There is a bar in Melbourne on Brunswick Street called the Labour in Vain possibly the best bar in the city and certainly the most honest. LP introduced me to it in 2004 and we found ourselves there on many occasions. In 2008, on my second and longer stay in Melbourne and on my very last night in the city, Os and I went for a quiet drink there mostly on my insistence. That drink predictably lasted many hours and Ossie somehow got me to the airport to fly to Queensland to catch up with LP in Cairns the next day.
But what struck really about that night (apart from the huge Aboriginal woman) was the attitude of the staff and customers to modern conformity and finance. When a group of suits came in having watched an Aussie Rules game across town, the slow murmur went up..´no suits, no suits.´ This murmur continued until the newcomers, the outsiders, decided it wasn´t the bar for them. They didn´t have the tattoos or t-shirts of the rest of us. They belong to a different thought and process.
Travelling right now, I see a few changes, part of the gentrification of travel, notably suitcases, small laptops, clothes from home and couples. By suitcases I mean those little drag-along cases dragged awkwardly into hostels. While there are always exceptions to the exception, backpacks, the owning and taking responsibility for your choices, the burdens we choose, are part of what differentiates us as travellers from tourists, as explorers to mere consumers.
The small laptops is indicative I suppose of the addiction to the internet and fundament of social networking. I see very few people actually working or researching etc. Facebook is open constantly, some searching for bus timetables occurs but most evenings are whiled away longing for home. The last night in Salento confirmed much though. Like a forum of travellers, 8 people and 5 nationalities sat round a simple table, swapping stories, ideas and advice until the early hours. Those in the hostel living room were long gone to bed. They missed out. There was a team to join, a community to build.
The couples comment might seem a little odd and churlish and again there are many exceptions. But I have also increasingly seen couples using hostels as cheap hostels where they are able to cook and stay sleep together. That in itself is fine. My only gripe is that couples sometimes don´t make any attempt to integrate or meet therefore missing out on opportunities to truly travel and cheating the rest of us of 2 narratives.
Now all this needs to be kept in some perspective. I am in Colombia and you don’t see too much of this. Internet can be slow or sparse. Dorm rooms dominate and the travellers tend to be of the more adventurous variety. The lack of infrastructure and fears for safety guarantee it. But I can only imagine what more accessible parts of the world are like. I might be wrong and the internet can be helpful in finding new places. I remember actually having to telephone a hostel to find if they had spaces for us before the internet was there. Or asking at the bus station for places to stay. Or even more hilariously Steve and I getting onto the internet in LA when we were pups and not actually knowing any websites to look up. Times change eh and so do I. I couldn´t live without the internet myself these days. Its a too useful tool. But right now, I got people to see.