Despite having never been before, I was completely prepared to fall in love with Granada.
While still living in Toronto, I excitedly prepped for my to-be Granada lifestyle; I had Spanish-speaking friends take me out for Tapas, I bought a little Spanish phrase-book, I poured over beautiful photos of the Albayzin, and I applied to work in a hostel there a couple months in advance. I wanted to spend real time in the city, I wanted to get to know the locals, I wanted to learn Spanish, and I had this idea in my mind that in Granada, the city of hippies, is where I would find my tribe.
When I applied for the hostel position, I told the the woman who was recruiting that I was going on a big adventure writing my way around Europe, and that I wanted this adventure to begin in Granada. After emailing back and forth and eventually Skype-ing with her, she decided she liked me and what I was all about. I was to work there for 5-6 weeks.
I’ll admit, I have been pretty quiet about why I left Granada early. I made such a big deal about it in this post and this post, that when it all fell apart I needed time to process. If I’m real with you though, it fell apart even before it started.
You know how every now and then you do something that doesn’t feel quite right but you go ahead and do it anyway? Maybe by doing this thing you’re hoping to break yourself out of your comfort zone, or you have an idea in your head about who you want to be, rather than respecting who you actually are. You ignore the little voice in the back of your head telling you to think deeper about what’s best for you.
That’s what happened to me in Granada.
I am an introvert. It’s a fact that I honestly was ashamed of for a long time. This doesn’t mean that I am antisocial, that I don’t speak up for myself, or that I don’t have any friends. It means that at the end of the day, I need time alone to recharge my batteries. I love being around people, I do, but if I don’t get my alone time I promise you that I will lose my mind.
So why did I think that living at a hostel dorm room for six weeks with the same people would be a good idea?
I have always had this idea in my mind that living in a communal environment would be incredibly freeing. That everyone would eat together and converse together and make amazing memories together, but nowhere in this fantasy did I not have any personal space. Honestly the notion didn’t even cross my mind.
Here’s a little breakdown of my duties at the hostel. Firstly, there was a morning shift and an afternoon shift, both of eight hours. During the morning shift, I was expected to be on call at 8 am when I would put out breakfast, open the bar, clean the patio, make sure the bathrooms were well stocked, do laundry, and put the bean bag chairs in the tree-house. During the afternoon shift, I was in charge of either making dinner or guiding the walking tour, serving drinks at the bar, making sure everything was tidy, and closing everything up at the end of the night. During down time through either shift, I was to chat up the guests and make them feel comfortable.
Fine by me. All of this for a free place to stay and food? Easy.
I arrived at the hostel late on a Sunday night, and before I could even put my bags in my room the hostel owners took me up to meet with the guided tour so I could start learning the ropes. I was totally awestruck by the beauty of Granada. I met Pedro, the 20-something who’s position I was taking over, and we walked through the Albayzin to the Mirador of San Nicholas, then up the hill to the Sacromonte caves. It was here that I first met Galai, a local man who lives in one of the caves, and drank his mother’s homemade tea/coffee recipe. We watched the sun go down behind the city and it was perfect.
The next day I started work bright and early at 8 am. One of the receptionists took me under her wing and showed me how to do my job; where they kept supplies, where the supermarket was, etc. During the course of the day I got to meet the three other volunteers – Ejena (Denmark), Nick (UK), and Benji (Italy). Everyone seemed really nice, if not a little independent of each other, but I assumed we would all click once I settled in.
I made it through my first shift pretty much unscathed. I did everything I was told to, chatted up a bunch of the guests, met some more staff, and figured that was the end of it. After my shift, I took a long stroll around town, and then when the sun went down I took my exhausted body back to the hostel to edit some photos and catch up on a bit of writing. But when I sat down to do so, the receptionist working told me to come out and have a few drinks.
Night one. Okay, no big deal, I’ll socialize. Except that this wasn’t just a one time thing, this was what was expected all the time. After the first week I was exhausted, work was piling up, and I had nowhere to escape to.
