[A brief reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at this link.]
I don't often find a nice place to stay when I'm on the road, and I usually don't give much thought to it, just putting my pack out of danger and hoping for the best for me in the night as I sleep. These places aren't my place, so I don't care about them beyond a minimum of comfort to allow for safe sleep. I've been in some pretty wild and worrisome places, one up north of here-- Nicaragua, I think-- where I and my girlfriend at the time and another couple arrived in a jungle village after dark and found a hotel without electricity, the owner guiding us to rooms by flash light, he saying, "Take care not to fall in the swimming pool." I thought I was doing pretty well with the blonde babe, but to be taking her to a place with a swimming pool meant I was going to be riding high for a long time. That thought lasted till morning when we got up to go skinny dipping. The swimming pool wasn't for us to swim in. It was a sunken area in the courtyard flooded and filled with slimy weeds and giant snakes. What looks good on paper in the night by flash light or by the light of day by plain eyesight is sometimes not so good, as I found out about my beautiful place in Coroico, Hotel Bella Vista. It looks so pretty and clean and just my kind of middle class place.
I settled in for a good long sleep after the fiasco of the previous night of drunken revellers on the street in front of the last place, this one being close to perfection and so attractive that I could hardly sleep from the excitement of being in the place. And then, and then, the music.... Music in the sense of modern kiddie dance music made by machines, disco music coming from across the street, the windows of an old building wide open and the noise at levels giving me a sick headache as the kids in town danced and turned up the volume till I was losing my mind. 9:00 p.m. Often enough about bed time for me, and if not, I tell the girl I'm with that I'm going home. But this evening it was disco time.
I usually live in cities and like it. I spent five months once in hiking from the San Juan Islands to the north of Canada's Gulf Islands, taking ferries and water taxis to every island of the Inside Passage, hiking and camping and exploring stuff. At one island I found some hippies in a cafe listening to whales noises on a tape player. Music. I told them that I could fix them up with some real environmental music, that I would get tapes made of Broadway and 29th St. in Manhattan at rush hour, taxis honking, street vendors yelling about their pretzels, people yelling across the street to friends, gun shots from nervous store owners; that I could include a mix of other city things, the blender going and the coffee grinder working as the phone rings, and so on. I mean real environmental music. Whales?
They say, and I am in solid agreement here: "WTF?"
Disco music in Bolivia? I'm not keen. And by midnight I was so pissed off I went to the desk and found the owner of the hotel sitting on the stoop with his head in his hands. He said it's the holidays and the music would last a bit longer. I took off to find some fried chicken to sooth my savage self, chicken breast, me beasty. On my return at 1;00 a.m. I found the really cute girl on the night desk and asked her about the noise. She went inside and returned with a flyer for zip-line kids, they hanging on a handle as they fly through the sky at a hundred miles an hour over a 10,000 foot (4,500 meter) canyon on a steel cable. She's very sweet and cute. So I went to my room and laid down and listened to Enya on the Internet radio station I get from Athens. I turned it up loud so I could piss off the disco kids across the street. But to my disgust and dismay, Enya lallating didn't have any impact on them at all. If a middle age woman sing-songing lyrics that are mostly "la la, la la la, la la la, la la" doesn't drive kids away, then nothing will. And nothing did. They kept on disco-dancing.
I laid in bed sweating and cursing and chewing the sheets. My girlfriends usually think that has to do with passion, but in this case it was hatred of the noise across the rubble street, big rocks set into hardpack that passes as a road. They are stones just right for throwing through windows, as it turns out, so I laid in bed thinking about conversion to Islam so I could legitimately kill those dancing kids. But mostly my thoughts turned to what I would say to the owner of the hotel when I indignantly checked out in the morning. I was coming up with some really cool phrases and some of my better combinations of obscenities, really vile stuff that had me laughing. Some would call this a matter of mental illness. I call it lack of sleep making me really cranky. By 4:00 a.m. I was right into it and didn't want to sleep because I kept coming up with more and better hate things to say to the owner when I got up in the morning to scream at him. Damn, it was fun. Then I fell asleep.
