On The Road Again (Arévalo & Ávila, Spain)

I quickly discovered that the best thing about Arévalo is its proximity to other places.  Its central location was the source of its prosperity five hundred years ago and the key to maintaining my sanity today.

For the rest of 2009 I traveled almost constantly.  I finished class on Thursday at 12:20 and by 2:00 I was on my way somewhere else.  Each time I went to the train station I saw the Old Man standing alone in the corner or circling the ceiling light like a moth.

But not I.  I hopped on the train and plunged through the darkness to a new locale each weekend.  I visited Avila frequently and grew closer to the other language teachers there.  We formed a fun group of about 15 teachers from the US, France and Germany.  But I could not limit my travels to Avila – I had to journey further.

I yearned to travel to the distant corners of Spain and beyond across Europe.  I had met many European friends while traveling in Asia last year and over late-night beers in Vietnamese bars we had promised to visit each other in 2010.  And at my job’s orientation program in Madrid I made similar travel plans with a dozen or so fellow English teachers.  But they were as keen to travel as I and our plans fell victim to our collective momentum.  Spontaneous travel was proving difficult – I had to start planning my travels in advance.

I arranged to meet some friends in Paris in mid-November, booked plane tickets and a hostel and checked one more city off of my to-visit-list.  A sense of relaxation swept over me.  Everything was handled.  All my plans were in order.  I was going to Paris for sure.

As comforting as it was to make concrete plans, I felt that something was missing.  I was ready to accept that booking plane tickets in advance was necessary but surely I couldn’t make advance reservations for all my upcoming adventures.  It would be too inflexible and costly.  Soon I’d be broke, tied-down to my calendar and buried in a mountain of confirmation numbers.

I needed CouchSurfing.  I started using Couchsurfing (CS) a year ago while traveling in Asia.  I immediately recognized the website’s potential to change the entire nature of my journey.

CS is a website that connects travelers with the local people of their host country.  Travelers can use CS to meet locals for virtually any purpose: to meet for a beer or coffee, to walk around a given city, or even to stay on a local’s couch for a few days.

The entire system is founded on trust, transparency and accountability of each member.  This is achieved via a simple system of user-to-user evaluations.  After each experience, both CouchSurfers (CSers) give each other either a positive or negative rating accompanied by a brief reference.  The more involved one gets, the more positive references, the more trust one establishes, the easier it becomes to CouchSurf.

I began using the system to meet locals while in Vietnam, I surfed my first couch in southern China, and by the time I reached St. Petersburg I was sold on CS.

And after a month in Spain it was time to tap into this resource again.  I updated my profile and offered my couch in Arevalo to any passing travelers.  Not surprisingly, none have come so far.  So I started searching for CouchSurfers to stay with all across Spain and began planning new adventures.

I started locally and stayed with a student in Salamanca.  Over the next few months I CouchSurfed in Portugal, France, Belgium and Ireland.  Every experience seemed to get better than the last.

But one of the most curious CS experiences came early in my travels.  It was, in fact, just my second CS experience in Europe.  I’d found some cheap train tickets to Lisbon and decided to take advantage of it.  I searched some CSers’ profiles and sent out a few requests to CouchSurf with them.  All my requests came back negative, except one.

And that is how I met The Anarchist.

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