There’s a lot you can learn about yourself when lying absolutely and totally awake because someone in your hostel dorm room snores. This is a harsh truth I discovered on perhaps my fourth day in Sydney, seven weeks into travelling and on the precipice of the emotionally-taxing journey to find work, a place to live and friends in a new city.
Up until that point, I had mostly managed to miss out on the hostel experience, living a life of luxury some of the time and in situations more isolating and grimy other times. This included a friend’s family home, a room in a stranger’s suburban house, a tent pitched in the humidity of a Hawaiian farm and a whole floor (bathroom included) of a family friend’s cousin’s house. I’ll let you work out which of these fall into the luxury category and which of these fall painfully short of comfortable.
In Hawaii, however, I did spend two nights in two different hostels; both were horribly hot and sweaty. I didn’t let that put me off hostels though, as I came to the realisation that they vary just as wildly as the quality of pizzas in a handful of italian restaurants. Some hostels will be like the americanised, international chain version, some will be authentic and run by enthusiastic locals. Keeping an open mind for what future hostel experiences await you is definitely important.
My first impression of the hostel I stayed in for two weeks in Sydney was pretty good: tucked away from loud nightlife yet in the centre of the city, spacious, light, clean, a great mix of communal tables and more private, comfortable seating, small dorm rooms of only four beds… It was a little pricier than other hostels in the city but it had all of the essentials and a pinch more, so I was happy enough to stay there.
That was until a woman in her forties took up residence in the bunk above me. I tried to welcome the newcomer to our dorm with a smile that evening and gained nothing more than a grunt. It’s always lovely to have friendly people in your room.
Before long, I’d eaten yet another dinner of tomato pasta and broccoli, battling social anxiety in order to make it in the huge hostel kitchen, and the sky was darkening. Time for bed. Luckily, my room was full of in-sync sleepers: by that I mean people who all want to go to bed and wake up at similar times. By the time I slid under my sheets, everyone else was rustling theirs with the sound of settling down. My light was off and my brain was ready to head that way too.
It wasn’t meant to be, apparently. Ten minutes later, hanging over the cliff of sleepiness, a grunt twenty times as loud as the one I’d heard earlier that evening punched the heavy air. I jumped back from the cliff edge, involuntarily, as the bed frame shook. I’d never known snores that could shake furniture, but here I was on a night I desperately needed some respite, facing a local earthquake.
Needless to say, it was a long night. Each snore, spaced an average of six seconds apart (I counted enough times that night to make an accurate judgement), dragged me further and further away from diving off the cliff into blissful unconsciousness. In my mind, my nails dug into the earth and with every mental effort, attempted to pull the dead weight of my drowsy body closer to the edge. I’d feel so very close, able to experience the uprush of warm air lethargically lulling me over, so very close, starting to tip now, so very –
A wet, gargling, grotesque noise tore me away again, my fingers ripping angry trenches of frustration in the ground. WHY was this happening? WHY tonight? WHY me? WHY?! PLEASE be quiet! I thrashed in my sheets, aggressively, trying to do a little bed frame shaking of my own. My logic? If she woke up for a moment, I’d be able to fall into a deep sleep before the chainsaw sounds started up again. That didn’t work. It was obvious nothing was going to rouse her, not even if a literal train came crashing through the wall (which is what people in adjacent rooms possibly thought was happening).
That night I learnt a lot: how patience and anger alternate extremely quickly and how reluctant patience, or perhaps a resignation to misery, wins out eventually. How intense frustration and helplessness can be prolonged for hours. How hours can acquire an elastic quality and stretch out painfully. How frustration can feel simultaneously boring and intense. How dramatic the darkness plus exhaustion can feel. How strong relief can be the next night, knowing the snorer has moved on…
But the biggest lesson I learnt? To always take earplugs and headphones to a hostel – and wear them both at the same time.
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