three destinations, one couchsurfer and a whole lotta trust.

First full day back in Spain and as many travelers know upon arriving home that usually involves becoming tediously occupied with dirty laundry, agonizing over bank statements, responding to e-mails, and talking about your trips details on repeat. I am already missing not knowing what day of the week it is while my brain is preoccupied with sites to see and new tastes to try. But I guess all good things come to an end and now Spain will be occupying most of my time until my departure (what a hard life I have, I know). Hopefully, I will be able to make a few more trips before heading back to the Golden State. In the meantime, the family I am staying with is blasting Bruce Springsteen and someone is chanting the lyrics with a Spanish accent (I don’t know how to feel about that), I hear someone screaming “Oyyyeee. Dejame solo!” and I am still trying to fight the urge to correct my students spelling of “share” to “Cher.” I really think their overall quality of life would be enhanced if I were to “correct” them. Can you imagine going through your entire life spelling like that? … the possibilities! If there was a homophone for Shakira, I’m sure it’d be more relevant for Spaniards … but Cher is all I can really work with right now. I’ll fight that urge for today. I’m not too sure about tomorrow.

As far as the trip, it brought me to the absurd brilliance of Couchsurfing (or crotchsurfing as one of my friends likes to call it) and made me further wonder why I had never utilized this cheap form of lodging and way of meeting people. I started my trip in London and of course my plane arrived late because that’s what you get when you fly with a low budget airlines. I had already prearranged to surf with a seemingly nice bloke in the South of London and I was supposed to meet him near his flat. So I navigate this beehive of insanity known as the tube to purchase a ticket after banging on some machine that wouldn’t take my credit card, all to meet this guy at the Oval station whilst discreetly clutching onto my mace in my inner jacket sleeve for safe measure. I know it’s not necessary, but you never know what the night may bring and I’m a walking vulnerable target with my Deuter bag, my wide eyed expressions and blaring red pants (bad outfit choice. i know). I didn’t have a phone on me, so I had to use strangers phones along the way to tell my host when I would arrive and that I was late. Of course, people are extremely hesitant to offer their iphones to a crazy looking girl with insanely short bangs who looks like the missing character in “Girl, Interrupted.” But, low and behold the Brits were sincere and offered their service to the lost wanderer that I was. I arrive at the entrance to the Oval station. It’s pitch black, windy, I need a cigarette to calm my nerves, people are running in and out of the entrance speaking in adorable accents, I want to ask some guy with glasses if he’s Harry Potter but I resist as to not draw even more attention to myself, my backpack has runneth over on space, and I stick out like a sore thumb in such a metropolitan area (re: Where’s Waldo? all I need is a striped red and white beanie). I see a man with a cigarette, ask him for one, and after offering he stands across from me and begins his flagrant staring. I clutch my mace tighter and smoke my cigarette, hoping some guy by the name of Emilio will turn up and won’t kill me whilst walking in the dark, and on the side worried about my new friend with the staring problem. Emilio arrives and I hug him, just very glad to get away from the staring cigarette guy with the fake sounding Russian accent. I start to talk to Emilio at high speeds, which is apparently something I do now when I am nervous, as well as circular gesticulations. I had the mentality — growing up in Los Angeles — if I ever meet a psycho, I will just try and out crazy them and then I can get away. I think every person who grew up in a city has their schemes and made up scenarios if a situation like this ever occurs. But, now this mentality has crossed over to my nervous state and I don’t really know how to stop it until my nerves calm and by that point, the person who is actually a decent human being thinks I’m crazy. are you with me? So, yeah that’s going pretty well..for now. Until I meet Ted Bundy and can’t outperform. We arrive at his house where his high as a georgia pine neighbor — Felix — is outside. We chat, Emilio and I head to his apartment and then I find out I will have to share a room with him because his mom is in town and his couch won’t be available…welcome to London, amiright? And then he brings out his knives and sharpens his razor teeth (not really). We lay out the mattress and then head out for the evening to Notting Hill (sans the Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant), we pay too much money for Red Stripe but the place is exactly what the doctor ordered. It’s dim lighting, feels like a vampire lair, and there is an all girl electric funk band on stage. swoon. The night progresses and some shitty freestylers get on the mic and butcher the rhytmic cadence of the drum machine, all the while some man with some crazy Medusa looking dreads keeps whipping me in the face with his flailing hair. That shit hurts! Thank god he didn’t accessorize his hair with beads or there would’ve been some definite bloody nose action. To cut a long story short, Emilio ended up being a fine young bloke, he makes a mean cuppa tea with cubes of sugar, showed me the ways of English breakfast (which should be the only breakfast way as far as I’m concerned now), can play the piano like a boss, knew his Russian literature, and didn’t Jack the Ripper me whilst sleeping. First CS experience: Overall success and maybe I should try trusting people a bit more and work harder on imitating British accents. side note: I can’t even tell you how much of a variety of accents there are in Britain. Understanding people form Manchester is just as difficult as understanding fast Spanish.

