CouchSurfing to the Rescue!

My last post left off with Lis and me finally–FINALLY–arriving at Dante’s place in Porto Cristo, despite Murphy’s best attempts to thwart us with his stupid Law.  This is the point in the story where our bad luck finally decided to cut us some slack for a few days, and it turned into an AMAZING weekend.

As Lis and I approached Dante’s address, we saw two men standing in a doorway conversing with each other.  Sure enough, it turned out to be Dante, and he introduced the man next to him as his brother, Matias, who lived on the floor directly above Dante’s.  Matias bid us adiós and Dante gave us a tour of his digs.  As it turned out, we wouldn’t be sleeping on a couch at all, but a bunk bed that Dante had in a room specifically designated for CouchSurfers! SCORE!  He even had a spare laptop that he said was ours to use whenever we felt like.  Within a few minutes, our host was already exceeding our expectations.

I call bottom!

He gave us a tour and was very gracious, making it clear that we were allowed to use anything in his home and to come and go as we pleased.  Lis and I found out that he’s a pretty creative guy: he’s in a band and also works as a freelance graphic and Web site designer.  He took us to a local grocery store so we could buy our food and supplies for the next few days (bread, ham, cheese, cereal, milk, yogurt, and apples), then we hopped in his car and got a quick tour of Porto Cristo and neighboring areas of the island.  He drove us to some cliffs and we were treated to spectacular views of the coastline and beaches.  I could not believe how beautiful this place is.

Feast yer eyes!

We headed back to his place for lunch (a refreshing and delicious salad), and after that Lis and I couldn’t wait any longer – after having taken in just a little bit of Mallorca’s natural beauty, we HAD to get down to the beach!  Dante said he had some work he wanted to knock out, so despite our best efforts to convince him to come down to the beach with us, Dante did the responsible thing and stayed in.  Lis changed into her bathing suit (I had been wearing mine underneath my clothes the entire time, if it’s any indication of how excited I was to go to the beach), and Operation Get-A-Tan officially commenced!  We made our way down to Porto Cristo’s beach (ah, yes, I forgot to mention that Dante lives just a 2-minute walking distance from a lovely little beach), where we spent the next few hours basking in the rays of the life-giving sun and engaging in a session of Girl Talk.

Dante’s backyard trumps mine.

After we were sufficiently satisfied with our sun soaking (alliteration for the win), we took a leisurely stroll around the town, peered in different stores, tried to understand the signs written in Catalan, made fun of the stereotypical touristy gifts (Flamenco figurines for sale in a part of the country where Flamenco is not a part of the culture in any way, shape or form are very conspicuous), and enjoyed some overpriced and delicious ice cream.  We eventually meandered back to Dante’s place, where he was conveniently finishing up his work.  The three of us made our way to his courtyard, where he revealed his hammock!  Lis and I took turns swaying on it while we engaged in a conversation with Dante, getting to know our host.  After a while, we were joined by Dante’s friend, Jeremy, who had dropped by for a quick visit.  Jeremy is a professional photographer with a very unique perspective on almost every aspect of life, so a conversation with him proved to be a fascinating one.  At some point Dante revealed that we’d be going to one of his favorite restaurants for a Mallorcan dinner, and I made my way to the shower so we’d all have enough time to get ready before dinner.  By the time I emerged to let Lis have her turn, Jeremy had left.

She’s just hanging out. 😛

But much time didn’t pass before we were joined by another one of Dante’s friends, Sath.  Sath is a professional artist (are you starting to see a trend here? Dante is a graphic designer, Jeremy is a photographer, Sath is an artist… Lis and I had stumbled upon a pretty creative group of people!), and his medium of choice is spray paint.  But Lis and I couldn’t believe it when we saw some of his art– it didn’t look like any graffiti we’d ever seen!

Much of his art carries a political or social message.

How can he make spray paint look like brush strokes??

