Saturday, January 31, 2015

Free Spirited Hostelling.

After my epic and extended stay at the amazing BH2 at BPGC, I have yearned for more hostel experiences. Of course the hostels I now frequent are for travel purposes rather than a dorm during college. Hostels are and always will be a mixed bag. The places and the people have their quirks and characters that make them fun. It's a wonderfully communal way of spending a night. It is a cheap and convenient way to stay on budget when traveling alone. I've only stayed at hostels in the US so far, though I have heard it's more of a thing in Europe.

Hostellers are a motley group of people. But they tend to the more laid back, new age spirituality kind who talk about finding themselves, the universe conversing with their soul, karma of their past lives, etc. I must confess I rarely mention that I'm an engineer and have a office job. I think it stops conversation as I appear to be elitist. I have had numerous random experiences at hostels. I was offered weed on one occasion. Once my room had no floor but was just sand. Another time, the hostel had an outdoor hotub overlooking the Pacific, a million dollar view for $5. Then in this hostel above a nightclub, I had Kanye lullaby me to sleep. You have no idea who your roommates will be. I always carry ear plugs and eye covers so that I can zone out when I need the zzz's.

I think the best part is meeting people and listening to their stories of life, travel and adventure. These are people I'd never meet in my friend circles from a tech job and Church. It opens your mind and broadens your horizons. It enriches your life experience vicariously. You connect with a complete stranger over the most random thing. As an Indian, I'm the exotic guy who has lived their eastern spirituality. I politely mention that I'm Catholic but helpfully joke that I had a pet snake and rode an elephant to school as a kid. I once met a biker from NZ who biked in the Yukon territory and Alaska for months. Then there was this girl who moved from Wisconsin to Puerto Rico in search of finding a calling in the tropical paradise. I came across a Chinese girl who spoke better Spanish than English because of all her travels in Latin America. Once, a hostel host mailed me a $20 bill as a refund for the key deposit. Money I had thought lost after we had checked out before he had woken up. I was pleasantly surprised by his integrity.

Of all my hostel adventures, one will always remain etched in my memory. Last December, I was driving after dark on a cold rainy night on Hwy 101 in the remote NW corner of Washington state. The Google Maps voice said “You have arrived”. I thought to myself, “Where?”. Here I was stopped on a pitch dark highway. There was no sign of civilization. Suddenly I spotted a small sign that read “Hostel” and a narrow unlit driveway leading up besides it. I pulled up slowly to a small house with a dim porch light. I pondered whether I should go in or just drive off? I chose the former, thinking that if he has a website, he must be legit. Yeah, sound logic! An old man opened the door, which creaked on it's hinges. I greeted him nervously and peeped inside. It was his house. It was messy but looked clean. We exchanged what could pass off as pleasantries and I asked if he had any other guests. He replied none and mumbled something about off season. The last guest was a week before me. I took a deep breath, hoped he made it out alive and went to fetch my bag from the car.

The charge for the night was $13 and an additional 50 cents for a towel. I took the towel just so that I wouldn't be stuck with the number 13 in that creepy place. And there was the requirement of 20 minutes of chores which could be substituted if you paid an additional $5. I took the chores, which he said would be done in the morning. I inquired the time he woke up. He said he would be up when I was. I wasn't sure if that was funny or creepy. After some conversation I concluded that he was the kind of guy who was dissatisfied with the world for no specific reason and was trying to live off the grid. I retired early party due to fatigue and also to end the awkward sporadic conversation. The creaking and groaning of the house was magnified in the absolute stillness of the night. The creep factor was increased by the darknedd. I told myself to trust God and trust me. Somehow I managed to sleep peacefully.

The next morning when I woke up, Jim was already up. I asked him what my 20 min chores were. He told me to vacuum a few rooms. And he actually watched me do it as I tried to be diligent in getting under the tables and around the furniture. Finally I was done and I drove off into the pre dawn darkness. Back on Hwy 101, I wondered whether that was just a dream. Sometimes reality can be stranger than dreams.

I'm not sure if I'll ever make it back to Jim's hostel, but I'll definitely stay in hostels on my future travels. Hostels are a paradigm of “Life is a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.” Unless of course it is a glass box, which is what Yelp can do sometimes. But still, I live in the hope of being pleasantly surprised on my travels.