It was a typical night around May/June 1997. Lying in bed but unable to sleep. What was that racket going on in the bathroom?
Really, I had been feeling elated. Therefore I should be sleeping like a log. Instead, I was kept awake with a sense of frustration at three in the morning by the two whispering voices, one male, the other female, emanating from the closed bathroom door, just a few feet away from my bed. Of course, I could hear what they were up to. Eventually, after everything had calmed down, I eventually dropped off.
After daybreak, I got out of bed to enter the bathroom. Instead, in the bathroom itself, I startled the young couple while they were in each other's arms, and I gasped, "Oh!"
The man looked very displeased as I walked through the door, while she looked alarmed.
Your snoring has kept us awake in the early hours of the morning! He declared with a firm and a rather angry tone of voice.
And your shagging in the bathroom has kept me awake at three this morning! If you want to shag, there is the beach just across the road! I then saw his soul as I spat out my reply with equal intensity, pointing my finger towards the direction of the street outside.
Not that the beach would have been ideal for outdoor copulation, as this particular stretch of coastline on the Australian State of Queensland was a mudflat, exposed by the low tide of the Indo-Pacific Ocean. However, she was horrified at my awareness of their activity and she quickly said that she had to go. And she stormed out of the bathroom alone, leaving him too embarrassed to say anything else, and slinked out of the washroom with his tail between his legs.
|HI Hostel Dormitory, Cairns, Australia. Stayed 1997.|
All this had taken place at a male dormitory of a backpacker's hostel, one of several hostels at the time, in Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. And indeed, after having showered, shaved and dressed, I felt my elation return as I prepared breakfast in the member's kitchen, as I was planning to board a catamaran to nearby Port Douglas for an exchange of sailing to Low Isles, one of many coral cays dotting the Coral Sea, which hugs the north-eastern coastline of Australia. There I am to snorkel over the magnificent underwater gardens of the Reef.
But going back to the previous night, this was unlike any other hostelling experience I have ever had. Obviously, there is a rich variety of nightlife in Cairns, which late-closing nightclubs and bars themselves encourage one-night stands among backpackers, I never thought such behaviour would hit the hosteling community, especially one affiliated with Hosteling International, an organisation which had received moral support from the churches, particularly here in England.
Even at the New Swedish Hostel, an unaffiliated privately-owned Medieval upper floor of dormitories set in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem - had better morals. Here, in the early nineties, I slept in the same room with several young couples, huddling together on makeshift beds laid out by the proprietor, rather than for him to face the alternative of turning away potential paying customers. But as far as I was always aware, there has never been any "hanky-panky" among them.
But the traditional YHA-affiliated Youth Hostel has come a long way since my membership began in 1985. It was still in those days when the establishment was what it said on the tin, a place for inexpensive accommodation for school-age city youngsters to experience the benefits of the countryside. What a benefit it is when youth hostels became cheap backpackers accommodation! Gone is the traditional morning duty, when each member had to either sweep the dormitory floor, mop the bathroom or kitchen, hoover the lounge, wipe the windowsills, clean the showers, etc, all to keep costs down. With greater mobility and more money in the customer's pocket, its market was under threat unless the morning duty was dispensed with and to make these hostels more adult-compatible
|Leaving Cairns for the Great Barrier Reef, 1997.|
Whenever I was in the UK, Israel, Singapore, the USA, or Australia, I found that as an unmarried traveller, those hostels were excellent venues to form new friendships with other backpackers. Sometimes I received advice or a recommendation to visit a particular venue. San Diego in 1995 was a good example, where recently-made friends hinted on the Mission Beach, Sea World, and the Old Town with its Old West streets, exhibits, a bazaar and its atmosphere, all of them a fair bus ride away - and Little Italy, a self-contained Italian community in the midst of the city. Through the advice of another friend, I managed to travel south on the trolley-tram to San Ysidro to cross the border into Mexico to visit the city of Tijuana.
I have found that the member's kitchen is the best place to start a conversation. In a hostel such as HI-San Diego, which in 1995 was sharing the same building with the YMCA, there were several cookers enclosing a space separated from the dining area. The resulting jostling with other backpackers, each of us cooking our own meals at the same time, started conversations which could lead to more serious discussions, eventually forming friendships.
Also, new friendships were made at a HI-Phoenix, a private home which the owner had converted into a hostel and had it affiliated to attract more customers. On this occasion, I made friends with a couple of young Jewish men, and in the lounge, a conversation arose on the subject of religion, which gave me the opportunity to testify about Jesus Christ. Also, New Swedish Hostel on Souk David, within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, was another brilliant example where the combined kitchen/dining room/lounge was contained in just one small upstairs room. Therefore, when one traveller from South Africa had asked me what I was doing in Israel, this was a golden opportunity to testify. I was overheard by other backpackers who paused from what they were doing to listen to what I had to say.
And whilst staying at a HI hostel in Boston, Massachusetts, I got into a good talk with a group of teenagers who were also staying the night. Even here in the UK, whilst cycling to Minehead in Somerset from Bracknell, while stopping over for the night at HI-Bath Spa, I found myself in conversation with some others about faith in Christ.
And this brings me to the issue here. Does it look as if I was, or am one of a very few Christian believers who dare venture out on his own? Compared to the testimonies from other church-going friends from over the years, that is quite a point!
One good friend of mine, who for his own safety I won't mention his name here, is due to fly out to Malta in due course. I thought this is great. Only a few years ago I took my wife Alex to Malta as independent travellers for a week to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary. I remember the hotel we chose to stay in, "Which looks like a prison from the outside!" I joked to Alex, during the airport-to-hotel pre-booked transfer.
"Quiet!" My wife responded. "The taxi driver can hear you."
My friend and brother-in-Christ will be flying out to Malta with Oak Hall, a Christian organisation dealing specifically with holidays. Over the years, I have encountered one Christian graduate after another who has travelled overseas with Oak Hall, almost entirely without exception! Anything wrong with that? No, nothing wrong in itself. Except that it does give the impression of cliquishness - the classic image of Christians packing themselves together as if to guard against predators.
|About to snorkel, Low Isles Cay. Dressed against sunburn.|
Perhaps the opening story of this blog could be a classic example of this kind of predatory threat. I have wondered how a typical Christian graduate would react to this couple on a one-nighter banging away in the bathroom? Or the idea of sharing a crowded dormitory with several unmarried couples sleeping together?
These same Christians who travel clique-like overseas would be the first to get on their high horses and preach against such behaviour or lifestyle. But by reading the Gospels, I don't see Jesus getting on his high horse, except to rebuke the Pharisees - highly religious people who think they are righteous before God and would judge and condemn anyone who copulates outside of marriage (among other sins.) It's those super-religious who Jesus rebukes.
Maybe I was wrong to verbally hit back at that couple in the bathroom so far away. It might have revealed my immaturity. Could I have acted this way out of envy at his ability to pick up a female and entice her into bed on their first date - a scenario which many a teenager's excitement would be aroused? Not for me, in all honesty, I was just not interested in such things. I was out there to travel. To see the world, a wonderful, undeserved gift God has given me to enjoy. Sex has no part in the equation.
He threw a wobbly at me, I threw one back at him. That was all. Maybe I should have apologised for my snoring (even if it wasn't my fault) and sought peace. But back then I didn't think of that. I was still spiritually immature.