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november 11 -> Bucha-no-rest

Some people think that our 2-year trip is like one really long vacation.  Take a week in Hawaii or the Caribbean, multiply that by 104, and you've got the general idea.  Sure, we are not working, and that counts for a lot, but I can guarantee you that long-term travel is nothing like the holidays we used to take when we were working.  For one thing, we rarely get a good night's sleep; perhaps one night in three, more likely one night in four. 

In our endless quest for a good night's sleep, we have developed a few simple rules for finding accommodation: 

  1. Take a long, hard look at the manager: greasy, unkempt managers will let greasy, unkempt rooms.
  2. Check everything in the room: The lock, the lights, the heater, the A/C, the toilet, the windows, and the bed.  If you do not check it, it will not work – I guarantee.
  3. Check the position of the room: Ask to change rooms if you are near the commons room, kitchen, or bathroom.  Or be prepared to storm out of the room in your boxer shorts to tell some idiot to shut up.
  4. Check the surrounding area: Look elsewhere if you are near a major road, a disco, or a mosque.  The sound-proof hostel has not yet been invented.  Try to ascertain if the neighbors have dogs or chickens.
  5. Gauge the mentality of fellow lodgers: The younger and more Australian they are, the more likely they are to be boisterously drunk at 2 am.
  6. Inquire about construction: Someone will be building or destroying something near your hotel, if not directly above your room – make sure you know what time it will start and finish each day.
  7. Look for bloodstains on the walls: not big ones (in which case you really should get out quickly) but small ones, from mosquitoes that have gorged on prior guests before being smashed against the walls in the morning.
  8. Smack the top sheet, comforter or blankets on the bed: If white stuff bounces up once, that's just dust.  If it bounces two or three times, those are bedbugs.
  9. Look at the corners: of doors, walls etc.  You would be surprised what a determined rat can chew through.
  10. Remember that the basic laws of economics hold: you are giving up something in return for paying less for your room.  There is no such thing as perfect budget accommodation. 

Notwithstanding the above rules, we have had some absolutely horrible sleepless nights.  Below, we list out Top 10 Worst Nights of Sleep (So Far.) 

