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By the end of my first week as a backpacker in Perth I’d successfully navigated my way around the city, got to grips with the colourful Australian currency, visited the famous Kings Park to see the killer views of the city and unintentionally watched a film at the cinema in Chinese. And while these were highly impressive achievements, my main aim that week wasn’t so much to take photos of the skyline or learn a new language, but that all important part of travelling: trying to make some new friends in my Perth hostel. Something that didn’t go too smoothly thanks to logistics and a new facial deformity.
Making New Friends in Perth
There have been times I’ve stayed in hostels and immediately fallen into a group of wonderful new friends where everyone gets on great and it instantly feels like you’re part of a family. This wasn’t one of those times. While everyone in my Perth hostel seemed nice, a lot of people had been living there long term and were in a pretty tight group. Plus it had been such a long time since I’d been on the travelling circuit it was quite daunting to be surrounded by complete strangers all the time, especially when I was used to living by myself. These strangers were everywhere: munching away next to me at the dining table, snoring just a few feet away from my bed at night and buzzing around me like worker bees while I was trying to cook my dinner. I was a little bit in shock to be honest.
However, despite the amount of new people I wasn’t massively interested in making a million new casual acquaintances and repeating the same old, “How long have you been travelling? Where are you going to next?” conversations that backpackers get so sick of. I much preferred the less tiring idea of making a modest amount of friends and getting to know them well. And so I began sowing the seeds, with two lovely girls from my room: Aisling, an Irish nurse, and Mirka, a vet nurse from Finland. While our other roommates came and went, the three of us stayed put all week and ended up getting on well.
However, my friend-building mission was short lived because just as I was getting comfortable in the hostel full of unfamiliar faces I found out it was fully booked the following week, and I was going to have to find somewhere else to live. So based on a vague tip-off from a friend of a friend back home, I booked three nights at a hostel called The Witch’s Hat. Mirka and Aisling, who also had to move out, were due to follow a couple of days later.
Moving to a New Hostel in Perth
Compared to the previous hostel The Witch’s Hat was a large and unatmospheric place. It was clean, well run and in no way unpleasant, and the large group of long-term French residents obviously liked it a lot, but it just didn’t feel like home. On the plus-side, it was in Northbridge, a much more interesting place than Perth CBD, with older-style buildings, bustling nightlife and a strip of quirky shops and cafes shops along William Street.
On the down-side, the stresses of months of home renovations and migration preparation followed by lingering jet lag and being kept awake by road works and loud snorers had culminated in not only a persistent headache and severe exhaustion but the eruption of a revolting cold sore on my mouth. And not just any old cold sore, but a giant, double-headed volcano-type formation full of burning lava that swelled my lip up so much I was speaking with a lisp. Trying to make friends in a new hostel isn’t the easiest thing to do when you not only have a new speech impediment but every time you attempt to smile or speak your lip bursts open, spilling vile yellow liquid down your chin.
I really didn’t want to speak to anyone. What I wanted to do was put on a fluffy dressing gown and watch Harry Potter films underneath a blanket in complete solitude. Instead I got the top bunk in a mixed dorm room with a small and unnaturally chirpy Sardinian man, a chatty but brusque French girl and a 45-year-old Australian man who dressed like a skater boy. Come 9pm on Saturday night I was tucked up under the covers feeling sorry for myself and hoping I could fall asleep before anyone tried to have a conversation with me. Meanwhile at least twenty French people were out in the courtyard getting drunk on cheap vin blanc and things were about to get interesting.
A Hostel Under Siege
There was a lot of noise in the hostel that evening – people coming and going, doors slamming, voices rising in proportion to the amount of goon being knocked back – but suddenly everything went quiet. The sea of voices dropped from loud and slurred to hushed and alarmed, and they seemed to have washed up closer to my door. I peered out in curiosity and found pretty much the entire hostel standing outside my room, staring anxiously at the firmly closed front door. Even more interesting were the two guys standing in front of the door, wielding large pieces of wood and perched, ready for action.
According to word in the hallway, a previous resident – a fellow Brit no less – had returned to visit friends for a drink and been ordered to leave by staff. Now he had gone crazy and was trying to force his way back in, and we were effectively under siege.
“It iz drugs,” declared a grey-faced Frenchman with a ponytail, who I’d never seen without a cigarette hanging out of his mouth before. “It ‘as to be. No one gets like zis from alcohol.”
“No,” one of the French girls argued, folding her arms. “He iz drunk. Zat is all.”
And so this went on, conspiracy theories and rumours, bouncing back and forth off the cold corridor walls while the front door shuddered from thuds and kicks and angry, muffled yells, shortly followed by a suspicious silence and the sound of glass shattering along the side of the building as crazy drunk English guy tried to break in through the windows.
For another half an hour we huddled together, the drunk French people and I, until the police eventually showed up and took the crazy man away, and I finally got to climb back up into my bunk bed. There was only one brief interruption when my roommate burst in, put the light on, whipped her trousers off and staggered around the room in greying underwear whilst loudly humming the Backstreet Boys until she’d decided what to wear to a nightclub that was apparently so bad that, “You ‘ave to keep drinking. It iz zee only way to get through it.” I think I’ll stick with my bunk bed and book thanks.
Losing New Friends in Perth (Literally)
I’d been eagerly anticipating the arrival of Aisling and Mirka, who were due to check in to The Witch’s Hat on my final evening, particularly as I’d arranged to move into an apartment the following day with a man who worked at the previous hostel. While this wasn’t something I’d planned on doing, I’d been offered a single room in a nice apartment with a pool, gym and sauna for a lot less money than the cost of a hostel. And while living with a middle-aged man wasn’t my ideal travelling scenario, I’d decided that as long as I could keep in touch with Mirka and Aisling it would all be ok. I’d get to live somewhere peaceful and hang my clothes up in an actual wardrobe, yet still have friends to meet up with. Bingo.
Unfortunately my plan started falling apart before it had even begun. Since I still didn’t have an Aussie sim card and my English one wasn’t working I’d quickly jotted down my email address for Aisling before leaving hostel number one, and I hadn’t heard from her at all. No problem, I thought, I’m bound to bump into them in the new hostel when they move in. I didn’t.
I sat alone in the soulless tv room all Sunday evening, watching the door like a jilted bride. The following morning I ate my breakfast in the communal kitchen, just me and my massive cold sore and the smoke wafting in from the French people out in the courtyard – still no sign of them. This was getting desperate. I was about to move in with a middle-aged man, who had suspiciously hand-picked me to live with him, in a new city, and I had no friends to keep in touch with. It was also my birthday in a few days and I had no one to spend it with. NO ONE!
It was therefore very lucky that I hung around the hostel until the afternoon, as it was only when I was attempting to make a sandwich for lunch with nothing but a chopping board and a spork (the hostel had a bizarre system of requiring a deposit for a plate and cutlery set, which I’d already handed back) when a tired-looking, wet-haired vision sauntered past me. It was Mirka! I don’t think she was prepared for my enthusiasm as I leapt off my stool and ran over in excitement!
It turned out that Aisling had indeed emailed me (I found it in my junk mail), and they’d popped out for some food the previous afternoon, ended up having more than a few drinks and stumbled back at some ungodly hour, having to climb the gate to get in as they’d forgotten the code. I’d missed quite a night!
So with two new friends firmly in place (phew) and my giant rucksack hoisted over my back like a snail’s shell (ugh) I trundled off to the bus stop in relief and made my way to my new apartment and my new male landlord/flatmate.