I´ve written quite a bit about couchsurfing, yet have not mentioned hostel life at all. And, like almost all young travelers in South America, I have spent many a night - and quite a few days - in hostels. I´m currently in a Loki Hostel, a mini-chain of four hostels in Perú and Bolivia known for being some of the craziest party hostels.
They serve food all day and cook dinner at night (not included) and generally have hopping bars, so guests often forget to leave. Most hostels are not like this, although diversity is sort of the name of the game in hostels - especially since having four hostels makes Loki the largest hostel chain I´ve heard about in South America. Most hostels operate independently and are run by their owner. There are always dorm-style rooms with bunk beds for anywhere from four to 15 people and usually a few private rooms. Almost all have kitchens for guests, a bar, a separate common area with a television and a communal computer. Outside space, like a rooftop patio or backyard, is common.
Free WiFi is the norm, and more people than ever seem to be traveling with laptops since those cheap, light weight, little netbooks appeared this year. Every week I seem to be seeing more people with them, while only three months ago they were novel.
All hostels employ local people, but many have a few gringo employees, especially as bar workers. Of the 20 or so different hostels I´ve stayed at in South America, only one places has had only Spanish-speaking employees. English is without a doubt the language of hostel-culture in South America. The majority of guests come from Australia (a country that must be empty because all of its citizens are out traveling), Germany, the UK, Ireland, Canada, the US, Scandanavia and New Zealand; as you may have noticed, the citizens of these countries either speak English as their first language or so fluently it might as well be their first language. Most people don´t speak more than 50 words of Spanish, though many people are using part of their time in South America to take courses.
Speaking English is generally a problem for people from Italy, Spain, France and Brazil, who bank on their native language being similar enough (or the same) to Spanish to get around.
Many people are traveling alone, which adds to a culture of constantly meeting new people. The vast majority of people are friendly and social, always looking for someone to hang out with. Other people travel in pairs of friends, almost always of the same sex, and there are generally a few couples hanging around. Every once in a blue moon, a pair of siblings or a group of more than three people traveling together can be found.
Most people are traveling for three or four months in South America, though many travel for nine months or a year on ¨around the world trips.¨At any given time, you can find someone in a hostel that has been traveling for several years almost non-stop.
hmm… consider this entry a work in progress