Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Kid in the Hostel

Two weeks ago I started volunteering at a hostel in order to keep a roof over my head and some semblance of independence.  So far, it’s an interesting study in the impermanence of travel in the form of relationships with other people and places and of different travel mindsets.  
Community Hostel is more like a family—hence the name—than just a space where a bunch of travelers shower, sleep, and eat. I’m not just spewing my newfound loyalty all over the page here by the way; this is genuinely how I feel. I’ve never stayed in a hostel like it before. It seems to be a combination of the space itself, the staff (cough, cough, me), and the types of travelers who come here.
The result is a continual party happening in the common areas, the bedrooms, etc. Every day and night people are meeting each other, becoming fast friends, and touring the city/country together. Most hostels I’ve stayed at have common areas, but they aren’t used like this one is—and usually the staff is more distant and removed from the hubbub. Here, Marco (one of the owners) is right in the action, cooking everyone breakfast, taking them to his favorite clubs, and somehow still remembering names after being a hostel owner for a year or so. The rest of us volunteers and employees try to do likewise. It’s tough. I do enjoy trying to cook big fancy meals for people though—it’s great practice for developing my fledgling culinary skills.
Anyway, the temporary nature of most people’s hostel-life puts the permanent members of Community Hostel in a strange situation. Some of us volunteers are traveling around too and often meet other travelers at the hostel to join up with, but plenty of us are staying put in Quito or in Ecuador for a good while. It’s strange to be surrounded by these sunburned travelers getting back from Cotopaxi or the coast and packing again to return to Australia or Germany or the US. Their interaction with this place is something other—a fleeting good time.
Because of my teaching job, it’s difficult for me to keep up with who’s who. And why bother, I find myself asking. So many of these people are just here for two or three weeks that even if they are super cool, it’s emotionally exhausting to become friends with so many people so fast only to say goodbye. At least, it’s emotionally exhausting for me; I’m not sure about everyone else.
Still, I’ve already met some great people and had a lot of fun with them. But now everyone else is on the run now and I’m not. I’m tempted to feel self-righteous, because I’m getting to know this city and country better; because I’m actually living here. But I’ve written about this type of attitude before, here: http://simplyontherun.blogspot.com/2012/09/on-traveling-and-coming-home.html and I know not everyone can just up and run away to South America indefinitely. Also, I realized I’m pretty envious of them, despite their being here for only a month or so, because they can do whatever they want here, without any obligations.
Living at a hostel means giving up your space and your alone time—for me my time to write—unless you are super sneaky and anti-social. I get up a little after 5am every morning (at least I’m trying to) just to breathe, drink my coffee in peace, write, or read something other than my Wall Street Institute manual. This is the only time I’m not somehow working for the hostel when I’m here and I cherish it.
There’s a beautiful view of the city from our balcony, so I get to watch the sun rise and the city wake up. Quito wakes up suddenly and angrily, like a screaming toddler. Dogs howl in unison, car alarms sound, fruit venders compete with newspaper venders to see who can yell louder (and less intelligibly). I watch it all from the third story and am reminded that Quito is not my city anymore than it’s the city of my hostel mates.
The Balcony 
View from the balcony.

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