Couchsurfing is the shit.
Humans are better than you are sometimes led to believe.
When I spent a week in a religious community in May, the sad thing was their super pessimistic view of modern society and humanity in general as being massively selfish Self-interest may indeed be rampant in many individual’s lives, poor souls, but I spent my last three days in Santiago as a guest of a guy I met the day before, who brought me into his house, gave me a set of keys, cooked for me, and showed me around town, introducing me to his friends and making sure I enjoyed my time there. The charge for this hosting was…nothing.
The website http://www.couchsurfing.org coordinates travelers and hosts, providing a framework for people to meet each other, help each other, and learn about each other. It is an absolutely beautiful thing. Now of course it has its tainted individuals, skeezy guys looking to get laid, or incomprehensible jerks who abuse the trust of the hosts, but as far as I can tell 100% of the time (with a slight margin of error) it provides for positive experiences.
I have only surfed twice, but both were fanfuckingtastic. The first was in Vitoria, the capital of the Basque Country in northern Spain, where a photographer showed me around this under-valued town and a student brought me on the field trip for a Symbolism and Iconography class to a local monastery which culminated in a five hour long lunch and sobremesa, the Spanish tradition of hanging out at the table after the meal, singing, telling stories, and a whole lot of laughing.
The second time was the one from above, in Santiago, Galicia, in northwest Spain. I was guided to the Galician heritage museum, a Thursday flea market of frying churros, hawkers selling pairs of socks for fifty cents, and flocks of bargain hunting Spanish women peering through piles of fashionable(?) footwear. We spent one evening eating tiny sea snails out of their shells with toothpicks and listening in on a Ben Harper concert beside the massive and impressive Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela while sipping local Galician vino tinto.
On my first trip through Europe one of my regrets was that I met very few locals. If I knew someone in a given country, chances were that I had met them while they were traveling somewhere else entirely. Couchsurfing is the remedy to that. I know have Spanish friends in Vitoria and Santiago, how cool is that! Even if you are not looking to sleep on someone’s couch, the site has a level for people who volunteer to meet up with you for a cup of coffee, a tour around town, or advice on what to do/see. It’s kind of like a facebook where the whole world is your friend.
There is only one aspect of my couchsurfing experience thus far that I don’t like: that I don’t have a way to return the favor. This type of generosity is a growing thing, and I want to pass it on.
In a world where the evening news shows you almost mythic stories of exploitation, violence, and insanity over and over, couchsurfing.org is a reminder of the generosity of actual people.