Updated: Apr 8
After a beautiful evening watching the sunset over the Blue Mountains, I took a leisurely walk through Katoomba's residential neighborhoods to enjoy the night air. Eventually, I returned to my hostel to settle in for the evening. It was late, going on ten o'clock, though people were still communing in the common area, watching TV and playing pool. I jetted upstairs to shower, then planned to do a load of laundry after. I'd just washed clothes in Sydney a day or two prior, so it's not like I had a whole bag to clean. But the Blue Mountain trails were dusty enough to warrant a fresh wash. Also, I was flying out to Brisbane the following day and didn't want to travel with dirty laundry if I didn't have to.
Once I arrived at the laundry room, I saw a posting on the door informing guests of its operating hours. It was already dangerously close to the end time, and I knew I couldn't complete a full wash and dry cycle before closing. I really wanted to do this laundry, so I searched for the front desk attendant to get permission before proceeding. The guy was super chill, casually giving me the green light. There were two washers available, and I occupied both, one for my clothes and the other for my shoes.
Since watching clothes wash is not the most entertaining, I left the laundry room to return upstairs and organize my luggage. Some of the guys in my dorm were asleep, and I didn't want to disturb them, so I searched for another space to unwind instead. Luckily, a quaint sitting area was around the corner. It was reminiscent of an old-school parlor in how they decorated the room. I had the space to myself and could kick back after an eventful day, mindlessly scrolling through social media while waiting for the wash cycle to complete.
When it was time to transfer my clothes to the dryer, I strolled down to the laundry room only to find the door closed and bolted with a padlock. WTH! I was so confused. Why would that dude give me permission to start my laundry to then lock me out? Perhaps he thought I was finished since I was nowhere in sight. But that made no sense; given the time I started, he had to have known I was still in the process. I went hunting for him to open the door and give me access.
When I tell you that the building is now a ghost town, I am not exaggerating. Everything was shut down. There were no people in the shared space, the TV was turned off, the lights powered down, and the front desk was now abandoned. There were no sounds to be heard anywhere. It's like I was trapped at the Overlook Hotel from The Shining and somehow was the only person in the facility. It was eerie as hell.
I poked around the desk to find an emergency number or after-hours instructions. The sign said there was supposed to be a night manager present. I found a number and dialed it. The phone in the locked office behind the desk ranged. Seriously? No other numbers were posted, so I dialed several times, thinking that the blaring ring would alert someone that assistance was needed at the desk. Nope. No one came. No one answered.
Think, Jaye, I thought to myself. I searched for my reservation on the Hostel World app to see if I could find concierge information. I called the number listed; it ranged the same phone locked in the office behind the unattended counter. Damn. Now what? I trotted back down the hall to the laundry room to see if I could pry the door open. What the hell do I know about picking locks? I'm not a criminal. But damn, I kind of wished I was one at that moment or at least had the street-savviness to MacGyver my way through this situation.
Think, Jaye. I remembered seeing a window in the laundry room that may have been partially opened. I wasn't sure exactly where it was located or how I could access it from the outside. Though, I needed to be cautious about venturing outdoors―I didn't want to get locked out of the building altogether. I followed the red exit sign up the hallway in pursuit of a side door. Found one. Great!
First, I examined the door to ensure I wouldn't set the alarm off by opening it. Next, I scanned the area to find an object I could use to prop the door open so I wouldn't lock myself out. There was a fire extinguisher encased in a cabinet on the wall. I seriously considered using it but aborted that idea out of fear that I might trigger another alarm by removing it.
Down the hall was a pair of hiking boots that someone had set outside their door. The closer I got to them, the more I understood why they were outside the room. They were funky! They were wet gym socks, funky. They were athlete's foot fungus, funky. They were gangrene rotted flesh, funky. I had an instant attitude because that person should've been ashamed of themselves for walking around in boots that foul. And then he had the nerve to place them out in the hall for others to catch a whiff like they were community boots.
I was in a pinch but couldn't let my hands touch those boots. Instead, I ran upstairs to grab one of my shoes. And to avoid disturbing the guys' slumber by constantly going in and out of the room, I collected my bags to store them in the lounge area. With my spare shoe in hand, I returned to the side door to prop it open and, hopefully, find a way into the laundry room.
The door led to a partitioned courtyard furnished with benches and other lawn decors. This section of the two-storied building formed a U, giving guests housed on that side a direct view of the courtyard. I was correct; there was a window in the laundry room, and it was partially cracked. The opening was about wide enough for my arm to slide through. I felt elated as I applauded myself for being a resourceful problem-solver.
As I prepared to climb through the window, it dawned on me that I was in plain sight of all the rooms on that side of the building. If someone happened to peek out their window, they would reasonably conclude that an intruder was breaking in. And I'm Black. I was Black in a town where I could literally count the other Black people I encountered on three fingers. And now, here I was, attempting a late-night crawl through this window.
I thought long and hard about the potential consequences and decided that retrieving my clothes was worth the risk. I had an eleven o'clock flight in the morning out of Sydney, meaning I had to first catch the train back to Sydney and then travel to the airport. If I couldn't dry my clothes, I would have to account for them by purchasing an extra bag, not to mention the hassle of transporting wet clothes. Risks aside, I needed to enter that laundry room to finish my load.
