EXPAT ADVENTURE: BED TIME STORIES, SOME SCARY

by missfootloose on March 27, 2010 · 16 comments

in adventure, Expat life, Ghana, Kenya, travel

I’ve slept in many dwellings around the world in my globetrotting expat life, even in a place of worship, a chapel in Italy. I’ve bedded down in odd and not so odd places such as (to name just a few) the former guesthouse of an African president, a French horse stable, a dilapidated English colonial settler’s house in Kenya, a lovely apartment in Italy inside an ancient building with a wall dating from the 12th century (see photo on the left), splendid Spanish castles (paradores), and a bush clearing in Uganda with the warning sign: LEAVE ENOUGH SPACE BETWEEN TENTS FOR ELEPHANTS TO PASS THROUGH.

Once my man and I crashed through a bed, the framework collapsing loud and dramatically under us as we lay down. We were in a small hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso in West Africa. We were on our way to Niamé, Niger to visit friends doing Good Works in the desert.

The Ouagadougou hotel was run by a Frenchwoman, highly bleached, bejeweled and made-up, wearing a mini-skirt. I know what you are thinking. Well, who knows. Madame had a green parrot on her shoulder and was chatting away in sexy French to a friend in the hotel bar when we arrived. The bar doubled as the lobby, a convenient use of space. With a drink in her manicured hand and the big bird perched on her shoulder, Madame looked deliciously exotic to me. The whole scene looked like something from a movie.

Our room was not exotic, but it was cheap. We did not belong to the five-star-hotel tribe, so it was fine. Then the bed collapsed. Which was also fine, because it was funny. Our two-year-old daughter said so. She laughed and laughed. I later worked the experience into a romance novel, where of course the hero and heroine crashed through the bed while about to engage in a bit of sexual congress. Anyway, we dragged the mattress off the broken frame, shoved the wreckage aside and the three of us went to sleep.

The horse stable I mentioned was in the south of France and belonged to a Dutch cousin of mine who’d fixed it up to serve as a rustic vacation cottage. Several years after the Ouagadougou crash, now the parents of two daughters, we trekked through Europe and visited my cousin, who offered us her floor for the night. The girls were not amused since we’d just driven up from Spain where for a few decadent nights we had slept royally in luxuriously restored castles known as paradores. Fancying themselves princesses now, the daughters were not impressed by a horse stable. But such is life.

Above: My cousin’s horse stable in the south of France.

Below: Castillo de Santa Catalina in Jaen, Spain, where we spent a couple of nights.

Photo by VivianaG / cc


Warning: The rest is not for the faint of heart. Read on at your own risk.

Then there was the time we spent a night in a deserted “guesthouse” out in the middle of nowhere in Ghana, West Africa. We’d checked in earlier that day, and the door had been left unlocked for our return that evening, since no one would be in attendance until morning.

After visiting friends living in a tiny house in a distant village, we arrived back at the guesthouse after dark. Dark as in very, very pitch black dark. No moon. No electricity in miles around. My man and I (baby in arms) found our way in, our feet crunching eerily on something unseen in the hallway, hearing scuttling noises. Finally having excavated my flashlight (torch) from the depths of my cavernous bag, we saw the gruesome scene before us: thousands of panicky cockroaches scurrying in all directions, leaving behind the corpses of their loved ones, the ones we had massacred under our feet.

And now you wonder if we stayed and slept there? Yes, we did. It was too late and too far back to our friends’ house. The three of us spending the sweltering tropical night in our tiny Ugly Duckling Citroen 2dc with the windows closed to keep the mosquitoes out was a worse nightmare. So we ventured forth to our bedroom and found it marginally more bug free there. We made the bed with our own bedding, tucked in the mosquito netting as tight as we could and hoped it kept the roaches out too. (Okay, this was decades ago. When we lived in Ghana again more recently, we did not hear of, or encounter, accommodations of such crunchy standards.)

In the early years of our marriage we had more such interesting disgusting bed-time encounters. While living in a huge dilapidated colonial settler’s house in a mud hut village in Kenya, East Africa, we were once awakened by something jumping on our bed. We sat up, shone our flashlight around and found two evil red rodent eyes glaring at us from a corner of the huge fireplace. A rat. It scampered away not to be found. (You may remember another close encounter with a rat in this story.)

