Prisoner: Hotel Room H

15 01 2009




                   “I said I wanted a room with a bar, not bars!!!”   (Istanbul)


As long as I have a book, I am quiet happy to be confined to a small room for extended periods of time. Perhaps this stems from a childhood spent in solitary confinement when banging my tin cup across the bedroom door was frowned upon, but I am quite contented in my own company…when prepared for it.

I always travel with a small library of books. When I know that I am staying alone in modest budget hotels in distant lands, I always pack a small shortwave radio to keep me company. I am generally happy enough to sit in my room in the evening, listening to the fizz and crackle of a weak radio signal while through the mosquito net bustles the world or the airborne nasties that want to sup on my flesh.

However, if I am not expecting such confinement and I am not prepared for such sensory deprivation, I have been known to end up like Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape” and spend my time throwing rolled-up socks against the wall.

I was due to spend a couple of nights in a good centrally-located hotel in Sydney, Australia on my way home. I had arrived in the late evening after a long day and a tiring flight and headed to my room. Although tastefully appointed, it was conservative in size…but did have a television at the foot of the bed. I dashed out to get some food, laid my feast on the bed and flicked on the television ready for an evening of Australian “Big Brother”.

As I tucked into my burger, the TV warmed up to a soft glow. Alas, there was no picture. I played with the remote but got nowhere. I crawled over the scattered fries and played with the TV itself, but still nothing. Finishing my gourmet meal, I phoned the front desk and told them of my predicament. They replied that cable was down for most of the city and would be fixed by the morning.

During the flight I had finished my last book. It was too late to get a newspaper and there were no magazines. My iPod had died so I rolled over to the bedside table to explore the clock radio. Unfortunately, it was all clock and no radio and offered no entertainment beyond watching the LED digits changing.

I drew back the curtain hoping at least for a view of a park full of frolicking possums, but instead I stared into a canyon of large, dark office buildings. I returned to the bed. I didn’t need to re-pack my bag as I had done that expertly that morning. There were no holes to sew in my socks; I wasn’t keeping a diary; I’d sent my postcards; I always lost when I played noughts-and-crosses by myself and had never bothered to download games onto my mobile phone. I was too tired to go out for a wander and too awake to go to sleep.

Lying on my back, I tried to name the countries of the world, but kept losing count and repeating myself. I tried capital cities but became similarly lost. I attempted to count the stucco on the ceiling but went cross-eyed. Finally, I removed my socks, rolled them into balls and played catch…by myself. Eventually, I felt sufficiently tired to attempt sleep, climbed into bed, turned off the light and lay in the darkness watching the red light of the TV taunting me mercilessly.

The following morning I awakened early and flicked on the TV. There was still no signal. I looked into the hall to see if I had a newspaper, but I didn’t. I phoned the front desk to request one but was told I had to have ordered it the previous evening. I would have had a nice leisurely soak in the bath, but there was only a stand-up shower. It was a Sunday and too early for anything to be open…and the rain made a walk fairly unappealing. Eventually, it was time to venture out. I had a full and rewarding day of sightseeing with friends, an early dinner and returned to my room ready for a quiet evening of TV viewing ahead of an early trip to the airport.

I kicked-off my shoes, sprawled on the bed and flicked on the TV. The screen warmed to a milky white. I stared, disbelieving until distracted by a rustle at the door. A notice had been delivered announcing that the cable was still off and wouldn’t be returned until the following afternoon. Newspapers were available if requested by 8pm. I looked at my watch: it was 8:05pm.

I picked up my socks and returned to the centre of my cell.

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan


Writes and Wrongs

19 08 2008

All penned-in:          The military prison – Paramaribo, Suriname

My name is The Adventure Blogger and I have a problem: I am a pen thief.


Actually, I only liberate them from hotel rooms along with the odd envelope and perhaps a few sheets of stationery (and maybe a bar of soap, a map or two, a sewing kit, shoe cloth, and shower caps that I never use. And a face cloth once…but that was an accident). It’s not as though I hide the flat screen television in my garment bag, the TV remote in my backpack or wear the luxuriously plush bathrobe beneath my raincoat as I sneak Michelin man-like towards the lobby’s revolving door. But I do have a penchant for pinching pens and pencils.


What particularly worries me is that I don’t need these pens and have so many that I don’t even use them all. It’s not even as if I carefully preserve them in a documented collection.  Instead, I have a pot on my desk that overflows with all sorts from plain old biros to more stylish stylos. Clearly, my thievery is a sickness.


I suppose that by light-fingered experience I have become somewhat of a connoisseur and can spot an especially good hotel pen all the way from the trouser press. Sometimes, the least likely examples are the best and write better than even the finest pen in your local stationery supplier.  They’re not quite Mont Blanc, but they certainly put your average Bic to shame.


My current favourite is from a hotel in Perth, Australia. It is brown with a faux-metallic tip, a plastic push button on the top and a combination pocket-clip/release. It is singularly unspectacular and would be right at home chained to the counter-top of your local tax office, but it writes perfectly. Fortunately, I discovered its merits on the second day of a recent stay and three of them had somehow found their way into my bag by the end of the week.


