Sleep, a solace to all mortals
Sleep, to some so natural
Sleep, to many so elusive
Sleep, to some so simple
Sleep, to some a real struggle
Sleep, for some, bountiful to envy
Sleep, for some, commodity to buy
Sleep, in it some walk riskily
Sleep, in it some talk profusely
Sleep, a gift to all human beings
Sleep, a basic necessity of life
Sleep well, wake up refreshed,
Step on to face daily challenges.
Those who know me well have probably learnt that I am the queen of sleep – I can sleep anytime, anywhere, even with half my ass on a chair and the other half hanging in the air, with the side of my head banging against a car window, with the most annoying music blasting through loudspeakers, or within a sardine-packed vehicle bumping up and down over potholes. This is a gift that I deeply treasure as quality sleep is the single most important thing that does not come easily for anyone. As a traveller, a proper (let alone cozy & comfortable) bed is never a given and you just got to live with what you have and make the most out of it. Here I’ve selected a collection of some unforgettable sleeping environments I’ve had on the road.
1. Musty old Soviet-style pension (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)
The corridors and reception were squeaky clean but the rooms were left untouched. A cloud of dust flew off when I gave the beddings a nice old pat. The rug was musty and smelled of old wet towels. The bathtub was covered with a layer of black scum – looks like it hadn’t been used in months. This was finished off with a half peeled off wallpaper of a resort somewhere resembling the Maldives – how ironic. Next to my bed was an eerie old leather suitcase belonging to God knows who which I wouldn’t dare touch. Could someone be staying at my bed?
In the middle of the night, my bed suddenly shook from side to side – I got up with a cold shiver. Then it shook again – so I looked under my bed, maybe there was someone under my bed? Nothing. It shook a third time. My friends were sleeping soundly – how come it’s only my bed??!!! I swear it must have something to do with the suitcase!! I said my prayers (first one after quite a long while), switched on some music, hugged myself tight, and tried all I could to get back to sleep.
The next day, I found out that there was a small earthquake last night.
2. River-side hut and swamp-side hammocks (Amazonian Jungle, Brazil)
Mosquitoes love me and how would they leave me alone in the Amazon rainforest? Although I had a mosquito net, it had got several holes at the top. I put tissue papers in the holes but it wouldn’t stop the mosquitoes from coming in. They were literally eating me up alive, even when I had applied Deet 30 cream all over and worn thick socks (it was 30 degrees). Whenever I switched on my head torch, I would see a few dozen mosquitoes flying around in front of my face. Bats became my good friends because they ate mosquitoes.
We spent one night sleeping in hammocks next to a swamp in the middle of the jungle. At night-time, when I shone a torch towards the swamp, a few dozen red eyes shone back… the swamp was the home of a big family of crocodiles!
3. Crashing in a cafe (Cappadoccia, Turkey)
Accommodation was expensive in Cappadoccia but I happened to get to know the owner of this cafe in Goreme who allowed me to sleep at their little terrace outside the cafe for free. However it was during one the coldest winter months so I was totally freezing at night after the charcoal was burnt out in the heater. But it was an interesting view from the terrace, overlooking random people hanging out on the streets in the middle of the night, dogs fighting on the roadside, and oh, how I love being woken up early in the morning by warm sunlight shining on my face 🙂
4. Crashing in hotel owner’s room (Erbil, Iraq)
It was Nowruz (new year festival) season in northern Iraq and I had a hard time looking for accommodation in Erbil, there was a flood of people from Baghdad who came to Erbil to see their relatives. The guesthouses were either full or too expensive. After over an hour of searching I became rather hopeless, until I came across this hotel, the owner of whom felt for my situation and was kind enough to let me stay in his room, while he slept on the couch at the reception. He refused to accept any money I paid him. I felt truly grateful for his extreme generosity and bought him and his staff some fruits from the market. They cut the fruits, spread them out nicely on a dish, and brought the dish up to the room for me. I was almost in tears.
5. Trains in India
An all-time most entertaining experience full of stimulation to your sight, smell and hearing. Pick the general seaters or 3rd class sleepers as you will get to see local Indian life at its most dynamic form, with the strangest food sold on board and the funniest people ever. Early in the morning, don’t forget to take a peep out onto the railway, where you will see loads of people squatting in their own little space on the railway taking their morning shit. Slums are usually gathered around the noisy, hence cheap land, next to the railways and the homes in slums typically have no toilets – the open railway naturally became their communal toilet.
For a story of one truly unforgettable night I had on an Indian train, take a look at this post.
My philosophy is, whatever condition you happen to fall into, close your eyes, relax, imagine you’re floating on water and feel the blood flowing through your fingers and toes. A dreamy sleep is not too far.
(to be continued…)