“You have really outdone yourself this time,” I muttered to myself. Gusts of freezing February air smacked me in the face, prickling the hair on my arms. I fumbled with my phone, weakly trying to look busy as absurdly drunk men hollered my way. Their loud whistles rang in my ears; I might not understand Greek, but I knew exactly what type of vulgarities they were howling.
The pungent odor of filth and perspiration flooded my nose as I frantically racked my brain for a solution. It was 1 o’clock in the morning, I’d just arrived in a foreign city, and I had no Wi-Fi or phone service. My CouchSurfing host was nowhere in sight and all of the hostels were booked solid.
“How did I even get here?” I pondered.
Two nights before the trip, I got in-boxed on CouchSurfing asking why I was going to Athens when this was the biggest weekend for Carnivali in Patras, a city I had never even heard of. The message claimed that Carnivali, a celebration similar to Mardi Gras, was the most amazing festival in all of Europe and I would be nuts not to go.
I took the advice and found a last-minute CouchSurfing host in Patras. He was 41- years old, had a blurry photo, and didn’t have much written on his profile. Regardless, he had plenty of references on CS so I decided to go for it. With such a massive influx of people coming for the festival, I was told that I’d be lucky to find anyone to host me at that point.
Upon my arrival in Athens, I walked straight from the airport to the bus station to buy a ticket to Patras, a city 3 hours away.There was no option to buy bus tickets online, so the masses of people crowding into the bus station felt like Black Friday on steroids.
After 4 hours waiting in line and 3 hours on the bus, here I was. I’d had Wi-fi on the bus courtesy of Pavlos, the kind 19-year-old who turned on his Hotspot for me, but as soon as I got off, I was completely disconnected. The last message I received from Antonis, my host, said to walk several blocks and wait at a landmark because the traffic was too heavy for him to reach the bus station.
5 minutes passed by. Then 10. Antonis was nowhere to be found.
As the clock ticked, I found myself wondering why I thought I could travel alone in the first place.
Pavlos was the only person I’d met so far that spoke English. He had offered to host me at his house with his family; perhaps I could walk back to the bus station and still track him down, I thought.
I felt a tap on my shoulder, and as I turned around, I was instantly enveloped in a bear hug. Antonis had finally arrived! Apparently he’d been on the street in his car before that, but since I didn’t notice him, he had to find a place to park before grabbing me.
We hopped into his car and started driving. I started to wonder whether the situation I was in now was any better than being stranded. I was in a strange 41-year-old man’s car at 1 A.M. driving to an undisclosed location where he supposedly lived.
As soon as we arrived at his home, however, all of my fears subsided. I was suddenly in a home teeming with music, smiles, and travelers in their 20’s from all over the world. There were 2 girls from Portugal, 2 guys from France, 1 girl from Canada, and 1 girl from Holland. Before I knew it, I was being fed, given drinks, and chatting about life with my new friends. Antonis had to work a night-shift, but gave us all sets of his keys and told us to have a fun night.
There’s a Greek Proverb that says “If a stranger knocks on your door, you let them in, let them sleep on your bed, sleep on the floor, and the next day, ask them what their name is.” This is the kind of hospitality I received in Greece; Antonis made sure we were all fed, always buying us or cooking us authentic Greek food. He took us to a costume shop to find funny outfits for Carnivali.
When I got bit in the eye by a rare mosquito and my eye ballooned to the point where I couldn’t see out of it, Antonis went to the pharmacy and bought me medication that reduced the swelling in less than 24 hours. When Angelina, a fellow surfer from Portugal, sprained her ankle, Antonis made sure she was taken care of so that she could still safely have a good time.The next couple of days, he dressed as ‘Snapchat’ and came out to party with us as well.
The floats in the parade were incredibly intricate and hand-made, and each one had its own story.
Our nights ended when the sun rose, all sprawling onto air mattresses and couches in exhaustion. We may not have had Wi-fi, but our days were instead filled with compelling conversations about our passions, our cultures, our dreams, and being the ‘Ryan-Air generation’, making waves in cultural understanding.
Intoxicating moments like these do not exist where you are comfortable. If I hadn’t made my CouchSurfing profile, I wouldn’t even know that this city or this festival even existed, let alone have met these beautiful souls. Traveling may not always be sunshine and rainbows, but it’s leaps of faith that electrify our spirits and remind us why we’re so grateful to be alive.