When I first heard about it, I thought it was an amazing idea. It spoke to me. I started fantasizing about all the crazy, cool, and kooky people I could meet. Maybe some hippies in Amsterdam. Wise and seasoned travelers in Budapest. Some fellow expats in Berlin. Sitting cross-legged on a bean bag sipping tea with my host(s), strolling around a city and getting the low-down inside scoop from a local, sharing stories, travel experiences, and insightful epiphanies about the world and all its mysterious glory. Yeah, actually I did a lot of fantasizing about hippies.
So after 3.5 years of being a Couchsurfing member, I finally did my first couch stay in Barcelona, accompanied by my friend Meagan, during our 5 day weekend. Let's just say...it was interesting. Santiago was his name, but he went by "Santi". He kindly met us at the metro nearest his apartment and the minute I laid eyes on him I knew we were in for an awkward weekend. On his CS profile, it says that he is 32. Maybe he is. Or maybe he's been 32 for the last 8 years. ¿Quién sabe? But, as Aaliyah told us, 'age ain't nothin but a number'. This guy could be cool! After all, his profile said he was a DJ and he had as many reviews as I did from people who had stayed with him and they were all positive. Unfortunately, a cloud of awkward pauses and forced conversation fell over us the minute we began the walk from the metro to his apartment.
Me: Hi! Great! Thanks so much for letting us stay!
Santi: *Stares**Smiles**Reveals to us his brace-face*
Me: Cool.. So...Do you speak English?
Santi: *Awkward laugh* Yes. A leettle beet.
Meagan: Are you from Barcelona?
He made us a salad for dinner when we got to his apartment and showed us the two separate bedrooms that we could stay in (we chose to sleep together in the room with the bigger bed). Over our dinner salad, he brought out a large manila folder full of brochures and maps, and he had even printed out a packet of discounts to various sights throughout the city. We appreciated the gesture, especially after we figured out that he didn't have any suggestions of his own.
Meagan: So where are some great places to eat? What's your favorite spot?
Santi: Hmmmmm....umm...hmmm.. *looks at a brochure of restaurants*..I don't know.. I don't go out much.
You kind of have to question someone in their "30's" who has lived in Barcelona their whole life and has not one single suggestion for a restaurant to check out or special place that might not be on a tourist map but is well worth the visit. So after not being able to stand the stifling dinner conversation any longer, we retired for the night to rest for a full day on Thursday.
On Thursday we spent the whole day out. We waited in line for the Sagrada Familia (Oh yeaa bein' a tourist!), walked to and through Park Güell, searched high and low for a worthy Kebap stop, shopped, photo-oped, and dropped. By 8pm we were exhausted, but unfortunately the downfall of not staying at a hostel was that we couldn't go back to the apartment until Santi got back from work at 8:30... So when he texted saying he would be later than he thought, we weren't really sure what to do with ourselves.
After watching an Asian family play soccer in a plaza on rollerblades, we finally decided to go back to the apartment and wait out the pending arrival of Santi over a drink at a nearby bar.
By the time he returned from work and we were back in the apartment, it was almost 10pm. Meagan and I had thought about going out that night, but Santi kept referring to things in "we"s...
'Yes there is this club we can go to...'
'Yes I wanted us to go to this place...'
'WE can go to this area...'
Being new to the Couchsurfing thing, we weren't really sure if that was the exchange for staying for free or not. Did we have to hang out with this guy? What's the nicest way to say no or play the foreign card without him giving me a bad review? In the end, it worked in our favor that we had been out ALL FREAKING DAY and we had no energy to party and bullshit anyway.
On Friday we hit the beach. I felt a little guilty since I think the same moment I was getting sunburnt, people back home were swiping snow off their cars. In May. I'm so sorry everyone. I'm not much of a beach bum since I get bored so easily but I managed to entertain myself enough to stay sane while Meagan napped. Watched some German guys work out. Finished reading The Bell Jar. Drank a gin and tonic. Marveled at the speedos and topless tanners. It wasn't so bad. At 7pm we reluctantly returned to the apartment where our dear friend SANTI was waiting. And we walked in to a full on party baby. Well...okay there were no people. But the apartment was bumpin. "Oh yeah, I'm recording a session.." Santi said oh-so-nonchalantly. He is a "SOULFUL" DJ, after all. It was our last night so we had decided that this awkward 'we' going out situation was going to be a little hard to avoid this time, but if we had to do it, might as well do it when we were leaving the next morning. We kindly made the plans, masking our hesitation with smiles and by "enthusiastically" writing down addresses (I can teach you, if you're curious how that works).
At 1am we arrived to the designated spot. "Dime Barcelona". It looked like a hotel. I'm talking top-notch, refined, the place you stay when your parents are paying. If your parents are The Hiltons. It was set-up like a fine dining restaurant, and we looked around and at each other unsure if we were at the right place. The hostess at the door looked at us and hesitated before asking slowly...
"Hii...What are you looking for?"
I looked at my phone GPS, back at Meagan, and then back at the hostess with this look that said 'please tell me we are wrong'
"...Dime...Barcelona...?" I responded.
Our hostess looked on us with a sad, pitiful look, paused and asked:
"Are you here...for the "soulful" party..??"
We said without a hint of excitement or conviction: "*sigh* Yes."
Her look told it all. We knew then and there we weren't any place we would ever have freely chosen to go. She stepped aside and told us to go downstairs.
Once downstairs, it took a millisecond to gauge that the average age of the clientele in this club was about 50. We quickly ran to the bathroom. It was a really nice bathroom. There was an attendant, surely laughing to herself at these two girls who must be someone's grandchildren trying to figure out how the faucet works. The sinks were all fancy like from the future or maybe from one of those mansions they used to show on MTV Cribs. At least I got to see that. Anyway, Santi found us and said "Oh great you're here! Follow me..".... and led us straight... To. The. Dance. Floor. In that moment I stopped and looked back at Meagan, telling her with my eyes "WHAT?!?... HE WANTS US TO DANCE WITH HIM?!"... We both stopped on the edge of the disco inferno and when he turned around and saw that we hadn't followed him seemed bewildered. Ho! But whatever could be the matter here? Luckily I was sunburned, so I feigned this painful look and put my hand on the back of my leg and gestured "Ohh the sunburn! I'm in so much pain! I can't dance nooo..no"
So Santi sauntered into the crowd, got his groove on to the 'soulful' tunes, while Meagan and I sat on a lounge chair in stunned silence at the situation we found ourselves in. After 20 minutes, though, Santi came back and, after failing to get me to dance again (I mean.. what?), asked if we wanted to leave. Yes. Yes please yes.
Leaving on Saturday morning was a sigh of relief. I have heard from a lot of friends great stories about their Couchsurfing experiences, so I am still positive about it and will definitely give it another try. And Santi really was a nice man. Just maybe not a good fit for two chicas in their mid-twenties. Maybe better for him to host divorcées or soulful aficionados.
Better luck next time.