I moused towards the window, owling in every direction to see if anyone was watching. Ironically, I'm sure this made me look even more suspicious. When I went to widen the crack, the window wouldn't budge. I tried to maneuver to get a better angle. I lifted with all my might, thinking it was stuck, but that window would not move an inch. So I went into inspection mode to figure out what was jamming the window. As my luck would have it, a security bar was affixed on the inside pane to prevent the window from opening further. Plus, the cracked sliver could barely fit my arms through it, let alone my whole body. Damn. Now what?
I retraced my steps, attempting what I previously tried in hopes of a different outcome. Crazy, right? I phoned the front desk several times again. I studied the padlock on the laundry room door and fiddled inside the keyhole with a safety pin like I knew what I was doing. I examined the courtyard window again to see if I missed something that could help me jimmy it open without breaking it completely. I even lapped the first floor several times to locate the night manager's room, figuring there should be a marker distinguishing the staff's room from other guests, like a door plate that read "Manager." Nothing. When all of my efforts amounted to a heaping pile of exasperation, I resolved to just wait the night out until the desk attendant arrived in the morning. Feeling defeated, I returned to the upstairs lounge and nestled in the armchair with my phone to distract me from my annoyance.
Some time passed. It was now well after midnight, maybe one-something. I was still wide awake for some reason, playing on my phone. I think I was too frustrated to sleep; I'm not sure. But I know I was wired and surfing social media when, all of a sudden, two or three guys appeared outside of the emergency exit door down the hall from me. Mind you, I was on the second floor! I didn't even know the hostel had a balcony, but they must have, and these guys accessed it by climbing up the fire escape ladder. They were standing outside, shouting at the top of their lungs, clearly intoxicated. I recalled there being a bar right around the corner and figured that's where they must have come from.
My best guess is that they were locked out of the building as opposed to being burglars or pulling hijinks. Perhaps they tried calling the night manager and became frustrated when no one answered, to which I could relate. I don't know what happened; all I know is those guys scared the bejesus out of me with how they carried on. They were banging on the doors and windows to the point where I feared they would shatter. And they were screaming profanities with slurred speech while contorting their bodies to peek through the frosted windows. I was nervous they would see me, so I gathered my bags and bolted down the stairs to the common area.
You may ask why I didn't just open the door for them. Well, because they scared me. It's really that simple. Plus, stranger danger! I didn't know those guys or if they even belonged in the building. There's a reason all guests were given keycards to securely access the premises after hours. And if they were acting that belligerently and carrying on aggressively in a drunken rage outside, who knows how they would have conducted themselves inside, where I was in the open―by myself―with no security or night manager anywhere in sight. No ma'am, I wasn't going anywhere near that door!
The hostel featured a classic bifurcated staircase, like the ones you'd commonly see in a historic estate. The ground landing opened to an atrium that housed the front desk, and a large living area and game room sat off to the side. I had to haul my bags down the stairs in stages because there was no elevator. In hindsight, I was probably safer remaining in the lounge area than on the first floor since the space was more enclosed and private. Though I seriously thought the men would bust through the window, and I didn't want to be in the vicinity if that happened. So I stowed away in the living room, sunken deep in the couch to stay undiscoverable.
The men carried on for a short while upstairs. I could hear their banging and yowling echo through the building and could not understand how no one else was disturbed. The door the guys were pounding on was right next to a series of rooms. There was no way those guests didn't hear them; no one sleeps that hard. But not a single person peeked out of their room. So if they felt unsafe while locked away in a room, imagine how I felt completely exposed to this craziness.
Just when it seemed that they had tired themselves out and made alternative plans for the night, when I could relax to the restored sound of quiet, a new group of people picked up with the antics at the front door. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone, and all I wanted was to get my clothes and leave that place. This time it was two women, also appearing intoxicated but not nearly as unruly as the men had been. They knocked on the grand doors and peered through the window art to see if anyone was inside. I tried my best to slump deep into the couch to go undetected and inadvertently made eye contact with one of the girls at the window. She saw me. Damn!
Now I had to help; ignoring her would have been too awkward. Plus, that situation felt less threatening than what took place upstairs. I reluctantly got up to let them in, not knowing if they truly belonged there, then I returned to my seat. They disappeared down the hall for a while, then one of them reemerged, walking down the stairs and talking on the phone. She continued past me to the front door to let a guy in. Again, I had no idea if he actually belonged there. Then I wondered if he was one of the guys from the balcony. The two of them went from being hugged up, to having a loud lovers' quarrel, to being kissy-faced again right in front of me. It's like I wasn't even there.
I didn't sleep a wink that night; I was too on edge, not knowing what could happen at any moment with all the commotion. You might be wondering why I didn't retreat to my room; to that, I offer these explanations: one, I didn't want to be inconsiderate and risk waking my roommates, being that it was the middle of the night and I had a top bunk to climb into; and two, I failed to mention earlier that it stank in there! There was an odor in that room just as noxious as the boots sitting in the hallway, and there was no way I could breathe that air all night. And I sleep with my mouth open―that funky air would be all up in my chops. No, thank you.
And thus, I remained posted on the couch, awkwardly sitting amid these temperamental lovers. I just wanted the night to end, but it dragged on at super sloth speed. I swear the clock was moving in slow motion, reverse even. My mind raced, thinking about the verbal lashing I planned to give the night manager if I saw him. And on the chance we never collided, I planned to leave the hostel a scathing review. Yup, I was going to be one of those people, and I had no shame in voicing my displeasure. It was the most peculiar night to an otherwise perfect day.