It’s all made with spray paint!  The above images were taken from Sath’s Web site, where you can see more of his work! www.sath.es

While we waited for one more of Dante’s friends to arrive, Dante and Sath showed us a video that Dante had put together of the trip to Thailand and Cambodia that they had taken a few months prior.  It’s an AMAZING video!  Dante has some serious video-editing skills, and it was a lot of fun to see their trip.  Click HERE to watch the video!  At one point in the vid, they suddenly show a MASSIVE spider in their teeny-weeny hotel room, and, being an extremely jumpy person with a bad case of arachnophobia, I flinched and started screaming when I saw the spider, partially because it caught me by surprise, and partially because the guys in the video were screaming, so it was contagious.  My screaming made Lis scream (told ya it’s contagious), and it was right at this exact moment when Dante’s friend, Nico, steps in.  The poor guy was so confused, walking into a room with two screaming strangers.  We calmed down and paused the video in order to be introduced to Nico, and then the five of us finished watching the video together.  No more spiders, thankfully!

Now that we were all gathered, we made our way to the restaurant, where Dante is friends with the chef.  Lis and I had no idea, but we were in for a treat!  Dante picked out a few things, then a plate arrived.  Then another.  And another.  Plate after plate after plate kept coming to the table, and some of the things hadn’t even been asked for!  And it was all delicious!  Dante also had us order a traditional Mallorcan drink called hierbas.  Hierbas is an herbal liqueur that is said to be good for digestion, so that’s why we had it after our feast.  It’s made from distilled molasses and wine, with herbs like aniseed, mint, chamomile, rosemary, thyme and fennel.  It was sweet, though a bit strong, but Lis and I both liked it.

After dinner (we each only ended up paying 13 Euros for ALL of it! Including the drink!), we headed to a bar, where we met up with Matias and his fiancée.  We ordered another local specialty, the mojito mallorquín.  It’s made using the Mallorcan liquor called licor de palo, then they add white sugar, fresh mint, 2 pieces of lime, a little bit of soda, and crushed ice.

A delicious Mojito Mallorquin

A delicious Mojito Mallorquin

As you can imagine, after eating all of that food and enjoying those two drinks, I was starting to feel a bit sleepy.  We all were, I believe!  We headed back to Dante’s home, where Dante, Sath, Nico, Lis and I chatted some more and the guys shared funny Spanish YouTube videos with the American girls.  The Spanish comedians spoke really quickly, and even though Lis and I are both Spanish-speaking Hispanics, it occasionally got difficult to understand the Spaniard comedians.  But the guys were great; they were patient and would pause the videos and explain the jokes whenever they would see our eyes glaze over or give them confused glances.  After a while we decided to call it a night, made plans to see each other again, and as I lay in the bunk bed that night staring up at the wooden planks supporting Lis’s bed, I couldn’t help but be grateful for how much better this day had been than the day before.  I was excited to see how the next day would go, and quickly fell asleep thanks to the energy-draining properties of the sun and a belly full of delicious food and a couple of drinks.

Coming up in the next post: Saturday– a day that included explorations, bumming it on another beach, tostones, more creative people, a few bars and nightclubs, and bumping into tennis superstar Rafael Nadal (with a photo to prove it)!

To those who celebrate it, have a Merry Christmas!  Happy Holidays to everyone, wherever you are in this beautiful world. 🙂

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The Best and Worst Vacation of All Time

The perfect opportunity for an extended trip came about with a free weekend at the end of March that would lead into the start of Semana Santa (Holy Week), during which there’s no school.  I saw my friend Lis had posted that she was flying to Mallorca round-trip for 33 Euro, and she had asked if anyone would like to come with her.  Never having heard of Mallorca before, I Googled it, realized it was an island in the Mediterranean, saw some pictures, and was sold on the idea within five seconds.

Mediterranean beach weekend getaway and the round-trip flight’s only 33 pavos? ¡Apúntame!  I bought my ticket right away, and told Lis I’d join her. It ended up just being the two of us who went, but that’s no problem, man!  The less people, the less time gets wasted.  Or so I thought.  (Blatant foreshadowing)

We wanted this trip to be as cheap as possible (HA!), so we decided that we were going to try CouchSurfing (our first time!).  I looked at a few profiles of people who lived on the island, but I was nervous and a bit overwhelmed by the idea of just contacting someone to ask if we could stay at their house for a few days.  I ended up sending out a general post, letting local hosts know that two nice American girls were going to be there from March 28th until April 2nd (I really didn’t want to miss Semana Santa in Sevilla), and I was hoping that someone decent would contact me.