  1. Turkey - All Night Muslim Dance Party: During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.  This also means that many party from dusk to dawn.  In more conservative countries like Egypt, the All Night Muslim Dance Party is fairly subdued.  But in countries like Turkey, the All Night Muslim Dance Party grooves to really loud, cheesy songs with far too many quavering voices.  Unless you are normally lulled to sleep by someone warbling “HABIBI!!!! HABIBI!!!” directly into your ears, try to avoid Ramadan in Turkey. 
  2. China - The Yunnanese Cowgirl: Never trust a Chinese lady wearing a cowboy hat.  In Lijiang, we found what looked like a perfect guesthouse: great location, new, clean room with an incredible en suite bathroom, great meals.  Unfortunately, the proprietress was in desperate need of 1) a muzzle, 2) a Miracle Ear, or both.  Well into the night, she would scream at her husband, her kids, and apparently, the moon.  When I burst out of the room in my boxer shorts, she tried to blame the Japanese guests, who were quietly playing cards in the corner.
  3. Kyrgyzstan - Both Ends Nori: After almost two months in Central Asia, we were tired and needed a break.  I booked us a room in a nice hotel on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul.  Not long after dinner, Nori started to feel ill.  Her belly was making ominous noises.  Soon she rushed for the toilet.  She spent almost the whole night in the bathroom, vomiting and with diarrhea.  Nori has an uncanny ability to get sick when I plan something romantic (perhaps she is trying to tell me something?)
  4. Uzbekistan - Homestay Gone Wrong: We were pretty pleased with ourselves.  In Tashkent, we found a taxi driver willing to take us into the Ferghana Valley.  Once there, he invited us to stay at his house and treated us to a fantastic home-cooked meal.  Unfortunately, he failed to tell us that his little guesthouse was a mosquito breeding ground, and that he had a wedding to attend the next morning that required him to leave by 5 am (lots of shouting, slamming doors, revving the car engine for an eternity.)
  5. Ethiopia - Angry, Drunk Locals: It was only our second night in Africa.  We were still pretty nervous.  So I was terrified when I heard what sounded like a drunken riot on the streets below our dismal room in the Ras Hotel, Addis Ababa.  I didn't sleep a wink, convinced that some homicidal tribesmen was about to burst into our room and kill us in our sleep.
  6. PNG - Really Big Disappearing Spider: I don't like spiders, even little ones.  So when Nori's flashlight illuminated a palm-sized monster on the walls of our hut, I freaked out.  Nori knew I wasn't going to do anything about it, so she grabbed her walking stick and speared it.  The next morning, the corpse was gone.  Something even bigger had come into our hut and dragged it away.
  7. Ethiopia - Hallucinogenic Paint Fumes:  It had been a long, hot bus ride.  We had a bus to catch the next morning (as always in Africa, at 6 am.)  We were so tired that we ignored the strong ‘fresh paint' smell in our room.  The next morning, we were certifiably high, and our throats felt burnt.  Nori was so groggy that she threw herself against the bed frame as she tried to shoulder her backpack, kicking the bedpost with her bare foot in the process.  Two hours later, her foot had swollen into a purple melon; it was broken.
  8. Kazakhstan – Ferocious ‘Bears' of the Tian Shan: We were sleeping in a tent on the edge of a glacier.  It was freezing; I had to borrow a guide's sleeping bag because we had only brought one (guess who got to use that one!)  As we drifted off to sleep, I heard a rustling sound outside.  There was definitely something moving out there.  I was sure it was a bear or a wolf.  Whatever it was, it was sniffing along the edge of the tent.  I turned on my flashlight and shouted “Hey!”  I clapped my hands to scare the bears away.  Nori looked at me like I was insane.  The noises returned.  I was terrified.  “Nori, I think there's a bear out there,” I whispered to her.  She started laughing at me.  A few hours later I rushed out of the tent, intent on scaring the ferocious beasts away, but there was nothing there.  Later, the camp manager told me that my ‘bears' were probably just tiny mice that stick around the camp to forage.  I saw one later – it was about two inches long and cute as hell.
  9. PNG - Luxury Overhang for Four: I can't believe that before the start of the Kokoda Track, I was actually excited when Narai Billy told us, “On the final day you will sleep in a cave!”  Exhausted, fetid, and demoralized from six days of hellish hiking, the sight of our overhang was less than cheering.  I do not know how the Cro-Magnons did it.  The floor of the ‘cave' was a rock; there was no comfortable way to sleep on it.  It was hard to tell what smelled worse, us or the cave.  Then it started raining, inundating our tent with water.  The only consolation was that we only had one more half-day of hiking before we finished the trail.  (If you have read our Kokoda stories, you know that the half-day hike turned out to be a full-day slog.)

    ….and the worst night of sleep ever…
  10. Romania - 24-Hour Bread Factory: At the Bucharest train station, a lady at the information booth told us about a “new” hostel.  The price was right.  It was close to the station.  On inspection, the rooms were simple but clean.  When we returned late that evening (11 pm), we heard a tremendous racket coming from the first floor: a loud hum, the slamming of metal, crates being stacked, people shouting at each other.  We tried to sleep but it was impossible; even ear plugs did not help (1 am).  I ran down to the front desk (couch, really) and woke up the night manager, who seemed puzzled at first.  “Oh!  There is 24-hour bread factor on first floor!  They are making bread for the morning.”  (3 am) We decided to move to a room facing the road, where at least we couldn't hear the bread factory.  Just as we drifted off to sleep, two packs of stray dogs got into a turf war almost directly underneath our window.  Dozens of dogs, barking and snarling and whelping.  Then a convoy of dump trucks roared past.  It was almost funny.  (4 am) We returned to the room above the bread factory, packed our bags, and left for the train station at dawn. (6 am)