Excitement about a new trip and nostalgia for past couch queries were two sides of the same coin when I opened Couchsurfing’s search page this spring. Upon friends’ urging I became a member of Couchsurfing.org (CS) and set up a profile while I was living in Spain three years ago. My first experience finding a host was in Italy, where I stayed in a bedroom all to myself in a town outside of Rome, slept on a sofa in a member of the U.S. Army’s apartment in Naples, and stayed on a pull-out couch in two lovely boys’ kitchen in Bari. I also found hosts through CS in San Sebastián and Almería in Spain, as well as Lisbon, Portugal. Once I was stateside, I hosted a Michigander who’d just moved to Chicago, a duo from Colombia traversing the U.S. by Greyhound bus, and a Parisian illustrator traveling the American continent for four months.
In the days preceding my Miami trip I hosted seven people in my apartment, on one night. Through a mutual acquaintance (not Couchsurfing) a band and their tour manager wound up camped out in the apartment. After that much hostessing, it felt quite balanced to be the recipient of hospitality in the 305. Our fantastic CS hosts even picked us up at the airport. The two women we stayed with had heard about Couchsurfing through a recent story on NPR (this April, a writer for The New Yorker also chronicled her initial travels using Couchsurfing. You can read the article here). After we handed off the Vosges chocolate hostess gift we brought for them and checked out the bay view from their balcony we grabbed a quick dinner and met their friends at a bar in Wynwood, the burgeoning arts district and home to Art Basel. We were told that Wynwood is not safe to visit during the day (when the bars and galleries are closed), and it also borders on the “worst” neighborhood in Miami, Underwood. Gentrification through the development of art scenes is a skipping record sort of story.
While Miami is known for its Cuban population the city is also home to folks of various Latin American origins. At breakfast we dipped pan tostada into café con leche, and at dinner we waited in line to get into Sabor a Peru. I’d been introduced to Peruvian food by the dear friend I was traveling with, and once we sat down I didn’t hesitate over what to order. Papa a la huancaína. I’d had this appetizer expertly prepared for me by my friend, eaten it at two restaurants in Chicago, and even made it myself. The spicy cheese sauce in this dish is worth its weight in gold. A few pieces of leaf lettuce, a portion of a hard boiled egg, a couple black olives, several boiled potatoes, and a pile of choclo (very large-kernel corn) is covered by a sauce made of aji peppers, garlic, milk, cheese, and salt. While everyone’s recipe for papa a la huancaina may vary slightly, its popularity is almost unwavering.
On the last night we were in Miami, one of our CS hosts was sweet enough to drive us through Underwood while we finished ice cream from a shop on Calle Ocho, Little Havana (guava and cheese, from a joint across the street from a park filled with domino tables). She regaled us with the story her friend being followed by car and shot at once in the neighborhood. Then we drove around to look at the many fantastic murals in Wynwood and the Design District.