Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

The horror… The horror… September 17, 2008

Just me and the Baltic Sea

Just me and the Baltic Sea

Small Lithuanian market's vast ketchup offering

Small Lithuanian market's vast ketchup offering

Having never been the kind of girl that ‘gets around’, I can recall very few (if any) experiences in which I awoke in a strange and repugnant place early, quietly packed up my things, and burst through the door into the cold morning air feeling as though I’d just pulled off a prison break. This was such a morning, and I don’t think I would’ve felt more relieved had I just swam to shore from Alcatraz.

I’ve never slept in a homeless shelter, but now I kind of feel like I can say I have – only I paid good money for the experience. Old men continued to pile in throughout the night (one arrived at 2am, two more at 3am), each adding their own brand of phlegmy cough, chainsaw snore, urine-soaked smell, and moaning – moaning like you might imagine in a medieval dungeon – to the terrible symphony. To my own utter amazement, I managed to think myself asleep by practicing some relaxation techniques I know from hypnosis. Admittedly, I was still awoken every couple hours and it would always take another 45 minutes to work through the range of emotions (horror, disgust, fear, misery, despair, etc.) and fall back asleep again.

It was also incredibly cold, which didn’t help. The hostel had no heat (of course not. It wouldn’t qualify as the single worst lodging on earth if it provided any kind of human comfort), and I don’t remember being so cold in the night except for a couple times I went camping without proper equipment. I used to have this 1971 Volkswagen Westfalia and one time my boyfriend at the time and I went to a Native American ceremony up on Orcas Island in the San Juans. After a really long, strange, nauseating 18-hour ‘ceremony’ in a smoky teepee (the fire wasn’t set up right, apparently), we stumbled back to the van to sleep. I woke up many hours later and my hair had frozen. Condensation had built up in the van from our breathing and gotten in my hair and it was like a solid block of ice in some places. This hostel was not quite, but almost that cold. And louder.

Anyway, when I woke up I saw that one of the guys had opened the windows. It was 6 Celsius out last night (about 40 degrees for those of us, such as myself, that know all but nothing of the metric and Celsius systems. I know that 40 celcius is over 100 and the Europeans consider that the same as melting in hell and 0 is freezing. Does anyone know: Why do we still use all those antiquated systems in the U.S. – ounces, miles, degrees?? Because we’re stubborn?). Anyway, it was damn cold out there, but someone opened a window anyway. It sounded to me like some of those guys had emphysema or at least tuberculosis, but it’s their funeral, I guess.

The worst of it – and I hesitate to mention this because the emotional scarring is still quite raw – was something I saw. For those of you easily nauseated, you may want to skip ahead. Okay, last night I left the room and went into one of the bathrooms to wash up, brush my teeth, and change into pajamas. At the time, the two men I originally mentioned (down and out Dennis Hopper and his friend) were not on the premises, It was my goal to get to bed before they returned. I had heard Dennis Hopper wheezing on the couch earlier (while he was awake), and figured we were in for a loud night.

Anyway, the door to the room (a room for ten people, despite the fact that my reservation was for the four-person room, and I’d paid extra for that) was ajar, and I walked in to find the two men standing there in black briefs (the cousin of tighty whiteys – tacky blackies?). and with obvious boners. As if just seeing them naked but for their underwear wasn’t bad enough.

The calm before the storm...chilling by some Lithuanian dunes

The calm before the storm...chilling by some Lithuanian dunes

After I got over the relief that witnessing such a horror hadn’t immediately turned me to stone, I realized they were talking to me in German and giggling like schoolgirls. I averted my eyes in what was intended to be a VERY obvious “I am so disgusted it is all I can do not to throw up” kind of way, put my toiletries in my bag, and climbed up to my bed (in a first, I moved myself to an upper bunk. I figured it would be harder to mess with me – the only woman in the whole joint besides the very heavyset and unfriendly Lithuanian girl in charge, now locked safely in her private heated room).

Okay, so do you ever have nightmares where something bad is happening and you cannot scream? Someone has come up on you in the stairwell of the hotel (this was a common one for me when I used to travel a lot for business, I would always take the stairs, and I guess on some level I was always a little afraid that something bad could come of that?) and you know you have one chance to alert someone else before this goes bad, but you can’t make a sound? This is, of course, because your body paralyzes you while you’re asleep so that you don’t act out your dreams and hurt yourself.

