Later this year I will be cycling up from Cape Town into Zimbabwe, Botswana and further, with Sven, my equally passionate, vegan, humanitarian, activist partner. So here I am in England, raising money for our trip, and getting fit along Britain’s B-roads and cycle routes. Back in Cape Town we both use our bikes for transport and fun, rather than for testosterone-laced cycle races. Three nights ago I had my first couchsurfing experience. Interestingly, it was also the first time both of my hosts had offered their homes to vagabonds (couchsurfers) like me.
The two experiences were vastly different and equally comforting. My first hosts, in Ely, were an Argentinian ex-pat couple with an adorable dog and beautiful cats. When I arrived they were watching Argentina beat Nigeria in the World Cup. They showed me to my room, the shower and left me to my own devices. After I had washed off 7 hours of sweaty cycling, I was starving (well, not really, but you know, it feels like that.. ) so I decided I should probably go out and find some food. I am vegan, in case you haven’t already figured that out, and I think it makes carnivores/omnivores nervous. Preparing food for a vegan seems very complicated for an animal-and-dairy eater, so I don’t like to inflict myself on them unnecessarily! When I got back from the restaurant (which, by the way, didn’t have one single vegan meal on the menu and I had to get them to adapt some of the items… but that is another story) I was so tired that I just said goodnight and fell into my bed.
So here’s where it all gets a bit tricky, and maybe someone needs to write a book about “couchsurfer etiquette.” For example, is one expected to make polite conversation with your host/couchsurfer until you all fall asleep chatting? Cycle tourists out there will know that by the time you arrive at your host you are likely to be exhausted; it has probably taken you much longer to get to your destination than you expected, especially if the satnav on your phone is misbehaving. Because my first-ever hostess was a really interesting woman, I spent a couple of hours the next morning chatting to her in her kitchen. She offered me some wonderful fruit and a taste of her native Yerba Maté. I needed to get on my bike, but it was so nice getting to know her that by the time I left her house it was almost time to stop somewhere for lunch! So I cycled down to the river Ouse and dilly-dallied about drawing the narrow boats while I ate from my jar of peanut butter. If you are going to couchsurf, maybe it’s a good idea to allow some time to hang out with your hosts, otherwise you might just as well stay in a motel.
The second night, in Bury St Edmunds, I was hosted by a young vegan couple. Anna is a lovely girl who has grown up vegetarian, except for when her parents collected “road-kill”. Once she told me that, I knew I was in for an interesting evening. She prepared a vegan meal for me which was at once delicious, comforting, and satisfying. I was in heaven. Not only were these two lovely people vegans, they were also cyclists, and her boyfriend Joey spent an hour in the morning true-ing my wheels (which were slightly buckled and rubbing on my brakes), lube-ing my chain, and then he cycled with me to show me how to get onto National Cycling Route 13, which was going to take me almost all the way to East Bergholt in Suffolk. Some people are really kind and hospitable! Thank you so much Anna and Joey for being such awesome hosts.