My pot contains pens from all over the world and although I am often tempted to use the more exotic examples just to impress – like Cairo, Nairobi or Kuala Lumpur – I am always concerned that a vacationing house detective will spot his purloined wares, clamp a heavy hand on my shoulder when I least expect it and cart me off to the nearest penitentiary.


By way of rationalisation of my nefarious ways, I always remind myself that if they weren’t meant to be ‘borrowed’, they’d be chained to the desk as the TV often is to the credenza. In addition, housekeeping carts are always overflowing with boxes of pens for replenishment which only further proves my innocence…although this rationale ignores the fact that the same trolleys also contain stacks of towels, bedding and rolls of toilet paper which are generally not intended to be souvenirs.


Even that tacit assurance doesn’t prevent pangs of guilt however, or erase the feeling that staff are tsk-tsk’ing me as I return to my room. I try to assuage my guilt by telling myself that by spreading these items throughout the world like pollen from a blossoming flower, I am actually helping to publicise that property and thereby assist in their marketing efforts. It would be a good argument, except that I never actually allow anyone to borrow them and therefore my promotional activities are restricted to myself and my non-travelling pot.


So, next time you’re staying in a hotel and find the pen missing when you go to write on your postcard, check at reception to see if The Adventure Blogger was there just before you!



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Lessons Learned The Hard Way – No. 18

4 06 2008

Beware of hotel porters.


We checked in late one evening for a single night stay during a brief stopover. The hotel was a very nice centrally located 5-star property booked at a considerably non 5-star price for a run-of-the-hotel room. As promised, we arrived late and reception explained that the only room left was a suite. We hid our excitement and nodded understandingly, just somewhat disappointed that we’d be there for barely 12 hours to enjoy it.


The front desk rang the bell, a porter suddenly appeared, took the room card, glanced at the room number and straightened up noticeably. He bowed his head reverently, smiled smarmingly and ushered us across the spacious lobby towards the elevators. With a snap of his fingers he conjured up a second porter to carry our luggage and subtly gestured for them to take a separate conveyance. Upon arrival on our floor, he shepherded us towards the end of the hall and opened the door to reveal a very large corner suite.


The grand treatment continued once in the room as he spent the next few minutes elaborately explaining the function of every switch and dial in the room, from the lights, to the air conditioning, to the television and even the shower, bath and toilet. His fawning attention to us was almost disconcerting. He drew back the curtains and pointed out the city’s landmarks…in the dark…and elaborately presented the room service menu. He handed us a card and said that if we required anything at all during our stay, just to call him.


Before he left, walking backwards so as not to turn his back on us, he stopped and mentioned that the lounge was on the 15th floor.


“The lounge?” we enquired.


“Yes, you would have been given a card for it when you checked-in…access to it comes with the suite.” he explained


“We were only given this room because it was the only thing available…” we attempted to answer, but before we could even finish our sentence he had turned on his heel, harrumphed disdainfully and stormed out of the room with a slam of the door.



Post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2008

Lessons Learned The Hard Way – No. 13

26 05 2008

When checking into a hotel, always ensure you know which floor you’re on.


It was a dark and stormy night…


We were racing through the darkness with low clouds obliterating the overhead lights, rain driving into the headlamps, and enormous airborne rooster-tails of water battering the windscreen. Just after 10pm, with white knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel, we turned off the autobahn and into an enormous truck stop. After a bite in the restaurant we headed to the motel in search of a room.


The building was two floors high and dissolved into the wet gloom in either direction. We sprinted through the rain, received a key from reception and proceeded to the elevators. Much to my surprise, the floors were in descending order with 5th being the first floor, 4th being the ground floor reception and 1st being the sub- sub- sub-basement lowest. We dropped several floors before arriving at the usual windowless anonymous hotel/motel corridor. The room was compact, neat and completely functional. Although four floors beneath ground, there were faux windows with metal shutters on them to at least provide the illusion of being above ground.


I’m not claustrophobic, but lying there in the dark knowing there was 40 feet of concrete, steel and earth pressed on the ceiling and separating me from the fresh air above was a rather odd and disconcerting feeling. Although it beat being outside in the pouring rain, it was still, well, a little bit too much like being buried alive for my liking.


After a restless night, when the wake-up call sounded I initially didn’t know where I was. I rubbed my eyes before remembering that I was in a subterranean burial chamber. From across the room I discerned what appeared to be slivers of light seeping through the edges of the metal shutters. I walked over and as I got closer could see light streaming through every crack and edge. I also noticed a small handle and opened the window and shutter.


There before me lay a valley, rolling away as far as the eyes could see, hills and little woods of trees beyond, all in damp and verdant green. I stuck my head out to discover that my subterranean world was not subterranean at all…it was actually located on the edge of a steep hillside: two floors on the highway-side, and six floors on the valley side. I breathed in the fresh air.  In the daylight, the room was instantly transformed from a tomb-raided pharaoh’s burial vault into a regular sun-soaked hotel room.


I happily headed for the bathroom with the weight of the world – and 40 feet of soil – eased from my shoulders.


Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008

Mana, Vomo, Malolo, or Malolo Lailai? Fiji’s Best Island Resorts

18 01 2008

FIJI. Just say it. Already the visions of teal blue ocean waves, swaying palm trees, bare feet in white sand, neon-orange sunsets and frosty umbrella drinks are filling your head. The Fijian islands are chock full of excellent accommodation choices, whether you are looking for a honeymoon getaway, a backpacker layover, a family vacation, or a cultural adventure. I visited over twenty resorts on nine islands and saw many others and these are my picks for travelers of every persuasion.

Pack lightly! All you need is sunblock, sandals, a sarong, and reservations at one of these amazing resorts.


Namale Resort on Vanua Levu Island: There are other resorts as insanely romantic and extremely isolated as Namale, but it is the small touches which raise it above the rest. You arrive at your room to find your name carved out of wood on the door and Bula Bula spelled out in frangipani leaves on your mosquito-net covered bed. Grab a Fiji Bitter (included, of course) from your fully stocked fridge and have a wander around the immense grounds; chances are you won’t run into anyone other than the golf-cart driver who asks if you would like a ride. Before going for a delicious, candlelit dinner in the immense but somehow cozy main bure, hang out in one of the many private pools and hot tubs overlooking the ocean, have a champagne picnic brought to you in the spa, or maybe go horseback riding on the beach at sunset. And when you leave Namale, you will create a garden stone, pushing seashells, pink rocks, and your initials into a wet concrete block that will become part of the resort’s immense garden grounds, for travelers to admire and for you to find when you undoubtedly return to Namale.


Vomo Island Resort on Vomo Island: The white sand of Vomo Island sinks like cheese as you walk and is the definition of a perfect beach, whether you are on the calmer, swimming side of the island or on the wilder, rougher, water sports side. Just offshore Vomo is some of the most brightly colored coral in the world; snorkel or SCUBA to your heart’s desire and recuperate in a hammock overlooking the South Pacific. Cocktail hour is at “The Rocks”, an ocean side bar with front-row seats for the sunset flight of hundreds of fruit bats home from the neighboring island. After your spa or gourmet breakfast, hike up to the island’s highest point for a god’s-eye view, visit the baby sea turtles and learn about the resort’s breeding program, or return to your room decorated in Fijian minimalist style, and share with your sweetie the bottle of wine that is chilled and waiting for you.


Malolo Island Resort on Malolo Island: This resort caters to lucky, lucky, children and the adults who are paying their way. While the ‘rents enjoy fizzy blue drinks that match the bright water of the beach side bar, the kids can play in the giant playhouse and tree house, throwing around car-sized bouncy balls and stuffed animals, all under the watchful guise of the hotel’s nannies. The spa here is a jungle spa, meaning that while you lay face down getting your flesh massaged, half of the room you are in is actually the dark green Fijian jungle- those tropical bird calls are no recording. Rooms have recently been renovated in a perky blue and white theme, and your most pressing decision will be from which hammock to watch the seaplanes splash down.


Musket Cove Resort on Malolo Lailai Island: This giant resort is not as luxurious as many, but it is a center for world cruisers, and people sailing around the world tend to add spice to the nightlife in a country where most travelers are coupled off. The beach is fantastic, the stock store is fun for browsing, and the sailboats tied up are great for dreaming. Even the pool boasts a real sailboat (it was explained to me in one word: “Canadians”). Musket Cove has several bars, one right over the water offering $2 beer that must be the world’s most perfect setting to watch the sun sink into the salty South Pacific. Though the grounds of Musket Cove are large and spread out, there is not a big-resort feel and you are not sharing your beach chair and Mai Tai with the screams of children and stomps of their older brothers.


First Landing Resort on Viti Levu: Sure, Denarau might be a few minutes closer to Fiji’s international airport, but do you really want to spend your first or last night in paradise in the “Waikiki” of Fiji? If you need a place to crash when you first arrive or the night before you depart, stay at the place where legend has it the ancestral Fijians first landed. The beautiful private villas have private pools with private waterfalls, and you can take dinner with the resort’s hosts overlooking the yet another picture-perfect beach. As you watch your first (or last) Fijian sunset out on the foot-shaped peninsula before returning to your villa, you will understand why those first Fijians never left, and you might just decide to join them!


Maravu Plantation Resort on Taveuni Island: This family-friendly hotel might be across the road from the beach, but what it lacks in instant ocean access it makes up for with a genuine Fijian experience. Taveuni is the garden island of Fiji and the jungle greets you warmly; here you can hike past palm trees and streams dotted with purple spotted crabs to multiple hidden waterfalls. Return to the resort and relax in your traditional bure nestled in the thick green lawn, or come up to the main lodge and check out all of the Fijian artifacts. The bartender mixes special cocktails each night to go with a buffet dinner with piles of lobster meat a foot high and a ridiculous amount of desserts. Whatever you do, don’t miss the evening show, the best in Fiji, starring the resort workers’ children. The very young ones sit in the laps of their parents and sing their hearts out, the young ladies tell an ancient story with their graceful dance, and the boys perform a warrior chant with such passion you cannot fail to be moved, and just maybe get a glimpse of the true Fiji as well.

Shilo Urban