To view a larger version of the pictures, click once on a picture in the gallery at the bottom of the post.
This is a lesson in keeping old contacts alive; you never know when someone may come back from the past to mutual benefit! Five years ago Sebastian was responsible for one of the best days of my life when he guided my friend Fabian and I up the side of the Villarrica volcano in the lake district of Chile. He recently graduated from medical school and came up to the States to take a course in wilderness medicine. After the course was finished he contacted me to see if I would like to take a road trip to the Grand Canyon and then…wherever the wind blew us! Heck ya! I find being so spontaneous difficult in this time when I’m taking care of my Mom, but a whole week of days like the one I had in Chile was too good to pass up. I won’t bore you with the arcane details of the trip. A map, a few side notes, and the pictures. I must thank Sebastian for what has to be the best picture of me taken in my whole life which you see at left. Craig, the weather wizard, conjuring up a storm over the Grand Canyon!
Our 1910 Mile Journey
Couchsurfing is a new concept made possible by the internet. The idea is simple. The traveler thinks: instead of paying money for a hotel and being alone, maybe there is someone in this town that knows about the area, loves to meet new people, and has a spare place to sleep and get clean? The host thinks: I’d love to hear the travel tales of people visiting my city, I’m not doing anything Tuesday night, and I have that spare bed…plus, if I make a good reputation as a host, maybe I’ll find places to stay when I travel! It’s like online dating for travelers.
A few friends of mine have couchsurfed and a few have hosted. They had few complaints and some successes. When Sebastian suggested we do this our first night out, I was wary. Is it safe? What if the conditions are really very much less than ideal? Can you just say “…uh, I don’t think this is going to work..”? Well, we headed to Mikhael’s place in Flagstaff and I was dumbstruck. She had a separate Mother-in-Law apartment which was immaculate. The bathroom was stocked with spare toiletries and Starbuck’s coffee; beautiful cards for things to meditate on. She invited us in for a selection of teas and heart to heart conversation. Then, to top it off, she wrote both Sebastian and I thoughtfully composed personal notes which we found outside of the door when we left. ( !!!! ) The next night, however, the experience was more aligned with my original expectations. I had suspicions when we drove up to a neighborhood of chain linked fences in the front yards. The nice woman who had invited us ate organically, but, hmmm, not so sanitarily from my estimation. There was dog hair everywhere. But the real kicker, extremely amusing in retrospect, was her extremely detailed tale of the time she got worms. Sebastian later told me that he had found a tick. Considering my experience in Belize with insects that lust for me, I was surprised nothing bit me.
What’s my couchsurfing verdict? I’m all for it! It’s a very adventurous way to travel. And isn’t that what this life really is – an adventure? We have to create some stories to tell! Some grist for the mill.
On my trip to New Zealand I experienced the radical notion of not necessarily having a hotel room booked in advance. On this trip, we really didn’t know where we were going. Ever get in your car and just drive with only a vague notion of some things you’d like to see? It’s freedom! A day or two into the trip, Sebastian mentions that he’d like to go to Denver to meet this friend of a friend to mountain bike with. I thought of my friends Alli and Zach who live in Boulder. I give them a call and they say “Come on over!”. It was, what?, a mere 750 miles out of our way? Except, it’s all about the journey. On our way to Boulder, Sebastian had the excellent experience of being stopped for speeding by a Utah cop, we explored the mountains around Grand Junction, went to the world’s largest outdoor thermal baths in Glenwood Springs, stoped to see the playground for the rich in Vail, and made it to Alli and Zach’s for dinner. Dinner, by the way, was a sumptuous vegan concoction, and the warmest of welcomes from these extraordinary and unusual creative people. I didn’t know them all that well in person actually, so this kind of counts like a quasi couchsurfing experience (which is where I slept). Put another big plus in the couchsurfing column!!! Before our drive back to Albuquerque we climbed to a place called the Royal Arch on the Flatiron peaks in Boulder. It was a 1205 foot climb over somewhat challenging rocks. That compares to the mere 150 foot pyramid at Tikal in Guatemala which daunted me in January when I wasn’t feeling so well. Sebastian, by the way, never did meet this friend of a friend in Denver.
One Last Thought
A shout out of Thanks to Sebastian. This is a passionate, adventurous, happy and humane man who made for a stupendous travel companion. Pay attention when an extraordinary person passes through your life and make a little effort to keep them there.