Couchsurfing for friends…

So it’s time to try and use Couchsurfing again, but this time not for somewhere to stay. One of the options on the site is to meet people for ‘coffee or drinks’, although effectively it’s a “do you wanna hang out” option.

While I may be staying with a friend while in LA, and when I trip up to San Francisco in a week’s time, I still don’t actually know anyone here (or there) to spend some time with. Said friend I’m staying with is one of those ‘responsible adults’ I’ve heard so much about, but evidently know nothing about achieving myself, so she’s not got too much time to devote to me. This is totally fine and I expected as such beforehand.

I haven’t used Couchsurfing for this before, so I’m not exactly sure how I should go about it. When one is requesting a place to stay there’s a specific option to click to do so, but if I’m not needing a couch to kip on, I am unsure as to whether I should use that same option. Any readers please feel free to chip in with an opinion here: whether I should send a couch request or just send a person a message instead?

There are other website specifically aimed at organising meet ups for people, such as, surprise surprise, Meetup.com. I’ve checked it out briefly and there was nothing nearby taking place in the close future that caught my eye, so I’ll let you know if anything comes of that.

While I’m here I really want to work on my meeting new people and complete strangers thing. Since I’ve not been staying in hostels much while in the US I haven’t met as many new people.That said, it is great because I get to spend time with my friends.

Couldn’t find a suitable picture to include in this post for any reason whatsoever. It’d have just been for the sake of it, so you’ll just have to read the words instead.

Advertisements

Boring stuff, apparently…

Someone told me that the contents of my blog didn’t only have to be things that are substantial or revelatory, but that I could and indeed should put the day to day mundanity (like mundane, only ity) of what I do in there, too. Y’see, I tend to disagree with that, no matter how dear said friend is to me, because if I put the boring crap I do every day in there, none of you (three…) would bother reading it anymore. You’d get bored of my boredom. Not that I’m bored often, actually, but there’s only so much excitement one can squeeze into any given day, and at some point some part of the day is going to be less than exciting.

That said, I’d hate to disappoint, so here’s something that happened while I was out taking an otherwise very unexciting (and intendedly so) walk down the central street in Albuquerque, which just happens to be a part of the old historic route 66 highway.

I stepped out of my hostel with my bag over my shoulder to carry my camera, ‘cause I don’t like walking around with it hanging from my neck or hand. Because, you know, tourist. As I stepped out and started walking down the road I noticed upon the other side of the (six lane, so quite wide) street a man walking in the same direction I was. This in itself is nothing overly suspicious. I also noticed, however, that he kept looking over at me while he was walking, and not just a quick glance, but protracted, lengthy stares right at me. Again, nothing overly suspicious in itself as I am a rather stunning example of a man, but it did make me a touch uneasy.

When he then started to cross the street on a path that would directly intersect mine I thought to myself that no, in fact I was gonna nip this being mugged shit in the bud before it even got off the “hey buddy, do you have a light/any spare change/moment to talk?” ground. I walked directly at him and asked him for the time. He’d forgotten his watch and wallet when he came out for his evening walk, so he didn’t have the time. I didn’t need it – I had my phone. It’s the engaging the vicious mugger before you become a mugee that I was trying to achieve.

Turns out he was just a fairly pleasant, if a little strange, man who was indeed out for an evening walk. I ended up walking with him and chatting most all of the way down the main street before he walked off somewhere else and I turned back around. I actually bumped into him several other times that evening while I was out, and later when I went out to get some dinner (at a place he had recommended) he passed ways going into and out of said eatery.

So, there you go. What was to be a regular walk along a street, with some, for want of a better word, excitement.

Couchsurfing…

So I’ve spent almost a week sharing the houses and couches of a couple of people via couchsurfing.org now. It was on the whole, and indeed on the half, a wonderful experience.

I’ve already explained how I apparently chose my first host very well simply judging by the apparel adorning her walls, and I certainly did. I had a fantastic time hanging out with Karen, Elaine and Hope. I’m pretty sure I’ve detailed what we got up to elsewhere, so I’ll not repeat myself. However, I will say I was shocked and almost overwhelmed with Karen’s generosity and kindness. Not only was I given somewhere to stay, but she made lunch and dinner for me (and the others living there) both the days while I was there, as well as left all the entertainment choices up to me (far too much pressure to decide there, I might add). It saddens me that I can’t reciprocate somehow – I’d offer to let them stay with me except that has a couple of fatal flaws. One, I have no fixed abode, and two, they’re more than likely moving to Iceland, and who wants to come to England when you live in Iceland?

