Single Serving Friends I've gotten too old for hostels, most likely. They are probably the greatest places in the world when you're in your early 20s, but they can be very complicated and high maintanence in a way that just doesn't work as you start to get older. They would probably be more fun if I cared about meeting people anymore--but even if the language barrier didn't restrict that mostly to fellow travelers, I've grown sick of single serving friends. So I wind up up much more interested in seeing "Guernica" than meeting someone from Guernica.
I'm 26 years old now--I've spent somewhere between three and four years traveling through foreign countries--five if you count my ill-fated sojourn in L.A. And out of that time, I have at most a half-dozen friends I care about and keep in sporadic contact with. It hardly seems worth it to work at meeting anyone else during my nine days here when I know it takes me nine months to make it count.
But hostels...hostels and I had a pretty good run, even if we seem to be moving apart.
I had a good introduction to hostels when I was nineteen. I traveled seriously for the first time in my life, to Sydney, Australia. It was my first time truly on my own, and I was young, more shy, and more foolish than I am now. I wound up in King's Cross--the nightlife headquarters of a hard partying town.
I arrived late at night after an eight hour flight from Singapore, and so went almost directly to bed. I woke up the next morning to my new roommates entering: two Swedish lesbians. I hadn't even known the room was co-ed until they walked in, strippd down to their underwear, and curled up into bed together (they'd had a long flight as well). I quietly thanked god, and then cursed him for making me nearsighted.
The Swedish lesbians didn't stay long, which was a shame--beyond their being Swedish lesbians (something I'd assumed was a fiction up until that morning), they had been friendly and talkative to me: an incalculable gift at a time I was feeling young, awkward, and horribly out of place.
They were replaced by a Norwegian couple (straight) of limited English skills. I didn't talk to them much at first--the language barrier was too big and my shyness too great. Their second night there, the guy came into the room as I was devouring "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," which I'd discovered that day in a used bookstore. He was upset, and he had a bottle of bourbon, a drink I'd never tried before. He sat, and just started talking to me while pouring drinks for the both of us.
He explained--at first in broken English, and then in quick Norwegian--that he and his girlfriend had had a fight, and she might be leaving him in the most literal sense. The specifics of their fight I couldn't understand, but I sat and talked and listened and nodded and drank glorious bourbon with him for the hours until she returned. He cried, she cried, and I left them alone. They left the next morning, leaving me the remains of the bottle of whiskey. I've been drinking bourbon ever since.
I could pretend that I drank bourbon because it was suddenly the drink of passion and love and reconciliation, or some bullshit like that, but I just like it. From the moment he gave it to me, I liked how it tastes, how it burns, how it makes me feel.
Hostels, bourbon, Hunter S. Thompson. Looking back almost a decade later, it's hard to believe that I discovered them all at the same time--that that brief time in Sydney was a momentous time for my personal development. At the time, it was just a good series of nights--the first of many that hostel life would provide to me.
There is much about hostel life that is pretty juvenile and stupidly dramatic. It is, after all, a collection of horny drunks who know they can flee the country if the worst comes to worst, or move to another hostel if they embarass themselves or just get bored. But that's what makes it fun. It's a microcosm of interpersonal interaction: the only other thing that can come close to it is college dorm life, but without RAs or curfews or the need to go to class.
Even now, three years after my last extended time in any hostel, and probably grown out of the hostel life in general, I can still remember the excitement--that any number of things were going to happen at any time of day. You could start a drinking game at 4pm or 4am, and fill a long table with happy drunks. There was sex or drugs or booze or deep conversation (or the faux deep conversation that sex, drugs, and booze brings out). People feel in and out of love with abandon. It was madness, bad craziness, this dangerous bohemian lifestyle that our parents' spent the majority of our youth warning us against.