The Hostel World
I left my cozy little apartment in Q-town yesterday morning and headed west and north toward the coast. My first stop was Lake Wanaka, Queenstown’s little sister in terms of looks. I stopped there just long enough to take a couple of pictures and pick up a take away flat white and the biggest cheese scone I’ve ever seen in my life. Take away is what they call to go. A flat white is like a latte only with one shot of expresso and less foam. I ask for a large every time but finally realized they only have one cup size and it is the exact opposite of large. The coffee shops here make Starbuck’s seem like 7-11 cheap. The cups are the size of very small mugs and they charge $4.50 for a flat white. You can’t get just a large black coffee, they don’t make pots of coffee, everything is expresso and small. The price hasn’t cured my addiction but it has definitely curbed it. The other day I got 2 take away flat whites in an attempt to make one large coffee, but it equaled about ¼ of the amount I would normally have at home and it cost nearly $10. Even for me, that felt ridiculous so now I limit myself to one a day and drink the free tea that I can get at the hostels.
Which brings me to hostels. Except for “free camping” which is what the Kiwi’s call pulling off the road and sleeping in your car/van/tent/whatever, hostels are the cheapest way to go. You can get a twin or double room for between $35-$50 a night, even cheaper if you are a YHA member but lots of times students will book them for months and just live at the hostel instead of in an apartment, so single rooms can be very tough to come by. They also have 4 or 6 bed dormitories, either mixed, or women only/men only. Six bed mixed is the cheapest, typically $19-$22 a night. There is a community living room dining room area, a TV room, and a large kitchen. At dinner time, there can be up to a dozen people from all ethnic backgrounds, cooking a variety of meals, from spaghetti to stir fry to Ramen Noodles. Everyone is supposed to clean up their own dishes, which does usually happen, but I have never seen a dish washing machine and the soap and sponges seem a little iffy to me so I usually try not to think about it too much as I grab a plate or cup off the shelf. There are labels and pens available so you can label your food. Every penny is watched and these kids know the cheapest grocery stores and the cheapest but most filling and healthiest foods for the money. I think I should write a hostel cookbook as the variety of foods prepared each night is astounding.
It’s really fun to get to know people from all over the world. There is an extremely high level of trust because you are leaving all your worldly possessions in a room with strangers. You have to be pretty easy-going and you cannot be a light sleeper. Bunk beds are standard and I often seem to end up in the top bunk. This requires a lot of planning on my part. Because 95% of the people that use hostels are about 100 years younger than me, they stay up long past my 8pm bedtime (9:30 on a big night) but are sound asleep when I like to get up at 5:30am. I get everything out of my luggage that I want to wear the next day, all the toiletries I need for my shower, my towel, which I have to rent for $1, my laptop and my shower shoes. Shower shoes are essential as the bathroom floor is usually soaking wet and because the shower is often in the same room as the toilet, you’re not always sure exactly what made the floor wet so it’s best to be cautious. You do not ever go to the bathroom in bare feet, so the shower shoes need to be carefully placed somewhere that you can find them easily in the dark in the middle of the night. You do not drink too much before you go to bed because you don’t want to have to get up in the middle of the night to pee, even though you will have to anyway. Which then brings me to my favorite going away gift, my teeny tiny little flashlight on a carbiner (Thanks Sam!!). This goes under my pillow, along with my room key, so I don’t lock myself out of the room if I do have to pee, my bottled water, my earplugs and my eyemask. I climb into my bunk, trying to place everything just so before I get up there, then get settled in and realize I’ve left the overhead light on instead of the little light that is just over my bed, or my room key is on the table, or my shower shoes are still in the suitcase. I climb up and down the ridiculous little ladder made for seven year old boys at least three times before I can finally settle in and turn out my light.
I often have not met my roommates because I’m asleep when they come in and they’re asleep when I leave. Last night I was in a four bed mixed room. The other three beds were booked, I could tell because the tiny room was filled with clothes, backpacks, shoes, food, towels and coats and the other three beds had sheets on them. I barely had room to open my suitcase. Of course the only bed left was the top bunk. It took me extra long to prepare for bed because I needed to leave early for a glacier hike and I wanted to be able to roll everything I owned out of the room in one trip. My clothes and shower gear needed to be out on the top. In addition, I now have a chest cold, big surprise as I have been freezing my ass off since arrival in NZ. So I had to make sure I had tissue and cough drops under the pillow in addition to the normal paraphenalia.
I vaguely heard my roommates come in hours after I had gone to bed. About 1:00am, I started on a coughing jag that just wouldn’t stop. I went through all the tissue, drank water, sucked on both cough drops and nothing helped. I finally got out of bed, and rolled all my shit out of the room, just as I had planned on doing in the morning. I marched right through the community room, still full of young hostel hipsters, towing my mountain of crap, my pillow and comforter, wearing nothing but my boxer shorts and t-shirt and went to sleep on a couch in the TV room.
Tonight I splurged and rented a twin room. All my luggage is on one bed, I am on the other bed and life is good. Really good.