I was 21 and rather innocent (though, of course, I thought I was terribly worldly!) and on my first trip out of Europe - a six month trip to Latin America. After three months working on volunteer projects, my boyfriend had flown out from London to join me and together we'd set off north from Costa Rica, hoping to reach Mexico three months later. We were young, enthusiastic and broke - no plane trips for us. Instead, we were taking rickety old buses up the Pan American highway. They didn't cost much, were invariably late leaving and arriving, and broke down periodically. Of course, we weren't in a great hurry and besides, what choice did we have?
En route to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, our plan was simply to change buses and head straight off to La Ceiba, a coastal city from which we could then take a boat or small plane out to the island of Utila. We had no desire to spend a night in the capital, having been told it was dirty, costly and dangerous. Due to arrive at 4pm, we figured we had plenty of time to make the connection. Of course, we hadn't factored in the inevitable Latino delays. Not only had we left the Nicaraguan border late (what border guard doesn't like his siesta?) but then we'd made two long stops because of engine problems. Finally rocking up in the capital at almost 10pm, we were hungry and exhausted and the last bus to La Ceiba had long since departed. We needed to bed down.
Since this was pre-internet, we got out our Lonely Planet travel guide and scoured for local accommodation page. All the cheap options were near to our bus station, so at least we wouldn't have far to walk that night and then back, the following morning. On the downside, the area was pretty seedy...which made me thankful I had a man next to me. Trudging from place to place, it soon became clear that we had a problem, Everything was full. Still, desperate for a shower and sleep, neither of us could face an entire night sitting in the bus station.
Our of the corner of my eye, I spied a place with a faded sign, half a block away. I figured we might as well give it a shot. Inside, a guy with a beer gut and lecherous smile bade us good evening. Yes, he had a room for us, he said, and beckoned us up the stairs. What we saw was shabby - a bare room with a bed, old closet and sink - but for a few hours it would do. We gratefully handed over a few dollars then threw our backpacks on the floor. Two quick showers later, we fell into bed, too tired even to go out in search of a snack
But for some reason, that night, I couldn't sleep at all. Maybe it was the traffic outside (we were below a main street). Maybe I was overtired from the long day's journey. Maybe I was coming down with something (I'd been feeling below par for a day or two). Whatever it was, I tossed and turned, and as I did so I became aware that doors were being banged shut quite regularly. Why was everyone being so damned noisy, I thought to myself? At 2am, I rose to go to the bathroom (down the hall). As I turned into the corridor, I bumped straight into two older guys, accompanied by two young, beautiful women. They stared at me briefly, then laughed to each other in Spanish, before splitting into two couples and entering doors either side of mine.
Back in bed, half an hour later, I heard the doors either side of me bang again and voices on the stairs. Not long after, the banging began again. Exhausted and, by now, rather bad tempered, I decided to go out and yell at them. Opening the door, once more I saw one of the pretty young women - only this time she was with an even older, fatter guy. The penny finally dropped - we'd rented a room in an establishment of 'ladies of the night.' Not that I had any great moral objection - just that why did it have to be so noisy? I fell back into bed, put a pillow over my head and waited for daybreak.
Early the following morning, sipping coffee at the bus station, my boyfriend looked at my exhausted face.
"Not enough sleep last night?"
"A lot of door banging, darling. Not that you noticed - you slept right through it. By the way, did you know the place was a knocking shop when we checked in?"
My better half laughed. "I had my suspicions but figured it would be better not to tell you."
"Why? Needs must when the devil dares. Just remind me to pick up a pair of earplugs when we get to the coast. Tonight, I really need a proper night's sleep."