Thursday, 8 January 2009

Couchsurfers coming up from the underground

Is it me? It the time of year? Or are there really more couchsurfers than ever in Argentina?

When I was on my Going Local trip last year - meeting locals while staying in a mix of hostels and homestays - the times I crossed paths with other travelling couchsurfers were rare. Occasionally we'd meet when staying with a particularly active host, who organised multiple meet-ups, but, generally, it seemed like a behind-the-scenes community, going on quite apart from the hostel scene.

However, since arriving in Argentina, every other traveller seems to be a couchsurfer, or part-time couchsurfer. I met at least four while staying in a hostel in Cordoba - all had failed to get a host because the student city was in the middle of exam period. Then, in Buenos Aires, I soon met another three: one in a bar, one in my hostel and one friend-of-a-friend, who used's BA forum board to find his houseshare - with a fabulous terrace where I ended up seeing in the new year (pictured).

Argentina is certainly a good place for a Couchsurfer to be. Aside from the obvious attractions (the steak, the wine, the culture, the diversity of landscape), it is also within the top 25 Couchsurfing countries (with nearly 9,000 members), while Buenos Aires is in the top 20 cities.

The BA Couchsurfing forum is quite simply fantastic for any new arrival in the city and yet, refreshingly, it is not just the domain of expats. Most of the regular users are Argentinean and seem to have limitless enthusiasm for new arrivals in their capital. On NYE they posted a hugely helpful list of suggestions of what to do in the city, including open invites for house parties and a camping gathering on the delta. Today I noticed a post from a Canadian newcomer asking how safe BA is for cyclists. Within no time, she received a string of helpful responses, including an offer of a personal bike tour.

I met a lot of these great people back in July and now I'm going to be staying in Buenos Aires for the foreseeable future I must admit that knowing about this forum has really taken the edge of any fear about not meeting people or getting homesick. I've already joined them for their regular Monday outing to an incredible percussion night called La Bomba del Tiempo and am sure this was the first of many for me.

However, here's hoping the balance is kept. Everyone that utilises the goodwill of such forumites should be willing to give something back to the community to keep it going and not just pop in to use it as some sort of nuevo Craigslist. I'm hoping that once I am more settled I can help out some newcomers to the city and, in one way or another, some locals too. My first mission: to find a way to get some specialist books from the UK over to a friend I met via I've had no shortage of folks back home expressing a desire to visit, so hopefully it won't take long.