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  • Knowing that my 28th birthday was coming I started thinking about how to celebrate it. Since I don’t really have friends here in Buenos Aires, I did some googling: “How to celebrate birthday alone?” And I found suggestions like these: do what you love most (ok, I could be designing, drawing, or maybe running, but it’s not that special since I do those things on a regular basis), treat yourself a desert you love (can’t do that, still on the no sugar policy), buy yourself a present (that goes without saying), meditate (that’s 20 minutes, what’s then?), watch movies all day, eat and drink wine (can’t do that in the presence of my roommates, plus it sounds like a sad birthday, anyway).
    I decided to couchsurf instead and took a boat to Colonia, Uruguay. Picked the first host who replied to my request and trusted my intuition – Juan Daniel who lives on a farm it is. The fun thing about this was that I had no idea what company and conditions I will find myself in. Options are endless – I might be turned into a slave and forced to stay on the farm forever, I might fall in love with the farm and decide to build my own and milk cows and kill flies with a flyswatter made of newspaper for the rest of my life, or I get robbed or killed before ever reaching the farm. All that mattered to me was the unpredictable experience and something to remember.
    After exploring Colonia, treating myself a huge piece of chicken and a salad (see picture below), feeling lonely I still hesitated. Should I just stay in a hostel in the town or should I go to the farm? I went to check out a hostel. “Do you have many people staying at the moment?” “No, not at all, you will be in the room all by yourself!”, a hostel attendant told me with excitement. Great, that’s all I need on my birthday! Thank you. Maybe next time… She was confused.
    So, I went to the farm. When I told the bus driver “Juan, por favor” he understood immediately, because Juan has hosted over 500 people over the past 5 years and the bus driver was well aware of his insane Couchsurfing activity. After 40 minutes I got out and saw Juan standing on the bus stop near his house with Bandido (bad boy), a very old black and white dog with unproportionately long tail. Juan said that Bandido got this tail because his mother was a very tall woman and his father was a very short man (see, that happens to dogs too). We went to the house, sat near the fireplace in the darkness, and chatted. I gave Juan a box of Ferrero Rocher. I think I got the right present because he ate them all in 5 minutes. It was an interesting place where everything was old – old house, old furniture and old Bandido who would be about 100 years old in human age. What struck me as weird was that Juan, although only 32 years old, also seemed old but in a good sense – he didn’t have computer or internet (for his online Couchsurfing activities he went to a friend’s house), he listened to an old little brown radio, he seemed very much at peace with the world and with himself, hoping to stay on the farm forever, he was extremely nice, gentle, and philosophical, like a grandpa, you know?
    All I could think about was: oh my god, this guy must be so lonely here near his fireplace in the company of Bandido who only once in a while utters a groan or two but then falls back to sleep. But then I though: wait, 500 people! That’s probably more than I meet when I travel.
    Five years ago Juan had no idea about the world until he discovered Couchsurfing. He was waiting in line and saw a magazine with an ad showing a couch and a bunch of people of different nationalities saying: “The world in your house”. He liked that, created a profile, and started hosting, and hosting a lot! The world came to his house alright. Five hundred people is no joke. Enough of a test sample to draw conclusions about cultural stereotypes, for example.
    I asked Juan a lot of questions. What are Russians like? Good (this answer really satisfied me, ha). What are Americans like? They like to get naked on the beach, all of them, always. Who are most fun people? By no means, people from Latin America, especially from Peru. What about Chinese? They like to cook rice (big surprise!). Who is your typical surfer? Girls in groups. Guys prefer to stay in the city and party. Girls like the peace and nature (do we?).
    Imagine how many stories this guy has heard, how many experiences he has had with all these people from all over the world. Here is the Russian flag given to him by a guy from Russia who only walks without ever using transportation (I still don’t know how he crossed the ocean, but ok…), here is a bunch of candles stuck in wine bottles – the idea suggested by someone from France. His walls are covered with thank you words and drawings of cows, horses, faces, and flags. There is a drawing of a bicycle on the wall by two travelers who were cruising around South America on their bikes, and another one by someone from US who woke up the next morning after arrival, went outside and decided to stay on the farm for a whole month working on his blog…
    Juan never asks personal questions; he never limits people in how many nights they can stay; he just opens his door and his heart to them sharing his story and listening to what people have to say. His philosophy is simple: “On my farm no violence, no drugs, no sex. It’s all about sharing and peace”.
    So, when someone like me sends a Couchsurging request to Juan, just like me, he faces the excitement of the potential unpredictable experience hoping that the one who comes will enrich his life in one way or another.
    P.s. My birthday turned out really really good. We played pool in a local bar, had some beer, met with Juan’s awesome cousin and a friend who forced me to use my non-existent Spanish, ate at a weird local food place at 1 am, rode a tractor, stepped on cow poop, and sat on the beach with old but happy Bandido. Who needs those stupid birthday cakes, anyways?
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