Alright so the last post was photo sparse due to most of the recent shots being corrupted. I was lucky, and the majority of the nuclear shots came out, though I lost some keepers for sure.
The Refinery Incident behind me, I make it to a McDonalds and do a last minute websearch for a place to crash, as I’m not quite comfortable urban camping in the city until I’ve seen it in daylight and my couchsurfing connections have failed to come through. The cheapest place wins, and it looks like the international hostel it is when I show up – heavily bearded dude on an old recliner talking to an asian hipster smoking from a cigarette holder on the porch, scruffy potpourri of characters roaming around the stickerbombed front desk where a weary and slightly indifferent fellow informs me they’re booked for the week.
Pity, fifteen bucks is about as cheap as it gets round these parts.
I follow his recommendation through the winding one-way streets and start to get a feel for the character of the town. The patchwork neighbourhoods have no architectural cohesion whatsoever – I’m passing by artfully wrought balustrades and slate-tiled roofs one block, low slung bungalows with taped up windows the next. I can’t tell which is the “bad” neighbourhood. What would be considered trendy housing back home is backed up right against what any Northern American could easily identify as “ghetto”, although the beads and gaudy props arranged even in some of the shabbier looking joints might be better classified as “ghettofabulous”. Clearly this city has some complex levels to parse.
I make it into the recommended joint and go through some strange process where I have to prove I’m an international (we don’t allow US citizens) so I can get into my room full of Americans (???). Whatever, it feels amazing to shower and shave, Jason the hilarious ubergay host entertains me as I cook up the last of my fresh produce and rice and befriend the cute girl in my dorm. The morning proves delicious – pancake buffet! I’m thinking this might not be too shabby a place to spend a couple of days when I’m informed they’re booked for the next few days – get out.
Oh well, I head out with Jean, a nice quiet asian guy from Houston and we check out the digs Jason recommended. When I see the place I can’t believe Jason calls his little outfit the “Ritz Carleton” and this the “Motel 6”. It’s a massive property with a pool and intricately curled French iron balconies, a local artist’s magnificent woodcarving on display in the main hall; apparently it was originally an orphanage.
Well the façade quickly fades as we’re shown into our dorm. The TV is on it’s face on a dusty shelf; the majority of the bunk beds have been partitioned off by wrapping sheets around to form mini apartments – the fellow next to us has taken up four beds with his makeshift home. As we lay our stuff down in silence, contemplating our sketchy surroundings, a shirtless fellow in the bed across from us starts making noises. He gets up, “Enh! Enh!”, his scrawny shirtless form shuffles in a rough circle, he faces us and rubs his nipple absently while his abnormally large tongue fumbles awkwardly around.
I’m quickly back at the front desk.
“I realize I’ve already paid, but – what’s the deal with the guy in our room? You know, the one who would make me come back here trying to get either a good explanation or his money back?” I don’t mention the hobo camp.
The lady at the front fixes me with a look, and explains that his name is R. and he just so happens to be a good person with a speech impediment who sometimes bites his tongue, and if he spits on you trying to talk it’s not his fault, and he’s a man like any other who will pee on the seat.
I reflect on this. It’s clear that with tourism down and beds to fill they’re allowing any crusty character to just set up shop. On the one hand, I feel that if I’m going to pay twenty bucks to sleep with the same transients I could share the underside of a bridge with for free, I’m not getting value for my dollar.
On the other hand, I’m actually a little pleased to patronize an establishment that isn’t too proud to provide for the city’s less fortunate. You’d normally expect a joint that caters to tourists would turn away these sorts simply to maintain their reputation.
Of course, it could be a matter of “money is money” (and very likely is, at least in part). But considering they dropped the price 5 bucks without me even trying and the look of my ragged roommates, I’m going to go ahead and assume they’re not raking in the cash from these motley folks. I also noticed that one of the “staff” sleeps in my dorm. I suppose it’s just the sort of pragmatism the confluence of Katrina and New Orleans style openness encourages. I doubt I’d find these inmates here in the high season though.
So I go back to report to Jean. We concur that one night of this will be acceptable, I’m just glad I have my belongings in locked cases bolted to the bike. Long as the bike stays in place…
No photos of the dorm itself – it just felt too personal, intrusive.
Well, today I have a little fun planned. The bankrupted Six Flags didn’t leave just one amusement park to be reclaimed by nature and vagabonds…