Anyway, last night I dreamed that those two horrible old black underwear boner men were trying to molest me. One of them was reaching under my blanket and the other was climbing up the stairs to the bunk, and I tried and tried to scream and nothing would come out, and I was so disgusted and horrified and violently opposed to this that I put out one final effort and let out a blood curdling scream IN REAL LIFE. I swear to God. I screamed like I was being murdered at around 4am in a hostel bedroom because I’d seen two sleazy old men in their underwear five hours earlier.

I was asked in about six different languages if I was okay. Thankfully, I was. Moments later, the snoring and hacking and nose blowing and moaning recommenced.

So I’m out of there now, and slowly calming down and feeling better. There are some fun British people on the bus singing, “Riga, Latvia” to the ‘Viva Las Vegas’ tune. It’s a rare and pleasant treat to be in an English-speaking majority (and a bunch with such sly senses of humor), and I’m relishing it.

When we got on, the local newspaper (Bakaru ekspresas) was in all of our seats, and the woman across the aisle from me was leafing through it. One of her friends asked what she was doing, and she replied, “I’m catching up on a bit of the local news. I’m looking at the pictures, if you must know.” Then she flipped to the back page, “Look, the stars! Diane, I’ll read them to you!” Apparently my sign, Libra, is called “Svarstykles” in Lithuanian. I recognize one word in the last sentence: “Taclau vakaras zada romantikos.” I’m assuming that means, “You are not feeling the least bit romantic” or maybe, “You have just suffered unspeakable torment and may never experience romantic feelings again.” Either way.

As for Lithuania itself:

  • They have a real thing for miniature Yorkshire Terriers. It’s like the national dog or something. Every third person has one – in a basket on their arm, trailing them in the grocery store, under the seat on the plane, perched on their arm like a parrot. If only I could’ve borrowed one for a few days, I could’ve really “gone native.”
  • The ketchup obsession continues. Latvians have it too. I’ve started collecting photographic proof.
  • I went to the “Curonian spit” (the peninsula of land between Klaipeda and the Baltic Sea, where they bandy about the word ‘spit’ as if it’s a common term we use for land). The area is famous for the amber that washes up on the shores and the extensive sand dunes along the coast. Apparently it’s a big vacation spot in the summer. However, as you can see, it’s vacant come winter…uhhhhh, September.
  • I stand by my earlier post – friendly these folks are not. However, I’ve given it some thought and I offer them an out: For the last 225 years, the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) have suffered greatly at the hands of Russia and Prussia (Germany). As near as I can tell, those who weren’t rounded up and killed, rounded up and put into concentration camps (and then killed?), rounded up and sent to Siberia, or rounded up and put in Russian prisons (and then killed?) still didn’t have it very good. I have kind of a mental image of some guy toiling on his farm and a truck comes by and someone screams out “You are Russian now!” and then fifteen years later they come back, “You are Lithuanian again!” and then ten years later, “You are German now!” and then again, “Lithuanian!” “Russian!” “Lithuanian!”

All this with a lot of bloodshed and suffering and loss and they’re kind of a people that have hardened their hearts. They see any obvious signs of outsiderness, and they don’t like it. Sometimes they’re a little extreme in their reaction – I met a couple guys from Hong Kong who were chased down the street with people screaming at them in Riga. (They could only figure it was because they were Asian.), but we’ll give these battered souls a couple generations to (hopefully) soften and come around.

Eastern Europe is a constant reminder of the worst of humanity (Hitler, concentration camps, the KGB, Siberia, communism, the Holocaust, etc.), and I can only hope that what I take away from all this horror could somehow contribute something good back to the world.

Case in point: I walked around the Pokrov Cemetery in Riga today, and there was a group grave for about a dozen orphans who died because the Nazis drained all their blood. I feel sad because the really nice guys from Hong Kong (who looked out for me last night in the weird hostel turned homeless shelter situation) were made to feel so terrible by people who probably didn’t realize how racist and thoughtless they were being. I don’t even know how to process people torturing children.

