Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Until further notice I no longer reccomend Couchsurfing

A far cry from the newpaper article I published less than a year ago with glowing reccomendations of the website that changed my life, the website that brought me together with some of the most amazing people in the world. When I was given the ambassador flag I was proud to wear it now I hold on to it with a reluctant ferocity hoping for a better world I'm not really sure exists anymore.

The title of this blog will change to something more suitable after all it was a travel blog long before it ever became a glorifying couchsurfing fable.

But I will no longer suggest couchsurfing to the people because whatever it was is gone. I was fine with CS becoming a company, I didnt care if they used my pictures to make money but my final straw is being dealt with the destruction of the community I hold dear. Now all I see is ignorant members spamming my feed, people getting assaulted absolutely no control of this membership drive. The community is a mess and the owners are not listening. The people they should be listening to are being deleted as fast as they have an opinion that differs from the 'mission'

What's the mission to make the entire world a couchsurfer?That's ideal but do you think that kind of mission happens over night? You want to save a community built over time with love, care & devotion than you need to listen to the people who built that community. Deleting them from existance, blaming them for everything that's going wrong is not the answer. Listening to them having serious discussions about the best approach is.

Will I continue to host, yes I will because despite all my anguish I am still yet to have a negative experience but the sooner a better hospitality site comes on the market im out of here. Bewelcome is likely but I hate their website so I hope a redesign is coming. Maybe it will take years but I don't care because  I am a true couchsurfer at heart. But I feel dirty thinking of the word couchsurfer right now I just can't think of a better word to use.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Thailaaaaand! On my way and an epic first night!

The last few days before you leave on a trip are some of the hardest. Its hard to switch the brain off and focus on real life, then there is all the planning for the upcoming trip. Travel Insurance, Bank details, VISAs, Foreign Currency, Cameras, clean underwear etc. Work over the two days blurred all together until finally the moment came and I clasped the white & red paper that was my ticket out of Australia.

FINALLY! I whispered lugging my backpack through security trying to pretend the excessive hand luggage weight didn’t actually exist. Knowing that $20 extra was better spent on beer, and more beer. Ignoring  the fact I had only three outfits for the next 12 days and I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to find a Laundromat. Not even entirely sure where I would be any given day just knowing that I didn’t care. I was escaping the oppressive sweltering heat of the wet season for the cooler oppressive heat of Thailand.

But not before I spent the night in Singapore airport.

As far as airports go Singapore is one of the better ones to be stuck in for a long period of time. But by now it was 11pm I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep. I knew I had a day of walking around Bangkok until my overnight bus the next night. Singapore has lounges so I caught the ever so trendy sky train to terminal three where I was informed the best rest area was by the information girl and lay out on the comfortable though slightly noisy lounge area. I dozed in and out with a shirt wrapped around my eyes and ear plugs smashed into my ears. I think at one point I was in a pretty good sleep zone when the faint, miss…miss miss broke the barrier of my dreams and forced to me come to life.

I opened my eyes wearily removing my makeshift blindfold to be eye to eye with a Singapore policeman. “Passport & Ticket” I was still somewhat dazed and confused staring dumbly at him for what was probably only 20 seconds but maybe felt like eternity.
“Passport and ticket”
Reaching into my bag I withdrew my documents and watched as he checked them over. Not even blinking he returned them to me and then went onto the next poor unfortunate soul maybe having the dream of a lifetime beside me. I glance at my watch 3fuckingAM in the morning. My flight wasn’t till 7am (and I had about 20 alarms set up to make sure I didn’t miss it) which gave me barely two more hours of restless slumber.

Thanks Singapore police, thanks for ruining what little sleep I was able to get, you bastards.

Finally boarding to Bangkok I was blessed with three seats to myself and happily took advantage of a great situation to stretch out and doze for the couple of hour flight. I filled out my immigration card and was dismayed to see the clear boxes marked “Visa Number”
Visa, I didn’t have a visa… did I need a visa?

I had no idea. I’ve never been to Thailand and I am usually the master at researching countries before I arrive but I never even considered if I needed a visa for Thailand or not.
No I’m sure I didn’t need a visa…
But I was filled with doubt. It was as if my resolve was torn and instead of trundling down to immigration I saw the sign “VISA for arrival” and headed in its direction
As I arrived at the small counter I saw the names of countries listed that required visas for Thailand, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Lativia, India… something made me think Australia was safe.

