Life in hostel#5

The last stop in my 9 months journey was in Santiago de Chile, where I spent 3 months of (almost) winter. This was, by far, the most challenging hostel of all.

Let`s start with the positive part: I was living close to the city center, in a bohemian borough, I was getting paid (not much, but enough to get through) and my boss was really nice, but a bit chaotic.

On the downside, the weather was cold since it was winter. Compared to European weather it was nice and warm, but unfortunately I did not have my winter gear with me, so I had to get around with the things I had on me. Which proved to be more difficult than I originally thought, since the hostel wasn`t heated and sometimes it was warmer outside than inside. I found out the hard way that hot water bottles can be a lifesaver, especially during the night.

The FIFA world cup was taking place in Brazil, so that`s where all the tourists were travelling to. Because of the high prices in football tickets and accommodation, few of them could afford to visit other countries in South America. As a result, the hostel was most of the time half empty. Not just my place, but the entire city was lacking tourists. Things were a bit boring, especially around the hostel.

My fellow travelers working in the hostel were not as friendly as my friends in Argentina. To be more precise, they were friendly and helpful, but they were busy with their stuff and didn`t have much time left to hang out. There was a French girl living in the hostel with her boyfriend and they were spending most of the time in their room. The other girl was also French, but she was constantly skyping with her boyfriend back in Germany. Luckily, other colleagues arrived from Canada, Mexico and Chile, so things got a bit more animated.

There were two other permanent members in charge of breakfast and cleaning, one weirder than the other. There was a younger guy in his 30s, always unhappy with something, always mumbling  and quarreling. He once tried to start a cocktail business in the hostel, selling drinks to clients without the boss’s consent. One of the clients told my boss how good the cocktail was and he got told off. My biggest issue was the noise he was making in the kitchen preparing breakfast, right next to my room. It’s not nice waking up each morning at 6am, in the sound of slammed cupboards and dashed dishware, so I started using ear plugs.  However, he was nice when he was smoking pot, and this was happening rather often.

The  other one was weird looking and socially awkward, sometimes even freaking customers off. I always compare him with Lurch from the Addams Family in my mind, although he isn`t as massive. A lean man in his 50s, with wispy hair, gray eyes and an overall dusty appearance. The hostel was constantly receiving bad reviews and complaints about him smoking in the shared dorm or just being weird. However, the boss only fired him only after he punched a guest in the face, who happened to be the cousin of the lousy guy. Throughout my stay, I was worried he might snap one day and burn down the place.

The best thing about my stay here was the fact that after a month and a half I received my own room and bathroom. Even if it was really small and crowded, it was exactly what I needed after several months of living in shared dorms.

The time spent in Chile was’t the highlight of my journey, especially since I was facing some personal problems. I sometimes think that maybe I wasn’t able to appreciate the people around me enough, because in the end my boss helped me with some issues and even threw a goodbye party for me. From time to time, I miss my little room and the  time I spent there.

Source: TripAdvisor

Life in hostel #4 – Cordoba


As time goes by I realize that even though life in hostels is more or less the same everywhere, every experience is unique. I am now used to sharing a room with 5-7 people, used to not having storage room, personal space or intimacy. All these things that were so important in my former life seem to be a small price to pay for the privilege of seeing the world. Hand-washing my clothes is now a routine. Before, shopping for supplies and cooking were a bourdain, but now I see this as a chance to relax, to share with friends  and to learn about different cultures.

For personal reasons I wasn`t feeling too happy when I left Buenos Aires, so I really needed some time for thinking, as well as the company of friends. I was lucky enough to find the perfect balance in Cordoba. So far it`s been the most intense part of my travel as I was forced to face some truths about myself. The lazy life at the hostel and the quiet city gave me the chance to reflect a lot. And I had the chance to meet some wonderful people who listened to me, adviced me and distracted me when I was feeling blue. It`s a big deal to meet people who will act as if nothing happened when they see that you`ve been obviously crying and who won`t try to distance themselves from you because of this.

Two of my colleagues from Buenos Aires knew the place and assured me that it was the best hostel ever and that I was going to have the time of my life there and that I will soon forget about my troubles. But a week after I got there the owners sold the place and the vibe of the place suddenly changed. It was a period of change for everyone, but I believe that things worked out fine in the end.  I know that things will change, but I hope it will continue being a good hostel.

