Traveling is fairly easy.  Well, unless you have the a stop through the USA.  Some of the customs folks can be a little hyper-vigilant.  I had a charming, beady-eyed fellow who was pleased to welcome me to the land of the free while still in Edmonton.  A Jeopardy fan, he channeled his inner Trebek.

 “What country is Edinburgh in?  Tell me!  What state is New York in?  WHY IN GOD’S NAME ARE YOU HEADING TO THE MIDDLE EAST!!??  HrGGGGhghg”*

*The last part was a grunt that sounded partway depraved or maybe was chocking.  Regardless, it’s tough to spell.

There was a pause on my end.  A long pause.  It’s hard to not scowl or smirk at guys like this.  Anyway, after a two second pause there “TELL ME!” was repeated a few more times. My Jeopardy skills however easily carried me to the second round.

 “How much money you got?!  In yer bank!  How you gonna be payin’ fer this trip huh?!  How. Much. Muuuuney.  You.  GOT??”

This sort of thing carried on for a bit.  The funny thing was he was sitting in a little chair so he had to look up at me. Maybe that’s why the shorter, squatter and iller-temped George Costanza doppelganger was so mad.  But I eventually got through and, small miracle, he didn’t have a stroke or anything given the neck veins.  That would have slowed down the process.

I don’t get that concerned about reasonable security processes being distorted by belligerent lout.  But I definitely sympathize with people who have to do this on a regular basis.   Noteworthy because these sort of institutions usually give preferential treatment to people in my demographic – white, not too young and not too old, occasionally fancy college-boy words and even collared shirts.  People who gallingly don’t get preferential treatment are pretty much everyone else.  I’m appalled to think of my friends from places that send the customs rage-o-meter off the charts because of where they were born.

While things like airports can be a challenge, other things are now much easier.  Hostels for instance.  Case in point: I bussed into Ushuaia, Argentina in 2011.  It was about midnight and Lonely Planet had enlightened me as the a handful of interesting places to stay.  They were closed or non-existent.  And I should know better.  I read an autobiography of an ex-LP writer named Thomas Kohnstamm who did things like write the Colombia book without ever having set foot there.  Not that things like this happen often, but some of the status quo just keeping getting  recycled, unverified, year after year after year….

3 usushuia temp

After roaming the streets for an hour or so I lucked out and was able to find a place that was very cool.  This kicked off a much easier way to travel for me: It had pretty solid reviews on HostelBookers or HostelWorld.  I really like the great real-time feedback that makes it possible to get a feel for the place well in advance.  Particularly a feel for whether or not in closed in 1996.  The great thing about this was it invented me to go buy a jacket, that I’d surprisingly forgot to pack.

Cool hostels are highlights.  I’ve been fortunate to have a few that are both friendly and relaxing places to stay and great centres of information and insight.

1) I Keu Ken: El Calafate, Argentina

They had absolutely awesome BBQ’s all the time, sold cheap beer in the lobby and were outstanding hosts.  The owner, Martin, found out that it was my birthday (28 then) when I was there which kicked off more BBQing (he had just been hunting in the Argentine wilderness) and a slew of kind meal invites with his family.  The town is small (~6000 people) and set on the backdrop of the awesome Perito Moreno Glacier.

5 el chatain

2) Pension Santa Elaina, Costa Rica

The consummate hostel: books, board games and bunk beds – but in cabinas.  It was a little grungy but I was 23 so that was OK.  It was in the middle of a Dutch settlement (with a cheese factory!) of about 500 people.  In the middle of the Costa Rican cloud forest.  And to get there it’s “jeep-boat-jeep.”

3) Anandamayi Hostel, Bogota Colombia.

This was a hostel in the middle of La Candelaria, Bogotá (Colombia).  The selling point was a huge open-air atrium, tons of books, and total tranquility.  I wrote tens of thousands of unpublishable dreck there –  lots of fun.  Bogota is a very cool city in its own right – museums, subterranean and psychedelically-lit Salt Cathedrals, coffee shops and a great deal on a $500 airfare back to Canada.  Can’t go wrong!

Now, unplaced but eminently cool – The New York Loft Hostel.  I had great luck in Brooklyn too.  They had great books, free breakfasts, nice rooms and cool art.

6 the hostel

It was in a pretty Hipster-heavy part of Brooklyn.  I was neutral at first until I realized that meant Pabst Blue Ribbon on permanent sale and sidewalk book sales.  I picked up a copy of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Snows of Kilimanjaro for $6.  #Winning.

7 book sale

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