You meet so many interesting people passing through hostels. Especially during the off season in Noordwijk, these encounters are generally brief, as people are passing through on their way somewhere else, or visiting for a weekend away. Many times we create fleeting relationships with these individuals, asking the standard questions – where are you from, how long are you here, where are you going next – often without bothering with names. Even when you get their names, they are often hard to pronounce or difficult to remember. When you meet so many people so frequently, these details can often be irrelevant, unless it’s someone you actually want to see again. What has amazed me throughout my trip is the generosity of such individuals. So many travellers are happy to share whatever they have to give. Everyone has a mentality of ‘what’s mine is yours’ as so many understand what it truly means to have nothing. People regularly offer up their homes if you visit their country, even if you only had a conversation for a few hours. I admit I have offered out my parent’s place in Australia on a few occasions, knowing they won’t mind as I won’t be home until October anyway. What’s great about travelling in the modern age, is technology. Nearly everyone has laptops, iphones or ipads, and most places now have wireless internet. Apart from keeping us entertained by spending hours online or downloading the latest music, movies or episodes of our favourite tv shows (which I think sadly takes away from the art of conversation and creative entertainment) we have facebook and skype. Now you can easily add a friend, message them when you’re coming to their country, call them really cheaply from skype then look up their address using google. The world has rapidly become a much smaller place, creating a truly global community.
Of course, there are also the individuals who you hope to never see again, although they certainly provide entertainment value. And for a quiet hostel where one day meaninglessly blends into the next, with time disappearing before our very eyes, it is always refreshing to have someone new to talk about. One such eccentric who stayed with us that week was the OCD guy. I never heard him speak, and he spent most of the day in bed, but when he was awake, he certainly provided us with a new topic of conversation. He would often sit in the smoking room simply staring at us, as we went about our day. Sometimes, he would stand outside the smoking room, looking in, but not entering. He also needed to spin around before he sat down in a chair, touched every locker in the room, and made a strange snorting noise, mostly at nighttime, often as I was attempting to go to sleep. In the end he stayed for over a week, but was perfectly harmless, even letting me into the room one day when I had forgotten my key. He politely thanked the manager when he left, and disappeared into the world.
Then there was the strange Indian guy from France. He hovered around the smoking room for a while, observing our conversation and trying to figure out the lay of the land before joining in. He decided to start talking to me halfway through a mouthful of dinner. I tried to converse in between gulps of food, as I was starving and still not used to the late eating time at the Flying Pig. Later that night I was downstairs trying to finish my latest Matthew Reilly book as it had gotten really exciting as usual and I couldn’t put it down. Again, he decided this was a good time to continue our conversation. I resigned myself to finishing the book tomorrow, and politely continued talking. After all, he seemed harmless, just a little bit odd. We talked about life coaching and NLP, massage therapy and reiki, and I really enjoyed having an intelligent conversation for a change. When I went upstairs for another smoke, he decided to follow, and then followed me back down when I said I was going to bed. I had a pretty bad cold at this point, probably from my several hours on a freezing cold train station in Denmark. He sat on the floor next to my bed and kept talking. When I politely suggested I was going to sleep now, as I had a cold, he offered to give me a head massage (as he was a masseuse). I refused several times, but then decided it might be easier to just say yes and get him off my case. I laid down on the floor with my head in his lap, and it somehow turned into a full body massage that lasted over an hour. At this point I realised he may not in fact be a masseuse, as it wasn’t very good, and could just have been an excuse to feel me up. When he started getting too handsy, I said that was enough, thanked him and went to sleep. A few hours I later, I woke up to him whispering to me inches from my face. I screamed and swore and woke up half the room. It turned out he was checking to see if I was sleeping alright. I replied that I was before he woke me up, and would now like to be left alone. Gratefully, that was the last time I saw him as he had already checked out when I awoke in the morning. Some of the other guys commented the next morning that they had never seen anything like it in all the hostels they had stayed in. It is funny to look back and laugh now, but I am definitely less trusting of eccentric strangers.
