Worst Couchsurfing experience. That is one of our most popular conversation topics with friends and family. Just to clarify we don’t “surf” nearly as much as it appears - maybe occasionally at most, i.e. about 5% for those of you engineers. But it’s true that I like to talk about surfing because they often make more memorable experiences than boutique hotels. This is one of the stories I told many times. I think it is time to share it on the blog with everyone.
It was along the Trans-America highway called Carretera Austral in Chile. Gorgeous scenery and weather that we couldn’t get enough of. We pulled into the city of Coyhaique in an early evening and found the house according to the address given by our Couchsurfing host, Javier.
To call it a house is an over-statement - it was actually still under construction with fences and pit holes everywhere. We were confused - maybe we were at wrong place? So we circled about the town, asked around, circled about some more and asked around some more. Fifteen minutes later we found ourselves back at the same spot. Luckily Javier answered our prayers and showed up a few minutes later: he indeed lived at the location, but in a little cabin by the riverside further into the property, the front of which would be developed into some hotel.
After tip-toeing around the construction site, we found the cabin hidden among trees. Really it was just a small bachelor pad. Besides the kitchen and bathroom, Javier’s drum set took up about 1/3 of the living space and his sleeping mattress another 1/3. It felt a little tight for all three of us, but “we will manage somehow”, I tried to comfort myself in my head.
To our annoyance, the cabin was also a bit dirty and messy, so five minutes later, I rolled my sleeves and started cleaning out the dishes in the sink. Since it was still early, Q and I decided to wander around the town before dinner. Javier told us he was off to meet up with two other Couchsurfing travellers. He mumbled something about they would set up a tent for camping, but I subconsciously ignored the trouble sign.
We came back at around 9 at night to a cabin full of travellers and backpacks and a smiling Javier. By the way, we met a total of four Javiers in South America: one in Paraguay, one in Chile, one in Uruguay and one in Colombia, and all of them have this perpetually-cheerful look – a bit like the Sri Lankans.
Anyways, I digress, back to the cabin, the five of us chatted away. We found out the other two travellers were German university girls who had been trekking in Patagonia for several months. We were thoroughly impressed with their perseverance, and secretly wish we were younger and could do something similar.
Anyway, I digress again. Then it was getting late and way too dark to set up any tent so I felt it was necessary to address “the elephant in the room”. “What is the sleeping arrangement for tonight, guys?” I asked.
A complete silence of uneasiness momentarily froze everyone. Then the smiley Javier started scratching his head as if the thought hasn’t occurred to him.
“Well, my bed is a stack of three mattresses. So we can pull the bottom two out,” Javier finally broke the silence.
“But where? There is no space.” I continued my practical questioning.
“We will move the drums to the storage hut next door.”
So at eleven at night, the five of us carried the drums away like pack of diligent ants. Actually not all fit in the hut, so some were left blocking the entrance to the cabin. Fire hazard I know, but it was the best we could do under the circumstances and we were all getting sleepy, so I saved my safety speech.
It was a miracle that the three mattresses fit in the floor space. In fact they filled the entire space with no gap in between. So there we were, like a row of piglets, lined up nicely across the cabin.
Five of us lining up like piglets.
After everyone settled and lay down, Javier turned off the ceiling light. Suddenly all my senses were so heightened. I felt I was holding my breath and I received the same vibe coming from the whole room of tired travellers. With the darkness blanketing us, it finally dawned on us that we were going to spend ONE WHOLE NIGHT IN A ROOM FULL OF STRANGERS. Just like that we all held our breaths, too afraid to fall asleep.
Then something truly magical happened.
Javier turned on his record player, and next thing we knew, mellow and soothing jazz music flew out of it. Our ears were the first to start breathing again. I got up to capture this moment. My eyes just melted when they made out the sight outside the window – a river dancing under the moonlight! And next my nose found the faint scent of the wooden cabin. Just like that, everything became rustic and everyone was peaceful. I will never forget that feeling of excitement and relief that night. Then I passed out before the first song was over.
The second day morning before leaving Javier’s house, we ensured the German girls in private that it was not a typical Couchsurfing experience, and they should not be deterred from trying it again.
Whether they did again or not, we don’t know. But we do know we tried Couchsurfing again and again since then, and treasure it every single time.