BORGARNES, Iceland- I had just been kicked out of the Borgarnes Youth Hostel for using the internet — apparently — for too much time. I was staying at the hostel’s campsite, which sits just outside of town, and there is a little sign posted there inviting campers to use the internet at the hostel. I found this to truly be a clutch invite — I was looking to take a day off of riding and do some work on the website. But this hospitality was destined to end sour.
I handed a thousand krona bill over a high desk to the owner of the Borgarnes youth hostel a short while after he began his evening shift. Just before that I noticed one of the workers whispering something into his ear and both of them looking at me. I thought this was a good indication for me to pay up for the night, so this was what I did. But the owner just held my payment out in front of him, snuffed at it, and acted like I tried to pay for a Monet with a stale fart. It was clear that he wanted more money.
“It is 900 krona to camp, right?” I confirmed, knowing that I passed over a thousand krona bill.
“Yes,” he replied, “but you have been on the internet for a long time.”
“There is a sign at the campsite that says that I can use the internet here.”
“Yes, you can, but you used it for a long time. I use to charge 100 krona an hour for internet use. What were you doing, downloading something?”
“No, I wasn’t downloading anything,” I responded.
“I use to charge 100 krona an hour for internet use,” the owner repeated, still holding my camping fee out in front of him, not breaking it and giving me my change.
I was getting annoyed. Not only was this guy’s campsite the worst that I’ve yet been to in Iceland, but he seemed to be trying to charge me for internet that he said I could use for free — internet which other guests in the hostel were also using all day long. He was not questioning their online practices.
“Does it cost you any more money if I am on the internet here?” I asked.
The owner shrugged. “Only if you are downloading.”
“I wasn’t downloading anything,” I replied once again, “I was working. I came to your campsite and stayed in your town an extra day just to use the internet here. There is a sign at the campsite that says that I can use the internet and you had no problem with it when I was here last night.”
“Yes, but I can’t have people from the campsite in the hostel and using the facilities here when there are 40 other guests.”
There was not 40 other guests in the hostel. There were, at most, ten. It was pretty much just me, a couple from Brooklyn, a strange Spanish backpacker, and a few stragglers. Everyone was just sitting in the common room on their respective laptops, staring off into space, or hiding out in the hostel’s interior somewhere. Nobody spoke, the place was silent except for the click of keystrokes. The owner just sat behind his high desk and presided over this demur scene. Abu Ghraib.
“If the internet does not cost you anything more for me to use it then I don’t understand what the problem is. I’m staying at your campsite, I’m giving you money.”
“But you are using electricity,” the owner countered, “that is like getting a campsite with electricity, that costs more.”
I did not feel like arguing over the fact that the electrical usage of a netbook is not comparable to that of a camper or RV. This guy was kicking me out of his hostel that was all there was to it. Fair enough — it’s his place.
But before I did I thought it necessary to to explain what I was doing on his internet connection. I tossed over a card that had my web address printed on it. “I do a website about traveling. This is my job.”
The owner picked up the card, looked it over, said he felt better about my internet usage, and gave me my change for the money I paid for the campsite. I turned on my heels, packed up my computer, and muttered to myself that I should have just camped on the sly and used the free internet at the library across the street.
Nestled tightly in between a raging highway and a mud flat, camping at Borgarnes is a treat for the masochist looking for a break from the beauty and wonder of Iceland’s many well provisioned camping facilities. Sleep is not easy to fall into at this camping facility — the 18 wheelers zooming by on the highway not 10 meters from your tent make sure that you won’t waste a moment of your trip to Borgarnes dreaming . . .
I cut myself short in the middle of writing a rather scathing review of the campsite. My words were true, but they were being written out of spite.
Part of the mission of this travelogue is to investigate and discuss the interactions that I have with people in various places around the world. This would be a lopsided work if I did not include the bad with the good, my embarrassment along with my enlightenment.
It is the people running hotels, hostels, even campsites that sets the mood for the entire place. A horrible hostel can be made to feel good if the people working there make you smile, while an otherwise great hotel can be made shit if the management makes you scowl. I think of the good feeling I had while staying at a rather lacking hostel in Zipolite, Mexico just because the owner was friendly and hospitable, while I also remember how rotten the thoroughly provisioned youth hostel in Casablanca was because the manager was a real dick. A good hotel is made up of the people in it. A traveler’s criteria for selecting accommodation should start and end at the people who meet you at the door — what the place is like inside is but a secondary concern when compared against how you are made to feel where you live.
People make places, travelers do not fall in love with rooms, beds, and doors. How you feel somewhere — your opinion of a place — is often directly connected to how the people treated you when you were there. Humans all too often see with their hearts, our observations are directly tied to our emotions. If a hostel manager treats his clients poorly, they may notice the pit falls of the establishment a little more agilely, and, perhaps, will pass the word along to other travelers: “Don’t stay there.”