I was made to feel that any “chill” time I took for myself was frowned upon. I couldn’t write, I couldn’t research for articles, and if I wanted to have a siesta there would be someone knocking on the dorm room door making me feel guilty for doing so.
This lifestyle works for some people, and to be honest it probably would have worked for me about five years ago, but it’s not who I am anymore.
After the first week I felt I had to get out of Granada. As soon as my hostel schedule for the next week came out and I saw I had three days off in a row, I hastily booked a trip to Malaga. I knew nothing of Malaga, only that it was close and on the coast, and that was good enough for me.
Maybe a beautiful beach-town resort city was a bad place to make some life decisions, but by the second day of being out of Granada I knew I didn’t want to return. At least not as a volunteer.
It wasn’t only that my alone time was frowned upon, it was also the fact that after a week at the hostel I still hadn’t clicked with, besides some of the guests, anyone else that was working there. I tried in vain to start conversations with my fellow volunteers, asking them about their lives or just shooting random things out of my mouth in an attempt to start a conversation. Most of that was met with a smirk and silence.
In the classic breaking-up way though, it wasn’t the people at the hostel. It was me.
I’m in a place in my life right now of freedom and creative focus, and for the time being I like being the only person I have to report back to on how I divvy up my work/play time. When I applied for the hostel position I guess to some degree I thought I would maintain this freedom, and when that didn’t happen, I wanted out.
So anyway, this was what I thought about during my time in Malaga, and I decided that as soon as I got back to Granada, I would tell the hostel that I was leaving.
I knew that if I left early I would be leaving the hostel stranded with nobody to take my place. This would definitely strain the other volunteers and honestly, it stressed me out to have to leave immediately without a plan. So, the head receptionist and I agreed that I would stay an extra four days.
These extra few days were awkward to say the least.
The day after I told the hostel I was leaving, the hostel owners decided to come by and have a big lunch with us. We were all to contribute to a potluck during which time we would eat, drink, and be merry. It was during this lunch that the receptionist I told I was leaving would choose to tell everyone else what was up. Every few minutes I would catch her having a very ‘serious’ conversation with someone in hushed voices while making weird eyes at me. It was as if I had betrayed something sacred in the hostel. I had proven myself an outsider, and I was to remain an outsider for the rest of my time there.
After that I put my head down and did my job. This was also the point where I decided to give zero fucks about what they thought of my after-hours activities, so I worked on my projects to my heart’s content.
My last night at the hostel, after everything was closed up for the night, the other volunteers wanted to take me out for farewell drinks and dancing, and oddly enough, it was the first time I felt like we were a part of something together. We went to a little Moroccan bar until two a.m., and then went over to a funk-styled night club called Booga, where we danced our asses off until around four.
It was a good send-off, if not a little odd considering the circumstances and the previous two weeks.
The next morning as I got my stuff ready to head out the door, the receptionist gave me a big hug and asked me to visit the next time I was in Granada.
No hard feelings.
At this point, it would have been easy to look at myself and feel like I had failed at this experience. Was I too uptight? Did I simply take the whole situation too seriously? Why couldn’t I just suck it up and play by their rules for a few weeks?
But then I thought to myself, I didn’t get rid of my Toronto apartment, quit my really good job, and come all the way to Europe just to be uncomfortable at some silly volunteering gig. Besides, it’s not like I didn’t gain anything through this experience. Perhaps it’s cliché to say, but leisure travel is almost always a soul journey, and now that I have been through this I know something a little more concrete about mine and where I want to go.
Will I ever volunteer at a hostel again? Maybe, if the situation is right and expectations are made very clear on both sides.
So what’s next on the agenda? Whatever, and wherever, I want. I’m still in Europe, and I’m travelling more than I would have had I decided to stay in Granada. I’m making it up as I go along, wherever the wind blows.
Wish me luck!