble a bit later on (we did hold hands as we left too, in retrospect that might’ve sent off the wrong signals).

The music went on until a little before dawn, around 5am.  I know that because I was awake the entire time.  3 Benadryls and many drinks couldn’t even put me to sleep around such mayhem.  We all got up, ready to leave as quickly as we could be.   There wasn’t much to do in the morning but reminisce on how crazy the night before had been, and on how slow we had been to catch on.  From the moment we arrived signs were abundant that this was an establishment of ill repute.  All the little things didn’t add up in our heads though, until they came colliding together in one big and sudden dawning.  The fact that none of us had weird rashes or condom wrappers on us the next morning was a positive sign (and yet, Megan would shortly thereafter develop a rash of sorts, but luckily we eliminated her before it infected the rest of the Shark Force community).  At the very least, our protective sleeping measures had paid off, despite the lack of actual sleep.

In the city of Bobo in Burkina Faso there was a street we liked to go out on often when we would get together in the city, taking much needed breaks from our alternate village lives.  There were a couple bars to sit at outside amidst food stands, with people constantly strolling up and down the strip.  We liked to call it Hooker Street, since it was so obviously populated with those that one would expect on such a street.  It was good people watching entertainment, comparing the various outfits and seeing who would be paying who.  It was full of shady characters, not a place you would go on your own prolly (though that was known to occur), but in a large group of volunteers where the feeling of invincibility was ever present.  Something crazy would always happen (fights, getting spit on, handicapped people dumping yogurt on various members of our clan, stealing the supplies of vendors who were perceived to have wronged us, ect.), and towards the end of our service we started thinking we should stop going there, but never did.  People would constantly harass you, but it was all part of the experience.  In the bars though, in the back, there were rooms.  We never went back there, but that was presumably where all these hookers were doing the brunt of their work, and more than likely not in the most hygienic of conditions (if the latrines were any indication of the emphasis placed on cleanly appearances, then the rooms were prolly significantly beyond vile).   Our last night in Bissau was like sleeping on Hooker Street in Bobo, in all its disgusting glory.  A fun place to have a beer perhaps, but not ever somewhere where you would want to reside.  Too bad during my altered state, a lady of the evening to dawn hours convinced me to sign a 10 year lease, specifically upgrading to the pee-window (something about the ‘view’).  Just another example of learning my lesson there time and time again, and not even the Lonely Planet nor Benadryl could save me.  Guinea-Bissau, prostitutes and all, always wins.

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“Accomodations” in Bissau – Part Deux

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 . . .

“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!