In these 12 years of wandering life I have encountered all kinds of accommodations and slept in all sorts of beds; rocking trains, luxurious buses, swinging hammocks, third-class boats, bedbugs infested beds, etc. But I have also slept in some really unusual beds.
On a mattress on a rooftop in Beirut, Lebanon
When I was traveling in the Middle East in the summer of 2007, there was a civil unrest, with several bombings, in Lebanon. But when I was in Damascus, Syria I learned that the fighting had ended so I made the last minute decision to hop over the border to Lebanon.
At the hostel in Beirut, the owner asked me if I wanted a bed in the dorm with AC or on the rooftop. Trying to save money and excited for new experience, I opted for the rooftop.
When I got up there and opened the door to the rooftop, there it was, a mattress on the floor, sandwiched between the railings and the steel legs of a large billboard.
Looking at how simple and basic the whole set up was, I couldn’t help but feel foolish for choosing to suffer by giving up a comfort bed in an AC room. But inside I felt a sense of childlike wonder and excitement. It would be a new experience, one of a kind experience: how many people can say that they had slept on a mattress on a rooftop in Beirut.
It was summer and the daytime temperature hovered around mid 30s. But at night, the temperature became quite pleasant and there was a cooling sea breeze from the Mediterranean.
It wasn’t until I was lying on my bed on the first night that I realised my mistake. The bright lights of the billboard were preventing me from going to sleep. The bed was quite warm after being baked in the sun for the whole day.
I finally fell asleep after midnight when they switched off the lights and the bed was cooled by the night. Only to be awaken early in the morning by a light shower.
With the homeless in the train station of Ljubljana, Slovenia
My train from Ljubljana, Slovenia to Trieste, Italy was to depart at 6am. Instead of paying for another night of hostel, even though it was a really comfortable one, I decided to sleep at the train station.
After checking out from the hostel at midday, I asked for permission to remain in the common area of the hostel until they closed up at 11pm. When the time came, I reluctantly left the warmth of the hostel and stepped out to the chilly November night.
The train station wasn’t too far away, but in the dark and cold, the distance grew. With all my belongs on my back I knew I was an easy target, illuminated by the dim street lights. I kept my guard up the whole way. Like cat’s my ears picked up any slightest noise.
Finally I made it to the train station. Some of the lights were still on but the station was closed by that time. I walked around searching for the enclosed waiting room, so that I could escape the cold and lay down for some shuteye.
It was a small station so I found the waiting room, easily. But it was full of people sleeping on the floor. At first, I thought they were other travelers who had the same idea as me. But when I opened the door and looked more closely I realised that they were all homeless people.
A few of them stirred when I entered, awaken by the cold wind that blew in from the opened door.
Without a word being spoken, the guy that was closest to me, started to make room on the floor for me. When there was enough space for me between him and the next guy, he went back to sleep.
As I uncoiled my sleeping bag, I wanted to thank him but he was already snoring lightly. As I closed my eyes only then I realised what he had done; not only did he made a space for me to sleep, he put me between him and the door, as if to protect me.
I fell asleep saved in the knowledge that I was being taken care of.
In a police station in the middle of nowhere in Sulawesi, Indonesia
It wasn’t a place recommended by any guidebooks, but somehow I was drawn to Watampone. It was a point of departure for boats going to east Sulawesi but I wasn’t going to take any boat. I just wanted to go to Watampone.
There was no direct buses from Poso to Watampone. But I found out that the bus could stop me at the crossroad and I would be able to flag down any cars or buses from there to my destination.
My bus departed Poso at 6pm and I was told it would take about 10-12 hours. Little did I know that I shouldn’t trust information like that. That was probably the time for the whole journey, but I was to be dropped off before reaching the final destination.
I was awaken in the middle of the night by the driver, telling me that we had arrived at the turnoff to Watampone. I checked the time and it was 1am!
For a split second I felt like telling the driver I had changed my mind, I would go all the way to Makassar instead. But I decided to stick to my plan. Reluctantly I shouldered my backpack and disembarked.
As the bus with its comfort and safety drove away, I felt a chill. Not so much by the cold night but by my current predicament. Standing there in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere I felt fear for the first time on this trip.
