A lot of people don’t know this, but for the entire first year that I lived in Argentina, I lived in a hostel.
That’s right. A full year in a hostel. Anybody who’s ever lived the backpacker lifestyle (or anybody who’s ever traveled on a tight budget) is probably intimately acquainted with the sheer insanity of the hostel experience. And if you’re not, chances are you know about it from depictions in movies and television. I’d say that stopping short of being a front for a network of sadistic torturers, most of the depictions are right on the money: it’s crazy. Long nights in the common area, drunkenly singing along to folk songs from distant countries, getting in fights with strangers and hooking up in smelly dorms. It’s a blast if you’re only staying for a few days– a couple of weeks, at the very most. But no, I stayed for a full fucking year. Because I am a fucking crazy person.
To clarify: it wasn’t premeditated. I didn’t set out to live in a hostel for a full year when I first checked in, like some sort of sociological experiment. But life happened so goddamn fast (I started working a couple of months after arriving in the city), and finding an apartment seemed like such an arduous, irritating and EXPENSIVE task that my stay kept prolonging itself. Soon enough, I developed a friendship with hostel management, becoming one of a small group of “regulars”– foreigners, like myself, who just happened to end up staying long-term– whom they’d move around as availability dictated. That is to say, I didn’t always stay in the same room. I was moved around a lot. Some nights I’d stay in a nice, spacious, private room; other nights, I’d spend in gigantic dorms surrounded by smelly Israeli soldiers on their debaucherous vacation. Also, this group of “regulars” became unofficial hostel staff, helping out whenever needed, and serving as greeters and tour guides for the new flock of tourists who’d arrive every month. It was a lot of fun… until it wasn’t.
I made a lot of friends during my stay in the hostel. Some of them I’m still in touch with, others have fallen by the wayside. Some of them I grew extremely fond of, and bonded with at a truly profound level for the length of their stay, but never saw again after they checked out. This can be heartbreaking at first, but very soon you accept it as part of the insulated nature of hostel social life. The dynamic is interesting, because it’s almost like an instant bonding. Much like any sort of travel situation, your mind looks for a support system immediately– this is especially true for those of you travelling on your own. But this automatic process is exacerbated by the sheer uncertainty that one feels when you check into one of these places. You’ve heard the stories, you’re prepared for the worst. As soon as you find a friendly face to latch onto your mind goes “ah, here’s one! You don’t seem creepy! Be my friend!” and almost immediately you’ve bonded for life. After a few minutes of conversation in the common area you’re sharing your innermost feelings, talking about what you’re going to do that night and even tagging along on each other’s travel plans. It’s a weird, accelerated road to uber-friendship, usually precipitated by little more than the shared experience of being foreigners thrust into a strange new place. You let your guard down, and a lot of the screening processes that you usually go through subconsciously as you pick and choose your circle of friends is bypassed by this new group of strangers from all corners of planet Earth. This can be dangerous because, as you are bound to find out if you hang around hostels long enough, planet Earth is brimming with fucking freaks.
Some of these are adorable freaks. Some of them are terrifying. Some of them are sexual deviants who bring prostitutes into the house and claim they’re his “cousins”. Some of them are hopeless lost souls who’ve long surrendered to alcohol and want nothing but someone on whom to spew their hard-earned wisdom. Some of them, you convince yourself, are child-killers fleeing their respective countries and hiding out anonymously in South America. Some of them are hysterical and will make you laugh harder than you’ll ever laugh. Some of them you’ll end up working with, years down the road. Some of them will change your life.
As you can probably tell, this is a bit of an extended introduction. But an introduction to what? Well, as I’m trying to figure out how to settle back into the blogging world after the giant Reset button that was my trip to New York and Colombia, I decided to try something new. A brand new post series, similar to my sporadic Bedhead Melodies series, where I recount the many experiences– good, bad, painfully awkward or just plain horrifying– that come with a full year of the hostel experience. I’m calling this post series “My Hostel Year” (fuck you, you come up with a better title and I’ll use it).
So there you have it. Watch this space! I’ll be posting the first story soon, under the category “My Hotel Year”. You’ll read about how a French neo-Nazi cage fighter pulled a knife on me. Or the time I befriended a chronically masturbating gay bear from Venezuela who later turned out to be an internationally wanted con artist. Or the time I got in a fight with an uppity Irishman about spilling his tea. Or the time a group of Uruguayan karate students nearly beat everybody up. Or that time an eternally-drunk, incredibly smelly Spaniard asked me to join him and his two terrified prostitutes for the worst orgy ever. I’ve got stories, and I’m pretty fucking psyched about sharing them. ‘Cause just remembering them– even the most fucked-up ones, even the ones that ended badly– has me smiling like an idiot.
As strange a time as it was, it was truly the first year of my adult life. I learned a lot, I laughed a lot, and even the times when it was fucking miserable (and it often was), I was still glad to be there, amidst the cacophony of yelling and singing in foreign languages. It was a hell of an education.