This I suppose, is both a good and bad of travel : Getting up close and personal with horrible things you kind of didn’t want to know and the related desire to make a true positive difference in the world.

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11 Responses to “The horror… The horror…”

  1. […] Continued here: The horror… The horror… […]

  2. Bill Says:

    I’m glad that you survived the night intact! I assume the “excited” bikers were not a temptation? 🙂

    I find it amusing that the Possibly Related Posts (automatically generated) section of your blog has a link to “bi-polar…a sexually curious bear”.

    You are close to Russia (the bear)…be careful! 🙂

  3. wideawakeinwonderland Says:

    Okay, this is not going to be a super-insightful response, but I just woke up a little bit ago (in a private room last night and slept sooooo long and well. Heaven…) and your comment reminded me that I had this dream that I was wrestling with an adolescent black bear. It was really tall (like 9 or 10 feet) but somehow the mere 5’6″ of me could hold my own enough that I was surviving this. I was grabbing its muzzle and pushing it down, like I would my dog. Anyway, someone else came up, and I was so relieved because I didn’t know if I would have the strength to keep fighting this thing, and they pointed out that this was one of the main highlights of the place I was visiting. You could also get in a big pool and wrestle with a giant squid. “Couldn’t you DIE!?” I asked, in a certain amount of disbelief, but then the bear charged me again and I had to resume fighting it,/playing with it (started to think maybe it was just playing?), and I asked that person to go get an employee or someone in charge to help out with this situation. The funny thing is, I swear I think I was considering getting in the pool, so long as they assured me they would intervene before the squid killed me…
    If I were into writing down and filing dreams, this would go in the same section as one I had this summer where it had become an acceptable tourist activity to jump off Niagara Falls, and I was in line to do it, wearing just a bikini and a helmet, and wondering, “Is this really a good idea?”
    Unfortunately, I’m not gifted at interpreting what dreams mean, my talent is only that I can remember them in super-boring (to others) levels of detail!

  4. Bill Says:

    Your dreams could be the basis for a career writing short stories…think about it.

    You have been blessed with a very active imagination!

  5. wideawakeinwonderland Says:

    Ah, Bill. Unless you’ve got contacts in the “strange dreams as well-paid short stories” venue, I hate to tell you that I am just an unemployed ex-banking consultant turned gypsy fighting a head cold. But if I had the funds, I would employ you as official purveyor of positive feedback! It’s like Mayor McCheese, but without the responsibility…

  6. Bill Says:

    Thank you for the offer but my aspirations tend to run more towards Captain Crook. As a USCG licensed captain and someone who loves boating (and fish sandwiches) I regard myself as more of a pirate than a constable!

  7. Bill Says:

    Oops..I actually meant that I regard myself as more of a pirate than a politician. I must have been thinking about Officer BigMac with the constable comment!

  8. Maxxy Says:

    No need to write short stories, I’m sure with a little editing here and there, you have one of the best World Travel Guides right here !!! LOL….

    …and maybe with a few more pictures, you could also squeeze a short book on World Douchebags And Other Strange Stories ( cue the ketchup pics )….

    On another note, I saw another picture of you on another beach somewhere ( Portugal Perhaps…..I forget ), anyway, I saw the other picture and you struck me at that point of being so radiant, and pretty, but also so Uterly full of LIFE. You looked like you were truly in your element, as if this travelling thing is what you were born to do… ( maybe minus the sleeping in hostels that are more like homeless shelters though eh ?? )…You definitely need to find a job as a travel writer, you’re humour is fantastic, I haven’t laughed as much reading something in a while…. ( Rob Grants – Incompetence springs to mind )…

    ANYWHOS – to avoid the risk of sounding like I’m turning into a Stalking freaky old man myself, I think its time to exit stage left……

  9. […] presents The horror…The horror… posted at Wide Awake in Wonderland, saying, “Thank […]

  10. […] presents The horror…The horror… posted at Wide Awake in Wonderland, saying, “Thank […]

  11. Tiffany Says:

    Wow. What a vivid account of your travels! This post confirms all my fears and suspicions about hostels. I agree with the previous posters who suggested you try short story writing. Just from this post, I have the feeling you’ve got enough material for a novel. Think about it! It was great reading your blog and I wish you a safe journey!


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