My second host was in Chicago. I contacted her and she agreed to let me stay with her for a few days on the basis that she liked my name. Well, that’s a saving grace for this otherwise cursed nomer I have been given. I reckon nomer should be a word, because misnomer is, and if you remove the mis, surely you’re just left with a nomer, right?

Anyway. I arrived later than I expected because my coach was a little delayed (America’s transport infrastructure really is shocking), and I decided to walk the two miles from the Greyhound station to her house in one of the neighbourhoods instead of getting a bus. I arrived about 20 minutes before she was due to go out to a party with her boyfriend. She showed me around the house, told me to use any of the facilities I wanted/needed, handed me a set of keys to her house, and left.

Handed me a set of keys to her house and left.

I’d met this girl not half an hour before she left me alone in her house with the keys. The level of trust given to a perfect stranger here astounded me (not that it was unfounded at all, but still, it’s the principle).

It turned out she and I got along very well and we spent quite a bit of time hanging out over the couple of days I was there. She lives in the middle of one of the largest Mexican neighbourhoods in the US (did you know, Chicago, very soon, will have a higher population of Mexican people than any other ethnic/racial group, including us whiteys?), and so I was given the chance to eat lots of authentic++ Mexican food while I was there, as well as get a detailed rundown of some of the culture and history of the area and the ethnicity in Chicago.

So all in all, so far, couchsurfing has gone well. The friendliness and helpfulness of the community as a whole is incredibly impressive and encouraging. It’s a great way to travel and stay, because having a local host who knows the area and can recommend places for you to visit, eat, see, makes a real difference to staying in an area. Wandering aimlessly around can only take you so far.

Confusion and couches… unrelated…

Someone subscribed to the companion blog, Pictures of the Long Road to Nowhere. Now, you see, this is fine. I have no problem with this at all. The issue here is that I do not recognise the email address of the subscribee (not a word, but you know what I mean, wait, no, it should be subscriber… fuck it) and it is not an email address of anyone who has subscribed to this here blog. The confusion further intensifies when one takes into account the fact that PotLRtN isn’t linked anywhere except here, so I’m wondering how said person came across it, and why, in fact, they subscribed. So if it was you, come on, own up.

Now I feel the need to update it with a picture, and I don’t have any ready. Dammit.

Oh yes, couches. Spent my first night as a couch surfer last night, although I was sleeping on an inflatable air mattress and not a couch. The room I was staying in had a large banner with Cloud from Final Fantasy VII on the wall, a Firefly banner, and various motherboards, PCI cards and computer components mounted on the wall as a display. Now, those of you who know me well enough will know that Final Fantasy VII is my favourite, and frankly the greatest computer game ever made, Firefly is one of my favourite TV shows, and computers are a big part of how I’d spend my spare time. Apparently I chose this host well.

We ate, watched Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, then played a long-ass game of Risk. I lost, badly, but hey ho, I’ve never played before. Now I know how to dominate the world.

Speaking of, my host and I then had a long conversation about how we’d go about achieving world domination and/or destruction if we were evil overlords (which of course, only one of us actually is). I didn’t get to couch until about five in the morning in the end, so that was a fun evening.

I’ve booked my train ticket from Chicago to Denver for this weekend. 19 hours (assuming no delays…) on a train, but overnight, and relatively easy to sleep on, so, it’s going to be fun.

Just to clarify…

I realise I’m not a very nice person. If you’re reading this, you know me well enough to know that’s the case. I know I’m not easy to get along with and I’m a sarcastic dick on occasion. That’s all fine. Frankly, it’s part of (if not the entirety of) my charm. My point is the following: it wasn’t just me who thought the captain of the boat was an asshole. It’s not just a personality clash that could be down to me, and thus my ranting unjustified.

The day I joined the boat, five of the previous crew were departing. We all went out and had dinner and chatted and etc. They all, independently of each other and any prompting, warned me about the guy and his personality. They said he had no patience and no concept of how to talk to people or ask them to do things.

My point overall was that I’m not being unreasonable and ranting about something that is perhaps otherwise my issue (as I so often can do).

