Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Lesson On Trust

I was raised to be weary of strangers. I was taught to be cautious in receiving help from others  and trained to be overly paranoid that this somehow placed me at a disadvantage in a relationship. All this became irrelevant when I chose to enter into a couchsurfing relationship.

CouchSurfing International‘s mission is to “Create Inspiring Experiences” by – you guessed it – facilitating your stay on a stranger’s couch (or other sleeping arrangement).

My first couchsurfing experience occurred in Vienna, Austria. E&I knew this trip would be on the expensive end of our budget so we  sought to find ways to cut costs. I set up a couchsurfing account and messaged a few hosts but because my profile was new, I was turned down more than once. Running out of time, I posted a blurb on CS Group: Last Minute Couch Search – Vienna. Our host responded with a request for us to check out his profile and ‘policy’ for hosting. After some short introductions, we set and confirmed a time and place to meet.

This is where the little voices from my childhood jumped in – You don’t know this person. He could be dangerous. He could rob you. Haven’t you heard of travelers getting murdered? Etc…

And, I imagine our host may have had some small voices as well – You don’t know them. They could be dangerous. They could rob you. Haven’t you heard of travelers coming to stay with their hosts and murdering them? Etc…

Thank goodness we all ignored those voices. We stayed at our host’s home for several days. We cooked together, explored the city, attended the Opera and had an overall amazing time. So much so that when we came back through Vienna after our two weeks traveling, we stayed with him again.

That is what is so amazing about CouchSurfing and other travel hosting organizations. They facilitate the meaningful interactions that we all look for in our travels and reaffirm the truth that “strangers are just people who are not yet friends”.

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Border Crossings

Crossing borders can be intimidating. This is especially true when – you have been traveling for twelve hours; you are crossing into a country where you do not speak the language; the sun is due to set in the next hour; and, you have not yet determined where you are headed for the night.

E&I had a plan for when we landed in Belize. We would share a taxi cab to save $ on the ride into town. We would book it to catch the last express bus to take us straight to Flores where we would head to bed early in order to wake up for the early morning tour of Tikal.

It did not go as planned.

We found a nice couple to share the taxi ride into town but when the taxi driver discovered we were not friends, we received a stern lecture on how this took advantage of taxi drivers who needed to make money. What we had expected to be a pleasant drive became awkward as our new taxi companions tried to convince the driver that we would be generous tippers. He looked at our grimy backpacks and ignored them. I didn’t blame him.

Twenty minutes later, we arrived at our bus terminal anxious to leave Belize City only to discover the last express bus for the day had left. Our options were – stay in Belize City; head to Caye Caulker for sun and sand; or, take the local bus to the border. The last option was greatly discouraged by the bus station employees as they warned us the local bus would take NINE hours! We decided to try our luck.

A few quick exchanges for directions and we were on the bus to Benque Viejo. The bus ride took 4 hours and cost us $4 (total!). We had no idea where we were when we arrived in Benque Viejo. We had not planned to travel in Belize so had neglected to bring a guide book for the country. We (naturally) decided it would be wise to walk in the direction everyone else was headed and that the border must not be too far away. A taxi driver took pity on us and drove us the 2+ miles to the border (for $2!) We paid the exit fees, passed through customs, walked across the border, stopped at immigration and arrived in Guatemala just as the sun was setting.

The Lonely Planet – Guatemala guided us to Rio Mopan Lodge, steps from the border, where we settled in for the night satisfied that the day went just as planned.

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