Just “normal” please, that´s luxury enough.
Ok, I want to get out of here. Now. Breakfast was fine and the view´s great too, but I don’t want to be here any longer. I´ve seen them all coming in: the man who gets his coffee nonchalantly shuffling on his flipflops without even saying “good morning”, the woman with the jungle proof khaki pants and pink sun visor who keeps on following the Ecuadorian staff around until that one missing cup is on the table, the man in a Hilfinger shirt that´s too tight for his belly, who starts drumming with his fingers on the table after two minutes because his fried egg hasn´t arrived yet, and the all American girls in frayed denim shorts who eat only half of their breakfast with an air of boredom and arrogance, while they discuss the best techniques for polishing their nails. Apparently “please” and “thank you” cost extra. As does smiling. From the category: snap your fingers if you desire something and roll your eyes when the kitchen staff doesn´t understand your English orders. I mean, the Ecuadorian kitchen staff in Ecuador, indeed. The guests don´t speak a word of Spanish themselves, and they´ve hired a bus to drive them around. No, no, not around the area. Around the country. A bus. As if there´s not enough buses here already. If it has a mini-bar and Jacuzzi, I don´t know.
Usually I collect my breakfast by going to the bakery, the fruit shop and the Colombian (coffee!) café, but family tradition taught me that by the end of a holiday one´s allowed to go “luxury” for one or two days. Well, relatively that is, it must be comfortable after all of course. And hostel Nantú is a friendly wooden building with a nice ambiance and wooden furniture, rugs, wall paintings and oil lamps, with everything you could wish for (ok, my frame of reference ends far before the Hilton :P): a swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, wifi and a pool table. Breakfast for four dollars is served with bread, egg, fruits, coffee, fruit juice, butter and marmalade on the first floor, with huge glass windows and an ocean view. Perfect, but it all feels uncomfortably exaggerated in this company right now.
I don´t know why it´s so hard for me not to be embarrassed by the casual way we deal with all the luxury we have because we deserve it (?), but as most people do, I like to blame my parents for all of my imperfections. Their “being happy with what you have” referred mostly to everything that´s considered normal: health, a family, a house that is a home, presents for Saint Nicholas, going to school, a car and a job… and also luxury holidays. “Luxury” in the sense of driving to Spain in two days with my three brothers and me packed on the back seat with puzzles, walkmans and coloring books and a big case full of toys on the roof. We spent four weeks swimming, playing beach ball or volleyball, reading Donald Ducks and listening to tapes, burying each other in the sand or making fortresses on the water side, and fighting the break with body boards, air beds or an inflatable boat for hours. Luxury in a house with three bedrooms, a garden hose to shower, two pieces of real milka chocolate with the café con leche and a volley/badminton net outside. The luxury of Spanish vanilla deserts, eating out once a week in our favorite pizzeria Antonio, an ice cream on the beach on Fridays and very occasionally a sandwich under the umbrella without going home in siesta time. And even if our holidays were like that for years, we knew very well that it wasn´t normal, that it´s not something one naturally deserves because he can afford it: that it´s a kind of luck that you should be grateful for.
Many people have asked me how you can save money for a trip around the world if you haven´t finished studying yet. I think studying during the week doesn´t mean you can´t work weekends and holidays. And saving money isn´t rocket science: it´s spending less than you earn. I´ve always had a prepaid phone that someone else didn´t want anymore, I don´t have a tablet, a t.v. or dvd-player, a car, an iPod, iPad, iPhone or any other iThing. And I don´t miss any of those things. My whole wardrobe, that consists mainly of donations from friends and family who do like shopping, fits into the three draws of my dresser. I like dinners at someone´s house more than fancy restaurants, and my watch is a real Market®, and it indicates exactly the same time as a Rolex with Sawarowski diamonds. Beautiful!
But that doesn´t mean that there´s no luxury to enjoy every day. I believe that real luxury is not for the richest in terms of money, but in terms of happiness: being thankful for what you have. So I enjoy two pieces of real Milka chocolate once in a while, as I enjoy sleeping in and having breakfast in pajamas, making music together or alone, cycling through the forest, learning new things from books or experiences, fresh coffee, walking in the snow and driving to work on my motorcycle at sunrise. Because it´s a luxury.
But even if you don´t need much, it´s not easy to go on a holiday as a volunteer in Quito. Because how can you sleep well in your ten dollar budget hostel, if you know that the market families share two beds with seven people in a room without windows next to the prison and in front of a red district, for thirty five dollars a month. How can you spend three to five times the amount of money they have for the whole family, on your own, knowing that they´re working seven days a week ten hours a day to pay the rent and food. Because “you deserve it”?
To comfort my conscience, I look for family-hostels that don´t accept credit cards, I buy my water, bread and fruit from as many different tiendas as I can find, and I try the lunches of the little places on the less touristy sideways. And that is how I want it. Because who needs a pool when the sea stretches out for kilometers right at your front door? Who needs a Jacuzzi when you can have a typical coastal Ecuadorian shower with hot water from the tank on the roof after noon? Who wants to have breakfast behind glass walls with impatiently drumming fingers and conversations about nail polishing, if you can also sit on a curbstone in the South American morning activity of the town center instead? Or a cabaña with everything you want (or not) for thirty five dollars, if there´s an elderly couple in the same street that has a room with a broken fan and no bathroom light, but with a private terrace with ocean views for ten dollars a night, that they can add to their non-existing pension? That´s an easy decision indeed.
But here I am, in the wooden room of hostel Nantú, and I really want to leave. I know, people have their different ways, and my judgment is fast and superficial. Maybe they´ve just donated an American salary to some eco-community project before they hired that bus. Or maybe not. Who knows? However, they can at least say “please” and “thank you”. It doesn´t even have to be in Spanish. Smiling is allowed too. For free.
Hasta luego, have a nice rest of your holiday and... enjoy.
Life is a luxury.
Greets from Nelly without an iPhone / iPad
sent from a cyber without a swimming pool
on my first world trip destination.
P.S. The contrast with the great people we work with (collegues and market families) was so huge, that I needed to write a song about it! Thanks for the inspiration, here is "Hole in my pocket": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Nn95N-M6Eo Hope you like it...