It was already evening on Wednesday when I stepped off the NakedBus in Christchurch (my new mode of transportation now that Fez had been returned, courtesy of the generosity of Josi and the remaining trips on her passport, another traveler-helping-traveler moment that saved me both logistically and budgetarily). I had no idea where I was going to sleep that night.
After experiencing some sticker shock at the cost of hostels in Christchurch (Chch), I thought I would try my luck at couchsurfing. On the website there is an option to put out a public message to couchsurfers in a location that you are on your way and need a place to stay – something along the lines of “First time in Christchurch, hoping to see what the city has to offer and share a beer with some new friends” – and hosts can contact you. I had been in contact with a couple people but nothing was resolved yet by the time I got on the bus. I had a back-up plan of the YMCA for NZ$30 for a dorm bed. The cheapest option in town.
Luckily I had a map of Chch that showed the locations of free wifi in town. I logged on and had a message: “When do you arrive? I can pick you up.” Max was my age, a couchsurfer and host with nothing but positive reviews. He was an avid traveler who enjoyed hosting other travelers, as long as he wasn’t at a festival. Sounded like someone I would get along with. I responded that I had arrived and was just mooching off the free wifi, unsure he would get my message. Within minutes he responded asking where I was and saying he would pick me up in an hour. It was 7:30 pm.
I waited, with all my belongings on my back in a public plaza in a city I didn’t know until 8:30. This was one of those travel moments where you just have to have faith; I could be stranded if he doesn’t show up, I could be murdered either way, or I could have a fantastic story.
8:30 came and so did Max’s car, complete with Max and two more friends. They enthusiastically pulled up, pointing in my direction with smiles and “hey’s!” all around. Max jumped out and introduced himself, threw my stuff in the trunk, and I got in the car with these friendly strangers. Quick introductions all around and off we went to Max’s place.
I had the fantastic story.
This experience was a complete 180 from my initial foray into couchsurfing back in Salvador. Max and all his friends were gracious hosts. For the next three days they welcomed me into their lives and showed me part of Chch that you don’t get to see from a hostel or guidebook.
That first night Max and co. (his car companions Louie and Tim and his brother Jake) and I hung out playing Cards Against Humanity – apparently this is a brand new game in NZ, which was surprising coming from the States where it has been a favorite for a couple of years now, which may have given me a bit of an unfair advantage leading to a crushing victory – and generally got to know each other. A large part of this required translation from Kiwi into regular English. This is when I learned the meaning of Sweet As, Hard Out, ae, and fush and chups. The next day Max and I strolled along beach-side in the suburb of Sumner where he grew up, swapping travel stories, before he, Louie and I had some tasting beers at a local brewery and drove up to a lookout where you could see all of Chch and neighboring Lyttelton below. Max dropped me off to explore the city center that afternoon, telling me some places worth checking out while went off to work. That night he brought me to his brothers’ house for some garage beer pong before we all went out in town.
Saturday was slow to start due to the activities of the night before and the bad weather, so when Max proposed a day of chilling in various locations before another night out it sounded great. We kept Braden company while he worked on building an impressive sound system and stopped by his brothers’ house for a quick FIFA session before the night, when we started at Braden’s house for pre-club drinks. I got to know Sarah and Alana over daiquiris while the guys played more beer pong and then we all jumped in a van taxi and went to a club for a typical Chch drum and bass show. I definitely experience some fun Chch nightlife while I was in town. Needless to say my 7:00 am bus to Kaikoura the next morning was a rough one.
What I’m hoping to describe with a summary of those few days is how, when you have a great couchsurfing host like Max, you get to see the real life of a place. I have impressions of the city of Christchurch, which will get a post too, but I wanted to first say how fantastic it was to spend a few days with some great people in this new place. In the chance that any of them read this, thank you all. You completely changed my couchsurfing experience to an incredibly positive one and I hope to be a part of this community for a while, eventually hosting people in SF whenever I get back. Which includes all of you – any time you want, come stay with me so I can return the favor. My experience in Chch would not have been the same without taking the chance to try couchsurfing again and I’m so happy I went for it. I can now recommend trying this accommodation option when you’re in the right place for it. Of course NZ is a great place for it, so I had a great weekend.
Or as the Kiwis would say – it was heaps as sick though cuz, flat out chur.