We found Jon through the Couch Surfing website, but didn’t meet him until Friday morning right after arriving in Auckland. He showed us around, gave us a set of keys, introduced us to Leandro, another traveler staying at his apartment, and then took off for the weekend to celebrate his neice’s birthday. He left us with a booklet that said “The Bridge…” on the front of it, with some information about how to work the television and his restaurant recommendations in the area.
Who does that? Just hands over his home to complete strangers?
Over the course of the next five days I saw exactly what he meant by “The Bridge.” As travelers arrived in Auckland and dragged their inevitably jet lagged bodies through the door, Jon’s apartment served as a bridge from one leg of a journey to the next. It was a crash pad for those getting off the plane, a computer lab where I could Skype with my sister, a writing center for Leandro to work on his resume, a hot shower and comfy couch for watching the Olympics, and most importantly a friendly place in a new city. It quickly felt like home, and our fellow travelers began to feel much like room mates, instead of strangers sharing a roof.
By Monday, there were seven of us staying in Jon’s two bedroom apartment. Zach and I representing the US of A, Leandro and Javier from Argentina, Paul from Russia, Vinnie from Brazil and of course, Jon from New Zealand. During the day, each of us went about our business, opening bank accounts, getting cell phones, hiking volcanos, Skyping in Portuguese (that wasn’t me), doing laundry, and exchanging money. As cocktail hour rolled around, each one of us trickled back to the apartment with a bottle or two of wine in hand. Obviously, no one would rather spend cocktail hour in a bar with strangers.
From the time the first glass was poured, to when dinner was served, until after the plates were cleared, the “bullshit conversation,” as Jon called it, flowed. “What guides your travels? Your mind, your heart or your soul?” Jon asked over roast chicken and pinot noir. “Is it reason? Do you choose what makes most sense, or is it love?” My initial response was that the answer can’t be categorized like that, but before I could express why I didn’t like the question, the Brazilian had already started answering. And thank god, because the conversation that ensued was thoughtful and revealed a little more about each personality at the table, whereas my response was dismissive and would have squashed the conversation.
I get why Jon hosts couch surfers. He creates a warm, welcoming space for people who need it and is responsible for something that other people are going to remember forever- more so than anything else Auckland has to offer. And at the same time, he gets to participate in something really, really fun and meet all sorts of new people. I’m looking forward to doing the same when I get home.