In 2012 a Russian guy who thought I moved like a cat and was so funny I should be a tv presenter told me about the couchsurfing project. Appealing to my international citizen heart I thought back on those most special moments travelling and almost all of the places actually played second fiddle to the people that made them such an unforgettable experience.
When I think about Thailand the beautiful beaches become a backdrop to Emma, Rory, Melanie and Rishi’s faces; Mexico, all those amazing places I visited blur out but Emma, Klaus, Warren and Marie I remember so fondly; In Sabah, Borneo, I remember the Filipino woman I met at the market who invited me over for dinner in her laundry shop; in Sri Lanka, Matt and Tim, a festive New Year’s Eve and a long walk up the stairs the next morning for breakfast.
The place really wasn’t anything without all the people I met and shared an experience creating it, like a collage. So I signed myself up to couchsurfing.org, sent a few emails and couch requests and headed up to Bahia to explore the place via it’s people. I had a few notions of where I could go, but I went with the flow and saw who responded and let them be my guide. This found me taking an 8 hour bus to Ilheus to stay with Karina and her sister because I liked her profile, her principles and attitude to life.
It’s amazing what unfolds when you take your hands of the reins, sit back and let it. I met some incredible and inspiring people as a result, who navigated life via the purity of their hearts and shared their homes and their kindness with me. Turning up at Karina’s door led me to an amazing exploration of the city I never would have experienced with even a guide book, it took me to the organic cacao farm that had recently won an industry award for his incredible chocolate farm and gave me a lift to a beautiful holiday town where I met some lovely girls I went on an adventure with to find the most beautiful beach I ever saw.
Surfing helps you open your mind to the possibilities that others can bring to it and puts you safely in it’s flow, but hosting really challenges your prejudices and keeps you from them. There is nothing more satisfying than opening your doors to strangers and gratefully sharing your home and your gifts, knowing that there is always an exchange in return. It helps me retain the belief that everybody is amazing and has something to bring to your life. Whether that be energy, stories, new concepts, ideas, an insight into a unknown culture or just a fresh perspective; each time I open my home and share what I am lucky to have, I am humbled by the light they bring and the Paella they cook. When couchsurfing tastes this delicious you do start to question the altruism of your motives!
Thanks for chocolate tea, sprigs of lavender and stories of Finland forests and ice plunge pools; for filmmaking in Mato Grosso do Sul; for life through a lens in Florianopolis and Ilheus; for strolls in the park with Slovakian Ultra Marathon trainees and thanks to Bea, for teaching me how to make this delicious vegetarian Paella, for sharing your story and helping me remember to count my blessings.
If we could knock down bars on borders like we can unlock our doors those unknown cultures wouldn’t seem so strange and see that maybe they have much more to offer us than they have to take.
The Altruistic Paella:
Garlic (to taste)
1 small onion
1 green pepper
Handful of chopped green runner beans
Handful of green peas
(and any green vegetables you wish to add like broccoli, cauliflower etc)
1 handful of rice per person
a little stock
a pinch of saffron
1/4 – 1/2 tsp of spanish paprika
a pinch of salt
and lots of olive oil!
Fry everything that needs to be fried, like onion, garlic, pepper and mushrooms (the rest can cook along with the rice). Stir in the rice and fry a little with the veg, before adding 2 – 3 times the water, stock, the additional veg, a pinch of saffron and spanish paprika for colour. Grate 1 tomato & mix all together.
Simmer whilst the water reduces and keep checking in on the softness of the rice and the amount of water left. Add more water if necessary, but also allow the rice to roast a little at the end if you like the slightly crunchy contrast (yum!).
When the rice is soft and the water all gone turn the flame off and cover with a cloth for a few mins.
Serve with a chunk of lemon and enjoy the deep flavours of Spain.