The truth is that people who live/work/spend a lot of time in hostels can be judged more like characters than real persons.

As it happens I`ve met a lot of characters  in this hostel. It is the first time that I meet pairs of characters, just like in comical plays.

First there was the group formed by the 3 ex-owners, each of them with a different personality, but forming a balanced trio: the messy party-gower that would set the mood in the evening, the control-freak that would organize everything to the last detail and the neutral one that would sort out the differences between the first two.

Among the volunteers there was a couple from France that always seemed trapped in a fantasy world that only they understood. I really don`t know how they found each other `cause they always gave me the impression that they are the male and female version of the same person.

There was a pair formed by two american guys, also living in a separate, yet more approachable world. They would cook together, go out together, be in the reception together, watch sports together and go to bed in the same time, carrying on with their lives as they were the only two people on the planet.

Another match made in heaven is formed by my two best friends in Cordoba. Always enthuziastic about anything, always full of energy and good vibes and always ready to have a good laugh. I think they both came to this city from different parts of the world `cause they were destined to meet each other. As a friend used to say, spending time with them is like  watching a live comedy show.

Although these trios and duets were the best part of the hostel, I met some memorable individual characters.

The guy who bought the hostel is a senior Canadian citizen who`s always lived in isolated areas, who`s never stayed in a hostel before and who doesn`t speak Spanish. Even though he`s got nothing to do with managing a hostel, I like him because he`s a good person and he used to make me pancakes in the morning.

Also the guy who has been travelling for 2-3 years who lived in the same room with the volunteers became a close friend.

Or the German guy who was always on his computer. It seems more easy to connect with him now that I left and we can chat online than it was to communicate while we were in the same room.

And one of my favourites, a former soldier who leaves in an isolated room in the back yard. His funniest moment was when he was hiding from the Immigration services who came to the hostel for an inspection. This is how we found out that his visa expired two years before. I think that the inspectors were actually looking for illegal workers, but it worked out fine in the end.

This was a good opportunity for me to see how travelling alone affects me. I have noone to rely on like the others did, so I always have to take care of myself. I have to get out there in order to make friends, I have to socialize and to communicate as I cannot  escape in a company of a guaranteed friend.  On the other side, I know that all the friends that I meet on the way will soon be out of my life. I know that it`s temporary, so I enjoy it more.

Normal things like talking to my family became the highlight of my day. Even though this is by far the most socially active period of my life, I`ve never felt so alone. It`s hard to be on your own for so much time, always changing places. But I remember a time when I was surrounded by friends and family when I would feel that no one understood me and that no one could relate to me. I now feel that I`m on the right way, even though it`s a lonely road.

I feel grateful for the time spent here, as I do about all the people that I`ve met, every situation I`ve faced and all the places I`ve visited. Travelling for long periods of time is not always easy, as it seems for the people you`ve left at home. I believe that the moment I`ve left Argentina, that coincided with the celebrating of 6 months away from home, represented a milestone for me. I had to rethink my situation and my goals, and in the end I chose to carry on with my journey.

