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Saturday, 22 October 2016

A Nerd Among Backpackers...

I had just exited the elevator at the Ground Floor within the recently opened backpackers hostel, which is just across the road from the Central Station. Not that the building itself was new. Rather it looked rather well-used, as it spent most of its life as just another office block right in the heart of Sydney, quite a walk away from the Harbour which boasts both the famous Bridge and close to it, the Opera House. However, its recent conversion from office to hostel meant that greeting me at the Ground Floor was a spanking new Reception, its long counter empty except for just one young female clerk, at that moment busy serving a customer. So like anyone else with a sound mind, I queued up behind him to wait my turn.

Sydney Central Hostel, visited  July/August, 1997.

As the customer in front was still being served, another young man appeared, looking to be in his late twenties, possibly early thirties. Instead of waiting behind me, he leaned next to me across the counter, and as the first backpacker was leaving, this new-arrival beckoned the clerk over, and I saw that she slightly bowed her head as if some form of obeisance. Immediately I raised my voice, and if any possible onlooker might have perceived to be in a belligerent tone, I told him direct to get in the queue and wait his turn. He face immediately turned red with rage over such an act of impudence, and delivered a torrent of expletives, including a quick lecture on how rude and disgraceful for me to have questioned what he saw was his rights. The clerk, perhaps feeling a little embarrassment, proceeded to serve me.

This particular incident remains unfazed in my memory for the past near-twenty years. For of all my entire travel and hosteling experiences in meeting so many people, this guy was dressed to the hilt in a business suit, shirt and tie, making him stand out like a sore thumb among the casually-dressed hosteling public. Or at least, if it wasn't for my sudden intervention, he would have successfully enticed the swooning clerk to skip over my turn to attend to his need, whatever need it might have been. 

I must be honest here, it was his style of dress which spurred me to intervene the way I did. Dressed up in a business suit and tie. In turn, a different kind of response I would have given to a casually dressed backpacker committing the same offence. More likely, it would have been a gentle tap on his shoulder and asking whether he was aware that he had jumped the queue. What was he doing here anyway? My one and only theory, and one I find to be most plausible, is that he was on a business trip to represent his company at a conference, and therefore received travel and accommodation allowance from his employers. But instead of staying at the Grand, Marriott, or Hilton Hotel, with such expenses which his allowance would have fully covered, he decided on a much cheaper backpacker's hostel, and then pocket the excess. The guilt resulting might have been the cause of his sudden rage at Reception.

And such is the world of backpacking, that golden moment in life when the last person on the planet I would have wanted to share the hostel with, was a man in a business suit. To me, backpacking and hostelling has always been an escape from the real human world of business and commerce, into a world of culture, history, and natural beauty. And startling coincidences.

The 1997 trip to Australia was part of what I call The Travel Triathlon, a Round-the-World solo trip taking in Singapore, Australia, and the United States. On that particular, rather eventful morning, I was planning a two-day trip to Blue Mountains National Park, a two-hour Intercity train journey out of Sydney Central Station. All I had to do was to make sure that a bed at the City Central Hostel was reserved on my return, for a further stay of seven days, before heading to the international airport to board the overnight flight to Los Angeles. I loved the Intercity train ride from Sydney Central to Katoomba, a country station in the midst of Blue Mountains National Park, a canyon totally covered with Eucalyptus trees which gives off a blue mist. On a calm day this mist hangs in the air, hence the name. It was there where I searched for a small hostel to spend the one night, along with hiking along a trail passing through dense rainforest and spectacular waterfalls. And also where Australian trains are concerned, the trains that run on the major Intercity line also runs underground as the Metro service to the Harbour and neighbouring districts. It's rather like having an Intercity 125 running through the Piccadilly, Northern, or District Line of the London Underground! Such is their culture.

Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains National Park.

I guess it had all started whilst backpacking across the United States two years earlier in 1995. After spending a night at a rather dingy hotel in central Manhattan, my first stop after a long Greyhound bus journey, was at St. Louis, Missouri. There I found an equally dingy hostel which, to my surprise, was affiliated to Hosteling International, well known for their thorough inspections for qualification into membership. I booked in for a couple of nights. I saw a mouse dash across the kitchen floor, and there were dead cockroaches in the food storage cubicles. Yet it wasn't long before I made friends with a young German backpacker, sharing our travel experiences whilst cooking our meals in the member's kitchen. When, during the conversation, I told him that I had forgotten to bring the Greyhound route map, which came with the Ameripass ticket, he was willing to give me his, making the rest of the trip better organised.

After spending several days at the Grand Canyon, and then at Phoenix, Arizona, I finally arrived at San Diego, early the next morning, and by chance came across the city YMCA building, with one of its floors let out to a H.I. affiliated backpacker's hostel. For me, it was the very best hostel I have ever visited, and I spent five nights there. Again, at the kitchen I made friends with two brothers from Scotland, and after dinner, with one other fellow, we played table football. Then on one evening, I became part of a group of four who went out to paint the town red. What lay beneath all this, a lone backpacker going out with a group of recently-made friends? Simple really. The want of love and acceptance.