And by “decent,” I mean, “not a rapist or psycho killer.”

Brownie points if you suddenly got the Talking Heads song stuck in your head. (Fa fa fa faa fa fa fa fa faa…)

I was contacted by a potential host shortly afterward, named Dante.  I checked out his profile and references, and he seemed nice enough.  I accepted Dante’s invitation and just hoped that everything would go well.  And that, you know, I’d return to Sevilla alive.  That would be preferable.

The plan was that I would fly out on Wednesday evening and spend the first night in a hostel in Palma so that I could take advantage of having an entire beach day on Thursday, and Lis would join me Thursday night.  We would then pick up our rented car and drive to Dante’s place that night, and spend the rest of the days beach hopping and exploring the island.  Since I didn’t know how to drive stick-shift, Lis would be the one driving. It sounded simple enough, right? So we didn’t really plan ahead all that much.  IDIOT MISTAKE NUMBER 1.

As it turned out, it was for the best that I flew out on Wednesday, because that Thursday, March 29, was a national strike day in Spain (“29M – Huelga General” was pasted and spray-painted EVERYWHERE), and a lot of people were legitimately concerned about not being able to fly that day with so many workers on strike. But since I left on Wednesday, everything was normal for me.  This was probably the one positive thing with regards to transportation I had that whole week.

After an uneventful Ryanair flight to the island, I navigated the surprisingly large Palma airport and found my way to the bus stop.  I needed to get on the bus that would take me to S’Arenal.  I saw my bus chilling at the stop and was about to get on, but I saw it was almost empty and there was a big group of people waiting outside of it.  I figured there was a reason why they were waiting, so I decided to wait as well.  It was only when the bus doors closed and it drove off that I realized that this big group of people was waiting for a completely different bus and I had missed getting on the bus I needed.  I had literally sat there for 10 minutes staring at the bus I needed and I didn’t get on.  Now I would have to wait 30 more minutes until it came around again.  IDIOT MISTAKE NUMBER 2.

This started a sad trend of transportation errors that would haunt the rest of my trip and end up costing us a lot of $$$.

I finally got on the bus I should’ve been on in the first place and sat in front of these two girls.  From their accents I knew they were American.  I turned around and struck up a conversation with Jillian and Jessie, and I found out they were also studying abroad in Sevilla and we were getting off at the same stop!  We exchanged phone numbers and planned to hang out that night after we had checked into our respective hostels.  I invited Jillian and Jessie to come stay at my hostel, but they had already paid in advance for their own.  So I got to enjoy an entire 3-bed room and bathroom to myself!

Got the place all to myself....

After checking in, I met up with Jillian and Jessie at the beach.  We explored for a bit and came across a playground, then spent the next hour or so fooling around on the equipment.  Tired, I bid them adieu and headed back to my hostel, but not before making plans to meet up at the beach the next day.

I'm in Mallorca, trick!New friends! Jillian and Jessie

Thursday was Strike Day, but it didn’t affect my plans in the slightest.  I checked out of my room, left my bag with the staff, and walked the two blocks down to the beach for what was supposed to have been a lovely, relaxed day enjoying the sun, sand and surf.  I called Jillian to ask when they’d get down to the beach, and they said that first they were going to explore Palma and then come hang out.  Then I called the rental car company, Hiper Rent-a-Car, to double-check that everything was in order.  And that was when I was joined by a guy named Murphy who had brought his infamous Law with him.  To tell the rest of the story, I’ll provide a list of facts:

1. 19-year-olds can’t rent cars. You would’ve known this if you had done your research. IDIOT MISTAKE NUMBER 3.

2. 21-year-olds can rent cars.  For an extra fee. Of course.

