Couch Surfing – ”The World is smaller than you think”

I just came back from a bar here in my city, called Cana Benta. I went with my two cousins (Ana and Lucas, who are more like my siblings) and this German girl who is staying at my house through Couch Surfing and a girl called Fernanda, who is also a member of the Couch Surfing community in Curitiba. It was fun because Fernanda is very active with Couch Surfing and so am I (although not as much as she is) and both my cousins have ”used” or met people from CS before.

What is Couch Surfing, you ask!?
Well, it’s a large corporation that offers its users hospitality exchange and social networking (CS Wikipedia) . Basically this is what CS is: You like to travel. You like to meet people. You’re a student, or maybe you don’t have a lot of money to spend on hotels or hostels….that’s where CS enters. You can create a profile at the site and when you are planning on traveling somewhere, you search for a few profiles from the city you’re going to stay at and message a few people asking if you could maybe ”crash” or, surf on their couch for a few nights while you are in town. Or, even, maybe you already know someone at the city and have a place to stay, but wanna meet new people. You can also ask if someone is available to have some coffee, show you some cool places in the town, or just go out to hang out and chat about the country/city/people/language etc.
It works both ways. You may also host people at your house, offer them a couch. It’s FREE. But that is NOT the cool part. Once you start surfing couches and hosting people at your house, you realize that it’s all about knowing places and stories about the World. It’s about getting to know parts of the world through some fun stories and pictures. It’s about being a nice person and understanding people who are wandering, traveling… It’s actually pretty amazing. Maybe one of the coolest things we have nowadays.
On your profile at http://www.couchsurfing.com you can specificate what kind of people you would be able to host at your house, by gender, number of surfers, age… And when you are asking someone if YOU can stay at their house, you need to send a nice message to let them know what you’re doing in town, who you are exactly etc.

Some people are a bit afraid because it seems like an unsafe kind of website, I mean ”who’d be crazy to let some stranger into your house?” and I get that, but here are some facts you need to know about CS:

  • Once you are serious about hosting and surfing you should probably get your account verified. In order to do that, you will go to a part of the CS website that says ”get verified” then you will enter some personal info, like your current address and wait for them to send you a post card in the mail. Once you receive this post card, you will see there is a code. You will enter that code on the Couch Surfing website and there, you have confirmed that you actually live at the address you said you live.
  • If you are looking for couches to surf when traveling, look for references at the person’s profile. A person can have positive, negative or neutral references. The more references, the safer it is to stay at that house.
  • Write references so you can have people write references about YOU. That will make you a ”safe” person too.
  • CS deletes profiles with suspicious references, that is, references that alert that that place is not a good deal. It is a safe site, but remember that everywhere in the World, there are people with bad intentions.

And more: if you will be hosting someone, be a nice host. You do not need to take your surfer anywhere if you don’t want to, or don’t have time to, but make sure he/she won’t get lost. It’s all new to them, bus, taxi, train…
Same thing with food. If you are eating, it might not be that bad to invite your surfer to eat with you. Make him/her feel comfortable and at home. Making sure they have a good experience is up to you and remember, that’s what they will talk about your city/country. ;)
They are travelers. But you are, too, when you host. Ask them where they’re from, what their habits are, what they like to do for fun, the differences between cultures.

If you are traveling, the best advice I can give is: have common sense and be polite. Don’t EXPECT your host to buy you food. Don’t EXPECT your host to take you places. Don’t EXPECT your host to do anything. The host will probably do their best to accommodate you the best they can, but sometimes they have jobs, busy schedules, school and other things that will make a bit hard to pay attention to you 100% of the time. Ask him questions about the city, maps, directions, tips about restaurants and sight-seeing, but if they cannot go with you, be comprehensive.
It’s not your responsibility to buy them food, but if you can cook, it’d be nice to make them some typical food from where you are from. Or take them out to dinner. It’s just a nice gesture, to say ”thank you for having me over”.

I will in the next posts, tell stories about my experience with CS. I have surfed once and hosted many times, gone out for coffee and sigh seeing a whole bunch of times. So I have stories to tell. I’ve met amazing people from a lot of places: Arizona, Oregon, Ohio, Australia, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, Germany, China, some states in Brazil….

