Couchsurfing vs. Airbnb vs. the hospital in Spain

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     Street name of the year: “Disappear Here” in Cordoba, Spain


     Who doesn’t love Spain? Are there still people who need convincing? What’s the worst thing you can say about Spain? The people are a little aloof? I don’t hold that against them. I’d been to Spain three or four times, but forgot how soothing the Andalucian countryside was. A bus ride through olive, fruit and nut trees made me homesick for driving on Highway 99 in California.
     There is one thing, though, that drives me up the wall. At the risk of offending my Spanish friends, it’s the way they speak Spanish, the lisping. Maybe I’ve just grown up and become used to Latino Spanish, but it makes me berserk to hear Castilian Spanish. It’s jarring, like the first time you hear David Beckham’s voice.
     I heard a theory that Spaniards lisp because long ago King Ferdinand lisped (if he had a Monty Python-esque funny walk would the whole country walk like that, too?) and we shouldn’t make fun of people who lisp nor for any other speech impediments, but how can you say Velazquez (“Velathqueth”), Zaragoza (“Tharagotha”), gracias (“grathias”) or cecina (“thethina”) and not say “Thpain”, too? And isn’t this why Spain has so many great writers and painters, to avoid speaking?
ef meetup

     I was standing in a market in Cordoba when a guy came over and poked me in the stomach. He stared at me for a heavy few seconds before he said slowly, “I think I know you.” It was Manuel from when we worked together at EF in the summer of 2006 in California. (EF was a Lord of the Flies gulag that has irrevocably shortened my life span). He said he always thought he would meet me on the road again. Small world.
     Look at what a mess I am. As you can see, Manuel’s boy was trying to take a swing at me. He was shrieking, “How can you let yourself go like that?!” I didn’t have a comeback.


nerja

     For a day-trip I visited Nerja, a coastal enclave just east of Malaga popular with northern Europeans and The Great Traveler forgot his backpack under the bus. The result was that I had to wait five hours for the bus to return. I couldn’t change my clothes so I went to the beach in shoes and socks, which made me feel very British. No one batted an eye.


paella

     Paella! All-you-can-eat on the beach in Nerja for 7 or 8 euros (less than $10). I asked an American living in Spain how much I should tip at a restaurant or cafe and he said, “Nothing! Even if the bill is 9.50 euros, I wait for my fifty cents.” I must have looked skeptical because he added, “It’s a regular job. The waiter has health insurance!” I asked how much to tip if it was a big group. He raised his voice, exasperated, “Zero! The cook—everyone has health insurance!”


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el paraiso de jamon
     Missing from the above photos is another chain of shops with dried ham legs hanging from the ceiling called El Palacio de Jamon. There must be a marketing lesson here. Open up a taco stand and call yourself The Museum of Tacos or The Palace of Tacos. The interesting thing isn’t so much about what they eat, but when they eat. Restaurants don’t open for dinner before 7:30pm, and 9pm is when most people start to think about dinner. How can eating so late be healthy? Spaniards seem to hardly eat at all, too. Is it the heavy smoking that suppresses their appetites? I really need to start smoking—Kent cigarettes, of course.
     Spain is a true pork paradise. I totally overdo it, gorging specifically on all the different kinds of cured hams. Last time I was in Spain I got sucked into the same bad habit and barfed my brains out one night, winding up in a hospital near Marbella from food poisoning. (I gave it three stars on Trip Advisor; mattress could have been firmer.) I need the slimming properties of a little food poisoning right now, I’ve become morbidly obese, but in keeping with my American roots, I’ve decided to sue the government of Spain for failing to provide warning labels that jamon serrano can be addictive.
vomitorio

     Speaking of barfing, this is what they call the top section of the Real Madrid soccer stadium. Barcelona fans feel the same way.


real madrid toilet

     The toilet in Real Madrid’s locker room. I can’t decide if it is worthy enough for my toilets page.


rotel bus

     I spotted this bus in Nerja. It is from a hotel in Passau, Germany that I once stayed at. I’ve seen the same bus a few times in California. The sleeping arrangement looks a little too cozy.

