i always feel inclined to dress up for air travel. i’m unsettled by people who get on a plane wearing short shorts and flip flops. partially, i feel like you should be prepared for disasters that involve running with protective footwear and the inevitable coldness while on board, and also it just feels tacky and inappropriate. a child of the 80s with immigrant parents, flying was an occasion for which we overprepared and overdressed. my mom would wear her sunday bests, my sister and i would don fancy leisure wear, our carry-ons included anything we could possibly need while in the air, and we’d get to the airport hours before our flight. it kind of felt like we were embarking on an ocean liner or a locomotive ala the roaring 20s. except we didn’t have fedoras, regrettably. at our destination, assuming it wasn’t colombia, we stayed at nice hotels and often had private drivers to take us around. this upper class mode of travel still hangs over me. when i book accommodations, i think of key cards, sleek bathrooms, and cable television. i’m willing to go budget, though i’m always disappointed, but hostels seem out of the question.
once i stayed at a hostel in seattle and, if memory serves, i’m pretty sure i checked out the following day. the whole communal, hippie, backpacker vibe made me feel simultaneously inferior and elitist. i dislike being confronted with my classism by people who likely fall into my same class category but purport to not. i shed a lot of these random constraints before i came here, and so am less hostile towards hostels. i have thus found myself not living, but spending all of my time inside a hostel here in santa marta.
yes, yes, i know it’s not a way to truly experience the surrounding culture. in my defense, there isn’t a whole lot to do in santa marta that i haven’t already done and it’s really a beautiful place with many free amenities. i dig my free coffee, wifi, rooftop terrace with shaded hammocks, tv room, convenient and regularly cleaned toilets, and, yes, gringo companionship. hostel life also offers me a glimpse into a society to which i’ve been completely oblivious.
“when did you get here?” “where have you been?” “when are you leaving?” “where are you going?” “where are you from?” “how long have you been traveling?” blah, blah, blah, blah. i’ve asked these questions so many times, i’ve given up on remembering the answers, or maintaining the ability to match the answers with the correct persons. it takes all my willpower to refrain from saying shit like, “did you strangle a turtle in the galapagos after you took its picture?” or “don’t forget to plant a plastic bottle at a peak in cousco.” i’m a wanker, i know it. i watch fresh faced newcomers arrive and witness them slowly wither in the heat, humidity, onslaught of mosquitoes, and the crazy haze of cocaine. it took me a couple of weeks to figure out how these people were so entertained at the hostel bar until 5am with no dancing, and then i realized they were all hopped up on goofballs. fyi, cokeheads, your high speed conversations are terribly trite and drab.
they are australian, british, united statesian, isreali, new zealanders, irish, swiss, german, etc. white, basically. i mean, there are some folk of color up in here from time to time, but not often. obviously, these backpackies are young and have the economic means to travel; a fact i remind locals when they make grand generalizations about the economic propensities of gringos. they all seem to have met each other previously in bolivia or panama or nicaragua or wherever. it’s a small hostel world, after all. in medellin and cartagena, i ran into folks i’d met in santa marta and then traveled along with newly met others and then saw them again when i returned to santa marta. i suppose this is quite ordinary for seasoned travelers, but not for me. i would never have thought it a good idea to meet new people and right away engage in an activity that has a tendency to end even strong, long-standing relationships: budget travel. it does seem to work out alright, though. it provides an extra person to split cab fare, and some times people are ok. even those that travel in flip flops.