At this point, I head to a good friends house — Chloe — who resides in London and we start to do all the touristy things I’ve been craving to do because I love me some British history. I don’t know what it is, and I am sure Brits find it frivolous and the mentality of it all extremely touristy, but the entire monarchy, Queen of England, Anne Boleyn and Henry V, Shakespeare/Globe Theatre world fascinates me. I needed a tour of the London Tower where Anne Boleyn was buried, the murders of two innocent princes transpired, and where Beefeaters roam freely. One thing I didn’t know is how demanding the life of a Beefeater is (I mean aside from being on the cover of a gin bottle and being the butt of every joke for your flashy threads), you also live at the Tower of London with your entire family. This is no regular nine to fiver. I would still prefer that over a retail job any day. I also finally got the chance to visit one of my favorite authors house: Virginia Woolf. I might or might not have chipped away some paint from her front door as a souvenir. Well London was everything and more. I try not to have expectations when traveling because they are usually never met, but with London they were made … and eventually superseded. Huzzah.

Journey 2: Flight to Amsterdam after begrudgingly leaving London. I get in late — which is something I should really avoid doing after the London arrival disaster, but sometimes I never learn– and arrange to meet some person named Salvatore. I ask to borrow peoples phones along the way again to warn Sal that I am coming, but the Dutch aren’t as generous as Londoners. jerks. I start to walk on my own to find his place with my large Deuter backpack and realize I am walking prey. Two blokes are smoking their cigarettes in an alley watching my every move. The cat calls start. fuck that. I turn around and luckily find an internet cafe and call the number he gave me over facebook. Five minutes later, Sal bobs his way down the street with his wild hair, Italian moustache, and swashbuclklin garments to greet me. Begin: my rapid talking and heavy gesticulating. We arrive at his house and I can already tell the night will be a long one. Sal’s place is covered in weed paraphernalia, he’s high and I’m pretty sure he’s trying to wine/dine me. I use his computer to notify my friend that I have arrived safely in Holland and Sal turns off the light on me. I freak out and tell him to put that shit back on and now I’m pretty positive he wants me to rub lotion over my body so he can make a prairie skirt out of my skin. Welcome to Amsterdam. So, he suggests we go out and ride bikes and I can never say no to a night bike ride. We go out and explore the town and I try talking to him, but he’s not the most verbose person and his eyes keep glazing over. Luckily, we meet other CSers and the conversations begin and I start to really enjoy myself. We get a brief tour of the red light district (and the blue light district where all the trannies are) and the women are actually very beautiful. I was expecting something a bit more grungy, but I felt oddly safe in the bevy of people — mostly British guys — whose eyes were fixated on the red women behind the glass. I notice cameras on every corner and a beautiful bridge where a handful of swans are floating around and I start to feel high on this particular experience in time: waking up in London, arriving in Amsterdam, navigating the transportation system and language barrier, meeting this random guy and willingly attempting to trust him, racing his broken bike through the windy canals of Amsterdam to keep up with his speedy legs, and eventually winding up in the red light district and gazing at these graceful swans who serenely glide over the red reflecting water. The swans begin to put me at ease as I gaze at their pure white feathers and I begin to feel safe for the first time in the entire day. As the night progresses I meet one American, a few Spaniards and a friendly German girl. Talks, drinks, questions, and snacking commence and the night ends with each of us biking in opposite directions back home. I leave Sals place — who is nowhere to be found — in the morning without showering and bolt out into the street to meet another Amsterdam host by the name of Maaike. Second CS experience: Not a complete failure, but it could’ve gone smoother. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted someone who had a CS profile with only female friends. Red flags for sure. Red flag factory actually.

Enter Maaike: After racing out of Sals house, I have to wait six hours to finally meet Maaike. But my time is fully occupied by getting lost and simultaneously getting my hands on a BAGEL! I see a place called “Beans and Bagels” and I bee line it to that direction. I become a very happy camper since Spain seems to be devoid of this delicious treat and it’s been months since I have set my eyes and mouth on a wallop of good shmear. As 6 pm approaches, I head to the area where I believe Maiike lives. I stumble across the Albert Cuyp market (allegedly the largest daytime market in all of Europe), huge deuter bag still in tow, and I gawk at all the food and I start Pavlov dogging it once I see the freshly made stroopwafels. I head further into the heart of the city and bicycle lined sidewalks and finally find her apartment. I am greeted by her dog as I perform a balancing act between myself, my towering bag and the narrowness of her stairwell all the while trying not to stampede over this adorable terrier. I prevail and make it inside to the warmth of her candle lit apartment where home made carrot soup and tea awaits my consumption. *sigh* I feel like I can finally relax and the waft of the enticing soup and scented candles instantaneously puts me at ease. I drop my backpack and she tells me I will have to share a bed with her, since last minute she decided to host someone else who will occupy her couch. I say it’s okay and stare at her bed — happy with how large and comfy it looks. I don’t care at this point about sleeping with a complete stranger and my initial intuition to trust her washes over me. A few hours later, we are introduced to Daniel who completes the CS trifecta. Daniel and I realize how much we need beers and we head to the market with Maaike’s directions, her discount card and a solid thirst for booze. I know we are going to get along just fine. I spend the next three days with Daniel and don’t grow weary of his happy demeanor or stories of Colombia. We browse record shops where I show him the beauty of Harry Nilsson and he shows me how not to get lost and how to properly wash dishes without wasting any water. I don’t know which one is more valuable over the other. Third CS experience: I could really get used to meeting complete strangers and traveling with a person who I wouldn’t normally come into contact with. And shy people usually have alot more to say then I previously thought. Overall amazing experience in Amstel land officially catalogued in my memory bank.

