A postcard from the Vice Versa Hotel

Let me get one thing straight from the start.  I didn’t actually stay in the Hotel Vice-Versa. But I nearly did (well, I stayed just down the road), and it was such a beautiful name that I felt I should steal it (it’s not the most amazing hotel name that I’ve stayed in – that honour goes to the Hotel Paradiso in Northern Ghana, which proved the law that a hotel is generally the opposite to its name’s claims to quality – hence the appeal of this hotel, as it seemed to encapsulate that in its very essence). Not only did I not stay in the Vice-Versa Hotel, unfortunately I didn’t even see it.  It may be no more than a sign by the side of the road, promising many delights.

Voila - l'hotel vice-versa, Bouansa, Congo, October 2012 :: photo copyright Richard Hanson for the Bible Society

Voila – l’hotel vice-versa, Bouansa, Congo, October 2012 :: photo copyright Richard Hanson for the Bible Society

I was in Congo (that’s Congo-Brazzaville, on the northern bank of the Congo river, rather than the rather more dysfunctional Democratic Republic of Congo, or Congo-Kinshasa, on the southern bank and all points east) for the Bible Society, doing a story which will surface next year, and which I’ll post here once they use it.

Hotels (or guesthouses, which are where I often end up), are a seldom mentioned part of travelling with NGOs. When you’re working and travelling with a charity, you’re obviously expecting to be at the more basic end of the accommodation ladder – but there’s a constant trade-off between cost and security, and the downside of very low cost accommodation can often be that sleep is tricky, the food is dodgy, or the disco is weirdly loud (thank you Haiti), which can make you rather less effective the next day…

Sometimes you just have no choice – this is the view from the window in my room on our way out to Bouansa, near the station we’d just arrived at around midnight – getting there involved a rather intricate dance around large areas of mud and un-drained roads (not, I hasten to add, anything to do with the Vice-Versa Hotel). The room had a mattress, sheets and a door, though not a lot else – not a problem for a short night though…

View with room, Congo, October 2012 :: photo Richard Hanson

View with room, Congo, October 2012 :: photo Richard Hanson

Not a great night’s sleep, but better than the train…

I’ve tried to take pictures from the windows of my hotel rooms when I’ve been travelling around – on an old website I had a series called ‘View with a room‘, but it did become rather depressing. This is the Dul Hotel in Mongolia (which again proved the ‘inverse-hotel name’ law – a really cool Soviet-kitsch hotel, with those time-zone clocks over the reception, and a sense of history…):

View with a Room :: The Dul Hotel, Murun, Mongolia, 2007 :: photo Richard Hanson for MAF

View with a Room :: The Dul Hotel, Murun, Mongolia, 2007 :: photo Richard Hanson for MAF

The solution is often just to grab a beer (first night always a beer produced in-country – after that, often back to something more predictable, especially if it leaves as metallic an after-taste as this one):

Ngok beer, Congo, 2012 :: photo Richard Hanson

Ngok beer, Congo, 2012 :: photo Richard Hanson

In honour of the Vice-Versa Hotel, I’ve resurrected the View with a Room gallery for this blog – they’re on the Gallery pages of the site. Here’s a taster of one of the more exciting views I’ve ever had…

View with a Room, un-named hotel, NE Brazil, 2007 :: photo Richard Hanson for Tearfund

View with a Room, un-named hotel, NE Brazil, 2007 :: photo Richard Hanson for Tearfund

That wasn’t a great hotel…

I’m looking forward to posting more about the Congo trip at some point – we met some wonderful people, and managed to get a lot done in a very short period of time. To finish for the moment, this is the train that we travelled home on:

Chemin de fer de Congo... :: photo Richard Hanson

Chemin de fer de Congo… :: photo Richard Hanson

Brand new carriages, really comfortable complete with air-conditioning and reclining seats – unfortunately the train ahead of us derailed, so the journey took a little longer than expected (as in fifteen hours not five…). But we met a woman from South London, who’d moved back to Congo because it offered better opportunities for her and her family, had a good chat, and thankfully our train managed to stay on the tracks.

Oh, and I just remembered, it’s worth mentioning a little about the (rather splendid) little hotel we did stay in in Bouansa – apart from being very pleasant, it had this sign, which got extra merit points from me:

Yes, that actually is Tintin. In the Congo. Bouansa, Congo, October 2012 :: copyright Richard Hanson

Yes, that actually is Tintin. In the Congo. Bouansa, Congo, October 2012 :: copyright Richard Hanson

richard hanson :: photographer :: sheffield

hansonphoto.co.uk