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A roundabout way to get some sleep

Special to The Times

Sleep is the enemy of the traveler. It's the dark demon that devours six, seven, eight hours a day. It rips the voyager from the quest, the explorer from the exploration.

I fought sleep on the way home from Indonesia. My husband, Michael, and I had a 14-hour layover on Guam — 14 bonus hours of travel, if we could stay awake.

Arriving on the island at 4 a.m. sleepy, unrefreshed but eager to venture forth, we were first in line when the car rental office opened. With coffee and a Corolla, we headed out to circumnavigate Guam. We drove to beaches, through jungles and past American military installations.

After a while, I thought, "We could sleep on the beach."

Obviously, the caffeine was wearing off, and Guam wasn't helping. We found no coffeehouses, no coffee shops, not even a market with chocolate-covered espresso beans.

As we searched, the heavens opened. We found refuge under a picnic shelter with two Chamorros, Guam natives, who said the monsoon would last all day. We could see nothing but water and gray.

Defeated, we decided to find a hotel. If we couldn't explore, at least we could sleep.

When the rain eased, we drove to the tourist information center, a bright office near the airport filled with pretty posters of paradise. We explained to a perky receptionist in her 20s that we wanted a clean place but weren't looking to spend much because our flight was in five hours. "Oh!" she said. "We have hotels that rent by the hour!"

We were too sleepy to object. If this young woman in a chaste mid-calf-length indigo skirt and white blouse buttoned up to her neck thought "love hotels" were OK, we were OK with them too. One was only a mile or two away.

The hotel looked anything but romantic: a gray, five-story cinderblock monolith. Inside the dingy lobby — a jungle-green grotto 10 feet square, with fluorescent lighting and a hint of mildew — a sullen clerk sat behind a small window, through which we handed our cash. The hourly rate was good only for stays of three hours or less, so we had to pay the full nightly rate of $50. Without looking or speaking, the clerk slid a key toward us.

When we opened the door to our room, we realized the decorator who had done the lobby and hallway had been here as well. A plain, squared-off dresser and nightstands were made of particle board laminated with a '70s-era walnut veneer. The ensemble rested on dun-colored carpeting. Three small bulbs glowed behind yellowed shades.

Only one feature reminded us that we were staying somewhere other than an interstate motel: the bed.

It was round.

A rollicking good time The bed had no headboard or bedspread — just standard white sheets with a lightweight yellow blanket across the top. No lacy, heart-shaped pillows. None of the bachelor-pad panache of James Bond. None of the charm of a Doris Day-Rock Hudson movie.

But we chuckled and joked about who would sleep on which side. My husband noticed TV control knobs next to the bed. He pushed the "on" button, but the television did nothing. The center of the bed, however, started rising and falling six inches every couple of seconds.

Thump-ah! Thump-ah! With each pulse, the corners of the blanket and sheet floated like the wings of a manta ray.

Thump-ah! Thump-ah! This thunderous beast had awakened in its cinderblock cave. I imagined it to be the invention of a warped chiropractor, but clearly it was meant with a different function in mind.

The bed did serve one purpose for us: It woke us up. You can't laugh that hard and be sleepy.

Bay Area writer April Orcutt has slept on a dirt floor in Tibet, on a boat in Kashmir and on a straw mat in Bali.

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