Posts tagged ‘couchsurfing’

Finding pleasure in Azerbaijan after 1 month

So I’ve been too lazy to post updates about my life in Azerbaijan….but I’ll give it a try.

Last Friday evening we had a party in our flat.  It was a birthday party / going away party for two of my housemates and the invitees included the Azeri German-language students of one housemate and the foreigner friends of the others. Most of the Azeris came at 8 o’clock and left by midnight (when the last metro runs), while the foreigners came around 11pm and stayed until 2, when an angry neighbor threatened to call the police if we didn’t stop making noise. So after a brief clean-up we piled out of the house and into “Crossroads,” the pub/club two blocks away.  This club attracts a befitting mix of foreigners & Azeris; males & females (although males still dominate), and a few prostitutes.

On Saturday I went to Lənkəran, a city in southern Azerbaijan approx. 40 km away from Iran. I traveled with an EVS volunteer from Czech republic who’s spending the year in Tkibuli, Georgia. We met when she couchsurfed my place one night on her way to a youth conference in Oguz.

Lady of showing strength (the sword) and hospitality (the cup of tea in her right hand)

In Lənkəran we were hosted by Aaron, a peace corps volunteer whose blog I found by chance and wrote to asking if I could visit… The special thing about peace corps volunteers is that they speak Azeri and are relatively integrated into their communities. Due to their long term placements they are able to develop insights that tourists and short-term visitors like me rarely develop, and their American approach makes for an interesting perspective of local life and current events.

As Petra and I walked around Lənkəran on Sunday, underdressed in our shorts and tank tops, we met an Azeri man who invited us for tea, gave us a tour of a fortress, and fed us lunch. He spoke Russian well and told us interesting tadbits about Azeri life, such as the fees parents must pay for each delivery and his experiences working as a mechanic on an a government owned oil ridge in Baku once every other week.

Road through mountains, Lerik

On Monday, we traveled to Lerik, a town in the mountains about 60 km from Lənkəran. There were 6 of us: Petra and I, Aaron, and three other peace corps volunteers, two of whom lived in Lerik and knew the mountains and villages around. One of the volunteers is working on a homestay project, trying to help a few local families generate income by providing unique cultural homestay experiences for tourists. For 15 AZN a night, a tourist can make bread, milk cows, harvest fruits with a Talysh family, as well as sleep in their home, be fed, and go hiking nearby. The Talysh are a minority ethnic group who live in southern Azerbaijan and northern Iran, speak their own language (partially intelligible with Persian), and live by farming (most common) and skilled craftsmanship.



Hiking in Lerik

Bread making...

I scored some fresh bread...

Taxi and mud volcanoes

On the way back from the south we stopped by Gubustan and visited the mud volcanoes and petroglyphs which were (surprisingly) were more interesting than I expected. According to this source: “Mud volcanoes are one of the visible signs of the presence of oil and gas reserves hidden deep beneath land and sea in the Caspian region. Gas seeps are a related phenomenon and occur when a pocket, filled largely methane gas under the ground, finds a passage to the surface.” There are over 400 mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan. The petroglyphs are over 30,000 years old and depict a variety of animal and human images drawn by the people who inhabited the area all those years ago.

30,000 year old art

Last Friday evening I went to the ballet at the state run opera-ballet theater. The performance “Don Qixote” was better than I expected and I look forward to going to the theater again. Unfortunately most of the performances run on Friday, Saturday and Sunday which are days that I’m less likely to be in Baku.

On Saturday I hosted 3 couchsurfers. A girl from Finland who creates comic books about her travels, a guy from New York (a Russian Jewish immigrant like me) who’s come to Azerbaijan to work for, and guy from Khazakstan who wanted to spend an extra day in Baku after his UN conference.

Several weeks earlier I had decided to organize a couchsurfing event since there were none in Baku and I wanted to meet more people. With some logistical help from Afitab, a girl at my work, I arranged a picnic at the botanical gardens. At noon, my small army of couchsurfers met outside the Elmlar Academiyasi metro station and proceeded to the gardens, where we ate, played mafia, and had an all-around very pleasant time.

Couchsurfers & friends

Boys play rough ;-)


June 21, 2010 at 3:52 am 1 comment

How to use couchsurfing

(A tutorial for my mom)

First make a profile:

Edit your profile...

Add data. Be thorough, but not too thorough.

