A Travellerspoint blog

A Compass to Guide You

Southeast to Northwest

May this compass guide you as you set out toward your shared horizon.
Let the north anchor you, the southern winds fill your sail,
The eastern sun warm you, and the western waters renew you.
Follow your path with hands joined and this compass always by your side.

I’ve always loved maps. When we’d move to a new city, my favorite thing to do besides cry about missing my friends was look at all of the cities where we were going. The best move in terms of map fun was to Naples, Florida, because all of the cities nearby have cool names, like Bonita Springs and Sanibel Island. I’m not good at reading maps, however. I’ve lived in the same state in Mexico for four years and I really have no idea what states are around me; not because of ignorance, but because I just don’t remember the relation of one place to another at all.

Travel has always been a part of me, and when I decided to get married I knew I had to be with someone that had the same interest in travel. We even incorporated that concept in our wedding ceremony, asking our fabulous friends at Casa HOY to be our “compass padrinos” (in Mexico they have a godparent or sponsor for many aspects of the celebration). They wrote this lovely blessing above, and we are going to carry the message and the compass with us on our journey.

On our trip we will be working from the south eastern part of the country to the north western part of the country, working our way across rivers and beaches, mountains and deserts. We are following a route similar to the one Casa HOY founders Katy and Gerardo also did, but backwards. Hopefully we won’t actually have to use the compass, since my Boy Scout lessons have long been forgotten, but it will always be a reminder to that we are on the same path, walking towards the same horizon.

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Posted by UnMejorHOY 14:33 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

CouchSurfing

A Hospitality Network

My husband and I are starting, hopefully, a project about alternative travel. I’ve begun this blog, Rice and Beans, Alternative Travel, and we’re putting together questions and situations that will help us research this idea of how to travel in a world with not only rising airfares but also environmental and social issues. CouchSurfing is part of our experiment, although I am quickly understanding that it is a lifestyle. We have our first Couch Surfing date with a woman and her family in Montevideo, Uruguay on the second day of our trip. So I still can’t give you my experience yet, but in this post I want to explain the concept and share some Couch Surfers’ opinions.

I first heard of CouchSurfing when I started college, back in 2004ish. About the same time when Facebook came out. At the time I thought it was an interesting idea, but way too sketchy. In fact, when Casa HOY director Gerardo suggested that we check out CouchSurfing for our trip, all I could think of was yes, I like alternative travel and backpacking and all, but you really want me to sleep on someone’s couch, someone that’s not even a friend of a friend of a friend? But that’s what we do here at Casa HOY- you meet someone, you make a connection, and before you know it you’re planning a trip to bring a group of college kids to sleep on their floor. So I guess CouchSurfing isn’t much different. And after looking at the website, I realized that CouchSurfing has grown exponentially- there are thousands of members and people have dozens or even hundreds of recommendations.

So how do you get started? I’m going to be traveling, so right now I’m “surfing” and not “hosting.” You can make any kind of connection- sleep, host, get a coffee or go for a bike ride. You fill out your profile, add pictures, plan your trip, etc. After you meet up, you leave feedback, positive, negative or neutral. The more positive recommendations you have, the more likely you’ll be able to host or surf. There’s a whole lot more going on, but that’s the basic gist.

Now it’s been a few weeks and I’ve written at least 20 people in each city where we’re traveling, but I haven’t gotten more than one or two replies, and only one positive. Since I’m bringing my hubby along, I wasn’t really looking for a friend, just a floor for my sleeping bag. I was copying and pasting the little blurb I wrote about our trip plans and who we were so that people wouldn’t think we were weirdos. But apparently I wasn’t fully understanding the concept. While some people want to use CouchSurfing as a free hostel, or maybe even a dating site, the majority of the members have quite a different philosophy.

CouchSurfing is about meaningful connection. You don’t pick someone because they’re close to a subway station, but instead because they like spicy food, too, or secretly enjoy knitting. To me, so far, it still seems like a trivial link to look for, because I think you can still have an amazing conversation/time with someone even if you have few common interests. I mean, just because I like green salsa and love reading Harry Potter doesn’t mean we’ll enjoy each other’s company. But who knows.

After looking at enough women’s profiles to make me feel like I’m sneaking through the classifieds, I realized that the key to getting accepted is actually taking the time to read a profile. Now, I haven’t looked at any men’s profiles, so maybe it’s just a female thing? The whole, I want you to “know” me? Maybe with guys it’s just if they like your picture and from there on it doesn’t matter. (Note to self, update picture). Some quotes to express women’s ideas (caps already in quote): “I WILL NOT REPLY to people who [write] messages like spam, (who just copy and paste them),” “… [if you] took time to read about me,” and “I'M NOT A HOSTEL!!!!!!!!!!!”

These are just some reminders to travelers who, like me, think they’re getting a free ride.

I get it. I’m getting it.

I’ve redone my profile, updating all the cool things about me, like that I stand on one leg when I cook and I silently correct everything you say in Spanish or English because I can’t get rid of the annoying teacher in me. I’ve started thinking about the things I can share, and what I can teach, and what I hope to learn on this trip. It feels like homework, but it’s getting me in the correct mindset to take on this kind of project and travel. It’s no longer about a safe space to leave my crap while I go gallivanting around the city; it’s about teaching an Argentine all the great Mexican slang, learning about social issues in Bolivia and sharing chores at a house in Peru.

