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Colours of the Wind

Couchsurfing Encounters

FRANCE | Saturday, 30 March 2013 | Views [457]

"For f*ck's sake!" suddenly erupted downstairs.

Julia and I were huddled on the floor of a loft, our noses braced against the roof and a window screen Ralph controlled from his remote control. At 10pm we had fled into our sleeping bags as he clicked off the lights and swallowed us up in pitch black. He slept below, and at 2am suddenly started shrieking. Terrified, Julia hid her glowing mobile phone and the flat elapsed back into silence.

We had arrived in Bordeaux hidden in a train toilet. It was the first stop on our way to begin the grape-picking season, only to find out we were on the wrong side of France. “You’ll never make it in time.” Ralph sneered.

He had met us at the station to drop off keys and left for basketball practise. A plate of cookies greeted us at his apartment and we exhaled in relief. Couch-surfing is a strange contract. Meeting the stranger on whose generosity you will depend is an odd experience. You regard each other aloofly- wondering if the other person will be weird, nice or a serial killer.  “He must be a cool guy.” I repeated to Louise. She had nodded in agreement.

But as he scowled audibly beneath us, my stomach flipped.

We had already spent one week in Paris with our first host, Jean. A handsome French man verging on middle-aged, who lived centrally and worked for Microsoft. But besides a table, coffee machine and fold-out couch, his flat was empty. Jean sent directions by mail and assured us the door would be open, “I don’t lock it. There is nothing to steal.”  

We were greeted by two other couch-surfers. Romanian Catina and Turkish Betul had already been crashing rent-free for months. By the time Julia and I left, we would share Jean’s floor with an American drifter and four more Polish girls.  

“When I go abroad for work trips I couch-surf a lot, so when I’m home I pay back the community." Jean explained as we picnicked at a local park. "Besides it’s a waste to keep such a big flat to myself, I’m always at work anyway.”

“Have you ever had bad experiences?”

“Once a Slovakian guy locked me out and was gone until 3am. All my things were in his flat and I had to catch a plane in the morning.”

 “You’re lucky your first host is Jean,” Catina had warned us, “I’ve stayed with some really strange people. Jean’s lifestyle is a bit strange- but he’s a good person.”

As Julia and I exchanged terrified looks on the floor of a loft in Bordeaux, I wondered if we were safe.


Tags: american, bordeaux, couchsurfing, paris, polish, romanian, turkish

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