Our first HelpExchange was a mixed bag, but immediately afterward we had our first experience with Couch Surfing, which was fabulous. Couch Surfing is an online network whose members host each other in their homes while traveling. It can be a great way to meet local people and (of course) to stretch your travel money by getting a few nights of free lodging.
Our Couch Surfing host was Isabel, a vibrant and outgoing Spanish lesbian in her 50s. She designs and builds houses for a living, both in her hometown west of Malaga and in her birthplace, Tangier.
Her own house and garden, which she’s been working on for 20 years, is gorgeous. It’s situated on a hill with wonderful views of the surrounding valley and all the way to Malaga and the sea. There are three small dogs and three cats in residence, plus a large pond with turtles, fish, and frogs. Birds twitter in the palm and fruit trees. There’s even a swimming pool on the terrace for summer. It’s a quiet green oasis.
Isabel was a marvelously generous host. She picked us up at the Malaga bus station, took us out on the town for dinner, and the next day, gave us a driving tour of her beloved valley. We met her brother’s family, who lives next door, including her little nephew, Eduardo.
As luck would have it, her small town was having its Carnival celebration the day we were there, so we got to see another Carnival parade. This one was more fun than Cordoba’s grander parade because we got to experience it with someone local.
We sat at an outdoor cafe on the little main square for hours eating, drinking, and watching the costumed children and adults going by. Although we couldn’t make out the words, we cheered heartily when Eduardo and his classmates (dressed as elves) mounted the stage and sang a few songs. It felt so nice to be part of a community for a day, especially one enjoying a holiday. That feeling is a rare treat for travelers like us.