Exclusive for Vagobond by Jo Self
Living in Cusco I find myself constantly reminded of what a small world it is. Sitting on a bus waiting to leave Cusco for the weekend, I was pleased to hear the conversation behind turn to CouchSurfing.
Talking up the merits of the CS experience, Marco was telling the young, French traveler to his left about all the great people he’s met and how much he enjoys the experience. As an active member of CouchSurfing over the last four years, and a regular attendee to the weekly meetings here in Cusco, I was thrilled to find that the groups in Peru are thriving.
CouchSurfing, for those who are unfamiliar, is an online organization that is set up as a hospitality exchange. The network provides travelers the opportunity to act as hosts, by showing others around the city, meeting for a coffee or actually housing travelers free of charge in their home.
However, this isn’t just a free room for the night. Most members take the project quite seriously and see it as a chance for true cultural exchange.
A friend of mine in Mexico told me about the project back in 2007 and I immediately became a member. There is no cost to join, unless you feel the desire to contribute. Every member is expected to fill out their profile thoroughly and each profile is then enhanced with references from friends as well as those travelers with whom one has surfed or hosted.
Upon arrival to Lima at the end of March, my first course of action was to see if there was a local meet-up happening while I was there, and with luck, there was.
I met Morgan, a fellow ex-pat living in Lima at Café Maquina for the weekly Friday language exchange. A fairly informal gathering of locals and CouchSurfers alike mingled and chatted, sharing their languages and cultures.
Here in Cusco there are two different weekly meetings, one on Wednesdays at Indigo, which is mostly just a social gathering, and then a weekly language exchange that meets on Fridays, which was recently started and is still looking for a permanent home. In Arequipa, there are frequent get-togethers to go out dancing or to enjoy a coffee or beer together, but at the moment, no regular weekly meetings are scheduled.
In addition to the meetings, members frequently use the online group forums to find travel partners, information on local events and tips for getting around the city. I’ve met some amazing people through the service.
While still living in the US, I hosted easily 8-10 people a month in my home and while the median age of CS members is 28, I hosted folks from 17-72 and am still in contact with more than half of them. The good news is, whenever and wherever I travel, I know I have a place to stay and a friendly face to welcome me – a small world indeed.
For more information on each of the groups in Peru, just do a search under the ‘Community’ tab and explore the options. If you’re staying in hotels during your trip but are still keen to mix some cultural exchange into your Peru travel experience, either talk to your operator about cultural tours or get in touch with the local CouchSurfing group.