This is the second post for the weekly Other Folk series.
The first thing I remember about Chile was the heat. It was steamy and bright; after 14 hours on a plane from Melbourne to Santiago, the stark contrast between the pressurized airline cabin and the streets of one of Latin America’s grittiest cities was overwhelming. My friend and I only spoke a few basic phrases in Spanish so as we navigated our way to our accommodation the reality of our utter cluelessness began to sink in. We were tired, kinda lost and very, very ‘hangry’.
By some stroke of good luck, we arrived out the front of an amazingly dull soviet-era looking apartment block in downtown. I pressed the buzzer for apartment B95 and held my breath. A chirpy voice greeted us over the crackling receiver in ‘Spanglish’ (a lovely concoction of Spanish and English) and we were let in.
Carlos threw open his arms to embrace my sweaty friend and I, leading us into his apartment and encouraging our weary bodies to shed all luggage. A platter of empanadas, a bottle of wine and a few maps were laid out before us and our gracious host explained a few details of the new city we would be calling home for the next five days. This was my introduction to Couchsurfing.
Back in 2009 I was a broke student who scrimped and saved for over a year to get myself to South America, to backpack my way around that beautiful continent for almost nine months. Now, in 2015, I live by myself and whilst I am still a student I also have a stable part-time job at an art gallery. Needless to say I am comfortable.
A few months ago, after returning from a two-month trip to the Americas, I decided it was time to repay the kindness I had encountered in the Couchsurfing community by hosting couchsurfers in my apartment. A precocious nineteen year old Canadian traveller was my first and she stayed with me for a week, during which I time I travelled to the Gold Coast for four days. She was, for all intensive purposes, a house sitter.
Couchsurfing is more than just free accommodation – it fosters a type of cultural reciprocity that is not dependent on economic exchange. There is a foundation of implied trust; as I welcome travellers into my home I expect a certain level of respect for my belongings and space, which I then offer in return in the form of advice, home cooked meals and comfortable surrounds. After scanning hundreds of profiles on the website couchsurfing.org as a traveller looking for a couch, I have developed a good eye for the kind of person who I know I will enjoy having around. People can be unpredictable yet when approached with kindness and empathy these relative strangers quickly become family.
I have personally couchsurfed in ten or so different countries and hosted a dozen or so couchsurfers here in Melbourne. The main reason I host travellers is because often it can be difficult to find the time to get out there and see the world – at least this way a little part of the world can come to me.
Marion Piper is a writer, artist and curator based in Melbourne, currently dreaming of Japan, California and the beaches of Mexico.
Twitter – @maz_abroad
Instagram – @mepiper
Read last week’s Other Folk Post: Can You Trust a Person Who Shuns Cheese and Bacon? Ebonie Hyland and Elsie Mellor are Vegans.