'Backpackers' is a term that covers a multitude of sleep scenarios. For those unfamiliar with these facilities, I am referring to self-catering accommodation consisting of dormitories, bunk beds and people who are living out of, you guessed it, their backpacks!
I have slept in my fair share of backpackers throughout South Africa and across the globe. Backpacking gives you an opportunity to stay in some amazing locations, but comfort and privacy can be rather limited! The thing that makes up for this sacrifice is the opportunity to be in an amazing place (with more of your budget spent on experiences than accommodation) and of course the colourful characters that you will surely meet on your travels.
Here are a few of the characters that still make me laugh out loud when I think of them...
I recall the crazy, well-tattooed Italian surfer that I met in a backpackers in Anstey's Beach in Durban. His English was rather limited but nonetheless he was a passionate communicator. I will never forget the way he tried to explain his encounter with a jelly fish to me and my husband, using only various forms of English swear words and Italian adjectives. His gestures and story telling made it clear that the jelly fish had gotten the best of him and he was not happy about this.
Then there was the semi-nude cherry eating French Moroccan backpacker manager I met in Paris. He mistook our three girl backpacking crew for something far more exciting and decided to serve himself to us as dessert. We were first time travelers, aged 20 and scared witless. We had been sharing a room and using the communal showers as a team thanks to our South African conservativeness. Apparently the backpackers had gotten the wrong idea about our views on sexuality and nudity and the manager felt confident we would oblige him.
Not all backpacker characters are free and wild spirits. The Malawian chef and preacher I met in Cape MacClear on Lake Malawi was fiercely conservative. He insisted we devour his mix of sun-dried fish biltong, sandy spinach and corn bread while he preached about ladies covering up. I still recall his astonishment the next day watching the ladies go for a run (for exercise and not out of necessity).
Other characters really challenge social conventions like the German family of three who had sold their tiling business and taken a year off. I met mother, father and grown son in Lubanzi Village in the Transkei. They had driven their motorbikes from their home town through Israel down the west coast of South Africa over the last eight months and were planning on driving back via the east coast of Africa. They lived off eggs, bread, coffee and cigarettes and whatever else they could fit on the back of their bikes. They were satisfied with this simple life and had super stories to share of our beautiful continent.
Backpacking is definitely for the young (at heart) and adventurous. If planning a backpacking trip I suggest traveling in a pack, booking out a dorm and making sure you socialise with as many of the guests as possible. You will sleep better with good friends around whilst the stories about the other guests will be priceless.