The mission of the Couch Surfing community is to make people from all over the globe, be closer. Like I have said before, we might feel like we are part of a gigantic planet where no one knows nothing and no one but WE can make distance shorter.

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San Fran!

Camping in Cali

In 2010 me and my ex went camping at Big Sur. I don’t usually camp here in Brazil although I enjoy camping very much. We had a week off and decided to go do something different. Well, different for me, anyways. Big Sur is a region on the California’s central coast and much like the rest of the state, it is a beautiful place to visit. There are a lot of campsites, beaches, lodges, restaurants, scenic views, hiking trails…

Camping was a lot of fun, especially because it was new to me… I had fun asking my ex for help to wash my hair while was lied down on a picnic table; a raccoon went through part of our food while we were sleeping; there was this beach with a bunch of rocks instead of sand, and that was weird–in Brazil we have nice white, fluffy sand…but that was one of my favorite beaches, not sure why.

There are a lot of places to camp there, so here is a couple good websites  I found, with info about all the campgrounds etc. CAMPGROUND & INFO 1
CAMPGROUND & INFO  2

 

 

Later I will post about our other camping trip, as for now, I’ll leave you with some pictures and a video I think it’s pretty good to show how amazing Big Sur really is.

Image

Big Sur

 

Our campsite

 

rocks!!!!

 

Family number 2.

In my last post I talked about how I found a place to stay, with my art teacher, Esther.
After talking to Orton and the coordinators from the program, I decided to move to my new home.
Living at Esther’s house  was such a different environment for me. I am an only child. Besides living with Merve and Martina for those 2 months, my house was just me, my mom and my dog. My parents got divorced when I was 2 years old and although I see my dad all the time, I was used to just having my mom at my house to talk to.

Esther and her husband, David, had 4 kids: Chris, Becca, Kerrie and Rachael. When I moved there only 3 of them were living at the house, but it was still a big family! I loved it. I’d stay up playing games and talking to Chris; Kerrie likes painting and sometimes she’d ask me to pose for her paintings or pictures; I talked to Esther a lot, about everything. She is a very fun person. We used to laugh a lot, do fun things, listen to loud music. She was really becoming a ”mom” to me. And Rachael, the oldest daughter, she is just the best. We’d watch movies together, make food, gossip. When I needed, she was always there to give me advices. Dave, the dad, was the funniest person, he loved chilli and he was always making jokes. It didn’t take long till I felt like I was a part of the family. Then Becca moved back to the house and it was even more crowded and I had one more sister to talk to and ask makeup and clothes and advices from. I loved it.

Around the time I moved, I also started hanging out with a boy named Dylan, who was introduced to me by my area coordinator, Isabel. Her son and Dylan had been best friends since they were little. So Isabel took me to some soccer games (because I’m Brazilian I think hahaha) and I met him. I think we got along mostly because he has this latin blood that it’s hard not to notice once you talk to him (if you’re latin, I mean.) But just by looking at him you wouldn’t be able to tell, since he has blue eyes and long blond hair. I do too, and I’m soooo very latin.
Esther’s house, or, my new home, was a few blocks from Dylan’s house, so we ended up hanging out almost everyday.
We liked each other but when people called us boyfriend and girlfriend, we would just deny and say we were just ”talking”. It was a good plan, we thought we were being smart, at least at first, since I was leaving and getting involved would just complicate things.
Silly us.

We ended up going out for over a year and a half. He was my first boyfriend. Who would’ve thought I would find a bf all the way in California?
But it was great while it lasted, we had some amazing and fun times. Till I came back home….but c’est la vie!

By October , I was more out of the house than in and Esther and I talked and decided it was better if I moved out.
I spent a few months at Isabel’s house. And believe it or not, she has even more kids than Esther, so by then I can say I had 11 siblings. Four from Esther’s house, then Isabel’s 6 children plus her exchange student from Germany.
I slept at Natalie’s room (the exchange student), on an inflatable bed. I was friends with Natalie already, and with all of the other ”siblings” so living there was not hard at all. Not all of them were living there when I did, only Trevor, Gabe, Kyle, Claire and Natalie. I still consider them to be my family.
It was nice to stay at Natalie’s room because as an exchange student, she understood how I felt, she also felt homesick sometimes, she got frustrated with host family related issues, etc. It was, and it still is, good to talk to her because we went through the same things. She even dated an American guy, too. So we still talk about how hard it is to be back home etc.

