lost, for a little while

post-savannah: the hostel in the forest
April 23, 2011, 9:50 pm
Filed under: trips

Into the unknown

I stood at the entrance to a dirt path that led somewhere into the woods in front of me. Behind me was my car, parked in a clearing that was already about a quarter mile from the main road. Aside from the other two cars in the clearing — both Georgia license plates — all I could see were trees.

There was a 17 percent chance that, if I continued into the forest, I wouldn’t come out alive.


I had a reservation to keep.

The NotSo Hostel

I sat at the small table on the sagging second-story porch of Charleston’s NotSo Hostel with my phone pressed to my ear, trying to type and talk at the same time. On the other line was Katie, my host for Miami, which was the next major stop on my trip after a brief interlude in Savannah, Georgia. The distance? 584 miles. The problem?

“I don’t have anywhere to stay between here and your place,” I said, as I searched for hostels in Savannah.

None of the options that showed up were within my price range. I broadened my search to include all of Georgia, and got a disappointingly long list of Atlanta places — too far off my route. I skimmed through the other results and found a link for a campground that catered to Appalachian Trail hikers. Did it matter that I wasn’t hiking the AT? Would they even know? I noted it as a possibility, but continued looking.

Farther south was a pirate-themed hostel in St. Augustine, Florida. It would be a long drive after Savannah, but doable, and hey — pirates. That alone won me over. I was about to see what else St. Augustine had to offer when Katie spoke up about a place she had found.

“It’s in Brunswick, Georgia,” she said.

I plugged it in to Google Maps, and sure enough, Brunswick was a reasonable enough distance from Savannah to make the remaining drive to Miami bearable.

“It’s called the Hostel in the Forest,” she said, and I Googled it.

I read through the description on the ‘About’ page, laughing in both disbelief and utter glee. “This is crazy.”

“I thought you’d like it?” Katie said.

“Oh, I do,” I said. This beat the pirate hostel, hands-down. I made a reservation.

One of the “treehouses”

The first thing I saw was a small house on stilts, and felt relieved that at least I was in the right place and not just blindly walking toward a Deliverance-type fate. Then the domes came into view, three large wooden structures with a deck running between them, all raised slightly off the ground. I flashed back to the Henry Ford Museum and the Dymaxion house.

I still hadn’t seen another person yet, and the crunching of the leaves that accompanied my steps seemed obnoxiously loud in the stillness of the forest. Some birds twittered in the distance, and I heard the soft bawk of chickens coming from the other side of the mini village, but otherwise, it was just the rustle and buzz of the creatures who lived among the trees.

I took a hesitant step up onto the deck and walked slowly to the main building, the one with plants and dream catchers hanging from the eaves. I heard soft music coming from inside, a soothing mix of flutes and bells, and through the rickety screen door, I could see two girls inside the dark room, sitting cross-legged on the floor and facing the wall with their eyes closed.

I stared at them for a moment, then slowly began to back away, once again wondering what I’d gotten myself into.

The Hostel in the Forest

Excerpts from The Hostel in the Forest Requirements:

  • Bring a flashlight – it makes it easier to find your treehouse in the dark. From April to October bring mosquito repellent!
  • A vegetarian family style meal is prepared each evening by staff and guests. Food donations are always welcome. It is a great vegetarian dinner and many of our ingredients come from our organic garden.
  • Everyone staying at the hostel will be asked to be a part in helping out by doing a daily chore consisting of something like sweeping the deck, common room, or the screen porch, helping to clean the kitchen, working in the gardens, feeding the chickens and ducks or something of that nature.
  • You should leave your cell phone either in your car or room. We do not permit you to receive or place calls in the presence of others in the communal areas. All violators WILL be prosecuted by being thrown in the pool by an eager staff!
  • We want to promote the hostel as a place of tranquility and serenity. If you would like to play a musical instrument or drums, please be respectful of the others. We enforce a quiet hour beginning at 11 p.m.
  • NOTE: We hate to nag, but we are getting a number of people making reservations and then not showing or letting us know. We fully appreciate your plans may change BUT LET US KNOW PLEASE!

The pool

Mac — one of the meditating girls who, coincidentally, worked at the hostel — paused in front of the pool and gestured to the left. “That way is the beach. Clothing’s optional, just to warn you.”

She continued walking down the dirt path, barefoot, in the direction of my hut. Her short brown hair was pulled up in a tiny, messy ponytail, and she looked perfectly at ease in her dirty, gray cotton shorts and turquoise tank. I tried not to stare at the tattoo that covered the back of her left calf, or the dark soles of her feet, as she rattled off more details.

“Those are the bathrooms. We do sawdust composting for the toilets, so try to pee in the woods if you can and do only #2’s in there.” She pulled open one of the doors and showed me where the sawdust was and then motioned to a black and white speckled notebook. “This is for if you feel like sharing your thoughts while in the bathroom. You know, if you want.”

We walked past the shower hut, where she told me about how Georgian water is very sulfurous, so the showers smell like eggs; also, the water drains directly onto the forest floor, so only organic soap and shampoo, please.

“If you want some privacy, just flip the sign over. Some people don’t care, though,” she said, motioning to the side that said, “Come on in!

“Got it,” I said, as I followed her away from the main area of the hostel and further into the woods. Up ahead was a wooden structure on three-foot-high stilts. The four walls were made of screens, with a solid roof overhead and a small porch for sitting on.