Journey 3: The land of hoppy beers, post apocalyptic architecture and the inimitable Ondine. I.e. the land of Brussels. So, after all the Amsterdam romping I was a bit wary to pick up again and start in a new place, but the promise of quaffing my body weight in Belgian beer and waffles kept my feet moving onwards. Surprisingly enough, arriving in Brussels became one of my favorite journeys in my entire European expedition. I arrived at the central station and was greeted by the lovely Ondine who accompanied me back to her apartment whist talking in broken English and a heavy French accent. We weaved in and out of side streets, the land looked barren and desolate compared to the bustle of Amsterdam and there was a thick miasma of fog blanketing the entire city. All of Brussels looked like the setting to a post apocalyptic zombie movie and at that point I really wished I was wearing leather, gun holsters, and had some rickety school bus turned into an army tank to drive. And I’m saying this in the past tense like these wishes are limited only to the past, when they’re not. My life goal to live in a zombie world will one day come to fruition. In the meantime, there is always Brussels. The highlight of this entire trip was simply being with Ondine, meeting her friends, drinking the best brew ever, sharing our love of taking pictures and enjoying a good cup of coffee from her capresso. My first evening was by far the best as we found ourselves bar hopping all across town and finding a few people with the same bar crawling schedule as us. We wound up joining tables and conversations with these three Americans and a Belgian teacher who all spoke perfect French, which is undoubtedly horrible for me as the only French I know is limited to the chorus of “Lady Marmalade.” And if you are wondering if I sang it for my new French friends, then the answer is yes. My momma would be proud. Anyways, the night progressed and we all found ourselves leaving the bar at 6 am the next day. Our night was consumed with a bandy of talk about cheese and beer and about being American and all that other chatter one partakes in when sitting at a bar with T.Rex blaring out the speakers and an exuberantly drunk French girl no one knows dances on various benches and entices everyone to dance. CS experience 4: I now know it really isn’t okay to talk to a French person about a Spaniards custom to mix red wine and soda if you care about your safety. Aside from that, Brussels was the cherry on top of this entire whirlpool of an adventure.

So, one thing I really fell in love with on this journey and simultaneously something I’ve always wanted to do was to wake up in a different country with a stranger and watch how they live. Sometimes, I get so used to my own bubble of living and I don’t think about the millions of people who wake up, have different ways of performing their everyday duties, and lead a completely opposing lifestyle than the one I have grown so accustomed to. I love how disparate peoples lives are, and the fact that sometimes I forget they are and when I am reminded, my mind is blown by all the intricacies of it (and I’m reminded more often then not since living with an entire Spaniard family of cinco). It’s so easy when walking onto a bus or when in a large crowd to forget that these creatures with arms and legs and minds are human beings with lives and schedules and hopes and aspirations who woke up in a house very unlike yours and performed tasks very unlike yours too. And I love how couchsurfing gave some of my anthropological curiosities more insight. I love how I didn’t wake up in a tourist oriented hotel or hostel and sometimes I was fuckin scared shitless and alone or I didn’t remember where I was and that human instinct and intuition can really save the day (so can slapping a large and blatant band aid of sarcasm or humor on it). I love how I woke up to Emilio’s tea and piano playing, Chloe’s french press coffee and nova player radio station blaring, Sal’s empty house and my panicked urge to leave, Maikka’s dog and cat nestled under the covers with me, and Ondine’s deep French laugh and morning salutations and just receiving real fuckin electricity from all these human interactions. But, in all I made it out in one piece (although my right toe nail is somewhere between Antwerp and Brussels. major ouch) and I realized it’s okay to put my trust in a complete stranger and even share a bed with them and know that in the end, I will have met some kick ass people with amazing stories to tell who are all now inadvertently characters in the kick ass stories I will tell. amen to that.

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One thought on “three destinations, one couchsurfer and a whole lotta trust.

  1. I love this, totally sums up backpacking in my opinion. I can’t wait to hit the old dusty trail in Russia this summer.

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