I had heard about couchsurfing from some friends of mine and thought it was super cool to not only stay at someones home for free, but to immerse yourself in an absolutely genuine way. Having dinner at the family table of a local in a culture different from your own, is ideal, let’s face it. Yet, not everyone will cotton to the idea of sleeping on a couch owned by someone they don’t know; I get it.
My first CS experience was with lovely Nigel, whom I met in Delft, Netherlands when he was my waiter. He mentioned that he might be backpacking the states soon and would need a place to stay; I yessed him to death and waved it off. A year or two later his email was sitting in my inbox seeking a couch in my casa! If you know my parental unit, you know that they’re not overly excited about people having slumber parties in the house (even if they’re a best friend of twenty years). But this time, they accepted without hesitation and Nigel stayed with us from Christmas to the New Year. Let me just reiterate…Christmas and New Years in New York City. Yea, a good and memorable time to be had by all. Nigel opened my eyes to the world of CS and with my Meso American trip nearing, I tested the waters.
My first backpacking trip with my bestie Vanessa to Oz was where I got into CS as a surfer, not a host. Both experiences were great (Vincenzo, Rich and Dave; still grateful and still plan on visiting you in ze future again) and I have to give sole credit to Ness for finagling the surfing. In both places we had beds, not even couches, communal meals and roadtrips! Some of my favorite memories of Oz are thanks to those strapping gentlemen; Nimbin (need I say more?) and all-day-volleyball on Manly were IT for me. Ness and I offered to buy groceries as gratitude, but were promptly shut down.
In terms of MesoAmerica, not so high on the list of CS regions, but there were a few opportunities strewn about. First stop was in Ciudad de Oaxaca, Mexico where I was meant to surf for roughly three days with a man. He had tons of positive references, pictures, and noted that the space had a private room with lock, bed and that he had a car that we could take day trips in. I lasted one night and one day before I bolted. I slept on a “special” straw mat on the linoleum kitchen floor with a well used pillow. No car, clearly, as I walked 3mi in the sweltering sun with my 55L backpack and satchel…uphill (obviously). He was a single Mexican man who spoke fluent English due to getting his BA at Rutgers, but the vibe just wasn’t fitting for me. He was entirely respectful, spiritual and metaphysical…but it was a bit much all at once. The minute I walked through the door and for the next FIVE hours we talked metaphysics and esotericism, almost with the underlying message that if my spiritual knowledge wasn’t up to snuff I would be kindly asked to leave. I bounced anyway the following evening and wrote a nice, but honest review.
El Remate, Guatemala is on the outskirts of the renowned ancient Mayan ruin civilization, Tikal. As in, our CS host Jane has often found ancient Mayan trinkets in her backyard…unreal. I messaged Jane via the CS website two days prior to crashing at her place. She confirmed immediately, gave me her Whatsapp number and sent pictures of herself and the place! Going above and beyond, but it was greatly appreciated.
We got there late in the evening, well past sunset and her home was lit up with pretty little Christmas lights everywhere. Jane had set up a private room for us three with separate beds and brand new mattresses (plastic was still in place and you KNOW I had to check). She informed us that she was testing out the waters in establishing a hostel, so this wasn’t her full-time home, but she would stay there while we were there. She cooked for us, breakfast, dinner and dessert! We were blown away by her hospitality and willingness to accommodate us.
Her mom and younger sister were also a constant presence, along with an easily 100-year-old Juan (I forget) whom was our “security”guard. We hitchhiked into the towns of Flores and Santa Ana quite easily from her home and when we got back from a big day, we sat in her backyard lit only by solar charged lanterns while we chatted amiably in Spanish. I had been contemplating for weeks if I was going to pay $200 for a Spanish language, week-long, homestay in Xela, but after surfing for only four days, I realized that if I simply kept it up, I would be accumulating homestays with much more to remember. By this point in the trip, roughly month four, I was conversational in Spanish, more than ever before, and it was most certainly due to the surfing experiences with hosts (whom knew little English and all the Spanish).