Melbourne, Australia: I’m Back, Back, Back In The Saddle Ag-eh-aiinn …

The number of stories told on the road by Jake and Ben about the hostel where they stayed for 1 1/2 months was too much to pass up a chance to stay there myself.

Jake had also come back to the mainland with me, so I followed him to Jackson’s Manor in St. Kilda and booked a bed for 3 nights.

The hostel is situated on a small street right off the main road, Fitzroy, in St. Kilda. I had only seen it briefly when I dropped my food off with Steffen two weeks earlier, only the common areas such as the kitchen, dining room, tv lounge and lobby.

In comparison to the hostels in Sydney, … well, there is no comparison. Jackson’s Manor was suffering in upkeep: the walls and floors were worn, the furniture decrepit and there was a general musky haze that seemed to permeate every room. The facilities weren’t filthy, but you definitely wanted your shower slippers guarding your feet at all times. Though what Jackson’s Manor lacked in amenities, it compensated with liveliness.

Barry was the owner, a gruff-looking but pleasant mannered Englishman who usually was only around during the morning. For the rest of the day (and night), the place was run by Tim, a gruff-looking and gruff-mannered Aussie who’s temperament, unlike his clothing, changed frequently. But Tim could also be very accomodating and even hold a somewhat coherent conversation from time to time. The other backpackers would enjoy having some fun with Tim’s confrontational-but-easily-overcome personality.

Like the time he told the guys who had stayed up drinking until 4 AM to clear out of the dining room so he could mop, and they replied with a loud “@$#& OFF, TIM!”, so he just mopped around their feet. Or the time he got angry over the dirtiness of the kitchen and wouldn’t let anyone in, not even to get another beer from the fridge, until the dishes were clean. So someone went to the front door, rang the doorbell, and as Tim walked to answer it, they snuck around the house through the back door and retrieved the beer from the fridge.

Many of the other backpackers at JM had been there for months, working at cafes and restaurants around St. Kilda. A family-like bond had developed amongst most of them, and the tables in the dining room were often filled with people from all corners of the globe, sharing food, drinks and the occasional joint, the filling of which could be easily purchased from one of two workers at the hostel.

Our first day there, Jake took me around and introduced me to the backpackers he had gotten to know: Ray, Kieran and Owen the Irishmen, Ren and Rich the Englishmen, and of course John, Jake’s travelling mate from U of D.

That night, I hung out with a bunch of them at JM before we went to a pub on Acland St. called La Roche, where Ray worked as a waiter.

I was considering staying in Melbourne if I could find a pub or restaurant job, which I had been told was easy, so I was quizzing Ray about how he landed his job. The trick is, evidently, to lie out your teeth. Experience? Sure! Will you be here for a long-term position? You betcha! Ray said the manager put him through a “test” which was nothing more than studying the menu for 15 minutes. Since literacy is definitely a bullet on my resume, I asked Ray if there were any openings. He said that if I gave him my CV, he’d drop it off with his manager. Ray was leaving in less than a week and his last day was coming up soon.

I told Ray I’d get him my CV, but then got to thinking about it: my CV has the words Boeing, NASA, MIT, International Space Station, Information Technology and Programming peppered throughout the job experience category. What in the world is the manager gonna think when he sees that?? Though I knew I could spin it in my favor: “well, as you can see, I’ve had to understand very complex space systems and perform difficult tasks that arise unexpectedly and that require a quick turnaround, so I think I’m just the man to serve your customers a grilled cheese sandwhich.” Jake said he thinks I’m a little overqualified.

The jugs at La Roche went for only $7, and after we had eached purchased one, Jake, John and I walked down to The Espy, but soon made our way back up Fitzroy to JM. Jake and I were starving, so we bought got a slice at Archies. The pizza was mediocre, but the selling point are the potato wedges they come with for only $4.20.

True to my Jackson’s Manor briefing by Jake before arriving, there were still people awake and drinking when we got back. In fact, I don’t think they had even moved since we left for the pub. I met Sven and Michael from Germany and Sophie from Holland. Ren and Ray had made it back too and we were all sipping Goon, comparing travel stories and discussing the differences between each of our nationalities.

Goon is the generic name for cheap box wine. There isn’t a brand name of such wine called “Goon”, but it’s generally accepted as a good name for the whole category. There were rumours that “Goon” was an Aboriginal word for “drink” or something equally unbelievable. I joked that it was probably an Aboriginal word for “bad wine”. To use it in a sentence, “I don’t get paid until Thursday, so instead of a wedge of Camembert and the 2006 Blackstone Merlot, I settled for some Goon and a mozzarella stick.” Later I discovered the most likely etymology: that “goon” is a corruption of the word “flagon”, which was a term given to the cask wines brought over on ships.

I had heard this from the group of folks during my last night in Katoomba, but it seems that the Dutch can understand German, but Germans can’t understand Dutch. Sven and Sophie would often have conversations with Sven speaking German and she would respond in English. Sven’s English was conversant, but Sophie’s was much better. Sophie was telling me that in Holland, they’re required to learn German in school, whereas in Germany, it’s an option to learn other languages.

Most of the people at the table had been to Thailand, so we talked about why Thailand is probably the best place to travel. This is a pitch that Ben and many other people have given me on several previous occasions. The hotels and meals in Thailand are dirt cheap, meaning you would never have to cook or share a room with anyone else. The landscape and culture are unforgettable, and because of the proximity to countries like Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam, it makes for easy travelling to lots of fun places. Ben said that of all his travels, Vietnam would probably be his favorite. Ren and Ray both said I had to go to a Full Moon party that’s usually held on a beach, which is a mecca of debauchery.

Ray said that if he had to pick one city to live in for the rest of his life, it would be Barcelona. And the moment he said it, three others at the table looked up with glassy eyes and sighed, “Ohh … Barcelona …”

I lasted until about 4 AM with those heavy-hitters before calling it a night. Sven and the others must have been up for at least another hour or two. In the morning I was surprised to find out that Sven was one of the others in my 8-share dorm room. The others were Jake, Kieran, Ray, and Owen.

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