After a 45-minute bus journey, I disembarked into the heat and bustle of what I took to be the city centre. I felt immediately nostalgic for Peru.
I hailed a taxi to bring me to my first choice of hostel, which in my guidebook’s few descriptive lines, appeared to tick most relevant boxes. The driver had a speech impediment that made communication harder. Over the next week, I realised it was shared by the entire population. My beginners Spanish needed a new beginning.
Annoyingly, my first choice of hostel suggested the man from helpdesk may have been right to wrinkle his nose at my plan to seek downmarket accommodation. The narrow insalubrious street in which the ill-starred hotel lived out its sorry existence was choking with the fumes of vehicles beeping and chugging slowly through it, while on its front door a giant cockroach stood lugubrious guard at the level of my face for the entire length of my short stay. In my nightmares, the very gates of hell would have giant cockroaches as gatekeepers.
The hotel’s claim to have a telephone, computer, and hot water were not based on truth, or even recent history, so it was unsurprising that more abstract promises – such as it being clean, friendly and safe – for humans rather than insects – were similarly distant from reality. In my room, the carpets curled, the curtains drooped and the wallpaper peeled in ways suggesting they were best done away with altogether.