Friday 28 September 2012

The Guest Mate Inn

Despite what some guide books say, Livingstone, Zambia is not a tourist town.  Sure, it has a few backpacker hostels, but these are basically self-contained units, that provide everything a traveller needs.  Even then, a vast majority of tourists who come to Livingstone skip the town altogether and head ten kilometres down the road to the swanky hotels that line the banks of the Zambezi river near Victoria Falls.  (Although these people are missing out on a lot, I don’t judge them too harshly.  Culture shock would soon hit me like a sledgehammer, and shake my confidence as a traveller).

My wife and I, however, had chosen to stay at the Guest Mate Inn, which had been booked by my wife’s friend who lived in Livingstone.  According to what little literature I could find on the place, it had once served as home to British Army officers back during the days of Empire.  The walled compound consisted of the main house, with an opened walled bar at the back and five or six detached dwellings.  One of these had been reserved for us. 

Upon check-in, we were told that we must pay for the room in advance.  It was only then that we learned about the recent law forbidding the use of any currency except the local kwacha. Bad news for my pocket full of US Dollars.  Thankfully, in true Zambian style, the woman behind the desk, just smiled and told me I could pay tomorrow, or the next day.  I did managed to pay the next day – 2,140,000 kwacha (about $400) for the nine-nights we stayed there.

Our little dwelling consisted of a comfortable bedroom, containing a mini-fridge, an air-conditioner/heater, and a television that received three channels.  We also had a bathroom, with a nice, hot shower.  Although the room looked a little tired and worn, at the time, we didn’t realize what kind of luxury this represented.  As near as we could tell, very few tourists stayed at the inn; its main clientele appeared to be passing businessmen.

Our room also came with a complimentary ‘continental’ breakfast.  This consisted of Roos tea and toast with butter and jam.  The butter and jam came on a plate, four rough lumps of butter around the edges, with a plop of jam in the middle.  A couple of mornings they were out of jam.  Sometimes, the toast was only toasted on one-side.  For $4 you could order a ‘Full English’ breakfast.  We tried this once, and although they made a valiant effort at sausages, eggs, bacon, and baked beans, we decided to just stick with the toast from thereafter.

In the nine nights we stayed at the Inn, our room was never cleaned.  One morning, one of the women who worked their asked if ‘today we wanted our room cleaned’.  Somewhat caught off-guard by the question, we replied that it wasn’t necessary.  ‘Maybe tomorrow, then’, she replied, and that’s the last we heard of it.  We did, once, have to ask for more toilet paper, and our bin was a bit overflowing by the end, but it was fine.

With all of its little quirks, the Guest Mate Inn quickly became a little home to us.  It was a wonderful retreat when the busy chaos of Livingstone town became too much for us.  At night, when we would wander in from the pitch black road outside, we would say good-evening to the gate-guard, and he would respond, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’

Should you ever find yourself in Livingstone, and there are many reasons to go, consider staying a night or two at the Guest Mate Inn.

(To be continued...)

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