Still as I stood in possibly the longest line ever surrounded by people from all around the world I couldn’t help but sneak my eyes to the immigration cards and the offending section labelled ‘visa number’ to see if they had left it blank. I strained my ears excessively for westernised accents positive their visa conditions were identical to my own. The agonising hour spent shuffling to the front haunts me still. As I reached the end of the line in maybe less than five minutes the small thai officer stamped my passport and I was on my way.
Well I guess I didn’t need a visa.

I had researched the way to Don Sak road carefully sure that I could catch the skytrain to Makkasan and then taxi to Don Sak from there. As I hurried down the escalator to catch my train I saw two very confused westerners heading for the information booth and laughed inwardly ha ha ha you should follow me I know exactly what to do.

Well… as it turned out I didn’t.

Ignoring the fact I couldn’t understand the train conductors accent (but then who ever understands train conductors even when its in English) and got off about five spots early only to be yelled at angrily in Thai by the present station master and forced back on the train as about 30 local thai people laughed at me but when I exited at Makkasan I was only to find out from two very lovely thai girls that I needed to catch the train all the way to Phaya Tai and taxi from there. Well if I had a shoe I should have eaten it and my cocky mistake had cost me nearly half an hour. As I reached Phaya Tai I glance at my watch to see it said 10:30am. The exact time I was to meet my sister at Don Sak. Grabbing a taxi for about 60baht I was yet to learn about my bad luck with taxis and after a short 10 minute ride he dropped me at the entrance to the road I wanted. Yet he dropped me on the wrong side and I wandered up and down Don Sak unable to find any numbers for another 10 minutes. I was tired, hungry and sweaty. Eventually so frustrated I turned my phone on and entered GPS coordinates discovering that I was headed in entirely the wrong direction.

So I make it to the meeting spot and if Heather hadn’t seen me I would have walked right on since my GPS wanted to take me for a little scenic route to the wrong fucking place. A sweaty hug later and we were reunited!

After waking up Sam we headed to a restaurant for lunch where the only stipulation was air conditioning and got involved with some good Thai food. We then proceeded to get drunk in a bar. It was I guess a pretty standard Bangkok backpacker experience from what I hear.

Once we were nice and drunk we decided to head over to catch our bus. Heather and Sam checked out of their hostel after I snuck in for a quick shower.  I was exhausted, really. I had maybe 1 or 2 hours of scattered sleep in Singapore and then was drinking all day, Heather hands me two little blue pills  valium she whispers to help you sleep but I couldn’t help but think I didn’t need them.

And I didn’t need them I was out almost as soon as my head touched my head rest. I had two seats to myself at the front, it was luxury really. I woke up once to the bus stopping for a toilet break at about 2am but otherwise slept like a baby. I never really understood that term because from what I hear babies don’t sleep too well. We had to wait about 2 hours at the wharf for the ferry to take us to Koh Phanagan. Sam & I got stuck into the street food, sausage on a stick with chili sauce. Actually delicious. Other than that we pretty much just sat around waiting for something exciting to happen. Nothing did really. Maybe the day was entirely uneventful we rode the ferry over to Koh Phanagan taxied it to our hotel.

I had heard a lot of bad things about this Hotel but Heather reassured me that it was typical for party hotels to have bad reviews. Yet first impressions didn’t sit well. First the guy at the front desk I think it was the owner was rude and abusive to everyone who walked through the door. He seemed to have the feeling that he could say or do whatever he wanted because he would sell out of rooms in his hotel no matter how bad it was.

Perhaps, in full moon season but what about the rest of the time? My room was the second issue for me it smelt like sewerage. I decided that I was unlikely to be spending much time in my room so I left it hoping the smell would clear. I will tell you now it never did and I ended up having to purchase incense. The swimming pool was green, there was no way I was swimming in it. After settling into our rooms  we headed downtown for some food and to check out the beach. The food was western but pretty decent. Seeing the beach I could understand why it had been chosen as a party site it was a beautiful beach hundreds of backpackers lying around with beautiful waters lapping against the shore. There was a soccer match in one part and I removed my shoes to feel the sand beneath my toes.

We made our way over to Kangaroo bar which would become a bit of our second home over the next few days. We drank beer, had our first mushroom shake and watched the sun set. The mushrooms was pretty mild just giving a nice tingly feeling a few heightened senses. As the sun set we made our way back down to the beach for the Coral Bungalow pool party. I was actually pretty drunk and I didn’t realise it at the time so we stopped by 711 to grab some alcohol and I started talking to some guy looking at shirts. He was Palestinian & his friend was from Jordan.  They had apparently met on facebook. The Palestinian had me fascinated because he told me he worked as a lifeguard on the dead sea so I asked him how he as a Palastinian could work in Israel and he told me that all the stuff you hear is not really true its completely different. Anyway I wanted to go to the famous pool party and the two guys decided to join us so we caught a cab to the party. Some party it was dead but I wanted to swim so I jumped into the pool and enjoyed my half hour of water time.

