I couldn’t quite believe it. A BA Anthropology dissertation on Pleasure and Danger on the Gringo Trail: an Ethnography of Bolivian Party Hostels. Clearly the South American party hostel scene has gained enough notoriety to warrant being researched and discussed at degree level.
Throughout my travels in Peru I managed to avoid party hostels, and most specifically Loki.
Why? What are Loki hostels about? Hellotravel.com suggest that Loki in Peru is one of 5 Best Party Hostels to Dance your Way Towards a Carefree Life stating that it ‘steals the show with its theme nights, open lounges, vivacious crowd from all the world’ (albeit a predominantly 18-25 year old crowd, 18-30 at a push). Whilst Cusco Loki is known for being full-on and a place where you’ll be lucky to get any sleep, Loki La Paz Hostel carries some of the same rep and is said to ‘reign supreme in La Paz’ as a tourist nightspot. It seems perfectly apt, then, that the hostels famed for encouraging mischievous behaviour in their guests are called Loki. Do a little research into Norse mythology. No coincidence, I’m sure.
So for eight months I’d managed to avoid these places that I expected to be devoid of local culture (how can they be truly local when everyone is a traveller wanting to get wasted whilst listening to a Westernised dance mix?). Yet now, in La Paz with four new friends whom I’d met on the Uyuni tour, I found myself part of group consensus. The boys wanted to cut loose. I wanted to get comfortable and healthy. And it turns out that Loki could go some way to meeting all our needs. What a surprise. (Although, again, maybe more complex and like the Norse god than expected).
So far, it doesn’t sound like a place for convalescence, right? Right. Totally right. But then La Paz itself is hardly the ideal place to convalesce with its dense concentration of coughed out exhaust fumes and low oxygen levels from the high altitude. Just existing here healthily is tough, let alone trying to get better. I realistically, though, have nothing to complain about. Life expectancy in the El Alto district of La Paz, for example, is just 62 years old (compared to a rising life expectancy of 80 in the UK and 78 in the US) and where 50% of the population are estimated to be younger than 19 years of age. In amongst some lighter discussions, this is reality reminder. And to me, it’s shocking stuff.
Back to Loki and La Paz. Within five minutes of arriving we were propped up by the bar having free tea, coffee and bread rolls, making use of the good WiFi facilities (also free) and flaking out on comfortable sofas. It all seemed surprisingly relaxed with breakfast running until 13:00 to allow the hungover crew a chance of refuelling. And a few bleary eyed souls did stumble in wearing last night’s clothes. Some get straight back on the drink.
Although this isn’t how everybody here functions, as the days rolled on me and my travel buddies were oft amongst the bedraggled breakfasters. But lets’s be realistic: if you choose to stay at Loki you can’t really escape some of the party spirit; the full-on fun, the new friend group hugs, the overt mating dances, the after-party rooftop comedown. How far you indulge, however, is your call. Plenty of people show restraint, but its the ones that don’t, of course, who stand out and are remembered. They are, essentially, the faces of the party hostel scene.
The luxuries that Loki offered me in terms of getting better were super comfortable and clean beds with the extravagance of two pillows, and clean and well-stocked bathrooms (and plenty of them) with hot power showers. The social contact was also great, actually. Not everyone is in a drugged up, drunk or hungover stupor. Plenty of fun times and good conversation to be had in amongst the hedonism. Late breakfasts and late checkout were additional bonuses. Nothing felt too rushed.
Sure, people don’t choose this place for the showers or the comfort factor but it meant the world to me. I was surrounded by good people and I slept well. I started to recover. Rooms away from the bar bustle were perfectly doable with the addition of ear plugs and an eye mask (things worth bringing to any hostel set-up). Mostly, my roommates were only turning in as I started to wake up so their early morning stumbles didn’t really bother me, although I can see why some people might be a bit disgruntled and online searches quickly reveal a fair few pissed off rants.
Loki is definitely not for everyone. The over-30s crowd, for instance, are under-represented. If you’re one of the people who crave a quiet, local place to stay, who’d get frustrated by a staged social scene, just don’t go. Simple. Being with the right group of people absolutely affected my perspective of the place. I had a great time in Loki La Paz for that reason alone. Oh, and the beds. They added to my comfort and happiness, for sure.
A day before I left, a girl in my dorm proudly showed me her Loki t-shirt, something she had ‘won’ after visiting three of the Loki hostels in South America. ‘This one is just a fairly boring one’, she said, ‘but my friend got the Loki lies one. You know it?’ She rattled off the five lies of Loki:
- I’m not going out tonight.
- OK, I am going out but I’m not drinking.
- OK, I am drinking but I’ll be home early.
- OK, I am getting smashed but I’m leaving tomorrow.
- I love you!!?
And I thought about it. Ah, that lie list was pretty damn true. My first night I’d insisted on not going out but was willingly swept along on a wave of peer pressure. But, I didn’t drink. I really didn’t (antibiotics were still battling a bad bout of e-coli). As a result I didn’t get smashed, but some unknown energy meant that I stayed out and of course I didn’t get home early or leave the next day. Loki, I realised, had the power to hook some people in. Working at the bar in exchange for accommodation, for example, ensured that skint party spirits were enticed and trapped for at least a few weeks.
On my last night there, all my new friends had already left so I sat around chatting with even newer ones, newer friends who should have the label ‘friends’ attached only very lightly. Apart from maybe one guy, I’d never see any of those people again, I knew it.
Midnight arrived so I said my goodbyes and jumped in a taxi headed for El Alto airport.
But wait! There is still more La Paz storytelling to be done! There’s music and the Witches’ Market and wrestling competitions coming up. So pause and rewind to my two weeks in the Bolivian capital and read on.