Easily one of the best hostels I’ve ever visited, this place is situated on a piece of land owned by a local pilot who lets people live in the hostel for free provided they work to improve the lands and buildings. He also gives people permission, at times, to build houses on his land, provided they’re interesting ideas to him — you won’t find any Cape Cods or ranch style house, but as the photos show, there are plenty of interesting structures on the property. Not to mention that bicyclists coming through can stay the night at the hostel absolutely free!
And there are always a pack of interesting characters gathering for drinks or to make food in the outdoor kitchen. I would have to say that this is probably the best way you can come to Marathon and dive right into the local population and lifestyle.
When we first stayed in the small town of Marathon, a grid of streets not a mile square along Highway 90 and the Texas Eagle train line, the single largest disappointment was that the local coffee shop was closed for business. Rocking chairs on the front porch, the hand-painted sign, rustic horse bridles hanging from a wooden roof; everything about the place whispered happiness to me.
Apparently the woman who owned the place was never around to run it, though, and good help is hard to find in the middle of the desert.
It was the morning of the Superbowl in which Pittsburgh would defeat Arizona for its 6th Superbowl win when I was enjoying a drink in front of a bar just down the street when a wandering Mexican man approached me and asked if he could bum a cigarette. A few hours later, after meeting his girlfriend and learning that the two of them were traveling through Texas, they had to leave, to keep on down the highway. To my great surprise, several hours later Jorge – the Mexican man – came back into the bar. “We’re going to open the coffee shop back up and live here.”
It’s that type of amazing draw that keeps people in this town for years when they hadn’t even realized they were going to be passing through in the first place.
We’ve now eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner at the coffee shop. A blackboard boasts breakfast tacos for sale, $1.80 a piece, and a long list of extras like avocado, beans and Mexican goat cheese you can add for a few cents more. Find yourself a spot in the window, the blaze that is the dry, hot air held at bay as you sip through a coffee under the spinning air of old fans above you. Read a newspaper, someone will surely have left one behind by the time you arrive, or admire the paintings, boots and local photography for sale. Enjoy these few minutes, because they will be followed soon by the decadent forest of flavor that is Jorge’s breakfast tacos. After that, every time you order breakfast at the Marathon Coffee Shop, you’ll be itchy in your seat waiting for those little treats to arrive.
Lunch is a somewhat different affair, as the traditional Mexican flavorings of breakfast give way to the ever elusive combination of healthy and tasty, again completely pulled off by the kitchen crew of one as he fires up tuna or veggie or turkey paninis with everything you’d expect tucked between them. Throw in a Mexican Coke, sugar sweetened, and follow it all up perhaps with a few minutes of cigarettes, rocking chairs and conversation with locals on the porch and you’ll surely be rubbing your stomach with satisfaction the entire time.
As far as dinner goes, though, the coffee shop isn’t open for dinner. If you want to experience that, you’ll just have to frequent this lonely basin town and hope to find the porch lights on one night, cowboys, local college kids, artists and ranchers swilling drinks and jokes and talking politics or religion or nothing of the sort while they all share dinner and libation into the night together.
I basically only took these shots to illustrate how very crammed into our spot we were! About 2 – 6 inches on every side.