In December I came back to Brazil for 14 days, to spend Christmas with my family. My grandma was very sick and I didn’t want to be far from her around Christmas time.
I was still dating Dylan, so when I was here, I called him on Skype a lot. Skype was one of the most important parts of my years abroad. It makes being far, a little easier.
I went back to Cali to spend New Year’s Eve with my friends there, and it was really fun. After that, I went to a new family (which was actually the one that was supposed to be my family when I FIRST got in California…).

The family was a couple: Jack and Elena. No kids. Two dogs. They took me in, made me feel at home right away. Elena is from Argentina, so we already had the South American thing in common. Jack is a smart guy with a lot of stories to tell. He, unlike the rest of the families I lived with, gave me a lot of freedom and not a lot of rules (except for calling him to let him know I was alright, sometimes :). Once I was at Dylan’s (which was literally one block away) and it started raining. I fell asleep and when I woke up it was 5 am. I was so desperate, I ran back home thinking Jack would be furious.
When I opened the door, Jack was already awake, on the computer, and he turned to me and said ”Good morning dear!”
He wasn’t mad, in fact, he told me ”You’re not a kid anymore. You’re 18. If an 18 year-old can go to war and shoot guns, you’re free to do what you want.” That was the end of it.
I think Jack was like that, and understood me the most because he had lived in Brazil for years, earlier in his life, and he loved the country. He loves it, actually. So he understands how Brazilians are. And it was very good to live there. I loved listening to all his stories, talking to Elena, I even loved the dogs: Copernicus and Eloisa (who died last year :( ) .

The year I lived at Jack and Elena’s house was very different from my past year in Pacifica. I was more independent and treated like I was an adult not just an exchange student.

Jack was always extremely dedicated to my likes. He knew that I liked movies and old movies, mostly, and he was always talking to me about those things.
Who knows me, knows I have this big addiction in…Frank Sinatra.
So Jack took me to CalNeva, a casino that Frank used to own. One of the best days of my life.

 

 

Being an exchange student is NOT easy. But it is, without a doubt, the best time of your life.

 

My German sister, Natalie and my American sister, Claire.

 

 

Bla bla bla…why?

No matter where I am, Brazil is and will always be HOME.

I just wanted to explain why I am posting about my life in California. I think it’s extremely important that I do that because I changed after I lived there. I became someone completely different, in a good way. So telling everyone what the process was, how I handled homesickness, heartbreak, death, a bunch of families….that’s essential in order to understand why and how I changed. That’s where all the traveling began. Hosting people who are traveling. My need to WANDER.
So, be patient, the cool posts about awesome countries and people will come…but let’s look at this first posts as a baby starting to crawl. :)

And, about this wanderlust…I’ll post my favorite ”message” about traveling. The writer is called Amyr Klink, and he is a Brazilian sailor (and writer, duuh!).

A man needs to travel. By his means, not by stories, images, books or TV. By his own, with his eyes and feet, to understand what is his. For some day planting his own trees and giving them some value. To know the cold for enjoying the heat. To feel the distance and lack of shelter for being well under his own roof. A man needs to travel to places he doesn’t know for breaking this arrogance that causes us to see the world as we imagine it, and not simply as it is or may be. That makes us teachers and doctors of what we have never seen, when we should just be learners, and simply go see it.”
—- Amyr Klink 

So all I have to say is: reading travel blogs and hearing other people’s stories about their travels is great. But save some money and go SEE it, go meet the World. It’s great out there! :)

 

About Amyr Klink : http://www.amyrklink.com.br/ 

 

The Expendables – Sacrifice

This is the song that makes me think of my life in California. I used to walk on the beach listening to this, for hours!

Video

Love at first sight (or almost) (PART II)

”Those girls, later, became sisters to me. We didn’t go to the same school since I had a different visa than they did. They went to the ”cool” public school while I went to the boring Christian one (which wasn’t that boring. At least not all the time).
But we still talked a lot, laughed a lot, went places together, hung out with the other exchange students etc. It made my first months in a new country a lot easier and I am very grateful for them.”

