There exists many levels of dedication to Couchsurfing. It’s one of the great strengths of the system – the individuality of it and that everybody participates in a different manner and holds different expectations of it.
When I hosted in Adelaide I hosted to the maximum capacity. I loved it, and didn’t see any real reason to slow down, take a break or limit the numbers of Couchsurfers to host in any given time. I would accept almost anybody, knowing that even an empty profile concealed one thousand stories and life lessons of the person behind it. The only time I would reject any surfers was if I could physically not fit anymore into my place at the time, and I quite regularly hosted up to five, six, seven or eight Couchsurfers at a time.
It created a fun environment, as there were always new people coming to contribute to conversation with not just myself but the other Couchsurfers as well. Things were never stale because of the constant addition of a new ingredient to the mix. It also provided a great way for the travellers to meet each other, almost as they do in a hostel environment but with the added bonus of living with and experiencing the life of a local.
This became the norm for me, and I always imagined that it would be a similar scenario here in Europe. That many of the Couchsurfers that I will surf with will hold a similar opinion, and I will meet other Couchsurfers that happen to be staying at the same location. But it never eventuated. It turns out the majority of hosts prefer to keep it to one Couchsurfer at a time, taking breaks in between.
That attitude is completely understandable, but it came as a bit of a kick in the guts to me. All these scenarios of meeting other Couchsurfers, sharing stories and doing potential road trips with them vanished when I realised that it was unlikely to become a reality.
That is, until I sent a request to Cássio in Madrid. His profile showed that he, along with his housemates Márcio, Giovanna and Ricardo were extremely active in Couchsurfing, and quite often hosted more than one surfer at a time. He even warned me when accepting my request that there will likely be other people coming to stay at the same time.
This proposition excited me a lot.
Cássio and his roommates were all actually Brazilian, and had come to Madrid for a semester of study. They were deep into their exam period when I decided to come, so the days consisted of them on their computers studying and from time to time taking a break and chilling. They were all studying some form of computer science so I was able to connect with them in that regard.
I learned from them that, being Brazilian and having the mother tongue of Portuguese, they had to learn Spanish when they arrived here. While they are similar languages, in the beginning it was very difficult for them, but they had eventually arrived at the point where they could understand everything and explain themselves confidently. Six months that took them to learn a language, albeit a similar one, but that’s a rapid rate.
The first night we arrived we had dinner together at a restaurant that is famous in all of Spain called 100 Montaditos. This place is most popular on Wednesdays and Sundays, where you can buy a pint of beer for 1€ and any of their sandwich menu for 1€ apiece too. The sandwiches are quite small, resembling tapas, so for a satisfying meal it’s recommended to get at least three, but it’s still an extremely cheap dinner.
This was my first port of call in Spain and they showed me the Spanish lifestyle. I had heard stories through Couchsurfing about Spain and how the Spanish don’t start parties until around 1AM, regularly coming home at 5 or 6 in the morning. These guys were evidence of that. While they didn’t go out to party due to their exam revisions, they would consistently stay up until around four in the morning and then sleep through the day until around one or two in the afternoon. As a result, lunch was usually around three in the afternoon and then dinner was eaten at around eleven or midnight.
They had another Brazilian friend by the name of Paolo, who would regularly visit. He was like the fifth unofficial member of the household, and just as friendly.
Cássio and Márcio were also very musical and they both played guitar. This was great for me as I was dearly missing the guitar that I used to play on a daily basis at home in Australia. There was only one guitar in the household which was Cássio’s but it would be passed around the room between us as we played different pieces between us. Márcio had a ukelele which would often accompany the jam session and it created a lot of fun and a relaxing break from study for the guys.
And indeed, just as expected, there were three other Couchsurfers there at the same time. They were actually living in Portugal to study. They were taking part in an Erasmus program and as such were not Portuguese themselves. All girls, one was Turkish, another Finnish and the third from Kosovo. It was great to meet them and trade off travel stories and learn more about their cultures. Our adventures in Madrid never really overlapped, but I enjoyed the experience a lot and the environment certainly reminded me of my hosting days.
Cássio and the others spoke very good English as a result of learning it intensively in their school system in Brazil. They were all extremely friendly and always had a smile on their faces, despite the stressing time of exams coming up.
They introduced me to Mahou, one of the biggest brands of beer here in Spain. It does the job, it doesn’t resemble a watered down beer, but at the same time it lacks flavour. It can be a refreshing beer after a long hot day and of course, it’s cheap, so I wasn’t going to complain about it. I went to the supermarket one evening and purchased a pack of twelve for a bit over four euros.
It’s great to meet other people around the world who are just as addicted to Couchsurfing. The number of Couchsurfers that these guys were hosting was staggering, even for me and if it weren’t for the fact that they fly back to Brazil around July, they would far eclipse any numbers that I had hosted in a calendar year.
It’s also great to continue to Couchsurf around Europe and see that every time you do it, it’s done differently and sometimes, the hosts just love to host.