Friday, March 03, 2006

My First Servas Experience

Last night was the first time I spent the night in some stranger's house. Now dont get the wrong idea. I actually planned this and was hoping to do this in order to practice my Spanish, meet some new folks, and save a coupla bucks. What can I say...going to Antarctica means that I cant stay at the Ritz all the time.

I am a member of an organization called Servas. Servas International is the world federation of non-profit, non-governmental national Servas groups. The Servas Groups are a network of travelers and hosts that encourage interaction and contact among people of all different ages, backgrounds, etc. One of its goals is to create a better understanding of all the different types of people there are in the world and potentially breakdown some stereotypes that people have of other people. The goals of Servas are accomplished through people opening their doors to complete strangers, welcoming them into their homes, and giving them a better idea what it is like to be an American, an Australian, a European, whoever...It also gives the traveler a better idea of what it is like to be an Argentinian, a Bolivian, a South American, doesnt matter, people are people. Servas hosts do not expect payment of anykind except a thank you at then end of the stay.

I first learned about Servas from a Dean Jacobs. I learned about the Fremont, NE native when Michael Kelly published a column in the Omaha World-Herald about his two year trip around the world and the book that he had published called Wondrous Journey. I got a hold of Dean about a week after the column was published and he suggested looking into Servas. He said it was a great way to travel because the experience gave you a chance to potentially see what people in a country were really like and not through the typical touristy means. It gave the photographer a look at what life was like for people through a different lens. A look at what life was like away from the touristy areas of cities.

I was accepted into Servas before I left on my trip and yesterday was the first time that I actually took advantage of it. The host packet the organization provides gives a very brief summary of every host, their interests, languages spoken, and information on how to contact the host. I got a hold of Francisco MorĂ³n after I disembarked the 19 hour bus ride from Bariloche and asked for directions. Just a quick bus ride and I was there.

Francisco was my first Servas host and I was the 401st traveler he's received since he began doing Servas 30 years ago. Taking a nap was the first thing on my agenda, the 19 hours in the air conditioned steel box was gettin to me. After that we ate pasta he prepared and we showed pictures of our families to each other. It was then time to buy tickets for the Vendimia festival that is coming up this weekend. Francisco helped me get a ticket to the big spectacular that is going on this Sunday. Im pretty excited. One of the rules of Servas indicates that the traveler has the chance to stay three days and two nights and it is up to the discretion of the host to extend the stay. Francisco said last night over a beer and a steak that I could stay for four or five nights if I wish. I thought that would be great since getting a hostel during the wine festival is kinda difficult. The only potential downside that I do see is that Francisco has a little kitten that uses my backpack as a little jungle gym. It also uses my legs as scratching posts. It has scratched me a few times. I also have a little bit of an allergy to cats. I hope that the little kitty doesn't use my nice backpack as a scratching post the whole time im there and i dont sneeze all over the place.

Francisco's house is a nice little place that has about seven bedrooms between the actual house and the guest house. Stretching between the two homes are a series of long metal wires with a coupla grape plants dangling there fruit from above. On the patio sat some furniture with a four foot by three foot grill for the bbqs that he hosts for family and friends as well as many of the Servas guests he receives. A great place to just sit back and enjoy the weather while reading a book or writing a little bit.

Anywho...This little blog entry brings me to something that I have always had in the back of my head. What is traveling? Some people travel and only stay at hotels where everything is taken care of and think that is it. Some travel and just do the hostel thing and go to the clubs. Some only travel with another person and rarely talk with anybody else. Some only do what the Lonely Planet suggests and dont dare go out on a limb because thats not what the guide recommends or it doesn't involve drinking or loud techno music.

So what really is traveling? I think its whatever you make of it and gets you away from that little zone of comfort that you have when you are back home. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone really makes you grow since you encounter things you are not used to and hafta deal with it. Your mind begins to work out ways to deal with the situation and come up with a solution. Many goals are accomplished this way. When you write it down on paper you see something in the present that has not been accomplished and your mind begins to work on ways to reach that goal. When you do reach it, you can look back and see how far you have come and what you have learned. The Servas experience has enriched my traveling since it puts me in a different situation that I am not used to. It also has given me the chance to just sit down over some Mate with your host and chat about all types of things. Francisco and I have lots of things in common that are important to us, even though we are on opposite sides of the planet and he's 50 some years my senior. Family, friends, travel just to name a few were things that we could sit down and talk about. He shared lots of his experiences traveling to Africa, Asia, Europe, and countries like Cuba, USA, etc...He showed me that he's a pretty normal guy and I think I showed him that Im a pretty normal guy and not like the stereotypical materialistic American that many people think we are. When I look back at this experience I think that it will help me because sometimes you can be too quick to judge and not look at things throught other peoples eyes. This Servas experience showed me that, yea, he's just like me except he uses another language to express his ideas. Maybe that is kinda deep for 4pm on a Friday afternoon.

i think im gonna grab a steak and write in my journal. jp

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