Just like Casa HOY, CouchSurfing is about a cultural exchange. It’s about the idea that travel changes you; you might not realize it, it might not be immediate, but it will happen. Travel opens your mind, changes your perspective, inspires you, reunites you, challenges you and most important of all, connects you to the world.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 16:07 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

Inspiration for Travel

El Camino, the book, thoughts

“The goal is the path” – Shirley MacLaine. I haven’t written about a book since college. But fortunately I’ve been able to read a ton in the month that I’ve been living at Casa HOY. Gerardo, the director, recommend that I read “El Camino,” a book by Shirley MacLaine about the Camino, a pilgrimage done in northern Spain. While this trip is not spiritually focused by any means, travel always offers life altering experiences if you are open to them. Our path only has a beginning and an end, like all paths do. We’re starting in Montevideo, Uruguay, and ending in Lima, Peru. The only difference is that this path has a million and one different options in between, and we’ve only planned out the first week. That is our goal.

“The true courage of individualism is the ability to follow one’s passion.” This trip to South America is for our honeymoon. It’s been years of dreaming and planning individually, before we met, and getting married didn’t make it any easier. Following the passions of two people, while frustratingly conflictive, has a way of working itself out. Our secret, in our four months of marriage and four years together, is to ask each other the question, what would you do if you were single? Maybe that’s bad advice, but that’s what got the planning for this trip back on its feet: combining our two passions.

People rarely sit down to ask themselves what they really want. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. We get so caught up in what we’re supposed to do, trusting that eventually we’ll get a vacation to have our way with life. Most of my lovely friends are following that idea blindly, but my husband and I are fleeing. Originally we were going to take the trip because I have a job interview in Buenos Aires, but when I really thought about it, my current dream is to visit another country. Maybe I’ll get a job in the process, but the passion is travel.

“I… developed an attachment not only to my body, which provided my identity, but also to material objects around me, which gave me social status and personal esteem in a physical world.” Planning for this trip has made me go through my belongings over and over again. Firstly, to decide what the most important things are that I’d want to have with me if we decide to stay in South America, and secondly, to determine what we don’t need when we’re trekking for 8 hours. Talk about a rough time packing. I can’t solve the dilemma: do I carry only have hiking boots, which I’d have to use for my interview, or risk lugging my 3 lb. sexy boots on the Inca Trail? Four years out of college, and I still haven’t decided whether I want to be a hippie and forget the world, or desperately be a part of it.

“The only journey worth taking is the journey within” – Yeats. How do you take a journey within when you have someone by your side? Someone that’s supposed to be your partner for life? Sometimes it is hard to find the space and time to do something alone. Plus I got married at 25, just making the cut-off point for the new “okay” age to get married. Three months earlier and all of my college-educated friends would have sighed and lamented how I was throwing away my life. You really should take that journey within before you take the journey with someone else. Or, you can be really lucky, like I was, to find someone that was willing to walk hand in hand while we both took that journey within together.

All right, so that was my weirdo book report. You should read “El Camino” if you want something wackier. It does have its moments, but overall it’s a book that makes you ponder life, as all good books should. Casa HOY was inspired by a trip to South America, and in planning our trip we have created Rice and Beans, Alternative Travel, which is going to be a media compilation of our journey together. See, even the thought of travel can change the world.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 19:14 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

Hiking Boots for a Not Much Hiking Trip

The Shoes

The shoes were the first thing to buy on our list. Luckily for my personality, Cuernavaca, Mexico, the town where I currently live, doesn’t offer much to choose from. There’s a store or two downtown and a few ridiculously overpriced places at the mall that have hiking boots. We scoured amazon.com and other websites before committing to the poor selection in Mexico, realizing that the prices are pretty much the same. The word “hike” in English translates to “to walk up” in Spanish, and at least here in Cuernavaca, women are known to “walk up” just about everywhere in a pair of heels. It wasn’t until we said we were going to Machu Picchu that shoe store owners finally understood.

So what shoes do you wear on a two month trip that’s going to take you from winter to the tropics, beaches to mountains and sea-level to the highest navigable lake in the world? I’m slightly against the backpacking stereotype of zip off pants, Nalgene water bottles (yes, I know they’re fabulous) and Northface everything (again, I know it’s awesome, I must be jealous or something). I just feel like, how the heck are you going to even pretend to fit in to a culture if you look like you came out of a Nickelodeon family vacation movie?? But I was told by everyone that the shoes were essential, so I went back and forth between the two stores downtown, driving store owners mad, until I finally made a decision.

I got a pair of Merrell boots (for men, might I add) with Vibram soles, what “professionals” wear, as recommended by my aunt and uncle who hike on a monthly basis. Who knows if the style I chose was actually good or not, but once I started breaking them in I decided it was the best decision after buying the plane ticket. I have dainty, weak ankles, and knees that pop and crack like I’m 85, so I got boots that covered my ankle and that basically felt like I was wearing a pillow on my feet. Pillow-like wasn’t helpful the first few days when I knocked over dog food bowls and kicked potted plants, and tripped down the stairs several times. Once I got the knack of it I was skipping up and down our cobblestone road and jumping through mud puddles. Boy these shoes are FUN.

I decided, although I may change my mind in the next week, because that’s what I do, to bring two other pairs of shoes. I’m bringing my sexy Johnny Depp pirate boots, in case I possibly get a job interview or want to look less mannish, and of course, a pair of flip-flops. I still say that flip-flops are the best shoes in the world; they have yet to fail me. If you’re still on the fence about getting hiking boots for a backpacking trip, don’t think twice. They don't look half bad with a dress.

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Posted by UnMejorHOY 20:25 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

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