You know you’ve spent ten bucks on a hotel room in Africa when…

Africa hotels travel

Every ten buck hotel in Africa comes with a personal pet - the better ones with a fly-munching gecko

You know you’ve spent ten bucks on a hotel room in Africa when…


You receive a post-check-in visit from the pubic hair fairy. Despite a thorough inspection, a liberal smattering of short and curlies will surface on sheets, pillow cases, in shower drains and, of course, on the toilet seat. There will be an improbably long, large and dark one, prompting you to wonder which large animal formerly used your room as its lair. Less common, is the snot wipe, usually within swiping range from the bed or toilet. These boogie comets have a mucus tail at least five times the size of their snotty hearts.

Your room comes complete with a complimentary pet. Higher-end ten buck rooms sport sociable yet flighty fly-ingesting geckos with gluesticks for toes, able to cling on to the roof even when the ceiling fan is set to helicopter take-off speeds. In lower-end rooms, rats and bed bugs will be your companions. Ubiquitous petite cockroaches are offered standard across the board.

You’ll only get hot water once you have stormed down three flights of stairs, wrapped in a towel, eyes full of shampoo, to complain to a disinterested receptionist.This process may have to be repeated two or three times. Then, if you can decipher the byzantine system of taps and levers, you’ll either be scalded from a jet of volcanic liquid or mildly teased with a stream of tepid rusty soup, two degrees above room temperature, which constitutes ‘hot water’ in ten buck hotels.

You will only want to use the toilet in absolute emergencies. If you are ‘lucky’ enough to have a ‘western-style’ loo installed, the bathroom door will in some way impede your movements; perhaps you will have to pin yourself against a filthy wall to evacuate. Pit/squatters in this price range tend to resemble a complete mud-bath - frankly it’s more hygienic to crap in open sewers outside. Also, toilet paper, with the rough consistency of double-ply wet newspaper, is handed out piece by piece, on a need-to-wipe basis.


It is nasally impossible to attribute your room’s aroma to just one source. The stagnant drain stench, mixed with a musky dampness and an entrenched whiff of former occupants’ B.O. will only just offset the blend of pongs bouncing up from the bustling street market below where fishmongers and open-air butcheries thrive. Locally manufactured air-fresheners that parade titles such as ‘berry fresh’ are thrice as toxic as the original smell, which is unable to find an exit through the room’s dungeon-sized window in any case.  

Your bed will have a personality disorder. However comfortable your bed seems in the pre-check-in test (the bounce technique or the five-second faux sleep methods are popular), it will inevitably transform into a diamond-hard, or marshmallow soft, enemy of the snoozer. A rebel slat will protrude into the boniest part of your back, forcing you into the ‘mattress canyon’ from where few emerge before dawn.

Plugging in an electrical appliance is always met with a small spark, shock or sizzling sound, a usually not-fatal reminder that ‘this is Africa’. Exposed and unearthed electric wires that would have a building condemned anywhere else at least remind you that you should be grateful that your room has/had/will have electricity. Power (and water) supplies are a privilege not a right in ten-buck hotels, whether they have a deafening generator or not.

You’ll learn that cooling air in Africa is a noisy business. Ceiling fans come complete with a ticking noise that will remind you of a long-forgotten tune you will spend hours trying to recognise. You will spend the remainder of the night wondering at what time the wobbly fan will shear from the roof and scalp you. Your air-con will sound as though powered by a small open-exhaust truck engine, blowing similarly noxious fumes powerfully into your airway. Net result for either is a one or two degree temperature difference and two or three fewer dollars in your money belt.

Your new digs will be painted in colours rejected by Soviet local councils in the mid-60s. Hospital-sheet green walls and shock-therapy pink ceilings are popular, commonly two-toned with unintentionally muddy shades of white. Barely affixed bathroom tiles with LSD-inspired floral arrangements will of course complement the main room’s paint job. Luckily your ten-buck room will only be lit by a piss-weak single bulb, so you won’t be haunted by the technicolour yawn after nightfall unless you brought your own torch. 

A glass-fronted grey box is not necessarily a working television. It may, however, offer one snowy, grainy channel, alternating between local-language, odiously soundtracked soap operas; B-grade Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood (from Nigeria) films (with ‘cuss’ words brutally edited out); and snippets from 24-hour news channels on a seemingly infinite loop. You will have to get off your bum and prod the grey box to turn on/off (up/down) because the batteries for the remote will certainly have been stolen, despite the hotels staff’s best effort to secure them with masking tape. And, whatever is on, you will watch it.

A 3am ‘call to prayer’ will alert you to the fact there is a mosque with particularly thunderous and crackly speakers in close proximity. Hotel management will forget to mention it as they will also forget to tell you about how the restaurant next to your window transforms into a raucous, violent nightclub after about 11pm most nights. After being woken bolt upright each night you vow to complain, get a refund and change hotels. You won’t! You’ll be too tired to.

… And, despite all the above, you will recommend your hotel to other travellers, saying “it’s not bad value for ten bucks, really” - ensuring you are not the only idiot to live in such squalor.  


Steve Madgwick