Gimme Shelter

There is a pretty amusing pattern we've fallen into when selecting and checking into a new hotel, cabin, bungalow, etc. On the island, it's a particularly comical process.

Most of the bungalows are made of cement with wood or bamboo "accents" (and sometimes even wood accents made of painted cement!). They are in varying states of construction, repair and disrepair (and sometimes all three).

When finding a new place to stay or observing a new road we haven't visited we always check the beachside resorts. Our little hunt goes as follows.

We drive down a paved main road on the island, then down a paved side road. As we head farther east from west or north/south from midland west coast, the pavement becomes ever narrower and cracked. As we angle downhill, maybe take a fork off another side road, we'll come to incredibly steep stretches of thin, poured concrete (scraped with rakes for traction), followed by bare sections of deeply grooved dirt and rock and more sections of concrete. This may happen within a stretch of only a few hundred feet. Sometimes there are little landing strips of concrete that span for 20 feet and are only 2 feet wide and look more like a crude sidewalk. On the map, these are all solid, thin grey lines. So you never know what you'll find.

On a piddly 125cc motorbike with two people, it's quite a trip. Matt maneuvers with me on, me getting off and him driving alone, him putting his feet down to steer the bike (still accelerating) while I'm behind, him pushing the bike forward with his feet only, and both of us getting off and pushing the bike by hand. Sometimes all this happens in a stretch of 5 feet.

Inevitably we'll get to a stretch of dirt or backhoe-chewed dirt and it'll be clear Matt has to go it alone, leaving me in the dirt with the bugs. He'll head on to check out the "resort," which itself could be anything from a pile of decrepit bamboo bungalows cemented on rock and laden with trash to a full-on resort with towel service. And the only clues you have, really, are the style of the sign advertising it (is it painted, printed, spray-painted or scratched with marker on wood?) and the size of the font declaring its whereabouts on the map. Now, we could use the Internet, I suppose, but where's the adventure in that?

When he does arrive, he looks first for a reception "structure." Is there one? Or simply a boxershort-clad old man greeting him from the back of a hut? Is there a restaurant/bar (e.g. if we decide to strand ourselves here, will there be food?) This is quickly followed by - and sometimes even precludes questions like - does it smell like poo? Even some of the nice ones do! Then is there a whole lot of trash and old tires about, or any small fires where they're burning plastic? Then he'll ask for prices and to see a bungalow with a fan (no A/C) and a bathroom.

On the way to the room he'll observe how jankily the walkway is constructed. Are there stairs or just "slides" of concrete? Is there exposed rebar or trash or lots of still water?

Then the bungalow itself. He does a cursory check for smells, dust, snakes and spiders and things. Then he sits on the bed - does it feel like plywood? He checks for windows - are there any that open? Do they have screens? And he gives the fan a glance to make sure it's not covered in thick globs of dust. He checks the floorboards and any windows to make sure they're relatively sealed (either from good construction or mended with packing tape) to keep bugs out. He also checks the bathroom to see how frequently the maids come around on off season and for rat poo and stuff. What does the plumbing look like (smells frequently come back up through drain pipes here during the night)? If everything passes, he comes to pick me up and we have a think on it.

When we move to a new place like we just did, we have to do further checks from bungalow to bungalow, because sometimes they can be wildly different. It's not quite the same as checking between the "ocean view" and "pool view." Today we picked a room pretty quickly - checking all the lights, door locks, bed comfort, etc. The only thing missing was there was no way to lock the top-hinged windows, nor was there any indiction there ever were locks. So we asked if there were safes or lockers (no), and were then told a "technician" would be right over. And low and behold a guy came in with hinges still in their package and installed them with a power drill just like that. Voila. Seems there's an upside to being on an island in a perpetual state of construction: they're always open to improvement and there are (hopefully) able bodies to spare. You just have to ask.

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