“You’re in my favorite one, the Screen Hut,” Mac said, as she attempted to give me a tour of the hut. All it contained was a tiny side table, wobbly chair, and a full-sized bed. It was a short tour.

“We ring the bell when dinner’s almost ready; you should head to the dining hut when the second bell rings.” She looked around, then, without another word, walked back out of the hut.

I sat on the green, vinyl-covered mattress and looked around the interior of the hut. There were more dream catchers hanging from the posts, and a set of wooden chimes that clanked softly in the breeze. On the table was another composition notebook. Written on the cover in magic marker were the following words:

“Graffiti is great,
words are sublime,
but this space is no more
yours than mine,
so PLEASE do not deface
this sacred space,
if you feel the need
to write or rhyme,
use this book
to speak your mind!”

I snorted before I could stop myself. In Charleston, I hadn’t been preppy enough to fit in. Here, it was obvious that I wasn’t crunchy enough.

Despite the wall-to-wall screens, the bugs were already starting to eat me. I slapped a mosquito on my arm and lay back, listening to the sounds of the forest and pretending I was the only one around for miles.

The clang of the dinner bell began to echo through the trees.

The Screen Hut

We sat in silence around the long picnic table, a dozen strangers holding hands. On my left, the guy with the massive dreads and sweet smile slowly rubbed his thumb across the back of my hand. Back and forth. Back and forth.

Wait. What am I supposed to be thinking about right now?

I glanced up and looked around the table as the ‘moment of silence’ grew longer and longer, wondering if it was possible that I was the only one who felt incredibly, intensely awkward. (Yes, it was possible.) The guy across the table from me let out a cough-sneeze, and the silence was blessedly broken. I started to take my hands back, but Dreads held on and began speaking softly, his eyes still closed.

“For those of you new to the hostel, before each meal, we go around the table saying what we’re grateful for.” He paused, and I stared down at my lap, my face already burning in embarrassment at the thought of having to speak in front of everyone. He continued with his thanks.

“I’m grateful for…the earth…and…all this great energy…and…liiife…”

One by one, everyone took their turn, grateful for many different things. Suntan lotion. The forest. That giant moth on the deck. The coolness of water. Songs with the word ‘brick’ in them. Delicious food. Mystical connections. Miller High Life. No one seemed at all embarrassed by sharing their thoughts and holding hands, and at some point I stopped thinking how weird that was, and instead began to think it was actually kinda nice. I can’t remember the last situation where I had to hold a stranger’s hand (or anyone’s hand, for that matter), but I do remember that it’s often accompanied by nervously twitching fingers that let you know just how much the other person wants to let go as soon as possible. There was none of that here.

When the guy in the oversized Peyton Manning jersey stopped speaking and looked over to me, I knew it was my turn. My voice wavered a bit and my cheeks were bright red, but I focused on a point on the wall in front of me and recited my list, trying to emulate everyone else’s effortless ease.

“I’m grateful for having a safe journey thus far, for the friends — old and new — who have opened their homes to me, for being able to see my family soon, and for the hospitality and meal I’ve been given tonight.”

Dreadlocks Boy smiled at me and, finally, let go of my hand.

“Let’s eat.”

The outdoor shower

I fell asleep to the sounds of drum beats in the dark, and awoke to the piercing call of one of the roosters (something, might I add, that never woke me up at the chicken farm). The hostel was once again mostly deserted in the early morning, and I took the opportunity to snag a shower while there was little danger of anyone comin’ on in. The water was, indeed, stinky, but it was also hot and beat down hard on the wooden floor as I stood under the spray. The actual shower was outside; the water line ran up the trunk of a tree that the showerhead was attached to, and while there was a semicircular wall that blocked off the direction of the other huts, the rest of the space opened up toward the empty forest.

At that moment, I felt very close to something, though I can’t say what. I tried to hold on to the feeling as I packed my bag and checked one last time that my hut was in order. I found myself lingering — carefully folding the sheets I had been given before depositing them in the laundry room, and raking the fallen leaves from the dirt path all around the main huts. I almost didn’t want to leave this place. Some of the people were nutjobs, certainly, but they all seemed to have found peace, and some sort of purpose. I was still lacking both.

But Miami beckoned, and with it, the end of the first leg of my trip. I ducked my head into the communal kitchen and waved goodbye to the three women who were standing at the counters, drinking tea. One of them, wearing a long skirt and camisole (sans bra), set down her mug and came to give me a hug.

In a split second, I went from thinking Aw, that’s so nice to Exposed hairy armpits! Coming my way! Noooooo!

I extracted myself from the hug and quickly exited the hut. Okay. Now I was ready to leave.


6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Good Dymaxion house reference.

Comment by Katie

Thank you. I’m going to try to reference it as much as possible from now on.

(Coincidentally, though, Buckminster Fuller was mentioned in the history of the hostel where it talked about why they went with the domes. So boo-yah!)

Comment by lostforalittlewhile

Holy crap, you were right, I am SO jealous of this.

This is a great post.

Comment by Adrienne

Tell your friends.

Comment by lostforalittlewhile

Did you park your CRV with the lights on, then get out and take a picture as if you were driving down the road? Or leave it idling at about 5 mph as you ran in front of it and took a picture? No– don’t tell me. I’d like to believe that last one.

Comment by Kyle

pipes cleared

post-savannah: the hostel in the forest | lost, for a little while

Trackback by pipes cleared

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: