A weekly ode to the joys of moaning about your holiday, by Tim Roxborogh
Standing on my own at the hotel check-in counter, an appalling steel drum band was competing with teams of caged parrots to see who could do the most decibels. All I wanted was a bed for a couple of hours to lie down and I was desperate. I'd never felt like this. One minute I'd been good and sprightly while wandering through the crammed alleyways of a town market in the Guatemalan highlands, the next thing I was confused and inexplicably ill. In that bewilderment I'd somehow ended up at a hotel that specialised in the relaxing sounds of steel drums and large, agitated birds.
This yarn dates back a few years, but I've never forgotten how surreal and dreamlike the whole episode was. I really was fine in the market and was yet to have any health issues after a week in Central America. I knew about altitude sickness, but at just on 2000m, surely we weren't high enough. And then in an instant I started to feel as if my head was spinning and I didn't really know where I was.
Alerting a friend and stumbling to the hotel, my complete lack of Spanish and the staff's very justified lack of English made for a not especially winning combo. "Buenas tardes, could I please have a room for two hours por favor?" Surely saying "please" in both Spanish and English makes up for knowing little else.
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After a couple of minutes of blank looks and an expanding gathering of staff behind the counter, it became apparent they thought I must have a prostitute in tow who was perhaps hiding, possibly among the parrot cages. It took a further minute or two to convey that it was sickness and not love that had brought me to the Hotel El Steel Drum and eventually I was given keys to a room.
Splayed on the bed, I didn't sleep. At least, I don't think I did. But despite the racket, two hours passed like five minutes before a knock on a door from a friend saying it was time for our bus. By the next day I was feeling better, but short of the drugged-out side-effects when I had my wisdom teeth out, my Guatemalan bout with altitude sickness (which generally occurs above 2400m) is the single strangest messing with time I've had.
The two hours in the hotel felt the length of a pop song, the two hours on the bus not much longer.
Everything was a blur. Except, of course, the steel drum band and the parrots. Unless they, too, were merely a symptom of the altitude sickness.
Forgetting to check when it's the monsoon season
A quick word on tourists who hit tropical destinations in search of sunshine for their holidays but forget to do one very crucial thing before booking their tickets: googling. There's no excuse in this day and age. Maybe once you needed encyclopedias or physical copies of Lonely Planet to find out rainy seasons versus dry seasons, but not in 2017. Too many times I've heard from people complaining about how grey and wet their supposed tropical paradise was, oblivious to the fact there's a reason they got those flights so cheaply.
If it's Fiji you're heading to, know that March is the wettest month. Goa in India has virtually no rain from November to May but is so soggy in June and July that much of it closes down. If Southeast Asia beckons, know that the east coast of the Malay peninsula is great any time of year except during the Kiwi summer, when wind and rain can arrive. Sri Lanka has a couple of different monsoons and tourist magnets like Costa Rica can be seriously drenched if you forget to google. Don't.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's The Two, Coast Soul on Coast and writes theRoxboroghReport.com