This article originally appeared on VICE Spain
One night – I guess it was around 3AM – 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 make out just why the guy was so shook up. It quickly became obvious when I managed to decipher the word "piss". There are few lingual boundaries that that word doesn't cross. I asked the security guard to watch the desk, took a deep breath and slowly made my way towards his room to inspect just how much urine we were dealing with.
Apparently some Australian backpacker had decided to climb into the poor Korean's bed in her sleep and mistake 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 3AM. 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. Simply as 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 7AM and two drunk people were really going for it in one of the bunks. After having been sat at my desk for the best part of seven hours, I was mostly just jealous of the couple but, yeah, I had to do my job and head upstairs to try to get them to stop. I marched into the room and ripped the curtain away from their bunk. Immediately, I was met with a pale arse bobbing up and down about 6 inches from my face. The busy couple didn't seem even slightly put off by my presence so I basically had to beg them to keep their groaning to a minimum. At that stage it didn't even really matter; all of their roommates had gone to breakfast anyway.
To be fair, the sex isn't restricted to the rooms. Showers, toilets, the top floor landing – anywhere without a camera seems to be 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 try it on with the staff, either. For instance, 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. Doing his job, he went to check out what was going on. When he turned the corner, 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 wide open 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 have far fewer morals. Working behind a hostel desk increases your chances of getting laid. I was never that popular with the ladies before, but after I started working here it hasn't been hard to find someone who is interested. All you need to do is choose the right moment to smile good night or even just establish eye contact, and next thing you know, you are on the way to the bathroom with some American girl who arrived home from the club by herself. It's that simple.
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, my creeping about triggered the motion sensors and all of a sudden I was stood bare naked in front of the building's CCTV system. Luckily, nobody ever actually checks the cameras, but I learned an important lesson that night: Big brother is always watching you.
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'd hurriedly come and go from the hostel several times a night and never really say what he was doing. Which was strange because he wasn't shy of telling me about pretty much everything and anything else – like the time he and his brother beat up 40 people in one go, or how 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 – a big fella whose mental age was closer to ten than his actual age of 40. 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 mum in Spain and found out she had a new family and no interest in talking to him. Or how a woman robbed him of £300 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.
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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 and completely beat the chaps into 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 £30. 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, seemingly believing what had just come out of her mouth.
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.