“Living on the road is hard. Dying on the road is really hard. But leaving the road? Now that’s impossible”
A life on the road is always a fascinating life. Those who truly live out there, out in the great ‘there’ that surrounds us all, necessarily have less regular routine, and more regular unique experiences. That is the blessing of the road, a blessing which some struggle with, but one I refuse to call a curse. It is a blessing, even when you are suffering it is a blessing. When you are lost and in pain and bleeding it is a blessing. When you are alone and cold and scared it is a blessing. When you don’t know how you’re going to get back to civilisation, and whether you even want too, it is a blessing. It is a blessing, now and forever, it is a blessing.
Many true road folk would rather die than retire from their nomadic purity. To ‘go static’ in the vernacular of the road, to plant your feet down heavily and hang up your wondering boots, to turn your back on the wind and the rain and the sun and the glory and make your self still. To stop. To stop after a lifetime. To stand still and stop. That’s tough.
I travelled North Recently, up Yorkshire way. I stopped in the rolling hills to pay a visit to a set of sited static caravans stashed away amongst the green. I was there visit an old friend who had retired from the road, left it after being one of the most embedded road dogs I had ever met. This guy embodied the damn road completely. He was the road. But no longer. He had decided that he wanted to try comfort, try routine. He wanted to see out his days static. And that is what he is doing. I am envious of him in some ways, he is gaining a new perspective on life in his last days. Perhaps he is the one acting without fear by leaving the road. I suppose the true embodiment of the life I wish to lead is following your feelings and following your instincts, whether that leads you along the road or off it…
KITCHENS there’s no such thing as a good hostel without a good kitchen. A hostel needs a kitchen just like a human needs a brain, or a stomach or an iPad or something.
Without a kitchen, how can the people cook? Without a clean kitchen, how can people cook happily? Without a big kitchen, how can people cook together? Without a modern kitchen, how can people cook without some sort of old time skills or something?
It used to be that for those travelling on the cheap there was only one game in town and that was the hostel. Hostels stretched across the globe creating a cohesive if chaotic path through it all and for us all. Whilst they would often be maligned and horror stories would always be shared of disgusting bathrooms, flea ridden beds and dodgy deals, the hostel reigned supreme and unchallenged and so could retain its defects without any fear that it would be punished for them.
That was always the deal, you took the rough with the smooth and when you turned up in a new town at a new hostel you just held your breath and hopped for the best. Sure sometimes you’d find that the hostel owner didn’t think that you really needed a working shower and licked to tickle sleeping customers with his naked feet, but sometimes you’d be welcomed with some warm food and a hot bath. Whatever happened you always had the solidarity of your fellow travellers, a solidarity born of the fact that your had to accept this situation, that this was the deal that you accepted when you left your boring home and your boring life and your boring friends and your boring family (that all might have been quite comfortable and smelt pretty good) for a life of adventure and surprise. That was the backpackers wager, and it was a wager that defined us.
But, friends, things have changed. First the information available to backpackers exploded with reviews being written and we many being empowered to actually know (to some extent) what kind of a place we where heading into. This meant awful hostels could only get away with it for so long before being found out by customer flow and sometimes regulatory authorities. Suddenly the relationship between backpacker and hostel was changing, and the very nature of backpacking was changing too…
(more next week)