Stuart from England promised he knew the “best drinking game involving ping-pong balls”.
We were happy prisoners in the Dreamer Hostel in Palomino on the Caribbean, where everyone was describing Colombia as the “new Thailand” for backpackers.
Given Thailand’s reputation, I was curious to see what Stu’s ping-pong ball game entailed. “It’s called Chunderella,” he announced.
We put down the pool cues and gathered around for Stu to explain his game. “The rules are as follows,” he began.
I’ll spare you the swear words of a direct quote, but in essence, everyone puts some of their drink in their cup and arranges them in a circle around a central cup, which contains some of everyone’s drinks.
You then take turns to bounce a ping-pong ball over the cups, and whoever’s cup it lands in, drinks.
If it lands in the central cup, everyone drinks, and then races to flip their cup upside down. The last person to do so, drinks the concoction in the central cup. And everyone cheers.
With a bit of imagination you could see the upstairs at Downton Abbey playing it as a parlour game after charades.
It wasn’t Mah Jong in its complexity, but flipping an upside-down cup onto a table could still be devilishly hard.
This missing life skill was yet another difference I had noted between myself and the younger generation of backpackers around me.
It was all part of the cultural experience of backpacking in my 30s. And spending three weeks among the youth was nothing if not a life-affirming experience.
Just as activism has given away to slacktivism, so too has the art of backpacking become almost as easy as clicking a button. So, here are some observations I made about Generation Slackpacker:
- Thanks to smartphones, wifi and WhatsApp, it’s really easy to look up anything: hostels, travel itineraries, and that Dutch girl with the cheeky smile on Facebook.
- No thanks to smartphones, conversation is harder IRL. There’s a diminished sense of community in backpackers, with more people nose-deep in smartphones or laptops (which are lighter than ever to carry).
- The time once spent working out logistics, is now spent on working out your body: every single male by the poolside has a six pack, (except for when I was at the poolside).
- My lack of any tattoos was a permanent marker of my age.
Yet for everything that has changed around the world in the last 10 years, backpacking among youth is still as life-affirmed as ever.
Part of the reason is that so few care to ask what you do. And for good reason: young backpackers don’t define themselves by the jobs they do, but the places they’ve been.
In fact, backpackers are invariably only interested in the same three questions:
- Where are you from?
- Where have you come from?
- And was it any good?
The hostel in the Unesco-listed Cartagena had even formalised the questions into its arrivals card for new occupants.
“Coming from?”, it asked on one line. I wrote: “The Amazon”.
“Going to?:” it said below. Ignoring my dorm roomies (the two huffy French girls and the German kid far too young for his existential crisis), I wrote: “Have a good time.”
And have a good time I certainly did.