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Life in hostel #3

After spending two months in Uruguay I crossed the river to Argentina’s capital. I spend almost one week in the house of my Couch Surfing host, in a quiet neighbourhood. It was the first time that I didn’t have a job promise, just a few scheduled interviews. In between interviews I got to know the city a bit.
Argentina is currently facing a severe economic crisis. On the good side, I was able to exchange dollars on the street at a far better rate than the official one, but on the down side I wasn’t able to get a payed job. I like to believe that the crisis is the reason why they are exploiting people, but the truth is that in Buenos Aires I worked at one of the most expensive hostels that was completely full most of the time and still they are offering just B&B in exchange for 24hrs/week. I have to admit that it was the best deal I could get as other hostels will ofer B&B in exchange for 40 hrs/week in reception or 24 hrs as a janitor.
I was also lucky because the hostel has a great location in the microcenter, on one of the main boulevards in a safe zone. Most hostels are located in San Telmo, which isn’t very safe at night, so I was able to walk back home by myself after dark. Sometimes you don’t understand how important some things are for you until you loose them.
Everybody warned me that the porteños (inhabitants of Buenos Aires) aren’t nice people, but I didn’t want to trust the stereotype. I met really nice people and I was lucky enough to work with some of them as the permanent crew was formed of a few porteños and a guy from Columbia. The team of volunteers was a bit more varied.
The hostel occupies a few floors of an old beautiful building. It was a little weird as we had the first and last floor, so people would have to use the elevator in order to access the terraces. On the 2nd and the 3rd floor there was a hostel affiliated to ours, managed by the owner’s relatives. On the 4th floor there was a different hostel and on the 5th a private residence whose inhabitants constantly complained about the noice and threatened to call the police.
The hostel has one reception for each floor. The first floor is a bit more expensive, so obviously the volunteers live on the last one. The breakfast is better downstairs, fact which forced us to start a secret network of narjo-trafico – basically the person who was working the night shift downstairs would steal oranges from breakfast and bring them to a secret place on the 6th floor.
I came to appreciate my room in Montevideo where I was alone most of the time and where I had a wardrobe with hangers and other storage spaces when I started sharing a small room with 5 other people. Our room was the trash room as they would bring there only old mattresses and pillows, as well as broken lockers. Because we didn’t have enough storage space, some people had their backpacks/suitcases in the middle of the room, so it was almost impossible to move around. We didn’t have window covers, so it was difficult to rest after working the night shift, especially as there were people going in and out of the room all the time.
Th good side is that we all became very close after this experience. We would go out together sometimes or cook and eat together and we knew everything about each other. We were all alone in a foreign country, without other friends in the city, so it was expected that we would bond. It’s the first time that I live something like, especialli as it happened in such a short time. Although I’ve been there just for a few weeks I feel that I’ve made friends for life and I’m sure that I will always remember this period.
Even though the staff team was really united, the overall atmosphere was rather cold. It’s that kind of hostel where 90% of the guests aren’t south-american. The same hostel might as well be located in Europe or Australia, it’s missing originality and identity. However, the guests didn’t seem to mind this and they had a lot of fun, so the place has really good reviews. Also, the official language is english, so it would have been difficult for them to socialize with spanish-speakers.
It was always fun for me to watch them buy overpriced drinks from the hostel bar. In Montevideo we would invite people to the bar each night and offer them free drinks and free pool games and they still wouldn’t go, and in Buenos Aires guests would come to the bar by themselves (and sometimes stay there until 6 AM) and buy drinks worth around 100 USD/night.
I enjoyed more being a part of the team from Buenos Aires, but the general atmosphere in Montevideo was a lot better. I’m sure that I’ve made the best choice by working here.

Life in Hostel 2

When the hostel proposed a two-months job in Montevideo I thought spending that much time in a quiet small city (1.5 million inhabitants) was going to be boring, but in the end I accepted the offer. Indeed, two months is a lot for Montevideo, but the experiences I had there made it worth it. I believe going to Montevideo was one of the best decisions I’ve made on this trip.
This hostel was a lot better than the one in Rio, a lot bigger and cleaner. I slept in the female dorm and most of the time I was by myself in the room. I had a wardrobe, a locker and another storage space. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re staying in a place for a long time being able to keep your stuff organized really makes a difference! I had to hand-wash all my clothes (again) as the private laundry rooms were too expensive. I also home cooked all my meals and now I can cook reasonably.
I worked in the reception, in the bar and I helped with the cleaning in the morning. The last was obviously the worst, but I think it helped me become a bit more neat. Plus, the hostel was pretty quiet, so I didn’t have to clean up puke.
The bar was the most challenging part as I am very introverted. I had to convince people to come to the bar and to make them have a good time. The truth is I sucked at it. I wasn’t so good at making drinks either. But in the end I had some great nights there. I wouldn’t like to be a bartender in a hostel again, but if an offer comes along I would accept it. I had to go out of my comfort zone every night when I was working in the bar, which in the end I think it was good for me.
The reception was my favourite task. I only had 2hrs/day which wasn’t very efficient.When my boss got married I worked during morning shifts and it made me feel a lot more helpful.
I liked the fact that every person in the staff was concerned with how happy the clients were. We were all doing our best to create a good atmosphere where people would like to return (which happened a lot). This might not seem like much, but it doesn’t happen in all the hostels.
What I liked most is the fact that we were like a family, with all the ups and downs. There were some guys who lived in the hostel for a longer time, so I felt comfortable having familiar faces around. In Rio I felt sad when everybody left before Christmas.
The down side was that the hostel was so big and comfy that I had had days when I didn’t even get out. The hostel in Rio was basically forcing me to get out every day in order to get some privacy, which was very good for me in the end.
To sum up, this period helped me a lot. Not from a touristical point of view, but from a personal one. I’ve met interesting people, I’ve made friends, I’ve learned Spanish (more or less), I’ve learned some things about myself and I think I’ve improved my social skills. In the end this is what I was looking for through this journey.

