This next section is my travel companion, Richard Morris’ account of code breaking our Lonely Planet guide book.
Wednesday 4th November 1992, Sable Lodge, Harare
Oh yeah – perhaps the funniest thing yet. I think I have discovered something of utmost importance: top secret code written in the Africa guide book we have. It came together as several astute realizations pieced together from random thoughts of the last few weeks. Like the four forces of the natural world, electomagnetism, gravity, strong and weak, though superficially disparate, are really just a component of an even greater heaven, so thusly are these different facts. In my book, places listed in the super budget accommodation section, here and there would mention the fact that they had 24 hour hot water.
Now, as anyone who has gone to the Bedouin village of Dahab or even here to the relatively plush accomodations at the Sable Lodge knows that this is but chimerical. No one has 24 hour hot water. You’re lucky if you get five minutes a day of hot water, even more lucky if those five happen to fall sequentially. Cold showers become the norm, rather acceptable, and even held with the same adorning awe as are its counterpart, the blessed hot. So, my thesis is that no hotel listed in my book has 24 hot water. If a hotel could afford 24 hour hot water, it’s name would have been withheld from my publication for two reasons. First, and perhaps overtly, the budget traveler cannot afford places with such luxuries. And secondly, less scrutinized than the first reason proffered, there would be no method available to actually communicate this information. To print it plainly that there were 24 hour hot water would only do one of two things, and neither would be the expected. First, travelers searching for steam would go to a hotel that made such a claim.
Now here we must digress for a second. Let us assume that most places don’t have hot water, let alone 24 hours of it, as was suggested earlier by my nascent experience. So if one actually did have it, and prodded the author to include such information in the publication, which of course the author knows to be code for something else and doesn’t want to print it, but if one persisted perhaps one could convince the author to appease with the pen. That leaves a book filled with hotels stating that they have 24 hot water, but only with a minute fraction that actually do. Therefore, if we jump back to our real aim, which is what a traveler does when going to a place listed as having 24 hot water, and consider this problem in the light of this additional piece of information, that the majority, in fact, the totality almost of all the hotels listed in the guide as having 24 hour hot water don’t, then a conclusion can easily be reached. The traveler looking for the 24 hot water is soon disappointed at the claims made on the pages. Naturally, one will come to expect that 24 hot water is as much a reality as window screens in your room. And if there are window screens, that they are new enough not to have holes so large as to let in a mosquito, let alone the entire biting populace. And that’s where I thought it ended.
Until I broke the code. I didn’t realize that there was more to it before I made the connection. If we think more about it, we can see it from a psychological perspective. Somewhere between conditioning and reward and punishment lies the hidden innuendo, the hidden agenda of the author. By virtue of the fact you’re never satisfied at a place listing 24 hot water, you’ll stay away from them, unconsciously, of course; unless you know the code.
Many places where one can travel in Africa, one can obtain marijuana. It’s not difficult to obtain. Not even a hassle, like in the States or London. I mean you walk into a hotel to check in out, and it smells like Death Duber [Dead show?], even when there is a big sign that says no smoking pot. I mean you walk into a place and sitting on the porch is a tupperware container large enough to carry a dinner salad to a party of twelve, full of
ganga. I mean in your stoned forgetfulness you lose track of a doobie, though it’s never lost in your mind, you don’t even know it exists, you forgot about it the second after we finished smoking it’s brother – only the next day, when it’s given back to you by the staff, do you remember that it was lost.
These places cover the map of Africa. I’m not saying I’ve always stayed in places like this, up till now it’s been always hit or miss. We’d relied on words from fellow travelers for good places, regardless of dope. Sometimes yes, sometimes, no, but you could tell more or less the answer ahead of time by the very nature of the communicator. But it was just guesswork with the book, like picking the derby winner, or so I had thought.
It came to me in a verbal tirade at the lack of information in our book, and the sometimes when information was so inaccurate you wonder whether it was actually true of any time in the past or if they were just having a minor laugh at your expense. We’d just walked three kilometers to find the bus terminus, expecting to find there information on buying a bus ticket to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. At the terminus, there was no ticket vender nor an information booth, those were back in town, from whence we had just come. On the way to the ticket office, in directions laid down before me like fine mosaic tiles, we past the Harare Information Centre.
We wanted to find information on the bus, we had great directions, but nonetheless, we decided to drop into the Information Centre to see what they had to offer. Once inside we learned the ticket office so promised us did not exist. To get bus information on buying tickets, one had to board bus 27 at the terminus, go to Mtare, a suburb of Harare, where somewhere outside the city center, the ticket selling information center was located. That threw me for a loop. There was something about this folly that irked me deep down. The man in the Centre said he had limited information on the buses, and he showed us what he had. Unexpectedly, he did have the information we needed. It was a few moments after we left that my verbal tirade began.
I remember today as will Clinton remember today. He won the Presidency this morning, a climax to his political career. Myself, I will remember this day because of its anticlimactic aura. Only one thing happened today, I had a verbal tirade, and when you’re stuck in Harare, stoned immaculate, g etting shisted by the shitty book, and have a verbal tirade, it is quite possible you may say more in a few minutes than in the entire rest of the day combined. Perhaps even two days. It w as in this vitriol that I stumbled upon the fact – no, I had a revelation – that the two previous unconnected stories, that of 24 hot water, and that of marijuana, were in reality, just one story with two means of expression. Much like electricity and magnetism are but two forms of expression of the same basic force, these two seemingly unrelated phenomena have but one common underlying meaning. The code. When seen from my angle, it’s all very clear.
So let me jump back to an earlier yet so far uncompleted argument. That was the case that if the book listed that 24 hour hot water existed, two things might happen. The first is the traveler going to the hotel and being disappointed. The second, which was previously not mentioned, is the traveler going to the hotel and not being disappointed. The traveler is not disappointed because the traveler has gone to a hotel that has exactly what he has expected.
Any place that lists 24 hot water is a secret code for ‘this is a hotel where you get stoned. It seems to fit with theory and experience. So far I do believe it is a code, but I may be proved wrong. I will continue to do exhaustive field work, and then spring my news upon the world like a slowly dispersing gaseous cloud full of rain for the desert. Until then I’ll just spark up another ere long I’m proved wrong.