There a great feature on the couchsurfing.org website, the online chat. It offers a method to help members get in touch via the website. For old friends you met during your past travels, or to get in touch with new friends, their chat is a wonderful tool.
During my travel, from France to India, I used to visit old friends from the Couchsurfing website's chat, sometimes, changing my planned route, going a lot of extra kilometers, just to see them "in real life."
One of my best friends, on the chat, was an Indian guy, named Sanjay, he lives in Puri, Orissa, India.
Sanjay wasn't living in Puri when I decided, with my friend, to stop for a while in this wonderful city in the Indian state of Orissa, where there is a wonderful desert beach of white sand, surrounded by coconut trees.
My friend and I love to visit and discover new places, so one day we decided to rent a motorbike, and go to Konark, where there is an old and big Hindu temple. Konark, is about 25km from Puri, and the road to get there is very nice. A little road, sometimes through the forest, sometimes on the sea side.
While we were driving, I heard someone shouting my name, "Alex!!", but I didn't pay much attention, because, I was thinking that it was someone who was calling his friend, another Alex; it happens often.
About 30 meters down the road, we saw a beautiful lake, wild, with very beautiful white birds. We decided to stop to take some pictures
While we were shooting some images, I heard again my name, "Alex! Alex…" so I paid more attention. One guy, Indian, about 35 years old came to me, and said "I'm Sanjay, from the Couchsurfing chat."
What a surprise!
Apparently he saw on the Couchsurfing website that my last connection was in Puri, and, by chance, he happened to be on the road side just while my bike passed by, and recognized me.
The world is so little, and full of coincidence.
He invited us for lunch.
He owns a little restaurant, the Rangers, in the forest, where he also has some rooms for travelers. His place is a wonderful little piece of paradise and his property includes the forest behind his restaurant. He is very respectful of the nature, as are a lot of Indians, so the building is only made of wood. Some of the travelers who had been there, whom had artistical skills, painted the walls and made some decorations, but always respecting the art style of the Orissa aboriginal tribes, so the place is something magical.
He is helped by some young villagers nearby, who couldn't find any other work. More than a job, and more than just a boss, he is their teacher, as almost all of them didn't have the chance to go to school. Beyond school work, he focuses on the respect of mother nature, and here they have a window on the world, chatting with all the travelers who stop here.
We had a very good and long chat for hours during lunch, and then he invited us for a walk through the forest to the beach. After about 10 minutes, walking, we arrived on a wonderful, deserted beach, in the middle of nowhere.
He offered for us to move out of our guest house downtown, and come to spend our time at his place and he offered a room free for us. Hosting travelers is the purpose of Couchsurfing after all.
We spent one week at his place to recharge our batteries. A week of pure rest, between his place, the forest, and the beach.
Sanjay is very involved in the local community, especially trying to develop eco-tourism in his city. He owns a big company, where they build power generators, but his real life is not business; it's his little place of paradise in the forest, helping travelers, often for free.
It was very sad to leave his place after one week, and back to the noisy and dusty Indian cities. But we had to continue on our journeys; my friend to Calcutta and Bangladesh, and I was leaving towards the south of India.
But, of course, before we left each other, we promised to meet again, in Puri, or somewhere else in the world. It's always a pleasure to meet an old friend on the road.
It was really nice to meet him, especially like this, it was so unattended, and a big surprise. That is what Couchsurfing is all about.