My struggles with Couchsurfing throughout Spain have been well documented. Not only were the Couchsurfers very hard to find, when they were found it was extreme last minute and they often weren’t Spanish locals. Then there was the communication issue as reported in the article posted a few days ago.
Why had it been so simple in France and not here in Spain? Probably for a multitude of factors, but one that cannot be overlooked is the fact that a number of my hosts through France were people that had stayed with me in Adelaide and so I had the advantage of knowing them previously.
This wasn’t so much the case for Spain. I never really received too many Spanish couchsurfers throughout my three years of hosting in Australia. Why? Because, for one reason or another, the Spanish people cannot obtain the Working Holiday visa for Australia. This is by far the most common avenue of Couchsurfers within Australia, and so the Spanish instead opted to travel to other places where they could stay longer.
But that’s not to say that I didn’t host any Spanish couchsurfers. Every now and then one has the dedication to visit Australia knowing full well that they can’t stay as long as they would perhaps like.
Javier was one such. So when I came to Granada it was a relief to me that he agreed to help me out. As luck would have it, he was passing through Málaga around the time that I was planning to move on to Granada and so picked me up with his friend along the way and even provided transport for me to Granada.
Another great thing about it was that I was to stay with him and his parents, who greeted me with a smile and made me feel very welcome. Communication with them was going to be difficult as they didn’t speak much English but while Javier was around he acted as the intermediary and things went along smoothly. This point actually highlights the issue with the Spanish and their English. For Javier’s father was actually an English teacher but could barely string a sentence together to communicate. Absolutely astounding.
What he lacked in English skills he more than made up for in kindness and hospitality however, and those qualities were much more desired than English speaking. Javier’s mother, too, was just as accommodating, ensuring that I was as comfortable and well fed as possible. It was yet another fantastic example of family hospitality that I have already experienced in my time Couchsurfing through Europe.
Javier himself was a teacher and was preparing applications for requests on where he would prefer to teach in the upcoming semester. Due to this, he was quite busy, but did take some time out one day to give a brief tour and would take the time out during the nights to share a few drinks together.
On one such night, we went to a language exchange meeting organised by Couchsurfing. There, he introduced me to a Polish girl named Agnieszka. She was fascinated by the Spanish language and so came to Granada to attend university classes to learn. Over the course of the next few months she became even more enamoured with the city itself and she offered to take me on a tour during the day. She took me on a climb to a couple of well known lookouts where one can get magnificent views of the Alhambra and all of Granada.
Agnieszka had nothing but kind words to say about her time in Granada, not only holding the city in high regard, but the people there also. By this stage I had began to really enjoy Granada and shared her views on the city, but I could not say that I shared her views in regards to the Spanish people. But it did make me think, perhaps I’ve just been looking at them from the wrong perspective? Perhaps, because I can’t speak the Spanish language, I can’t begin to appreciate the little subtleties that they display.
It all seems to be similar to my account of the French. The stereotype, the stories that I’ve heard of the French people and the foreigners encounters with them just haven’t been observed by myself. I hold them in high regard. But perhaps it’s because I can understand the language more that I can appreciate this.
Agnieszka certainly opened my eyes to this.
It was in Granada that I again encountered issues with a Spanish website – this time with the national bus network, alsa.es. A similar story to the renfe.es debacle, Alsa allowed users to search for the corresponding bus, enter all details and confirm the purchase before returning a pretty nondescript error message. With time I learned to give up on being lazy and attempting to rely on the Internet to help organise things and instead would just immediately go to the station.
The last night I stayed in Granada, Javier took me to Poë, an English bar literally situated across the road from his house. Due to this, Javier was well known to the owners, an elderly British man and his partner, a Portuguese woman. This was a perfect way to end such an enjoyable stay.
Finally, I got a taste of what it’s like to stay with a Spanish family and it’s little coincidence that this was the time I have enjoyed the most in Spain so far. Javier allowed me into his life, his family and his friends and it was a refreshing return to the more familiar Couchsurfing that I have known.