I lived at Orton’s house for about two months. Again, I was not supposed to stay there, so meanwhile, I was looking for a new family to host me. I did enjoy living there even though I did have a few problems with Orton and his wife. A few big ones, too. But I will always appreciate everything they did for me. Orton was the one who told me I should apply for college there, helped through most of the process etc.

In February, was Alma Heights’ winter retreat, to Dodge Ridge. It was the fist time I saw snow in my life–where I live in Brazil, is pretty cold, but the last time it snowed I wasn’t even born yet. So when we were all in the bus and I saw the first snow flake fall, I had to try really hard not to act all stupid and overexcited, especially since everyone there had seen snow,  they had snowboarded, had snow fights etc.
I was excited, though. I thought it was simply beautiful. Everything was white, shiny… It sounds silly but it made me really happy.
Well, I obviously did not have a lot of snow gear, really warm clothes, snow boots…I was absolutely unprepared for that trip. My friend Lucy was the one who acted all mom-like and gave a beanie, let me use her boots, a jacket, layers…everything I needed. That was my favorite thing about the people from Alma: they did not know how to be anything but nice. And believe me, when you are all by yourself, sometimes all you need is someone to make you feel safe, comfortable…like you’ve been friends forever. Lucy, Tati, Claire, Sara, Joy, Pei, Esther…they were those kind of people, they treated me like I was their best friend, not as if I was just some exchange student. I still talk to them, and miss them a lot.
At this retreat, we had some activities (religious activities) like reading the bible, singing songs about Jesus and God and sharing how they have made a difference in our lives. The thing is… I am not religious. My entire family is Catholic, like most of Brazil, but I just don’t believe in anything. I do respect  who does, though, I really do. I did all the activities, shared experiences, talked, asked questions about the things I didn’t understand and it ended up being an amazing experience. I heard people’s stories, their reasons to believe in God and it was very emotional for everyone. They shared things that hurt them in the past, they were trusting everyone there, and that touched me, too. The girls, my friends, they told me stories about their lives and all I could think of was ”How are they always smiling? This girls are amazing!”.

After this specific activity where everyone cried and hugged, I got a little more emotional than I usually get, when I watched everyone call their parents to say hi, tell them how the retreat was… I had no one to call. Orton, his wife and Marilyn were in Hawaii, Martina was at a friend’s house… and my family was all the way in Brazil. That’s more than 6 thousand miles from Dodge Ridge. I felt so lost, so lonely….Everyone was super nice, hugged me, asked if I needed anything, but I just didn’t know how to explain what it was that I was feeling. That’s when the art teacher, Esther, came to talk to me. It was all so quick, we talked for two minutes and she told me she had already spoken to her husband and at that exact moment, he was cleaning the guest room at their house, for me to live there!!! I was shocked, it was a big mix of emotions. I was extremely happy, of course, but then I remembered I had to talk to Orton when I got back to Pacifica, and I wasn’t sure I knew what to say. But I decided that I was not going to think about that, at least not till the retreat was over. So I enjoyed every second, made amazing friends, had the best time….I had finally found a host family!

 

Eva (exchange student from Albania) and Esther (my host mom) and the blonde...me!

 

Tati, me, Lucy! Most amazing girls ever!

Me and Sara and the beautiful SNOW!!!!

 

More about Cali in the next posts :)

MAKE YOUR BUCKET LIST DREAMS A REALITY

MAKE YOUR BUCKET LIST DREAMS A REALITY.

 

Go read about it!

Great idea!

 

Love at first sight (or almost) (PART I)

In 2009 I moved to a city called Pacifica in California. It is 20 minutes away from San Francisco.
I first went as an exchange student, to study at a Christian high school (which made no sense since I had graduated HS already here in Brazil).
I was supposed to be there for 6-8 months and ended up staying a little longer (almost 2 years).

Going to California was a big deal for me because of a series of reasons.

First and most important of them was that when I was 15, I went to my first exchange program. It was the biggest dream of my life, living in the USA, doing American things, going to an American high school… I started learning English when I was only 7-8 years old and going to class was my favorite activity. I am dead serious.

So when the opportunity came up for me to go live one year abroad, I took it. I was young and silly, and even though I am only 20 now, it feels like I’ve grown so much…learned so much…

I was way too excited about this travel and I wasn’t prepared for it, even though i thought I was, at the time.