Kangaroo Bar
After abandoning the dead party we taxied back to the main beach which is where I was talking to the Palestinian guy quite involved in conversation and then I looked behind me and Heather & Sam were gone! Woops. Stuff gets kind of blurry so I may mess up details but I walked back a little bit to see if I could see them and I couldn’t. Ah well they had each other they were fine. So I’m in deep conversation with the Palestinian about his religion which was Muslim and I was using my elite Arabic skills anyway he tells me that he doesn’t drink and he has never been with a woman. He was, 29 I think. So somewhere along the way he decides to inform me that he wants me to be the one to take his virginity. Well I was honored I guess but I informed him that I had a boyfriend back in Australia and wasn’t interested AT all. We went to the party on the beach and were dancing and then he pressed against me and tried to stick his tongue down my throat!!! I was like WTF pushed him away dude I told you I had a boyfriend. No matter he tries again!!! No wonder he has never been with a girl if that was his move. Having a guy force his tongue on you is not exactly sexy in my opinion :/

So I befriended a Canadian girl and danced with her for a while ditching the Palestinian but she went back home to sleep so once again I was alone I decided to see if I could find Heather & Sam but thought I might go for a swim first. Yep I just walked into the ocean. As I was leaving my midnight swim I came across two gorgeous Hungarian guys and started chatting to them. They wanted weed and I said oh I know where you can get that and since I was heading that way anyway dragged them to Kangaroo Bar with me. We brought a joint and sat around the table smoking and talking but I don’t remember anything about the two guys except that they were Hungarian & really cute. I found out later Heather & Sam were just upstairs! Woops. After the joint we walked back to the party two cute Hungarian guys with their arms around me but was short lived as I was so drunk as soon as we made it to the dance floor I met a bunch of Hong Kong Nationals and started dancing with them. Buckets were going in circles and I partook without a care in the world. Somewhere I ended up getting a fireman lift by one of the guys from Hong Kong. Hmm. 

Canadian Girl, Jordan Guy, Me & Some Randoms

Hungarian guys :D

 Reaching my breaking point I needed to sleep so I wandered back to the hotel getting completely lost and finding this local with a drunk English guy on the back of his bike. The guy didn’t remember where his hotel was and in my friendly drunken state I just said ok bring him he can stay in my hotel I have a spare bed. What a STUPID idea. The guy would have likely thrown up everywhere and then what was I going to do… the hotel was proven to be the worst hotel ever I would have had to live in vomit for five days. So since I was lost I jumped on the back of the bike meaning there was three of us on this bike and the guy took us to my hotel.

Taking the English guy to my room I failed to realise he needed a babysitter – he really was that drunk and he fell down all the stairs, hard concrete stairs cutting his head, blood starts pouring out. I ran off to find someone to help and in my wisdom & drunkenness ran upstairs obviously finding no one. I return and there is a Kiwi guy and an English girl with him and they are like “do you know him” and I just said “no I just found him my room is here I went to find someone but couldn’t” I wasn’t about to own up I had brought him to the hotel. And the girl ran off to find someone, I guess she found a doctor or something because some local guy turned up. I was taking photos and the girl got mad at me making me delete all the ones with her in it. Anyway I realised Heather & Sam were not there so I decided I was now reawakened and felt like partying again so I started to walk back to the beach only to run into Heather & Sam woo~ I turned back around to the hotel where a huge pile of blood was outside their room, the guy having been carried off and went to bed.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

breaking the ice.

Recently a question was posed by one of my favourite travel sites, what is the best way to meet people in other countries? Leaving it open to the public I was not surprised at all to see getting drunk featured in about 99% of all replies. Whilst alcohol gives confidence to the most timid of us it can also dampen your natural senses and create uncomfortable even dangerous situations if the other people don’t have the best intentions. As my little sister recently discovered when her and her partner were beaten and robbed in Thailand by people they thought were their friends. And what if you don’t drink? What is your answer then?

The perfect opening line. When you first pick up a novel to see if you will like it, its often the very first paragraph or sentence that draws you into the tale. So many creative writing workshops out there stress how important that very first sentence is. And that’s the same in real life. Usually it’s the first five minutes of meeting someone that will determine if there is any future in your friendship. This means the first line has to be smooth, relatable, slightly humourous and open to a detailed response. I can share with you a few of my success stories of meeting people on the road.

