This article originally appeared on VICE Spain.
One night around 3 AM a guest ran into the lobby, crying. I think he was speaking Korean, which is pretty far from any language that I understand, so it was kind of hard to figure out exactly why he was so shook up. It quickly became obvious, however, when I managed to decipher the word "piss." There are few lingual boundaries that word cannot cross. I asked the security guard to watch the desk, took a deep breath, and slowly made my way toward his room to inspect just how much urine we were dealing with.
Apparently some sleepwalking Australian backpacker had wandered into the poor Korean's bed and mistaken it for a toilet. At least that's what I understood from the broken English and the puddle of piss dripping from the mattress.
Working nightshifts in a busy Barcelona youth hostel means I have a unique front-row seat to all sorts of sordid situations that you just don't see while the sun is still up. It's a parallel universe of drugs, booze, and horny British teenagers with second-degree sunburns.
My job is to greet the guests, give them their keys, and explain everything there is to know about the establishment—well, except for the fact that it transforms into a modern day Babylon after 3 AM. That, they seem to find out by themselves.
One of the hostel's cardinal rules is that there can only be one person per bed. It doesn't matter how many Jägerbombs you've downed, you are never allowed to have sex in the room. This is simply a matter of respect for the other people you are sharing your glorified toilet of a room with. But I suppose that rules are made to be broken.
One time, five out of eight guests from a room came down down to collectively lodge a complaint. It was 7 AM and two drunk people were really going at it in one of the bunks. After sitting at my desk for the better part of seven hours I was mostly just jealous of the couple. But I had to do my job so I headed upstairs to try and get them to stop. I marched into the room and ripped the curtain away from their bunk and was met with a pale ass bobbing up and down about six inches from my face. The busy couple didn't seem even slightly put off by my presence. I begged them to keep their groaning to a minimum, but at that stage it didn't really matter as all of their roommates had already gone to breakfast.
To be fair, the sex isn't restricted to the rooms. Showers, toilets, the top floor landing—anywhere without a camera is fair game. I'm actually still trying to figure out how all the guests seem to know about the bloody top floor landing.
It isn't at all uncommon for horny tourists to hit on the staff, either. One night, our security guard—a gentle, Cuban man named Miguel—was doing the rounds when he heard a strange noise coming from the toilet. When he went to investigate he saw a Canadian girl taking a piss with the door wide open. Miguel got a proper shock but the girl certainly didn't—she simply spread her legs and gestured for him to come in and join. As flattered as the poor man was, he decided it'd probably be less than professional and declined.
In comparison, the reception team has looser morals. I remember our old security guard—a really nice 50-year-old guy—whispering that I should take this girl who was interested in me to the first floor. He gave me a walkie-talkie and told me he'd call me if there were any problems. The paternal tone in his voice quickly convinced me that it was the reasonable thing for an employee to do during business hours.
The first floor has this area that's more or less dead after midnight. We went there and got down to business. Once we were done, I figured I'd go get us some tissues to clean up with but I forgot to put any clothes on. Halfway down the hall I triggered the motion sensors and all of a sudden I was standing ass naked in front of the building's CCTV system. Luckily, nobody ever actually checks those cameras.
THE MOTLEY CRUE OF CHARACTERS
There's more to hostels than sex, of course. Often, they act as temporary homes for people who don't have much money and/or also suffer from mental illnesses, like depression or paranoia.
One such character was Anton. Anton was a young Albanian man who'd moved to Barcelona to make a living. I'm not entirely sure how he was making that living, but he would hurriedly come and go from the hostel several times a night. He never said what he was doing, which was strange because he wasn't shy in telling me about other parts of his life—like the time he and his brother beat up 40 people in one go, or how he lost his virginity to a girl in the hostel, who obviously thought it was the best sex she'd ever had. That kind of story—ones that are very entertaining but obviously untrue. In the end, my boss kicked him out for threatening an employee. He left the hostel screaming that he'd be back and that he was a "sniper" and a "lion." We never saw that lion again.
There was another guy, a chap called Ramon. After having spent 20 years working in London, he'd returned to Spain to find some work in slightly better weather. He had some savings but chose to use the hostel as a place to get set up. He figured it'd be easier to find an apartment and a job if he had a base to work from. He was full of sob stories—like how he visited his mom in Spain and found out she had a new family and no interest in talking to him. Or how a woman robbed him of $460 when he tried to rent an apartment from her. It felt as if every story he had ended badly. He finally decided to get out of both the hostel and Barcelona and start a new life in Menorca.
After some time, it gets hard to distinguish the subtle differences between the tourists and the crazy people. The lines blur and one can actually become the other. Like the Korean guy who came down to the lobby screaming about piss that one night—some nights later, he ended up in a similar situation and drunkenly mistook someone's suitcase for a toilet. The owner woke up to find all of their possessions drenched in liquid crap. It wasn't only my duty to clean the clothes but also to lift the drunken wreck of a man into the shower.
That's only the tip of iceberg, though. To this day, the worst I've seen is a Swedish girl—high on god knows what—running naked through the hallways, painting the walls with her menstrual blood. I don't think I will ever forget that particular incident. She probably doesn't even remember it.
Related: 'Big Night Out: Ibiza'
The worst part of the nightshift isn't the drugs, the booze, the liquid shit, or the casual sex. It's the violence.
One time I tried to stop two drunken morons from fighting outside the hostel and one accidentally caught me full force in the face. Our security went to town on them, completely pummeling them to the ground.
"I had to, it's my job. They can't touch your face," he told me.
His job or not, he seemed to enjoy it a bit too much.
There are also fights between guests and people who don't work at the hostel. The last one I witnessed involved three American girls and a taxi driver. According to the driver, the girls hadn't paid their fare. According to them, he had both robbed and sexually harassed them. When the cops arrived, the girls turned on them because they weren't wearing uniforms. They accused the cops of being impostors, threatened to beat them up, and then pretended to call the embassy.
The situation was finally resolved when the exhausted taxi driver agreed to settle for $45. The girls kept screaming that it was robbery. The taxi driver screamed back. When I finally managed to get them back to the hostel, we sat down for a chat—they actually cooled down and began to trust me. Just when I thought they were actually starting to behave like normal human beings, one of them turned to me and asked me:
"Have you seen Breaking Bad"?
"Sure," I replied.
"Well, my uncle is a senior DEA agent and I'm going to get him to put that bastard in jail in Cuba," she said.
Just another day at work in a European youth hostel, I guess.
Not into youth hostels? Find out about the life of a five-star hotel bellboy.