true gripes; backpacker facts

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The Independent Online
They seemed so... well, so damned nice back then, didn't they'?

Good-looking couple, smart, professional, bags of laughs. You chanced upon them in a bar during your stopover in Melbourne, got chatting, had a few drinks, maybe even slept in their spare room. So naturally, to be polite, you said, "Hey, guys, if you're ever in Britain, do drop by," and scribbled your number on a scrap of paper in the hope that your hosts would either lose it or simply forget.

Backpacker fact No 1: they never forget. Ever. Five years on, here they are, those same fun-loving rogues you grew so inexplicably attached to on holiday, staggering through Heathrow Terminal 3, laden with hats, garish ponchos, and a rucksack the size of a factory chimney, on the final leg of their "do it now before it's too late" round-the-world tour. And yes, they're still clutching that scrap of paper you gave them as they head for the nearest phone box.

Beep-beep-beep "Hi, mate! It's Duane and Kylle, remember us?"

Significantly less attractive than on their native soil, these shambling nomads - grubby, exhausted, but sensationally tanned from waiting for hours at bus stops in Venezuela or beachcombing along the shores of the Ganges - spill daily in their hundreds onto the Piccadilly Line. There's no avoiding them. Like human juggernauts, they block escalators, get jammed in tube-train doors and slug fellow passengers quite randomly across the face with their backpacks as they twist about, laughing and comparing bruises.

Backpacker fact No 2: they always sport an impressive array of brightly- coloured cuts and bruises. "The one on my leg - see it? - I got that when I was mugged in Caracas. Then there's this little beauty here ..."

Eventually, and in their never-ending quest for luxury on a shoestring, these long-haul spongers disembark at Earl's Court and head confidently in the wrong direction up the platform, waving those wretched scraps of paper again. The rest of us watch them go, relieved and thanking God that, this time at least, some other poor sucker's life will be blighted and not ours.

But then we remember Backpacker fact No 3: there's more where they came from.