We had big plans.
We had arrived into La Paz off the back of a four day tour into the Bolivian desert and we were ready for a big night out. Legs were going to be shaved (a big deal when you are backpacking), make-up applied (an even bigger deal) and we had resigned ourselves to the fact that we would probably become completely and utterly inebriated.
Because that’s just what happens in Wild Rover. Or so we had heard.
And so we arrived off a night bus, succinctly greasy and equally dreary, quickly realising that it was extremely cold in Bolivia. We had checked in to our very first Wild Rover, located smack bang in the middle of La Paz’s literally vertical city centre. It was one of three such hostels, two others located in Cusco and Arequipa in Peru. And they would turn out be home for next month of our lives.
In my sleepy state, I noticed green walls, a lot of Irish flags and a flash of the hostel bar, a room that actually had potential to look like an Irish pub.
But I was too tired to explore and instead passed out on one of the hostels decisively comfortable bunk beds (not the last time I would pass out there unfortunately).
Waking up, a gaggle of British youths had congregated in the courtyard outside our room to have a few cans. It was 10am.
We were awake, steeling ourselves for the dreary outside showers and a day of exploring the curious city of La Paz. But first, breakfast.
We had no choice but to enter upon the bar, the hub of the hostel which serves food all day and turns into a somewhat nightclub by night. There was never a moment when the bar was not alive with backpackers eager to take advantage of the cheap food or the various happy hours throughout the day.
They also came to chat to the perpetually hungover bar staff, all of whom were young travellers themselves, selling their souls and their health to work at the Wild Rover bar in exchange for free boarding. How they survived I will never know.
As an Irish person, I will say that I fell in love with the so-called ‘pubs’ while staying in Wild Rover and not simply because I was allowed to ascend the counter-top on a regular basis or whenever Shania Twain came on. There was just something decidedly charming about there being a chicken fillet roll on the menu and walls littered with Irish pronouns as well as authentic photos of pubs from back home. I was completely enamoured by the cosy familiarity of it.
The bar and tables were all a dark mahogany wood and the stools were as uncomfortable as you would expect from an Irish bar. Other items on the menu included a full Irish breakfast and curry chips, but also boasted un-Irish items such as tofu soup, avocado toast and a ‘philly’ steak burger. It basically catered to every single type of backpacker you could imagine.
And we would, over the course of our stay in all three Wild Rovers, try everything on the menu because unlike most other hostels there was no public kitchen. If you stay in Wild Rover, you tended to eat there too; no pot noodles or batch cooking pasta to be found.
And so began our time in Wild Rover. Not only had we arrived as Irish people to the biggest party hostel in South America, but we had arrived on Paddy’s weekend, the biggest weekend of the year.
I put up an Instagram saying we had checked in. A friend of mine who had travelled South America messaged me almost instantly.
“Good luck, I left my dignity there.” Fantastic.
It was the morning of Paddy’s Day and we were in the bar eating hashbrowns drizzled in a curious cheese sauce, sipping pints and watching Ireland take on England for the Six Nations Grand Slam.
Another gaggle of British youths (of which there are many in South America) made their presence felt. Everyone else was rooting for Ireland despite there being a hearty mix of nationalities.
We cheered our team to rapturous victory and by midday we were on the bar counter, doused in Irish flags and green Wild Rover t-shirts sporting the slogan ‘I am your future, big drunken mistake’. We were walking cliches.
I was rapturously spilling pints on the unsuspecting youths below and stomping my feet obnoxiously to Shipping Up to Boston by Dropkick Murphys, the undeniable soundtrack of the day.
By evening we were sufficiently exhausted but stocked up on curry chips and a thirty minute power nap, we ventured back into the bar to enjoy green, orange and white jello shots and numerous baby Guiness. Some tables had been removed and a DJ was set up. Drunken backpackers adorned the bar counter; even some locals had arrived in to basque in the rowdiness.
The corridor outside was hazy with smoke and the bathroom sounded like everyone had simultaneously contracted a mysterious head-cold. Having somewhat befriended a couple of the bar staff over our five-day stint, we were enjoying our regular cycle of what we thought were free drinks. Every single one unceremoniously ended up on our tab.
(Yes, Wild Rover let’s you have an individual tab and it is dangerous.)
We finished out the day once again in our favourite location (on the bar), arms locked together and croaking out lyrics to unashamedly abysmal pop tunes. We had survived.
We had endured Paddy’s day in Wild Rover but we would continue on there for three more nights, making a particular raucous, in our opinion, on karaoke night. My body never quite recovered and I spent the rest of my time in Peru with a strange concoction of cold, cough and throat infection.
Our final day I slinked down to the reception for fear of my life over the cost I must have racked up on my tab.
“Can I see the details of my bill please?” I asked decidedly, sure there had to be some sort of error when I heard the obscene number recounted back to me.
Captured there between the onslaught of dozens of rum and gingers and the endless abusing of happy hour, I saw each of my evenings in Wild Rover flash in terror across my eyes.
And yet, I noticed a glaring mistake.
“I believe I was charged twice for these curry chips.” Great, I had made back two euro and fifteen cent.