Couch Surfing in Cape Town

September 3, 2008

First, in exciting news: broccoli is now in season!

Second, something I forgot to write about: International Food Night hosted by ISOS (International Student Organization at Stellenbosch) a few Thursdays ago.  Mentionable because there were so many countries represented, from Nigeria to Israel to Mexico.  One of my friends slaved away and made 200 pierogies.  I was looking forward to helping but all of my “You’re sick? That’s too bad… I feel great!” comments caught up with me and I didn’t want to contaminate the process.

Tickets were R7 and profits went to the Kayamandi after school program.  Quite a nice event.  I balked at the idea of participating, even though I immensely enjoying trying to cook new cuisines, because we only have a mini-stove with two uncontrollable burners and a few small pots and pans.  I have no idea how those who did participate pulled it off, but I was thoroughly impressed.

Last but not least: my weekend in Cape Town!  I found this guy, Derek, a few weeks ago.  I decided I needed to stay with him because he directs documentaries (quite a few and they’re nothing to scoff at) and I had to go in the off chance he would say, “I really need a camera operator for this next film” and I could help to get a friend a gig.  He only accepted one Couch Surfer at a time so I was going to stay alone.  That was an okay idea because there were a couple of other CSers I was in contact with who would have showed me around.  But at the last minute, he told me I should bring a friend (his new girlfriend was coming to town for the weekend).  Sam, another AIFS student, fearlessly joined me.  People always think I’m insane when I explain Couch Surfing, or rather, they think it’s a great idea and think it is interesting, but wouldn’t do it themselves.  Sam is firmly converted.

For those who are not familiar, Couch Surfing ( is a website with profiles of people all over the world (all over- including Antarctica) who offer their couches, guest bedrooms or floors to travelers.  Those who cannot offer accommodation sometimes offer their services as a tour guide or dinner date.  You request to stay with someone, and if they are available and it works for both parties, you meet up and stay for free.  Usually the guest either buys or cooks a dinner, or pays for some gas, but the idea is for it to be as cheap as possible.  Those who host are usually also hosted, so it is fairly even in the end, and the philosophies of those on the site allow for the exchange without a huge concern for money or gaining anything material.  Learning about other people, places and ideas is enough of a payment, a mini-cultural exchange, if you will.

Alexis and I used the site last summer for the first time in Budapest and Vienna and had two amazing experiences and one very interesting stay, both completely worth it.  Staying with someone who knows and loves the city adds an entirely different dimension.  The visit feels less like tourism and more like visiting a friend and exploring a new city.  Unfortunately, not many people travel to Columbus, so we only hosted two people last year, an annoying German girl and a fascinating Frenchman.  =)

So!  Sam and I took the train on Friday.  South Africans are pretty curious to see young white kids riding the train (South African students have cars…) but it’s only R24 for a round trip (less than $4), takes little over an hour, and drops you off right in the middle of Cape Town.  We were warned about safety, but frankly, it is absolutely no more dangerous than riding any metro system in Europe, so long as you are alert and have at least a bit of common sense.  In fact, I would guess that there is less crime on the train people ride to work than the one tourists frequent in Paris.  What kind of thief chooses to ride a train full of equally disadvantaged people when Stellenbosch, full of loaded white tourists, is less than five minutes away?  And like I said… $3.  They could pick-pocket all of my cash and I’d still save money over renting a car!

It rained all weekend.  Really rained.  I believe Saturday night was the worst storm Cape Town has seen in a few years, or so says the news.  On Friday we went with Derek to the Three Continents Film Festival, where we were guests at a super fancy reception.  Afterward, Sam and I met with another Couch Surfer met to listen to some live bands at a place called The Assembly.  It had AMAZING bathrooms.  By far the best I’ve seen in a bar, and really cool sinks…

The music was amazing, somewhat surprisingly (the radio here is REALLY bad, South African pop is just awful so my expectations were low).  And Corver, the CSer, and his girlfriend Jana, were really super people.  They were both incredibly friendly and relaxed.  We talked about politics and racism and South African society v. American society.  Those topics usually result in a somewhat strained, nervous environment, but with them it was just informative and interesting, I felt like we learned quite a bit about each other.  His view of Americans was actually very positive, he admires the way all of the Americans who visit are informed and passionate about both domestic and international affairs.  He thinks many young South Africans essentially bury their heads in the sand because of history and tension, so there is a general hush of debate.  I can definitely see that being true.

On Saturday Sam and I went to the South African National Museum and the Slave Lodge Museum.

It was pretty nasty out so we went to see a movie (Jewish Film Fest was showing Me Without You.  I’d never seen it but I guess it’s a few years old) then to dinner (Chinese!) and then back and to bed early.  The plan was to get up on Sunday and go to the market, but it stormed all night so the markets were canceled.  We went to breakfast and then we caught the early train back to Stellenbosch.  A successful weekend overall!

Next week is the Garden Route Tour.  We leave at 5:30 AM on Saturday morning… ah!  But I can’t wait, I think it’s going to be tons of fun.


3 Responses to “Couch Surfing in Cape Town”

  1. Martha-her mom! Says:

    Been waiting patiently for a blog update–can you start doing more stuff so you can write more frequently? Who needs an education anyway?!
    Did you get to watch any of the films at the Film Festival and if so, do you think any will make it to the big screen here? How did it compare to Sundance?
    What age range to you typically find CS-ers to be and where is Corver from?
    Oh, and, just how many bars have you been in to do a bathroom comparison, anyway?! Leave it to you to like the bathroom best of any part of the trip!!

  2. Kathy Says:

    (This part is for your mom)…… These couchsurfing folks are registered and checked out and proven to be safe and honorable, RIGHT?)
    This part is for me….. I WANT TO GO ON THE GARDEN TOUR!!

  3. Unkle Bob Wallace Says:

    It seems you are receiving the whole gambit of experiences. But I seem to be missing the “school is just wonderful” part and I’m learning a lot! 😉

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