Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bonus Material - The DePat Palace Hotel sets a new standard in lodging

Dear friends and family,

Lest you think all is coming up roses in Ghana, I wanted to share with you our experiences at the hotel near the cluster.

Lauren is all about "managing expectations" on this trip, and she has been lowering expectations about this hotel for months now. Actually, the De Pat is no worse than the Nomad Palace in Garissa, Kenya near the Somali border, just remarkable in its own way.

The day in Bonsaaso, Ghana had been great, but we were all hot and sticky, and in sore need of a shower and a cold beer.

How does the nursery rhyme go? The king told the queen and the queen told the dairymaid - everybody knows that I am not a fussy man; all I really want is some butter for my bread.

None of us are fussy people. But the rooms were a bit of a disappointment. Wendy's had "disco lights" - you know, pulsing fluorescent ones - and a broken window with no screen. Her air conditioning worked, but too well. She slept in all her clothes, and her morning shower had no hot water. One of the jalousie windows in our room had glass slats falling out and - like Wendy's - could not be closed.

Lauren thought she won the prize for worst room. In her bathroom she found a previously used soap and 3 used toothbrushes. Reception clerk: "Didn't you know you can use soap more than once?" Lauren: "Yes, if I'm the one who used it before!"

Our room had only two lights, overhead fluorescent fixtures (not disco!) But only one (approx 60w) was working. Judy: "Can you fix that light?" Reception clerk: "No, that's why the working one is so bright."

Our room - and Ashley's had a non-functioning toilet - but in both cases the person who used it last didn't realize that. Probably that's why the bathroom window was open.

Worst of all, the bar was unattended and the beer fridge was locked! I got a little crabby at that point and told the reception clerk that if he coudn't fix our toilet, he needed to change our room. (I later apologized to the reception clerk.)

Two Guinnesses and a new room later all was well: this toilet was not broken, just flush- challenged, there was one working overhead 25w fixture- a WORKING AIR CONDITIONER - no broken windows! Interestingly, there was a makeshift shower rod with rings but no curtain. There was no hot water but the cool water felt like showering outside by the pool.

When we got back outside, the beer had been liberated and people were waiting for dinner to be served. At that point, they had been waiting an hour or so, and I was deputed to check things out in the kitchen.

A little background: we seem to be the only guests at this hotel. We had come down to the restaurant when we first arrived. It did not seem to be operating. It was pitch black, and pots and pans were strewn all over the kitchen floor because the few counters were piled high with various utensils and ingredients. Agnes, the young woman we found there seemed startled to see us. When she asked what we would like to eat Lauren said, "What do you mean "eat"? I don't see any food here!"

With Rafael's help, we were able to determine that she could make white rice, fried rice and vegetables with rice. It took a little while longer, but then it turned out that she could also prepare chicken, fish and eggs.

So back to our hungry group waiting up near the pool an hour later (did I mention the slightly scummy pool with the bullfrogs?). When I went down to check on the delay, I found Agnes and another young woman dashing madly around the hot kitchen, trying to turn out the 8 meals on a 5 burner gas stove. The fish and rice were done, vegetables were chopped, and chicken was frying.

I offered to help, and was delighted when they accepted my offer. Especially since it meant I could have some input into how our meal was prepared. It still took another half hour, but it was fun for me. You know, people pay lots of money in fancy hotels to take cooking lessons and prepare their own food. I got a bargain.

Breakfast this morning was not a repeat of dinner: there was no rush because one of our cars had developed a flat tire. But we did get to see other quirky operating practices of the restaurant. There were no plates and only one set of silverware for the 8 of us to share (last night's mess was piled on the kitchen floor, so maybe that's where the plates and silverware were). The sugar bowl held 5 sugar cubes and the first thing that came to the table was a plate of salt and pepper. While we were discussing how to share this meal equitably, Agnes brought out toast and rolled up fried eggs. Luckily, I still have plenty of peanut butter.

Meanwhile, the reception clerk kept repeating to Lauren, "You're going to pay your bill. You're going to pay your bill."

As we left the hotel, our driver Agbeko's tape of "Praise the Lord" said it all.


ps. Rafael says he is planning to bring me back vicuna yarn from Ecuador next August! I win!


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