All my friends went to the airport to say goodbye, they brought letters, signs, we all cried…
And instead of staying in Grand Junction (Colorado) for the 10 months I meant to, I ended up staying only 2 months and a half.
What happened? Well, that’s a whole new story and it needs its own post, so let’s just leave it for another day.

Grand Junction - Colorado.

Anyways, back to California.

One year after the whole Colorado let down, I decided to try again, to go back to the US.
This time, a lot more prepared, more mature, with a lot less expectations. A bit more cynical.

So it was January 2009, and no one went to the airport this time (besides my beautiful family, of course)  and I was 100% okay with that. I didn’t cry. I was calm. Happy.

And there I went,  took my boarding pass, my carry-on, my Mickey shaped pillow, hugged my parents and family, took a deep breath (after my mom reminded me to ”keep breathing” because, believe it or not, I do forget to sometimes…)  and said to myself before going through the airport security: ” Don’t look back”.

And I didn’t.

When I first got to the San Francisco International Airport, at 1:30AM, I saw a sign that said, in Portuguese, ‘welcome Luah!’ (Bem-vinda, Luah!). Who was holding it was an extremely tall girl called Martina. She was an exchange student from Italy.

She explained to me that the family who was supposed to pick me up so I could stay at their house, wouldn’t be able to do so–neither picking me up nor hosting me.
It surprised me, of course. So I stayed at the house Martina was staying at. It was the coordinator’s house (from the exchange program agency). His name was Orton and his wife’s, Marylin.

I went to my new room, after chatting a little with Orton and Martina, and went to sleep. Jet-lagged, homesick, scared.

On the next day, I met Orton’s wife and the other exchange student, Merve, from Turkey.

Those girls, later, became sisters to me. We didn’t go to the same school since I had a different visa than they did. They went to the ”cool” public school while I went to the boring Christian one (which wasn’t that boring. At least not all the time).
But we still talked a lot, laughed a lot, went places together, hung out with the other exchange students etc. It made my first months in a new country a lot easier and I am very grateful for them.

THIS IS TOO LONG ALREADY, so I’ll post photos and finish the story later tonight or tomorrow :)

View from my first home in Pacifica

Spirit week - Alma Heights Christian Academy

BBQ at the beach

First snow of my life :)

 

Making drinks is an art!

LA FAMILLE .

In August 2011 I decided to go to Paris by myself. I had gotten some money from my grandma and all I could possibly want to spend it with was traveling.

I will talk more about this travel later on, about Couchsurfing etc.

I went to this bar with a couple of friends, close to where I was staying at. We walked up a big hill after we had already spent all day walking around…I was almost tired when my friend pointed to a black door and said ”This is it!”. At first, I’ll admit, I didn’t think it would be anything really special…but it’s just one of those places….kind of like, I don’t know, Narnia???

This one guy, Houcine, he’s behind the counter, and at first you think he’s making just a normal cocktail, but if you look carefully you’ll see so many different ”ingredients” like liquid nitrogen, tiny bowls filled with candy and chocolate, basil leaves….for a drink?

Yes.

I decided to get a Mojito. But it was a basil mango mojito.

I think that the fact that Houcine puts so much effort into this one cup of mojito (or any other amazing drink), is what makes it special. And honestly, absolutely delicious. The bar is called La Famille and it has a calm, fun environment; A great place to go with friends, spend a few hours trying all kinds of cocktails Houcine majestically creates.

The best part is that he is just the nicest guy, he goes up to your table and asks if everything is good ( modesty, huh!), suggests you try this drink, or that one…and he is always smiling.

On the way out, there were two things that called my attention:

1. Houcine offers a tiny little shot of  some sort of icee drink with that candy that explodes in your mouth, and it’s so much fun. (By then, everyone was drunk and it was more fun than it would normally be, I’m guessing…)

2. The small arcade Pac-Man machine. They say you’re supposed to drink at least 3 cocktails before playing it. You have three shots… I’m not sure what you get if you win because i obviously did not. haha

It was a great experience. Besides, you get to hear all that french and I don’t know about you, but it just makes me so happy…. it’s so…sexy. Haha

This is the address and phone, in case you are planning on going to Paris soon. It’s a MUST do.

Seriously.

41 Rue Des Trois Frères

Paris, Ile-de-France

(14) 252-1112

Aside

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