Acceptance. This which can transform lone travel to an electrifying adventure! The need for acceptance. Like after the rest of the group had moved on, I remained in San Diego, where I shared a two-bed dorm with an Australian builder, whose contract had just ended, and he was preparing to fly home. The telling of his travels and building contracts whilst abroad was the inspiration which led to my own travels Down Under, two years later. Meanwhile, a young Jewish woman arrived to spend a couple of nights. When she learned that I was leaving for Santa Monica on the same day she was leaving, she too booked a bed at the same hostel, and asked me to accompany her all the way to the Los Angeles coastal district. She wanted my company for protection. This was fully justified, as after arrival at Los Angeles Greyhound Terminal, we had to wait for a connecting bus to the coastal district - at a rather iffy part of the city. But we stayed together, sharing our experiences. And our faiths. She was Jewish. It gave me the opportunity to testify about Jesus Christ - like I did to two backpackers at the hostel in Phoenix.

San Diego Harbour - taken August 1997.

Two years later, in 1997, I was on the Australian Greyhound Bus, using the same kind of pass ticket as I did in America. Having snorkelled at the Great Barrier Reef at both Green Island and Low Isle coral cays, I was heading south towards Brisbane and eventually Sydney. The bus pulled in for an hour's service stop, where I enjoyed a snack at the cafeteria. Presently another bus pulled in for the same reason, and emptied of all passengers into the cafeteria. So there I was, literally at the other side of the world,  alone - thousands of miles away from family and from everyone who knew me, whether they be friends, acquaintances, or clientèle. 

"Hey, Frank!"

I looked up. "Who are you?" I asked the young man standing over me. "And how do you know me?"
"Don't you remember? The hostel in St. Louis? I gave you that map!"

I was astonished. Heavens! After chatting for a while, I boarded the bus. But that is what the sense of acceptance was all about while travelling and hosteling. Getting on well with fellow backpackers, sharing experiences, making friends. Even finding opportunities in sharing my faith without putting the listener off or hardening his heart. Wonderful, that is, all except with the suited businessman in Sydney, of course. The only time I have ever experienced anger and hostility while hosteling, both within and outside the UK, it had to be with a fellow dressed in a suit, shirt and tie!

Which brings me forward to the present. While I was browsing through the Internet, I came across a message which read:

Once Saved Always Saved - An Ancient Programmer's Proverb.

I admit, I was rather intrigued by such a message. Because I am an fervent advocate of Eternal Security of the Believer, or if you like, Once Saved Always Saved, basically he was calling me a nerd - for believing in and advocating such a wonderful truth. And that is what I found so wonderful about travel and particularly hosteling. You seldom come across religious people - at least I hadn't so far. Christians, yes. I came across a group of believers at a roller skating rink in Winnipeg during a backpacking trip way back in 1977. Then, more recently in 1998, I found myself chatting to a group of Christians at the H.I. hostel in Boston Massachusetts. As far as I recall, not one of them has ever made any derogatory remarks to other people or the beliefs of fellow brothers.

In referral to the above quote on the Internet, by clicking on various links connected with such a statement, I discovered that yes, salvation was through grace through faith in Christ, but after that you are obliged to "Keep the Commandments", including the keeping of the Jewish Sabbath. Apparently, according to this author, failing to keep the commandments would result in eternal loss. I wonder how anyone with some degree of intelligence can come to such a disastrous conclusion in Biblical soteriology! If only he understood what the apostle Paul has written when he compiled his letter to the churches in Galatia. That is, he who wants to keep the Law must keep the whole Law, which includes circumcision, and all the Jewish rituals and animal sacrifice (Galatians 5:3, also James 2:10). Failure to keep the whole Law perfectly result in condemnation. 

And I wouldn't be at all surprised that such a person would find it extremely difficult - dare say impossible - to love a brother in Christ who disagrees with him, or fail to live according to his expectations. Such a lack of love is the very root of sin and a serious breach of the Law, no matter how hard he may try to keep it.

Yes, there are two nerds among backpackers mentioned here. The man in a suit at a Sydney hostel is one. 

The other nerd must be me, for believing in Once Saved Always Saved.


  1. Dear Frank,
    If believing Once Saved, Always Saved, makes you a nerd, then I am proud to be one also! Your Travel Triathalon sounds amazing. Thanks for describing your adventures so vividly that we can all share in your experiences.

    It truly is a small world -- once while admiring the beautiful mountain views in Conor Pass, Ireland, there was no one else in sight except for a lone car parked next to us in the scenic overlook. The driver and Richard got out and began chatting, only to learn that we were all from the US -- Florida, Tampa, the same suburb of Tampa, and both living just moments from the same golf course! Praise God for arranging all the details of our lives with His amazing care and attention.
    God bless,

  2. Hi Frank,
    As regarding 'keeping the commandments' is concerned, it is 'keeping the commands of Jesus' as He speaks to us through the Word highlighted to us on our walk with Him that is important, the greatest being to love God and love one another. Jesus says 'If you love me keep MY commands.' As we grow in Him we learn to do as we are taught by the renewing of our minds in Him, and that brings the gradual change in us that transforms us into His image. Who would not like to be like Him eh?

    Where you say .....'sharing experiences, making friends. Even finding opportunities in sharing my faith without putting the listener off or hardening his heart', I have to say that is what I love doing to. God is love and I have to say - a love that is deeper than any love I have ever known.

    I think you should put all your traveling experiences together in a little booklet called 'Frank's life journey'.
    God bless you and Alex Frank