But I leave tomorrow, so fuck it.

Boat times…

So people keep asking me what it’s like on the boat, whether I’m having fun and enjoying myself, what the crew are like, what the boat itself is like and so on and so forth. Telling the same story ten times is just plain inefficient communication, so I’m just going to write it out and y’all can read it here.

First of all, let’s take a tour of the boat. Here it is from the outside:

Here is my cabin and bed:

Here’s the main inside area, so the galley, table, living quarters I guess:

Here’s the toilet and shower. Yep, they’re the same room:

This is the outside stern deck and seating area:

And finally a picture from the bow:

Ok, so that’s the boat. Now we’re all caught up on where I am, since I get the impression a lot of people heard the word ‘yacht’ and thought of a big luxury liner with huge spacious rooms and the like, which is not the case. It’s actually quite, quite comfortable on board, though.

Moving on. Am I having fun and enjoying myself? Well, the answer is somewhat more complicated than a simple phrase, but it could be summed up with ‘meh’. Which is ok – not everything can be fantastic. And the reason it’s only meh, and not awesome is, mostly again, down to people.

Which nicely brings me onto the crew. There’s the skipper, who is an asshole. There’s an alcoholic from Texas who speaks exactly like Boomhaur from King of the Hill (who is actually the most pleasant member of the crew), and then there’s a Finnish couple who don’t speak an awful lot of English (though in their defence, I don’t speak a lot of Finnish, and they do seem like a lovely couple). Now, that’s five people. Out of those five, I am the youngest by exactly half. What I mean by that is the next oldest person on board is 200% my age, being twice as old as me. So… yeah. I’ve not a lot in common with anyone here, and feel kinda like a fifth wheel on a four wheel car, ‘cause the Finnish couple have each other, and the Texan has been on board for a few months so he and the skipper are pretty friendly. Such is life, though.

Why is the skipper an asshole? Well, for a start he’s incredibly selfish, and seems to think this is a) acceptable, and b) amusing. He does nothing on board whatsoever. Now, I know this boat is his home and sailing around with paying crew is his lifestyle, but if it were me, I’d feel all kinds of awkward having random strangers not only do everything for me, but pay me for the privilege as well. The guests do the provisioning of the boat (food, supplies etc), all the cooking and cleaning and so on and so forth. He lacks fairly basic manners which I, despite outward appearances, possess and use regularly (when appropriate…). For instance, once other people have prepared the meal and set the table and all that jazz, he’ll not either wait for everyone to be seated, nor wait for anyone else to be ready before taking food for himself and starting to eat, let alone just serving and waiting for everyone else. Also shit like taking the last of the sweetcorn, say, without asking if anyone else would like some, or pouring himself a glass of water and not offering anyone else a refill. Now maybe it’s just me, but that shit is common courtesy.

And none of that is really the biggest issue. The real problem is that he’s the kind of person who has no idea how to deal with or interact with other people. He reminds me of people I’ve worked with years ago – just a plain bad manager of people, and given that he’s the captain of the boat, that’s somewhat important. The main manifestation of this is that because he’s been on boats for years and obviously has a lot of experience in the area, he assumes that things that are obvious to him and are a given are also obvious to people who’ve never been on a proper sail boat before and that they should have inherently known. Telling me to “tie off that rope” when there are a) fifteen fucking ropes, and b) a hundred bars it could be tied to, and c) seemingly infinite knots that could be used to tie it, is no fucking use, now is it? “Same as you did two days ago” is no use either, since everything I did this week involved ropes, tying, and knots. When one does try and get involved and is asked to do something and is had a go at and made to feel stupid for not knowing how and what to do instantly isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring and certainly doesn’t encourage one to join in more often. Then you’re berated for not offering to help out. Then there’s the whole being ‘told off’ (you’re neither my boss nor my parent, that shit won’t fly) for doing things (or not doing) that have never been mentioned as things that shouldn’t (or should) be done. I should’ve known, what with my extensive time spent aboard boats. I do know, honestly, that he’s the captain and it’s his boat and his rules apply, which I’m totally fine with. What I’m not fine with is not being told what those rules are, and then being railed at for having bent them accidentally.

Anyway. Bitching over; there’s more and I could go on, but it’s unnecessary. You asked what the crew and boat were like. Answered.