Of course, with the bad, also comes the good. I have had some great brief friendships, providing me company and entertainment for a few days, and tips that are always useful in the world of travelling. I have learned about couch surfing, wwoof (working on organic farms), carsharing and the cheapest websites for flights. Again, thanks to the internet, lots of the previously difficult parts of travelling have been simplified. Although some people you never see again, others become real friends that you will definitely see at a later point. I have found that people who keep coming back to the Pig really enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and friendly banter, and it quickly does become a home away from home. The following week, when I had been away from home for nearly a month, I was beginning to get a little lonely. While I loved my Piggie family, it didn’t help that I was surrounded by couples. We had had several departures of staff over the last week, and they were all single people. While no one intentionally makes you feel left out, sometimes they are a constant reminder that you are alone, and likely to stay that way for the next twelve months. Luckily for me, that weekend someone walked through the door to provide me company, conversation, and of course, cuddles.
We were all enjoying a few drinks as it was another staff member’s final weekend. She had some friends come and visit her from the UK, and being a mix of Irish and English, drunken hilarity ensued. They all donned their ‘drinking apparatus’, an assortment of hats and headbands, and put on their ‘catwings’, cat whiskers drawn on their faces in eyeliner. Later that night, some of the other guests started arriving on the shuttle from Amsterdam. One of them happened to be a tall, fit, attractive American, who I figured was totally out of my league. He sat quietly in the corner watching our antics, occasionally joining in, until the girls attacked all of us with their eyeliner and we became a cat crew. Unfortunately I then had to walk to the shops to get more money out for Jagerbombs, and show my whiskers in public. Needless to say I got a few second looks from the locals. We all continued drinking and dancing and talking rubbish for hours, until it was time for the girls to leave. Things settled down quickly after that and many people went to bed. With the new found confidence of a few drinks under my belt, I found myself in the corner chatting to the American, who turned out to be intelligent as well as good looking much to my surprise. Too soon it was time for bed, but we were staying in the same large dorm room, so we had to use the same large bathroom to clean our teeth and wash makeup off our faces. I found myself dawdling in there for far too long, delaying the inevitable moment when I would have to say goodnight, go to bed alone, and fantasise about ‘what could have been’. In this instance, to my total surprise, that moment never came. Turned out my inept flirting and modestly good looks had worked. It’s also true what they say about black guys – they love a curvy woman, and I have been quite blessed in this area, with an ample derrière.
After making out for a while, still not sure if I was dreaming, we decided to go to bed. This provided my next dilemma, as I can’t in good conscience, fool around in a room with twenty other people trying to sleep, especially after my previous rants about being the sleeping person in question. So I spent an extremely frustrated night, curled up in the arms of a gorgeous man, mostly unable to sleep. It didn’t help that he is more than six feet tall and we were sharing the top bunk of a single bed. The next day he got a private room, problem solved. I also learned a valuable lesson that week. You cannot keep a secret in a hostel this small. Since our days are so mundane, everyone thrives on gossip. Despite the fact that we went to bed after all the staff, when I came up for breakfast, the manager greeted me with a knowing smile and a few choice words, even though she hadn’t even been there the night before. It turns out my sister was so proud of me she had told her first thing that morning. It wasn’t long before everyone had something to say. From most of the girls, the comments were ‘good for you’, ‘how did you manage that’ and high fives all round. He had made such an impression that the UK girls had decided it would be a terrible waste if no one ‘hit that’. Keep in mind we get pretty bored, and there are not many attractive singles coming through our doors in the off-season, so it was a bigger deal than in ‘the real world’. He was only supposed to stay for the one night, but ended up being at the Pig for over a week. I really enjoyed the company, and it certainly cured my loneliness for a little while (not to mention the ego boost). Ultimately, he became another independent member of our Piggy family. I feel truly blessed for the people I’ve met and the lessons learned so far and am really looking forward to the people and adventures of 2012.