This is where we stayed on the last night of our road trip.
We had begun our journey with eager anticipation, knowing we'd be experiencing overnights in retro motels, haunted hotels and even a mysterious guest ranch. This curious hostel, way out in West Texas was to be our last stop of a sort of whacky road trip filled with a variety of unusual overnight accommodations!
Night 9...at the Hostel
I associate hostels with youthful backpackers in Europe. A cheap place with a bed, when you're trying to see the world on little money. Well, Don and I are in our 50's and not exactly poor, but when we spotted this place a year ago we were both open to the idea. Neither of us had done the backpacking thing after college, so we agreed, "We should try this sometime."
I had spoken on the phone with the owner a few weeks earlier. Ingrid had an Eastern European accent...at least I thought, and an intriguing sense of humor. But when we arrived on that afternoon, a young woman greeted us, saying Ingrid was gone and wouldn't be back that day. The woman, who was a short term renter at the hostel, said she would be happy to show us around. First she showed us the community kitchen.
Inside the Hostel
Don and I had planned on staying in the shared hostel portion, even though there were options with private quarters.
We've done the shared bathroom thing in European hotels, so why not experience a little of the community spirit? But when entered the little building with words "Oh That Sweet Unrest" written on the roof, I grew uneasy. It was a bit darker than I expected. My eyes adjusted and I could see a few well worn couches and cluttered tables. Our guide showed us the fridge we could use and apologized, since it needed cleaning. She pointed out a couple single beds tucked into a darkened space and mentioned a loft, but hinted that we might not want to sleep there. She didn't expect anyone else, but then recalled that someone had arrived at midnight the night before, needing a place to crash. I suddenly felt my age and wondered, What were we thinking?
We headed outside to continue exploring the rest of the little desert community. The odd assortment of buildings had been created with a variety of materials and using the varying skill of many who had come and stayed a while over the years.
This one was easier to understand. It had a roof and 4 walls. It looked more like a workshed on a farm.
This little structure was the sauna. It was cute and tiny, but looked more like a grave to me.
This was actually sort of a green house, with walls made from cement or adobe.
Bottles and aluminum cans helped strengthen and decorate the unusual form. It was a work in progress.
I thought this little cube looked like the inflatable Jump Castles you see at birthday parties. But the cute castle was actually the bathroom/laundry room. It was spacious inside with a toilet in the corner and a large bathtub, that we were told was great for relaxing. The washer and dryer rumbled away with full loads, across from the tub and I sort of winced, wondering when the castle would next be available. Our friend admitted she was getting caught up on some long neglected laundry that day, but she made it clear, she would step out if needed.
Don and I hadn't communicated with each other since we stepped out of the car, but luckily we are usually on the same wave length regarding our limits. I knew I just wasn't up for a night in the hostel. But when I spotted this little "papercrete" constructed building at the south end of the tiny community, I felt a bit of relief. When we opened the door (It even had a lock) I just blurted out, "Hmm...so, is this rented out for tonight? I know I told Ingrid we'd be fine in the hostel, but if this is available, then this would be great. We don't mind spending a little more..do you think we could..."
This is where our young friend was staying. She said she kept some of her stuff in her car, since there wasn't much space inside.
Inside The Marshmallow
We were told there shouldn't be a problem upgrading to the little Casita, (That I wanted to call Marshmallow or at least Igloo) We said we would settle with Ingrid over the phone another day. Our friend headed back to her laundry and Don and I closed the door and began exploring the space, chuckling to each other. The tall rounded room was absolutely packed with curiosities. The cement floor was covered in a patchwork of dusty woven rugs. Each rounded corner had a special surprise. A door painted with planets hid some shelves in one corner. In another corner, a curtain revealed a showerhead and a ladder leading to a somewhat creepy loft.
The third corner displayed a wooden "throne" with a lid. I did not dare peek. We were told the only bathroom was in the castle and since there was no odor at all, I was happy to assume this toilet idea had been abandoned before it was ever used. The 4th corner had a painted ceramic sink and an assortment of statues and treasures, quite obviously from someone's exotic travels.
We headed to the car to get our sleeping bags, although sheets were available.
We stopped to greet a number of friendly dogs and a sweet cat, when we were approached by "our neighbor" who was the only other temporary boarder at La Loma. His appearance and mannerisms reminded me of a cross between Tim Robbins and Norman Bates. He scratched his head and seemed a bit bewildered by Don and me. He offered to collect our $50. for Ingrid, but I assured him we would settle with her later. After he helped us get the power turned on in our little Marshmallow Casita we stood outside, making a little awkward small talk. By this time the winds were whipping up the dust, making the atmosphere extra ominous.
Home Away From Home
Back inside we tried to settle in. I climbed the ladder to look down at our whimsical, storybook house. It was actually pretty cool and I knew that lots of hard work went into creating this unique space. But what was all this? I had so many questions. If I'm going to step away from the Holiday Inn Comfort Zone, then I need a real host to welcome me with stories and history. As the wind howled outside I needed some reassurance that I was not in some kind of surreal, fever dream. The 2 who had helped us had seemed somewhat distant and mysterious. Maybe on the 9th night of our road trip, we had finally encountered some ghosts!
Evening in Marathon
Maybe Don and I would have embraced our stay with more enthusiasm if it had been the first, rather than the last day of our road trip. Maybe we could have been more positive, if we hadn't been exhausted from spending most of that day in Mexico on burros, sampling tequila and meeting village locals. (Thanks to the new legal border crossing in Big Bend) But we were sort of tired after 9 days of "being game" for anything! We unpacked our sleeping bags and headed into Marathon, (1 minute drive) and had a drink at the delightful Gage Hotel. Then we walked outside to watch the sunset before heading back to the Gage for a delicious dinner. Our car wheels crunched over the gravel outside the Marshmallow at about 9:30. That's usually way too early for bedtime, but we set the alarm for 5:30 and zonked out.
The appearance of La Loma, is what is most notable. It looks like a colorful creation I might have constructed from paper mache as a child. I mean that as a good thing. It's charming. But the absence of our host made the place feel uncomfortable or eerie. The fact that there were no other guests (besides the temporary borders) made us feel like we had invited ourselves to a place where we didn't belong. But I'm glad we stayed. The winds died down and I ended up sleeping well. We took off in the morning before sunrise and I mailed a check to Ingrid after we returned home. I'm not sure we'll ever return, but I'll always be curious about our missing host. I think she might have been fun.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!