Kenya at night. Photo by mvcorks / cc

A year earlier in the same country we’d lived in a cute little house in a small town. Electricity, running water, the works! Returning home late one night from a two-week safari, we rolled into bed, dead tired, and went to sleep.

Until we woke up, itching and scratching. And finding, on closer inspection, that during our absence our bed had been made good use of by trespassers and was filthy and crawling with bed bugs. Let me spare you the rest of this repulsive story.

I’ve had enough; haven’t you?

* * *
Your turn: Tell me your bed time stories! What creepy, fancy or unusual places have you bedded down?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Turquoise Diaries March 27, 2010 at 5:55 am

Well I think the worst bed story I have was ( not) sleeping with couple rats under my bed in an old hunting cabin, but you definitely have much more than me.

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Bianca Fieret March 27, 2010 at 10:06 am

Do you know that sensation being halfway between sleep and awakening? I had just arrived back at my Cairo flat and hadn’t picked up my 3 cats yet from the Pet Motel (not kidding!). Somewhere in the middle of the night, I am half aware of something in my hair that doesn’t belong there. I brush it away but what really wakes me up is the thump on the wooden floor. Too heavy. I quickly switch on the bedside light and am confronted with what will cause me to not sleep very well for the next couple of nights: a tiny little mouse in the opposite corner of the room. I only manage to sleep like a rose again after one of my cats manages to catch it…..

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Mara March 27, 2010 at 11:00 am

Former schoolhouse, pub, castle, athletes accommodation for the Innsbrück Olympics, inside a town wall (well against it anyway). Youth hostels provide the greatest places! Although I never had to deal with anything worse than snorers and the occasional mosquito. Fortunately!

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dave March 27, 2010 at 8:27 pm

yep bed bugs can be a nightmare you should see some of the infestations i see and its not just dirty places i recently treated a very posh 5 star hotel.

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Nicolien March 28, 2010 at 7:12 am

Oh, Kenya has provided me, too, with some of the best ‘bed-time stories’. One was in West Kenya, when I was travelling alone. I got so sick I fainted at the busstation, so when I came by I asked someone to put me in a taxi and take me to a hotel. They did put me in a taxi, but kept asking me which hotel. In desperation I told them the name of a hotel I had seen on the way into town, the ‘Franca Hotel’.
When I got to the reception, all weak and washed out and barely holding myself upright, the receptionist asked me ‘for how many hours I wanted the room’. When I looked to my left, I saw a condom machine, and another one to the right of the reception desk.

I was too sick to find another place, so I spent the night there – but I probably don’t have to explain the noises I heard throughout the long hours there…

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Gill - That British Woman March 28, 2010 at 10:50 pm

that is just plain icky………we did find a bat on the stairs the other month……and we are plagued with cluster flies and asian beetles, that look like ladybugs……..all pretty tame to your experiences!!

Gill in Canada

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KC March 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I haven’t had any experiences quite like yours but I did once stay for a few days in a one star hotel in Padua, Italy, that had an infestation of super mosquitoes. I even bought one of those pesticide burners and it was no match for them. I spent the last night there killing one after another and getting bitten the whole time. At 4 in the morning, I gave up, checked out of the hotel and wandered the streets of the city (still hearing buzzing in my head) until the train station opened.

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Tarrabyte March 29, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Not very exotic, but still icky, was my bed bug infestation that took six months to eradicate. In early 2009 I spent over two months getting three hours of broken sleep a night, knowing the bugs were going to visit me when I fell asleep and feed on me for five to fifteen minutes. They’re gone with chemical treatment, but the impact bed bugs left on me remains.

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Miss Footloose March 29, 2010 at 10:06 pm

@ Turquoise Diaries, hey, sleeping with rats under your bed is bad enough! The rat in our room ran away…

@ Bianca Fieret, something jumping in your hair in the middle of the night, now that would freak out anybody, especially when you have no idea what it might be!

@ Mara: With all your moving around you’d expect something more “exciting” than mosquitoes and snorers, but you’ve been lucky! (Even afkloppen.)

