25.07.2005 - 11.08.2005
Hosteling is not for those sensitive to sound. However, with a good set of earplugs, passing time in hostels is not only economical, it's a great way to meet people from around the world.
Upon our return to Mexico City, Thollem and I decided we would spend a couple of days at different hostels to check them out. Well, at the third hostel, we left our bags unpacked and reserved for the weekend. So much for good intentions!
Hostel Moneda is in an old building whose original name, Hotel Moneda, is carved into the stone entryway. This 6-year old home for travelers is young in comparison to its 50-some year old predecessor. It is located on La Calle Moneda, two blocks from El Zocalo, the center of the city since the Aztecs. Here, we checked our e-mail while outside vendors cried out their wares to the hoards of people squeezing by. Hostel Moneda is a five floor, two terraced great deal for any 'mochilero' , that is: any backpacker wanting to see the City. At 14 US dollars for a bed per night, one can get a four-hour free tour of El Zocalo (including the Palacio Nacional with the Diego Rivera murals) or various great deals on tours to the pyramids, la lucha libre (wrestling a la funky mexican in a mask - popular entertainment), and more. This hostel also provides free Internet services, breakfast and dinner, clean linens and towels, free luggage storage, laundry and kitchen facilities, and a bathroom for every 6-bed dorm room. (Other hostels in the downtown area charge almost the same rate and provide less.) In addition, the staff is absolutely awesome, from the clerks dealing with the madness at the front desk, to the cooks and the many people keeping the place clean and shining. I have yet to be in a hostel that lacks an outgoing, helpful staff - that is a given. Besides making friends with them, we look to hostels for a chance to make friends with other travelers, other "mochileros". Some of the characters in this segment were:
- Gal (pronounced gahl) who is from Israel and would be in Mexico, Central and South America, surfing and soaking up all he could for 8 months. Beaming from all the adventures he'd had thus far, he was a tall, black-curly topped youth whose smile proved contagious. He told that in Israel it is traditional for people to travel after their 1-2 year mandatory military duty.
- Mark is from Belgium and was on vacation from teaching. He had been studying Spanish at home, and came to Mexico last year for practice. We met him on his second, and last, week - after he had studied in Oaxaca for a week. He admitted that he would've liked to travel longer, but his family obligations and homesickness only allowed for two weeks.
- Rodan lives in Virginia, but he is from Bulgaria. An intense, thoughtful guy around our age, he was seen up at the terrace relaxing with many stories of all the diverse things he did that day, as well as stories about his memories of Bulgaria and his grandma.
- Naomi's address is in Sydney, even if only for 4 months out of the year. She works like mad during that time so she can travel the remaining eight throughout the world, visiting friends and family along the way.
- Then there's the guy who caught the attention of anyone looking, since half of his face had red, puffy abrasions and some stitches. Groggy from pain medication from a hospital nearby, he sat down with us on the Internet room floor and told his tale... Two days before, at the end of his three month Mexico adventure, he was riding up a ramp on a motorcycle. The first five times were awesome, but his friend failed to get a good vid of it - so up he went a last time, not concentrating and too sure - in retrospect he realized he wasn't focusing and was going too fast the moment he began the ascent. He was heading home the next day to a doctor with whom he could communicate in English.
Most of the characters we meet are in their early 20s, but some are parents traveling with their children and others are professionals. A Canadian and her two teenage children had returned for their second summer month in Mexico. It was obvious that they traveled well together.
For most, the City is a starting or ending point from their travels throughout southern Mexico and the Mayan lands. I dormed with a young German couple who were just beginning their four month tour of Mexico. Like them, many 'mochileros' we met know little to no Spanish. The hostel default language was English. For Thollem (whose memory is reliable) this was the perfect atmosphere to practice the greetings he knows in a variety of languages. (One language new to our ears was Maltese - beautiful!!!) When travelers like these unwound at night up at the bar on the terrace, I found the earplugs most useful. Most evenings, I was too tired to climb to the fifth floor, let alone speak above Marley and 'musica romantica'. Even after the bar had closed at 22:30, the sounds throughout the building danced up and down the marble staircase. Ears tapped, I slept with ease. The earplugs also helped when dorming, since people came in at different times. Thollem and I didn't have to worry about coming in and waking anyone since we had been assigned to a private room. With large flowers painted on white walls towering over the two twin beds that were made for us (another treat, since we usually have to make our own beds) and towels and soap in the bathroom, this felt like the hotel it once was. If you happen to meet the owner of the hostel or pension, you may find him or her to be as interesting and full of stories as the travellers passing though. He or she may even share a top-notch bottle of tequila with you over the course of an afternoon full of stories and the best tortas in town...just don't forget those earplugs unless you want to stay up with the owner to sing or tell the same stories over again!