Battle Royale: Couchsurfing vs. Airbnb
     I stayed in just about every type of accommodation in Spain: with friends, hotels, hostels (including one in Granada called Polaroid Siesta; even the owner couldn’t explain it), Couchsurfing, and I tried Airbnb for the first time. I had two positive Airbnb experiences, but I’m at an impasse with them.
     Almost imperceptibly, there seems to be a shift from Couchsurfing to Airbnb. Couchsurfing is in danger of losing its way. There was a lot of internet buzz from this article about Couchsurfing being the “end of a dream”. Many of the writer’s points are valid, but he’s painting Couchsurfing’s problems with a wide brush and a big, noisy title. He could have called his essay, “I’m Kinda Disappointed in Couchsurfing”, but would anyone read it? That’s why I almost titled this blog post, “Photos of My Vasectomy in a New Delhi Slum with a Rusty Butter Knife”.

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     By the way, I went to Vasectomy Shop to get my work done. Groupon.


madrid street performer
     There’s not a whole lot to say about my Airbnb experience as it was very similar to Couchsurfing. It can be considered a kind of paid Couchsurfing. My only reason for trying Airbnb was that I didn’t want to socialize with my hosts. I was tired and not in the mood. To visit a Couchsurfing host you need to be “on” which is part of my self-important page of Advanced Couchsurfing Tips. (Just to toss it out there, I recently came across a new competitor to Couchsurfing, Sustainable Couch and some people have an opinion of BeWelcome.) Maybe that should be Airbnb’s slogan: “Couchsurfing for the anti-social”.
     The question becomes: why would travelers want to use Airbnb over Couchsurfing if the only difference is having to pay and why would hosts want to use Couchsurfing over Airbnb if you can get paid for it? I ended up hanging out with my Cordoba Airbnb host quite a bit, but with my Madrid Airbnb host I was cooped up in my room, which is poor form if you are a Couchsurfing guest.
     As a Couchsurfing guest, I am very deferential, trying to fit into my host’s schedule, offering to do things, rarely planning anything at night without my host, but what is my role as an Airbnb guest? Is there a line for being an Airbnb guest? I kept screaming, “Daddy needs a foot massage!” but nothing happened.
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     I was in Cordoba during its annual patio festival where crowds barge into everyone’s private courtyards to gawk at their plants. My Airbnb host is the guy in the gray shirt on the right. He got me invited to a private patio where they somehow corralled this band to play songs for an hour, including a soulful version of the song below.


     This is called “En la variedad esta la diversion”. (“In variety is fun”) by Un Pinguino en mi Ascensor (A Penguin in my Elevator).

     But wait! If you have the tolerance for only one Spanish-language song, my favorite is “De Musica Ligera” by Soda Estereo from Argentina:

Airbnb’s assault on my nerves
     I booked two places quickly and easily on Airbnb in Madrid and Cordoba, but when I tried to book a third place on the coast, suddenly Airbnb wanted more in the way of identification. I still don’t know if it is Airbnb or the hosts that wanted more, but I tried several listings and they all sent me to the page to get “verified online”. First, my choices were to link to my Facebook account or LinkedIn. I linked to LinkedIn, but somehow that wasn’t enough. Then my options were Facebook and something called Xing. Really? If I sign up for a Chinese social media website, then a host in Spain will drop their guard? I did so, but Xing still wasn’t enough, inexplicably.
     I began to wonder what was going on. Part of my “offline verification” was to let Airbnb charge a small amount to my credit card. Somehow this proves something? I did this when I signed up with Paypal and they charged me 3 cents and then 4 cents. Airbnb? 62 cents! That’s your complete business plan right there!
     Step One: Get millions of members
     Step Two: Tell them they need to be verified for “safety and security” and charge them 62 cents each.
     Step Three: Retire in the Philippines.
     What chutzpah. They claim, “We hope you understand that these additional security measures are in place for the safety and security of the community”. Riiiiight. Now it was Facebook or nothing; I could not use Airbnb without Airbnb linking to my Facebook account. I could sense it all along. I could even almost see the drool bubbling on their lips and frothing down their chins as they hold out for access to the Holy Grail, my Facebook friends.
yuck store
     What’s the big deal?
     First, I don’t like the scam. Airbnb’s Facebook obsession has nothing to do with verification or safety, a ruse they have given up at this point: “Airbnb would like to access your (Facebook) public profile, friend list, email address, birthday, education history, hometown, interests, current city, personal description and likes.” (The real reason Airbnb had a come-to-Jesus moment with safety was the result of a woman having her apartment trashed, Airbnb’s weak response, and the complete blowback when word got out.)
     They also want to be able to mention when and where I am using Airbnb. Yeah, that’s what I want to do, give Airbnb complete rein of my Facebook and then see this update on my wall: “The Dromomaniac just wet the bed in Malaga, Spain with Airbnb!”
     They say I can opt out by sifting through the thicket of Facebook’s 5000 privacy settings, but it should be opt-in. That’s the rub. I am opting in to get verified, not letting Airbnb use me for free advertising and data mining.
     I know I’m alone on this. Privacy by now is a quaint 20th century ideal. All apps suck Facebook info from you, but that’s why I don’t have any apps on Facebook.
     I stood my ground with Airbnb by doing nothing. For the coast—I chose beach towns with the worst reputations just to see what holiday hell looked like, but I didn’t see anything horrific—I found one place to stay by googling “Fuengirola cheap hotel for bedwetters”. In Torremolinos I went with the most logical hotel name for maximum quiet: Hostal Virgen del Rocio II (I wonder what happened to the first virgin?) It delivered.
     Later I got an email from Airbnb offering another way to overcome my resistance: make a video about myself. Make a video about myself?! You’ve got to be kidding me. When did I reach the point where I became Airbnb’s circus bear? “Hey Foster, roll over! That’s it, now dance! I said, DANCE!!”
luis shaira     Above was my Couchsurfing host in Cordoba, a positive, upbeat Paraguayan doctor here holding his Mexican girlfriend outside a jazz club. A very impressive guy, he hitchhikes to his medical conferences all around Spain. When he gets picked up hitchhiking and is asked what he does, he says, “I’m a surgeon!” and no one believes him.
     In Malaga I stayed with a 19-year-old Colombian student who invited me to visit him after he saw my Open Request on Couchsurfing. That’s some serious open mindedness. I almost felt obligated to visit him, I was so touched by his sincerity to meet me. When I was 19 I don’t remember voluntarily interacting with anyone older than 25 unless they were related to me.
     The funny thing about Couchsurfing is that hosts invite me mainly because they like that I have traveled so much, but then I spend the whole time trying to convince them that they would have better lives by not traveling as much as I do.
     Would I have met these people without Couchsurfing? No. That’s the only argument I need to not turn my back on Couchsurfing. The lament that it is the end of the dream seems more like a whine that Couchsurfing now takes more work to find real members in the right spirit, but until another website can gain critical mass, I’m not going anywhere. The haystack got bigger and it’s harder to find the needle. Deal with it. The best things in life don’t come easy.
     “The best things in life don’t come easy.” Man, that is deep. And I blog for free!

ugly busts

     A montage of the “art” in my Airbnb host’s home.


     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+.

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Comments

Couchsurfing vs. Airbnb vs. the hospital in Spain — 7 Comments

  1. Welcome back kent. Great Post!

    I’ve been really back and forth on whether to use Airbnb. On one hand they are alot cheaper than the hostels in Australia. On the other I have some serious issues with the way they run their company and treat customers and hosts. Many of my friends have had major refund issues. Thanks for weighing in. Hope Spain treats you well!

  2. Kent….well done….leaving soon for 3 month euro continent hopping….Hate to sound too contrarian but counter-intuitively I have found more and better choices on CS…..unfortunately, the long-timers in groups have become more judgmental, snippy and self-righteous. And so it goes…..
    —–
    The good news about AbnB is once you’ve stayed through them there is never a problem. Some of the bad is that my experience has been that VERY often the price of a room for 2(unless way outside the city I am travelling to)is more expensive than Hotwire, etc. private hotel room. Another thing I hate about AbnB is the usual “cleaning fee” imposed by the owner. Keep in mind that sometimes if you write to the owner of a listing that says “price negotiable just ask” or something like it they become indignant for trying to beat the system…..weird….

    Lastly, at a future time would love to hear you elaborate on your line: “….they would have better lives by not traveling as much as I do”.

    Where are you off to next?

    Happy Trails!

  3. I did have good Airbnb experiences—but only two so far—it is just the company that is rubbing me the wrong way. Cleaning fee? I haven’t encountered it yet. Soon there will be a paying fee.
    I don’t even look at CS Groups any more, which is a great shame.
    I travel too much. It is too extreme of a lifestyle.
    Next month it is Holland and Denmark and then it’s wide open!

  4. I totally agree about Airbnb being a way to travel without feeling you have to host your host. In my experience so far, it’s much cheaper than any other paid way of staying somewhere.

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