How to find a host:

In the "Surf/Host" tab select "couchsearch"

Choose "Maybe, Yes, or Definitely" if you want to be hosted; Choose "Coffee or a drink" if you just want to meet someone.

Scroll all the way down to this table and select the region & city. Then press "List surfers on next page."

This is what you will see. From this list of people select the person who's profile you'd like to see. From this general list you can already see some information. Don't select people who are too young or have no picture or information in their profile.

Example: You find Jose's profile on your list and go to his profile. READ it first. Look at his pictures. Read his "Couch Description" to see what he offers. If everything sounds good click on "Couchsurf with Jose." When writing to him, include his first name "Hi Jose!" and tell him something about yourself and your planned trip to his area.

For some cities you may need to send out more than 10 requests to get a yes. Never ever send just one!

June 10, 2010 at 2:08 am Leave a comment

Kyoto & Osaka

Yesterday I hitchhiked back to Tokyo after spending a week in Kyoto and Osaka.

I recon I saved about $300 by using cs for accommodation and hitchhiking. In Kyoto, my host was Shoji, a Japanese farmer who set up a house for his guests and has hosted over 250 since he began last year. There was a Danish couple, 4 Belgians, and two French girls staying there besides me.

The cs house is a traditional Japanese house (not a condominium in a building) and Shoji’s walls are covered with graffiti left by his guests. My contribution was not so nice… (one of those times when I should of stopped closer to when I began)

Kyoto is a very small city compared to Tokyo and famous for its temples. But I visited only a few. For one, I had trouble waking up early. And two, I am navigationally retarded. And being that this is the end of my trip… i feel tired of being a tourist. I just wanted to sit somewhere and read…


July 14, 2009 at 10:54 pm Leave a comment


I spent 5 days in Tokyo staying with an American teacher of English i met in Thailand 2 months ago. The flight from Bangkok was only 6 hours, but because i spent my last ‘night’ at the airport – and slept only 2 hours – I was very tired when i arrived my friend’s place. This fatigue lasted for the next several days and worst of all, my lower back hurt (probably from the monster that my backpack evolved into after i crammed in all that junk i bought in Bangkok 20 minutes before i left for the airport)

I spent my days very casually, waking up late, visiting museums and walking, and returning home around 7 to make dinner with my friend. I almost mastered Tokyo’s complex subway system consisting of a million privately owned lines requiring new tickets and exits for the transfers. Every station is almost as busy and large (or busier and larger) as New York’s Grand Central, and usually more complicated. But Japanese people will often go out of their way to help you and even as i stood momentarily paralized by the grandiosity i felt wonder not anxiety.

ticket machines and a map of JUST one of the metro lines in Tokyo

Queueing for the subway. Can you imagine this in NY?

View of Shibuya intersection


July 8, 2009 at 11:51 am Leave a comment



I arrived in Lijiang from Dali a few days ago planning to stay with a host from CS. Otherwise i would have gone to Shangra-La, the beginning of Tibet because that was the city i really wanted to visit. My first day in Lijiang was uneventful. I walked around the old city, lit up and noisy, amidst hundreds of Chinese tourists. I treated myself to dessert, an 18 Yuan cheesecake at the restaurant where my host worked.

Later at night, my host nonchalantly told me that he had guests coming and that i had to leave the next day. Of all the CS experiences i’ve had this was probably the worst, despite all the hosting experience and positive references he had. To agree to host me for several days and then tell me to leave was ugly and i think it’s because he hosts so often that he’s stopped caring for his cs-ers. Ironically, he had so many of the qualities i seek in people: well read, interested in simple living, even a vegetarian. And yet, he was cold and not a question or word came without my prodding.

In any case, it was a blow.

But it turned out well. I found a bed at the quaintest place… Mama Naxi guesthouse. Run by a middle aged Naxi woman who speaks of herself in third person and treats her guests with the familiar way of an aunt. The guesthouse is always full of travelers, mostly from Israel, western Europe and America and nights here are full of chatter and laughter.

Since Kunming i’ve spent about $50 on the train to Dali, food, guesthouses, bicycle, bus to Lijiang, and the gorge entrance fee. Lijiang is even less expensive than Thailand and yet nothing seems cheap enough. I hate counting every Yuan. On Monday i’ll be back in Kunming =)

June 13, 2009 at 7:52 pm Leave a comment

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