Hey how’s it going – This line is the easiest but not necessarily the most effective. It can be difficult to carry over if you aren’t naturally confident. Sure you will invoke the almost recognisable response ‘good and you?’ but then it puts pressure on you to implement the next line. ‘Not bad so Where are you from’ is almost guaranteed but if you must continue down this path my best advice is to build the enthusiasm. Remember if you have five minutes to make an impression and you aren’t drinking you need to show this person that you are as awesome as you actually are. Let’s face it if you are travelling the world you must be awesome. So believe that and everything comes easier. I recently used this line after getting off an all night train and having to kill eight hours waiting for my boat in Bangkok. I responded to his ‘good how are you’ with a tirade of information ‘not bad!!! Was on one of those night trains last night and it was actually really comfortable have you ever been on one?’ (he had) ‘oh really nice yea all good except at like some crazy hour these people are walking up and down the pathways yelling something in thai I dunno and I’m just like shut the fuck up man I want to sleep I don’t want to buy your random stuff’ then the conversation flowed after that discussing the interesting stuff people sell on trains, and once the conversation started it kept going. Next thing you know we are best friends!

Is anyone sitting here can we join you? – So this is a new one I only just discovered in Thailand but ended up being my calling card for most of the trip in Koh Phanagan. It all began when we went up to our favourite haunt on Kangaroo bar to have a beer and discovered it was full except for one table in the back. More interested in sitting at the balcony edge I noticed a table with two guys only and manoeuvred myself over to them, ‘can we sit here?’ I asked referring also to my sister & her boyfriend who were not far behind. Heather’s boyfriend Sam is actually really good at small talk but seems to lack the opening line skill, I am often bad at small talk so we tend to work well together. Heather just comes off nice and sweet and is good at keeping people interested so as a threesome we weren’t doing so bad. Sam did most of the work on this one getting the guys talking and soon we had a little fivesome that ended up sticking together for the next few nights. The best option after accepting the seat is to introduce yourselves and use the dreaded over used ‘where are you from’ but usually once you are sharing beers over the table you can keep the convo up and running easily. I used this line again later at a party on another beach and we ended up meeting quite a few random people that night.

Do you have the time? – An oldie but a goodie & a nice way to get a conversation going. Its best to keep an eye for someone with a watch but a lot of people do have phones now. Since I wear a watch I usually take it off and slip it in my pocket before making my move. Once they inform you of the time you do need a great next opening line. Mine was ‘well my friend left and all these creepy 20 year olds keep hitting on me can I just dance with you guys’ it worked and I had a really awesome night in the end. I don’t use this line very often but when I can’t think of anything else it comes out. I always try to have a back-up line in case it requires more work which usually involves some chaotic situation I’ve just been in. Sometimes my chaotic situations are pretty much nothing maybe a guy knocked my drink over but add raised eyebrows and a lot of expressive words and taking your grandmother shopping suddenly becomes the most interesting thing in the world! I tend to use the phrase ‘Holy Shit’ a lot when I’m doing this.

Involve weed – Not so much a line but still effective I was walking around the streets of Puerto Penasco Mexico on my own having lost everyone and came across a bunch of random locals drinking in a truck. So without any Spanish I pulled a bud from my pocket and mimicked joint rolling. Next thing you know I’m sitting in the tray of a 4WD, stoned, buzzed & drunk having broken conversations in Spanglish. The adventure ended when I woke up in a tent miles from my hotel surrounded by several passed out Mexicans and having to hitchhike back. Many a person has been met by sharing a joint around a table or two. At a party on Haad Tien I met an Austrian guy when he passed me his joint. Smoking weed together is one of the easiest ways to get to know someone. If you don’t smoke than this won’t work for you but if you do try and have a joint on you at all times. My little sister is the master at this. Stoner speak is her speciality.

Be original – By far my best opening line ever was in a parking lot in Toronto. I was stone cold sober, had just finished rocking out to Underworld, all alone and about to drive two and a half lonely hours back to my house in Muskoka. I bit my lip walked over to two guys dancing by their car and asked ‘Hi, Can I take a photo with you I’m all alone and want to pretend I made some friends tonight’ It’s a story I will never forget, that I will retell till I die that ended up with me making friends with two of the most amazing guys ever. Two guys that literally saved my sanity in eastern Canada working at a college resort with a bunch of kids I just didn’t relate to.

Sometimes it not about what you say but just having the confidence to speak up. There are so many people out there who are open to meeting people but are too scared or shy. If you develop that confidence to be the person who makes the first move you can open doors to places you have probably never seen before. You will also be a part of a better world where everyone is accepted and colour, sex, religion doesn’t determine who you can and can’t speak to.

Be the future, blur the borders, jump in a ball pit.