Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 12- Reunion with An Old Friend & The Glories of Couch Surfing

September 26th 2010, Sunday 9pm

What a great time this has turned out to be in Lander! I ended up meeting Annemarie for breakfast at the Oxbow restaurant. It was such a treat to meet up with a friend I haven’t seen in seven years! Tyler and I were commenting about how we are now getting to be old enough that it is even possible to not see a friend for such a long time but to still remember them.

After meeting Annemarie and having delicious cinnamon roll French toast (it’s literally a cinnamon roll that they slice and then make into French toast. OMG) we had about an hour to kill so we went to the public park in Lander and played with Hanz who had been patiently waiting in the car. I had wanted to check out churches on Sunday mornings in the different areas we would be visiting, but I figured it isn’t often that you run into an old acquaintance and you have to take advantage of seeing that person while you can! Plus we have many more Sundays to come so I will have other opportunities.

So now I get to an explanation of Couch Surfing before I continue with my saga. Couch surfing is based off of the free website ( which is a global community of people who are travelling and/or providing free lodging for “surfers.” As a member you create a profile with your interests and however much information you’re comfortable with providing and you can post pictures of yourself, things in your life, the places you’ve traveled, etc. Since Tyler and I are traveling to a lot of places that we’ve never been and we don’t always know people in those areas I use the couchsurfing website to find people who seem cool to either meet up with for coffee or a beer or to get some advice on where good places are to get food, etc. It’s a way to have an “in” in the community because you’re getting advice from a local. It can help you to avoid tourist traps or to really take advantage of all the opportunities that you might not be aware of in an area.It can be a way to make travelling less expensive because you won’t have to pay for hotels, which is really nice. It’s a way of making travelling easier for people who don’t necessarily have excess income. It’s also just a cool way to meet some interesting people who often times have done a lot of traveling and have fun and entertaining stories about their own experiences on the road. Obviously I’m sure there are some weirdos on the website but you just have to use your better judgment and check them out a bit before committing to anything.

So anyways, I am a huge fan of couchsurfing, mostly just for meeting up with people who seem to have interesting lives or who I think I would be friends with if I knew them from somewhere else. What’s that saying, something like, strangers are just friends you have yet to meet? I mean, it is funny when you think about the arbitrary things that make it acceptable for someone to talk to us and become our friend. If you saw someone who looked really cool it would be unusual for you to just flat out walk up to them and say, Let’s be friends! Wanna hang out? Because that person would look at you like, wtf, I don’t know you, why are you talking to me? There needs to be something that acts as a segueway to conversation and possibly friendship. So usually, if I am going to be in an area, that makes it socially acceptable for me to look at the profiles of people in that area and then socially acceptable for me to send someone a message. Think about it, if I just randomly clicked on someone’s profile and thought they looked cool so I sent them a message telling them so and that I wanted to be friends, it would be kind of weird because it would seem totally random. I think the psychology of that is just fascination. There are just these little things that we have to do to make connections with people that we don’t know to make an approach not seem like creeping.

So when I was looking at Lander, WY on the couchsurfing site there were a few outdoorsy people who looked cool. I figured I would shoot them a message to see if they would want to meet up or at the very least tell me a cool place to hike in the area. Due to internet problems I only ended up sending out one message to this guy Travis about meeting up. It worked out that he liked football and Tyler and I had planned on watching the Giants v Titans game (which again turned into me being a bitter Giants fan, ugh!) so we invited him to join us. Tyler was definitely like, Wtf is this couchsurfing deal? Who are these people that want to hang out with random people? Don’t they have friends of their own? He cracks me up. I definitely had to do some convincing that they’re just people who like to meet people from other places, which I totally get because I think that is awesome, but I can understand how that might not be everybody’s cup of tea. I think it’s great because in very few other circumstances could you pull up to a parking space, get out and have a complete stranger smiling at you, ready to shake your hand and introduce themselves. The other side of this meeting total strangers business is that if I see someone who looks cool, especially if they are a guy, I can’t just go up to them and be like, Hey! You look cool! Trying to just talk to them or wanting to hang out with them to better get to know them would definitely be perceived as hitting on them and then that is just awkward because it’s like, Dude, I was so not interested in you that way. And then it’s awkward and you just sound stupid if you try to explain that you really did just want to talk to them and that you didn’t want anything more than a friendship out of it.

So conclusion to a long discussion of the pros of Couchsurfing, it ended up being a really interesting experience meeting Travis. No Mom, he wasn’t a serial killer and I didn’t meet him alone or in a deserted place! He wasn’t rooting for the Giants, which didn’t work in his favor, but I forgave him once he started telling me really interesting stories about his experiences living a short while in Vietnam! I wasn’t aware of this but evidently there are many retired American GI’s who have gone back to Vietnam after fighting there to try to help bring peace to the countries and probably themselves as well. I asked him about how it was being an American in Vietnam, a country we absolutely ravaged with chemical weapons like agent orange that don’t only destroy landscapes but genetics as well. Travis told me that the Vietnamese are actually very forgiving towards the American people. One of the most touching things that he told me about was when he was going to do a motorcycle tour of the Northern part of the country and he was trying to scope out the sentiment towards Americans to see if it would be too dangerous. He spoke with an older Vietnamese man who told him not to worry and that they understood that it was a conflict “between your government and my government” and they knew it was an unpopular war in America. I have so much admiration for people who can suffer so much but still be open-minded enough to be able to distinguish between the actions of a government and the people.

However, life as a tourist in Vietnam bodes not so well for the Aussies and the Europeans who have supposedly created quite an image for themselves as rude partiers. Large amounts of males from those places will rove up and down the touristy coast, hopping from bar to bar and party to party, starting fights and arguing over the already inexpensive prices of lodging and other expenses. So in comparison, as long as it’s clear you don’t fit into that category, being an American in Vietnam is actually pretty sweet.

Travis worked at a dive shop for a while on the coast and said his boss was a French Canadian who was heavily involved in the Thai sex market. Supposedly brothels in Thailand are often fronted by barber shops, given away by the fact that a dozen scantily clad women will be walking around inside. Having just read up extensively on sex trafficking this made me slightly sick, especially when he described the guy as being extremely charming, albeit a terrible person.

Ah, the wonders of couch surfing! You never know what kinds of stories you will hear. But you will definitely learn something! An afternoon well spent I would say. Thank you Travis!

When Tyler and I went back outside after spending three hours indoors watching football and chatting we realized how hot the day had become! We drove down to the river near Sinks Canyon and dunked under the freezing cold water to get some relief. It feels SO good to do that. I never want to just plop into the water because I think it is going to be too cold but then I do it and I definitely don’t regret it.

Afterwards we went to a Best Western in Lander and sat outside where they had outlets to charge our laptops and WiFi that we could steal. It has been fun traveling to these new places but it can be difficult to spend so much time with only one person so I am really glad that we ran into so many cool people within the past 24 hours! I mean, I love Tyler but seriously, living in a 17ft trailer and having one car (his) can be taxing. Considering this is just the beginning of the trip it’s definitely important to figure out something that I can do for myself and BY myself that will keep me pleasant and sane. Writing has been a good excuse for that. By now Tyler knows that if I say I’m going to go write, and he tries to talk to me, it had better be something pretty important or else he just gets glared at! We met two guys at the Lander Bar who are moving from Washington to Denver and driving a route similar to ours. Tyler hit it off with them and it turns out they are staying at our campground so he’s over at their campsite now, getting his quality time in so that he stays sane as well! J

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