3. 21-year-olds who can rent cars but don’t know how to drive stick-shift will freak out and spend the next couple of hours looking up driving instructions, utilizing the free wi-fi in a McDonalds instead of relaxing on the beach.  At least the Mickey Ds provides you with a nice view.

Free wi-fi and a view? McD's got it!

4. Regardless of age, you can only rent a car if you have your driver’s license with you, and didn’t forget it back at your apartment in Sevilla. IDIOT MISTAKE NUMBER 4.

5. Your travel companion who hasn’t left Sevilla yet has the ability to go pick up your driver’s license and bring it with her, as long as your host-mom or host-sister or either one of your roommates are there and able to let her in.

6. Believing that the issue has been solved, you will happily listen to British music as you enjoy an Italian pizza at a Greek restaurant owned by German immigrants on a Spanish island.

Best pizza I've had in Spain, no contest

7. You find out that your travel companion cannot retrieve your driver’s license, because none of the other 4 inhabitants of your apartment were home. Damn you, Murphy.

8. Rental car companies might accept you if your local government authority will fax them a letter on official letterhead saying that you are legally allowed to drive along with a photocopy of your driver’s license.

9. You local government authority will not do this, despite your mother’s best efforts to convince them to do so.

10. Jillian and Jessie are both 21. Jessie did not bring her driver’s license. Jillian did. You make an illegal plan to meet with them and rent the car with Jillian’s driver’s license.

11. They cannot get to you because a massive crowd gathered for the general strike in Palma has stopped the buses from leaving Palma.

12. All of the phone calls that needed to be made in order for all of this exchange of information between the rental car company, your travel companion, Dante, your mother, and Jillian/Jessie have taken their toll on your pre-paid phone, and you are forced to add more money to it, even though the amount that you had placed in it the day before would have normally lasted you until the end of the following month.  At least you got to see the sunset and some hot half-naked guys emerge from the water.

Hot guys emerging from the waves, yes!

13. Night falls, and you are all FINALLY able to meet right before the car rental company closes.  By this point, your travel companion has arrived and meets you at the car rental place.

14. You have planned on paying for the rental car with your debit card. The rental car company only accepts credit cards. IDIOT MISTAKE NUMBER 5.

15. Your travel companion has a credit card. You breathe a sigh of relief.

16. You find out that Jillian’s driver’s license is only a temporary paper one issued to her by the state of Wyoming while she waits for her new driver’s license to arrive in the mail. The rental car company does not accept paper licenses. Only plastic.

17. Despite your begging, you are unable to rent a car.  The four of you dejectedly return to S’Arenal and get a hostel room together.

18. The hostel room is cold, and there are not enough blankets.  The two blankets that they have provided look like they haven’t been washed since the 1960’s.  Given the foul odor, you suspect that is the case.

19. Upon waking, you find that Jessie and Jillian have already left and you didn’t get to say good-bye.  After your breakfast, you walk to the bus stop and pay for the bus to take you to Dante’s town on the other side of the island.

20. You get off on the wrong stop (IDIOT MISTAKE NUMBER 6) and end up walking the rest of the way from one end of the town to the other.

21. You finally arrive at Dante’s place.

So, that’s how I spent my Thursday.  What would have been a fun and relaxing beach day turned into a Hiper-headache due to our ignorance, the mistakes we made with regards to that blasted rental car, and also some forces that were not within our control (Murphy! You’re on my Sh*t List!).  However, as I Whatsapped with my mother that night, she reminded me that I was on a gorgeous island in the Mediterranean.  That really put it into perspective.  Her words lifted my spirits and reminded me that I was incredibly lucky to even be there in the first place!

The next few days were spent with our CouchSurfing host, Dante!  As you can tell, I wasn’t murdered. Huzzah! In your face, Murphy!  The CouchSurfing experience is what made my vacation in Mallorca one of the best I have ever been on.  Details about that will come in the next post!  Until then, I hope you enjoyed my misery in this anecdote!  I know I can look back on it now and have a great laugh about it. 🙂