@ Dave, yes, I heard something on TV not long ago how bed bugs are back in the US, in the poshest places, like you said!

@ Nicolien, what a story! I could see it in video in my mind. No laughing matter at the time, but I suppose it’s funny now.

@ Gill, yes, very, very icky. 😉 Your infestations are a nuisance, though!

@ KC, mosquitoes can be a horrible plague. Strange that pesticide burner didn’t work! And this in Italy.

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Judith van Praag March 30, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Asleep in the back room of one of the oldest houses in the Amsterdam Warmoestraat I was woken up by monster mosquitoes. They’d come in through the window to the courtyard (a 6’x6′ air shaft, open to the sky) that faced the window of the living room. Within the time it took me to wake up completely my arms were covered with welts. I had no idea why the room was invested like that, until the elderly sisters who occupied the ground floor told me a sewer had burst …

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Expat mum March 31, 2010 at 3:52 pm

I really admire your adventurous spirit. I think I’m doing really well dragging my three kids over the Atlantic and some parts of Europe each summer! I don’t think I would have the energy to do the rural Africa thing with them!

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LadyFi April 2, 2010 at 12:30 pm

I lived in China for three years and rats as big as cats were frequent visitors. One couple even had a litter in my bedding. We used to put plastic mugs upside down on the bed legs to keep the cockroaches off the bed.

Oh, and I once got scabies from dirty bedding.

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Land of shimp April 2, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Oh goodness, well it’s been years and years, but I did used to camp frequently and when I initially drove out to Colorado, I stayed in the worlds most infested motel, about ready to drop from exhaustion in Indiana. The bed had “magic fingers” , and by dropping in a quarter every couple of hours, I got the roaches to shove off every now and then.

Oh how I love my good, clean bed. I am clearly not meant to be a world traveler, Miss Footloose. I must live vicariously through you.

But that encounter with the rat would have sent me screaming all the way home, even if it was across several continents.

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Mary Witzl April 2, 2010 at 9:26 pm

This had me howling all the way through!

In Guatemala, I stayed in a guest house in the middle of a huge lake whose name I’ve forgotten. At night, the rain made an incredible racket on the roof and so did the bugs that flew back and forth, pinging into the aluminum siding. The toilet was across an onion field and it was mercifully dark.

In Amsterdam, I stayed in the kimono-changing room of the Japanese restaurant I was working in on Wetering Schans. The mosquitoes were something fierce, and the room also had some sort of bug that left welts on my hands and arms.

In Japan, I slept in a youth hostel once which had non-flush toilets. For some ridiculous reason, the sheets were stored in the privy, in cabinets, and they did not smell of lavender.

Your cockroach story fills me with terror. I’m okay with rodents and spiders, but cockroaches really bother me. I’d have spent the night in the car, with apologies to my family…

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Miss Footloose April 6, 2010 at 12:43 pm

@ Judith van Praag. Ah, broken sewers can cause all kinds of fun! In the Warmoesstraat, right? Fun neighborhood! 😉 (For you not in the know, it’s Amsterdam’s Red Light District). Had a fun experience there once, come to think of it. Maybe I’ll get that worked into a post one time. Nothing to do with sewers though…

@ Expat Mum, well, I must admit, ignorance is bliss sometimes. If I’d known of some of the situations I’d find myself in I might have had second thoughts about going.

@ Helen, I was young, poor, and adventurous. I’m still adventurous, but these days I like my hotels with a good number of stars if I can help it. Can’t always, but mostly. Still, I’ve heard bed bugs have newly invaded even the starriest hotels in the USA.

@ LadyFi, oh that is gross! Thank you! 😉

@ Shimp, that was pretty nasty! Never thought of the Magic Fingers as a roach chaser. Rest assured that my nasty bed adventures happened when I was younger and poorer.

And trust me, you can be a world traveler and sleep your way around the world in clean beds. It just takes more money 😉

@ Mary Witzl, I loved your stories! Sheets stored in a privy, very sanitary indeed. Yours is the second mosquito story in Amsterdam. Must be all that rain and dampness of that climate.

Thank you all for entertaining me with all your horrific and gross stories!

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