What we do. Well, mostly, we sail from about 10am ‘til we get to wherever we’re going that day, then we dock either at a port or in an anchorage (away from shore, basically). Then we’ll go ashore for a while, have a look around, come back to the boat for dinner, maybe go back ashore for drinks or something, and rinse repeat. A lot of the scenery has been lovely, and the nights out here are beautiful because there’s no light pollution (as previously mentioned).

Now, like I said earlier – that’s all okay. One lives and learns, and not everything has to be or can be a completely pleasant experience.

Bosnia…

When I was talking to people about my trip and telling them where I was planning to go, everyone made this face when I told them I was going to Bosnia, and Sarajevo.

Bosnia is the most beautiful country I have ever visited, and Sarajevo itself was incredible. Keep in mind, I’ve been through the Alps, seen the Sahara, Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon and visited all the countries listed on the right. That’s, possibly, a little hyperbolic, but if that’s the case, only barely.

Don’t get me wrong, the country is relatively (to western Europe) basic, but it still retains an awful lot of charm for a country that’s been through so much in the last century. I will happily admit my ignorance with reference to not only the war in the early ’90s, but also pretty much all the rest of the history of Bosnia. So much stuff happened here. I’m not going to wax lyrical about that here because I’m sure the Wikipedia article is much better written, but I have now stood on the spot where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated which caused the start of the first world war, I have walked down a street listening to the call to prayer from a mosque as I pass and then a few steps later been in front of a cathedral, and I’ve walked through a section of tunnel that the locals dug to try and get supplies into the city while it was surrounded by Serbian forces. I’ve also spent a Saturday night out on the town at a bar called Cheers, listening to a live five-piece band play fantastic jazz.

I’ve updated the Photodump with some pictures from both Sarajevo and Mostar, the two places in the country I visited. Incidentally, those pock-marks in the walls aren’t the result of shoddy masonry, they’re bullet holes from when the city was shelled to hell by the aforementioned Serbs. Notice, won’t you, that they’re not just on the walls of big buildings that might look important, but also lining the underside of residential balconies.

Damian (remember him?) and I arranged a tour to see the tunnel that the citizens of Sarajevo dug under the airport during the siege so that they could smuggle supplies into the city. A part of this tour was taken by the mother of the guys who ran the hostel that I stayed at. She was a lovely woman in, I’d guess, her mid ’50s-’60s who was living in Sarajevo for the entirety of the war. She drove Damian and I on a private tour around a few notable landmarks of the city, including the Olympic mountain used during the winter Olympic games decades ago, as well as a huge Jewlish graveyard. At first, Damian and I were confused as to the significance of said graveyard, other than the fact that it was on one of the hills surrounding the city and so afforded us wonderful views of the whole place.

The lady, whose name I regretfully forget, regaled us with a story, which I shall now pass along, though not nearly with as much emotion as it was told. The lady used to work for the Bosnian government, and during the war of the ’90s she was working as head of diplomatic relations, or foreign relations or something like that. The city was under siege by Serbian forces on pretty much all sides, being attacked daily by rockets, shells and bullets from all of the surrounding hills. It was not safe to go outside, to go to work, to go to the shop (not that there was anything to buy because the city was cut off). Her children were having to be schooled in basements and bunkers because it was the only place safe for them.

One day while she was at work, she walked to the window of the tower block her office was located in, and gazed down on the park outside, bathed in the yellow glow of the midday sun in the middle of summer. She stood at the window for some minutes feeling incredibly sad that she could not walk outside to experience the beautiful weather and the surroundings of the park.

Then the sniper bullet missed her head by about three centimetres and blew a crater in the wall behind her between two co-workers. The Jewish graveyard was used by the Serb forces as their primary sniper spot, and they used to lie up there all day taking shots at anyone standing still for long enough. For fun. They weren’t under orders to aim at specific targets, just shoot anyone that moved, or didn’t, for long enough. She pointed to another tower block just under two kilometres away in which a friend of hers was working one day when he had three fingers taken from his hand by a sniper. So, the next time you think you’re having a bad day at work, be thankful people aren’t trying to shoot you in the face.

For the mash of three different, and fairly contrasting religions all pushed together into such a small city, Sarajevo was a lovely place, with a fantastic atmosphere and very friendly people. I never once felt remotely unsafe walking around, despite the occasional crumbling building and line of bullet holes.

Visit if you can.