Couch-surfing. I’d never heard of it until a short time ago and based on the number of members of the couch-surfing web-site, I am the last person on the planet to have heard of it. We are not members of Couch-Surfing, but Wijnand Boon of the Netherlands is, and we were privileged to meet him a couple of weeks ago.
Here’s how it came about. I happened to check the e-mail for this blog, something I do faithfully at least twice a month, and there was a note posted earlier the very same day saying, basically, help! I’m in Rapallo, the weather is terrible, I can’t find a place to pitch my tent, is there anything you can do to help. Well, it was 11:30 at night and raining pitchforks, with thunder and lightening to liven things up.
I would like to tell you that I got in the car and drove into town to find the hapless writer of this e-mail, but I didn’t. I said to myself, too late, too late… and I went to bed, albeit with a large measure of guilt under my pillow. I did write and say that I had only just found the message and I was sorry I was too late to help.
The next morning I was still feeling unhappy about neglecting a request from an unfortunate visitor to Rapallo. How happy I was to receive a note from Boon, for it was he who had written, saying that he’d found a wonderful room for the night after all, but he could surely use a place either to sleep or pitch his tent for the next two nights. Long story short he came to stay with us. The guest-room was already overflowing with nieces, but Wijnand was happy to stay on the futon downstairs, and I think (I hope) he was comfortable enough.
He is traveling by foot from his home in Leiden, Netherlands to Cairo, Egypt. The purpose is two-fold. He began his 6,000 mile walk in reaction to a speech by Dutch Queen Beatrice on Christmas Day, I believe 2009, in which she spoke of social media as alienating people from one another. WB begged to differ. He is making his journey to prove that social media connects us all on the very basic levels of necessity. Using only social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Couch Surfing and people’s blogs he is finding places to stay along his route and making friends and connections every step of the way. Social media is liberating, as he is proving, not alienating. It can take a fair amount of effort (especially in suspicious old Liguria) and sometimes he needs to contact a few people before he makes a good contact. But so far he has had almost nothing but success.
Some time after WB began his long trek he was contacted by the good people at Masterpeace who are building towards a giant Peace Rally on September 21, 2014. Like WB, Masterpeace wants to use social media to bring peace-loving people together, literally and virtually, and to promote world-wide activities focused on peace. They asked Wijnand if he would walk for them, and he agreed. (You’ll find their logo at the bottom of his page, as well as the logo of Mammut, the Swiss boot-maker, who are his only sponsor and whose hiking boots he happily wears.)
Though Boon’s web-page says he is ‘walking 6,000 miles with only an iPhone and a guitar,’ he actually does have some other gear, such as clothing (!), a camera (a gift from one of his hosts), a tent and other necessities for living on the road. He carries this all on an ingenious two-large-wheeled cart; it has handles which he can use to either push or pull, as well as a harness he can strap on for hands-free pulling. It comes apart so it can be stuffed into the boot of a small car.
But don’t let mention of a car make you think that WB has ‘cheated’ on even a step of his journey. He was able to come up to our house on the bus and take a ride down two days later in the car, but that was a side journey. He has walked every step of the way from Leiden, through Portugal, Spain and France and is now working his way down The Boot towards Rome. (You can find a map of his route on his web page.)
We are so happy to have met him. While we don’t see eye to eye on many things (role of government, paper money, oh just all sorts of things) we had a fine time discussing them and trading thoughts. Most refreshingly, we were able to disagree in a completely civil and respectful manner. And that is part of what Wijnand Boon’s trip is all about – mutual trust and respect. A man of many talents, Boon entertained us with his guitar playing and singing one of his own songs (‘The Knowledge of You‘).
For old farts like us, the idea of trusting a complete stranger in our house (especially with lovely nieces thick on the ground) is a long shot. We were able to do it to a point, and I think (I hope) we learned a lot from the experience. Boon travels with an unwavering faith in the goodness and generosity of people. In two years, he says, he has had not one bad experience. I’m old and cynical enough to just shake my head and hope desperately that nothing happens on this odyssey to discourage him.
And speaking of being old and cynical… the whole notion of couch-surfing seems extremely foreign to us. The idea of simply throwing open our doors and making up the futon for anyone who needs a bed is just… well… unthinkable. And yet social networking seems to be making a success of such ideas. It is, I suspect, mostly young people (20’s, 30’s?) who couch surf on both sides of the transaction, but maybe I’m wrong. In any event, it is people who are willing to trust their fellow-man unreservedly.
Back when we were young in nineteen-mumble-mumble it seemed like we had a great deal to teach the world. All of a sudden it seems like maybe we have a great deal to learn.
Thank you Wijnand Boon for beginning the lessons so gently.