I mentioned in this post of my expat memoirs that Belinda hosted a couch surfer in our piso for a couple days. It was such a lovely experience hosting Tram from Vietnam and getting to know some things about her and her culture. Belinda is an active couch surfer and utilizes it a lot while traveling. Both of us wanted to go to Extremadura for a short weekend trip. We also both didn’t want to spend a lot of money and it was a bit of a last minute trip so what did we do… we couch surfed!
Yes, sorry not to tell you, mom, but I spent a weekend on the couches of random strangers in western Spain. Okay, but honestly, I felt like I had the best first-time couch surfing experience. So, what is couch surfing? It’s when locals host travelers in their homes for free for a short amount of time. It’s a free place to sleep for a couple nights but it can be so much more than that. It’s about sharing a common experience with others and meeting new people of different backgrounds.
Of course, there are right and wrong ways to go about couch surfing. To be fair, I am not really involved in the couch surfing scene. One of the pillars of couch surfing is to give back and host other people at your own place. I’ve never had my own place to be able to do this and before living in Córdoba, I have never lived in a desirable enough area where others would want to stay on my couch. Besides the fact that I’m a scaredy cat.
The whole theme of this trip was about meeting people. We interacted with so many locals and Spaniards between our couch surfing hosts and the BlaBlaCars we took, a carpooling app. I seriously got to practice my Spanish with all these interactions. And doing something like this really proves that people are good at heart.
One of the reasons I really wanted to go to Extremadura (and specifically Mérida) was because the teacher that recommended this program to me was an auxiliar in Mérida! Extremadura is the westernmost autonomous region of Spain. It borders Portugal and is generally known for its agriculture. It also has a sad history of being one of the poorest regions of Spain. Extremadura is home to some of the oldest cities and tourism in these areas is slowly growing because it’s home to many Roman structures. I don’t have many cool photos from the trip. The time of year that we went was just not the season for eye-catching pictures.
Belinda and I arrived in the early afternoon and got lunch. It was so good it was insane! Or maybe it was because I was so hungry. Our couch surfing host for Friday night was Jose Luis who meet us after lunch for a beer and a tapa. And that tapa happened to be pig’s tongue! Trying it was actually not too bad. The texture was definitely off-putting but the sauce was good.
Our host went home since he had just finished a long day of work and Belinda and I explored Mérida. We really only had this half a day since the next day we had a ride to Cáceres. We had no plans; we just were organically wandering the quiet streets. Mérida is an ancient city founded by the Romans. Much of the Roman architecture remains and remains in great shape. Mérida has aqueducts, a temple, and the best preserved Roman amphitheater and theater.
Jose Luis didn’t just have a couch for us to sleep on but our own beds, in our own room. It was way nicer than most hostels I’ve stayed in. As a thanks to our host, we cooked dinner for all of us. He had some of his friends over and we all got chatting and listened to music and felt at home in his place.
The next morning our carpool to Cáceres was with a student and we got to know her on our two hour ride to our next city in Extremadura. Cáceres is another Roman city with intact Roman structures as well as medieval streets, Gothic and Renaissance buildings, and, even, Moorish walls.
In Cáceres we stayed with Antonio, a Cáceres native who is also a history major at university. He meet us and showed us all around, explaining the history and fun facts as we went. The old city is just quaint and picturesque with its cobble stoned streets and old brick.
Later that afternoon Antonio even drove us to Trujillo to see another pretty town with a castle at the top. The castle was closed for siesta so instead we walked the town, seeing all the high end restaurants full of tourists drinking wine and children playing in the square. We didn’t stay for very long since we were all feeling a bit tired after walking around all day.
Belinda and I were treated like queens. We didn’t have to couch surf; we had our own room with our own beds! His piso was spotless too. We cooked dinner for our host and ourselves. Cooking allowed us for another way to save money and treat our host who is letting us stay for with them for free. The least we can do is provide a meal (and maybe some leftovers).
On our carpool ride back to Córdoba, we were accompanied by husband and wife musicians and a wine taster. I learned something new as she called herself an oenologist. She said it in Spanish and we translated in not knowing what it was. However, we didn’t even know what oenologist was in English. So she had to explain that it dealt with wine. She mostly instructs waiters and restaurant owners how to pair wine with different food. Talk about a dream job!
Overall, I’d say my first experience with couch surfing was a success. I don’t think I would ever do it on my own. I know that the concept of couch surfing can be daunting and uncomfortable. But stepping away from your comfort zone can be so rewarding! I think my first experience was such a success because of a couple factors. First, traveling with Belinda, an expert couch surfer, knows exactly how to handle any situation and knows how to navigate finding good hosts. Second, the region we traveled to, Extremadura, has more tight knit communities and is kind to strangers.
Couch surfing allowed me to learn so much and get a different perspective on the places we visited compared to being a regular tourist. Many hosts, like Jose Luis, are long time couch surfers and huge proponents of the idea. Safety is always my number one priority so if you decide to give couch surfing a go, make sure to send information about where you are staying with a friend. We saved money, meet cool people, and had an authentic experience learning from locals.
This was the trip of meeting interesting and friendly people. I’m an awkward person who likes to hid behind my computer, my camera, or my sewing machine so this definitely got me make rich connections with people. And I’m glad I did it! Have you ever couch surfed? Do you think it’s crazy or crazy awesome?