Life in the hostel

Living in a hostel is not easy. Before arriving here I have worked for a hostel in Munich during Oktoberfest, but that experience was completely different. In Munich I used to spend some of my free days alone visiting the city, but in Rio I couldn`t walk alone on the street once the sun was down. I have less privacy as I share a dorm with other tourists and I don`t have much space for my stuff. I have to cook all my meals because I can`t afford to eat out and I have to wash my clothes manually as we don`t have a washing machine. On the terrace we have a family of cats that are squatting our hostel and sometimes they take the clothes from the dryer and play with them, so in the morning you have to start washing again. It`s very tiring and frustrating because I always have to be careful with my stuff – I have to lock my important things, when I`m working I have to take the laptop with me even when I go to the bathroom because some people leave the door opened and the neighborhood is not that safe, I have to watch my food etc. So I never get a break because I have to be careful outside, but also when I`m at home.

However, there are many good aspects about this lifestyle. My boss knows all the good places in Rio, thanks to him I`ve visited  most of Rio with very few money and I`ve learned a lot about the culture, traditions and history of Rio. It was almost like having a personal guide. Because I work in a hostel I can enter parties for free, but I only did it once and it wasn`t great.

The hostel is an hour away from the center and 20 minutes away from Lapa, so I was able to walk to the center. I would take a bus just for Ipanema or Copacabana or other distant neighborhoods.

Another good side is that the hostel is situated in a typical carioca neighborhood (smelly, dirty, homeless people everywhere, floods during the rain etc), so I got to see a genuine way of living in Brazil. The area looks bad, but it`s pretty safe. Of course, bad things can always happen in Rio, but I`ve never heard of anyone getting into trouble in here.

This is one of the cheapest hostels in Rio, so it attracts interesting people. I had three guys staying here for over a month. At first I thought this was good because I figured I would have a sort of stability and I would be able to make friends, but I just realized that you are forced to share your living space with people you may not like, so I think it`s better to have guests that stay for short periods. Anyway, I ended up fighting with one of the guys, one of them used to drive me crazy with small things and I was relieved when he left and I still keep in touch with one of them who was always very nice to me. We also had a 19 years old latvian guy who earned the money for coming here by playing the cello on the streets. There was another columbian guy who was playing the guitar on the street for money and he`s been everywhere in Latin America. So we had a lot of interesting people. The guy who worked here before stayed with us for a week and he helped me a lot by talking with me in Spanish. After this I was able to have an interview in Spanish with a hostel in Montevideo.

There were many crazy nights. Most nights I didn`t need to go out because the guys were fun to hang out with. The guy that was driving me crazy is the kind of person you cannot stay upset with. He is a 38 years old brazilian composer who sleeps about 20 hours/day. In the final weeks it was a big relief that he was sleeping this long because he wasn’t nagging me. He always wanted money, food, cigarettes or booze. But all in all an interesting person. It is the kind of hostel where you can’t get bored and you learn to appreciate the rare moments of peace.

There wasn’t much work to do. My boss would leave for two days every week to visit his family, so I was in charge. I had to prepare breakfast, to clean a little the kitchen and the bathroom and to check people in. It wasn’t that difficult, but sometimes it was very annoying. Usually a room is dirty  5 minutes after you’ve finished cleaning it. When I was working I had a lot of time to read or to blog. When I wasn’t working I was visiting new places.

The most weird thing was designing my tumb stone for the staff cemetary. My boss wrote on a wall the names of all the people who worked there and drew tumb stones around them. I chose to draw a cat because I will always connect that place with the millions of cats that were living on the roof.

All in all my experience there was everything I expected. There were difficult moments, but I overcame everything, as always!