That didn't last long. I woke up to find seven boys brawling on the street in front of my window, some of them beating up a girl who was giving back as good as one girl can against two boys beating the crap out of her. Then, as I knew it would be, they came into the hotel and went to their room and dragged furniture all over the place for an hour. I considered killing them all, but at that point I didn't really enjoy my own thoughts. I fell asleep in a foul mood.
I woke to the sound of the police pounding on my door, the secret police smashing in the door and coming to take me off to a prison to be locked in a stinking and dark stone cell that drips with slime and has things that crawl on me and bite. I jumped out of bed and opened the door in the hope I could get past them and hide out for a while till I could find a way to escape. But there, instead of the secret police was the girl at the hotel, she suddenly turning bright red from embarrassment as she saw me standing in front of her in my underwear. I forgot where I was and started speaking some other foreign language, me still in a bad dream, a point lost on her, as was the other one that made her blush, and she asked if I wanted breakfast. Then she skitted away laughing.
I nearly killed my wife on our honeymoon. She came into the shower in the morning and I didn't see her, having soap in my eyes, feeling someone touching me; so I grabbed her hand and twisted her arm and got her in a choke-hold was going to break her neck. I spent the next three weeks apologising and being so nice she was more suspicious and near to tears than if I'd just laughed it off. She was a lovely girl, sweet and sensible and ordinary in ways I so much admire in others. I'm not so much like that. But I see it in others, like the girl blushing at me in my shorts. I'm a lot calmer here than I usually am, and here I didn't lunge at the girl in the hallway. I took a shower with nice hot water. I woke up and had the best breakfast of my trip so far, eggs and toast and jam and coffee and some other stuff I ate so fast I can't recall what it was and orange juice. I decided I wouldn't scream at the owner over the noise. I'd had my fun already.
I have a good connection through the wifi so I looked at my email and found I'm selling some books. I looked around my room and was so disappointed that such a pretty place was Hotel Hell. Breakfast made a big difference. I got out and had a look at the view. It is bella.
I've seen many beautiful places in my life of travelling around the world, and this one is memorable for the duration. I was tired but I had lost the rage of the sleepless night. The girl then asked if I would like a different room, one away from the disco. I said yes, of course. Then I took a long walk to get more coffee, which turned out to be a long walk almost to the river below the village, which was not my intention. I had no water or food and I wasn't prepared for what I feared was a coming storm. But I walked some anyway, wondering about my new hotel room, about what to make of the owner and the girl and the situation itself. I took in some scenery.
I saw a wall that no one has maintained, and I know that if I don't maintain my own self the jungle waits for my lapse to take over again.
I don't want to be a jungle guy. That's the kind of guy who could so easily kill a girl in the shower and live to regret it all his miserable life if he's any kind of man at all. Suffering is a good thing. Those who don't suffer miss the whole of living. But I don't want too much of a good thing, either. Let's be reasonable here. I kept on walking.
I walk a lot and think about having a home of my own, some old house I could fix up and make beautiful. I came as close as I probably ever have to buying an old farm in east Texas, that being just before I decided on travelling the world some more. I know enough to do a good job of making a house a home. But I can't travel around and have a house too.
I cast my eyes to the heavens sometimes in wonderment, or, like today, to see a hundred vultures circling a storm-filled sky above some dead thing without a name.
There is always some way to go onward, and I took mine back to my hotel, Bella Vista to get settled in my new room. I have the rent paid so I figured I should give it a fair chance to be anything better than my first night. And if it turned out to be anything like the last night I still had all that vitriol to spew on the landlord. I walked back to the hotel to find myself in a beautiful room with no secret police and no evil thoughts in my mind.
It's about bed time at Hotel Buena Vista. I look forward to a dreamless sleep.