I scanned the surrounding and saw a lit house about 50 meters away. I walked towards it, and as I got closer I realised that it was a police station. And my fear subsided.
The three policemen on duty was shocked when they saw a figure appearing from the dark and walking towards them. I greeted them and told them my situation. But when they found out that I just came from Poso, they became more alarmed and asked to search my bags. It was understandable because there had been a lot of fighting and bombing by separatist group in Poso.
After finding nothing dangerous in my bags the policemen relaxed. They told me that the first bus would come around 6am, and I could sleep on the bench if I wanted.
The ridiculous reality of my situation finally sank in as I closed my eyes to sleep. There I was, sleeping in a Police Station in the middle of nowhere. But also thankful to the universe for providing and looking after me.
In a kitchen, in a small village near Selcuk, Turkey
While waiting for my bus from Izmir to Selcuk (Ephesus), Turkey I saw a boy playing by himself. So I went over and started playing with him, drawing figures in the sand.
His laughter drew his elder sister and his family to us. They watched with smiling faces as I played with the boy. Then the uncle, who spoke some English, came and talked to me.
It was then that my bus arrived and I went towards it. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the family was boarding the same bus too; we were going in the same direction.
As the bus pulled out from the bus terminal, the uncle and I continued our conversation. He told me that he was a seaman for many years and that was how he learned to speak English.
As we were talking, the boy came to my seat and I made an origami for him. When his sister saw it she asked me to make one for her too, so I obliged.
The bus came to a stop about 20km before my destination. The family disembarked. At the last moment, the father invited me to come with them and be their guest.
I was taken aback but without thinking twice I took my backpack and disembarked with them.
We walked about 15 minutes from the bus stop to the village. It was a small, typical farming village of about 20 odd houses.
The family’s house was situated on top of a small precipice overlooking his large vegetable farm. There were two figures labouring in the field and the uncle told me they were my host’s brother and his wife. The two families lived in a simple clay house and farmed the land together.
The Turkish takes having guest quite seriously. And in my honour, they slaughter a chicken and had a BBQ. I was really touched, as I knew that the chicken probably cost them more than the bus fare.
The women were cooking a storm in the kitchen and the men were busy at the BBQ pit. They shooed me away when I wanted to help. So I went to play with the children, teaching them games I played as a kid. Their laughter transported me back to my own childhood.
It was night when the dinner was ready. The stars shone brightly in the absence of artificial lights. And under the starry night I ate a delicious meal with this wonderful family who welcomed me, a stranger, to their home. The uncle acted as the interpreter and we talked about our countries and learned about each other’s culture.
When the night wound down, they made a bed for me in the kitchen. The uncle explained to me the reason they wanted me to sleep in the kitchen was to keep me warm with the heat from the furnace, as the night gets very chilly.
In a warm bed and with a warmed heart I felt asleep with a contentment I couldn’t describe.
In an abandoned church, along El Camino de Santiago, Spain
When I first walked the Camino de Santiago in 2005, one of the things I learned was to let go of plans and just go with the flow. I didn’t have a set mileage I had to do before calling it a day. Instead I would see how I feel when I reach a place to decide if I would stay or go on.
This particular day, I had walked about 20km when I chanced upon the abandoned church of San Nicolas. It was still early, about 3pm. I had earlier thought that I would stop in the next town of Fromista, so that I could buy some rations at the supermarkets.
But when I arrived at this church, the calm and peaceful atmosphere made me want to stay. The door of the church opened and a dog came out followed by a short Italian man.
I asked him if this was an albergue (pilgrim’s hostel), and he said yes. It was run by a religious organisation in Italy to help pilgrims along the Camino de Santiago. So, every year, they would send a volunteer to work and live in this abandoned church.
After showering and washing my clothes, I sat down to enjoy the peace and tranquility. Then I saw two good friends I made on the Camino had decided to stop here too.
A feast was waiting for us when we were called in for dinner. There were about 12 pilgrims that stopped at this church that day. But before we could partake in the delicious pastas, salads, and bread, the Italian man went around washing our feet. When he came to me and gently washed my feet, tears rolled down my cheeks. I was humbled and grateful.
That night, as I laid in a simple bed inside this 12th century church, I couldn’t help but wonder the history and stories these stone walls had heard over the centuries.