Author: Thomas E. Simmons

The rooms are less than luxurious. Indeed, there are no rooms as such. Instead, an assortment of squalid pup tents greets each visitor.

Pitched there haphazardly among the campsites nearest the inclines are numerous corrosive mists of carbon dioxide. There, in the fog, one almost stumbles upon them – the tents; rows of them but none too straight. Bent. Tarpaulin triangles with lightweight poles thrust harshly through ringlets in the canvas and lightly scratching the surface. Those poles will scrape away the gills from the fishless tourists – even the casual ones. (As if there are any other kind.)

The cheeky hurricanes overpopulating the less attractive neighborhoods are as insufferable as the boulders masquerading as maître d’s. They’ll tire you out before you’ve escaped the train depot. On a positive note, however, they rarely demand a tip.

Leave your gills at home or at least secured in your Samsonites with their adorable little locks and charmingly undersized wheels since the surface temperature exceeds the highest setting on most household ovens by 400° or so and the atmospheric pressure is a crushing 90 bars, making the possibility of palms trees, coral, or even seraphs remote at best. A consular mocking at worst. It’s hot.

One’s luggage locks will be replaced by soldered teardrops before one resets one’s wristwatch. And the wheels will drop out of their chassis like pregnant pits. There are no flies in the ointment because the flies are bits of ash. Torn muscle. Poorly crafted limericks. Jots. Invariably, they’ll stick in your teeth. Bring floss.

The black and white photographs of the country’s navel reveal something like the inside of a backyard grill that’s been left on all night to cook itself to death, while the color photographs disclose yellowed tints from the smeary mustard sands. Smeared vindictively. It’s as if she’s cooked her own navel and served it to herself on a platter too hot to touch and then finger-painted on herself with a slightly rotted flaxen rouge. It’s as if she’s shoved a moth into a candle’s flame and held it there, cauterizing her clenching.

It’s all rather banal. Like a mud-covered lantern, the coastlines are ignored by the locals and for good reason.

And it’s warmer than a blast oven – if its climate was a kiln it would bust itself apart and spill open like a gourd. Hotter than an apogee furnace into which someone might cram an accidentally suffocated corpse – to remove any trace of it. To make it go away. To make bones be bygone.

Cooking long after the springs are punched out. Cooking and cooking – roasting without rest.

So, consider sandals, a few smart linen outfits, a sun hat for the ladies or a rakish pith helmet for the gentlemen. Leave the wool blazers in Amiens. You won’t miss them. Even the evenings are stifling. They turn one’s crotch and armpits into soup. A soup without any seasoning and fit only for savages. And don’t even think of inquiring about croutons. They’re seldom available.

Indeed, culinary options are limited. A rival travel guide warns: ‘Unpacking, you’ll find only a too-thick-hot-gelatin or overcooked magma on the room service list of options’ (tactfully omitting the wrench-like mercury-filled bread sticks, despite their repetitive prominence on every menu).

Another hisses: ‘Spare, terse, desiccated, uncompromising.’

“A life-changing destination for the suicidal,’ wisecracks the last.

Accordingly, we recommend arranging one’s exit visa prior to arrival. Don’t rely on the expertise of their functionaries. The agents are irredeemable. It’s almost as if custom and immigration forms haven’t beset – or been invented there – yet.

One and one-half stars.


Editor’s Note: ‘Ms Lonely Planet’ was previously published by Rue Scribe