Of all the ways to introduce someone, “this is my new internet friend, Joe,” is possibly the worst. No one ever has anything good to say about Internet friends. I personally used to have a huge problem with online dating, thinking, “seriously, you couldn't just get off the computer for ten minutes, go for a walk and meet someone? For the sake of the social world, put those kindergarten interpersonal skills to use!” But then I realized friend finding isn't quite that simple and I've fallen culprit to the headline. It wasn't until I met some fabulous roommates on Craigslist a year ago that I became a believer in online friendships (I'm not quite ready to venture into the online dating world...yet). 

Still, with what seems like an entire world full of Craigslist Killers plastered in the newspapers and Internet mingling scardeycats, it isn't easy defending my online friends. (Come one people, you just gotta be smart about who you meet. Thanks to Google and Facebook it is relatively easy to do a little background check. Now you can't do that with someone you just meet at the grocery store or your local book club, can you?). Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about the subject-you're either pro-Internet or anti-Internet-there is no middle ground. And for all those pro-Internet people, should the dreaded how did you meet question arise (and you know it will) mutual friends or the gym are always good covers. So, for the sake of my reputation and to prevent you from judging me, I am going to tell you about all the lovely people I've been meeting at the gym lately.  

Making friends as a newbie in Australia requires a certain level of social creativity and craftiness. The old fashioned making friends at work, school or through old friends doesn't work too well when you are job-less, school-less and friend-less, so I resorted to my old fallback; the gym.

I’ve met a slew of friends at the gym and discovered some otherwise hidden gems of Melbourne thanks to my new workout buddies Facebook, Couchsurfing and Meet-Up, to name a few. I must say Couchsurfing is proving to be a top runner. The social networking site for travellers is bursting with enough local events to overwhelm any traveler's schedule. From Capture the Flag by Moonlight to Tango Illegal to penguin watching, he is consistently diverse and keeps me on my toes. I even scored two days of free beer tasting at a craft beer festival compliments of fellow beer loving travelers I met at the gym.

Facebook took me out one night to a Spanish/English conversation group which proved hilariously entertaining, I've met a few promising friend prospects on my 30 minute train commute into the city, and there’s still Meet-Up dot-com who I’ve been meaning to, er, meet-up with. 

Here I am caught in my whirlwind of melbournian social nights, coffee shop catchups and crowd of fellow gym enthusiasts. Melbourne is proving to be quite a cultural, entertaining and charming city with a great sense of humor and I didn't expect to become this smitten with the place so quickly. I am ready to make it Facebook official, I am in love with this city! Go ahead, tell the whole world...just don't forget to mention we met at the gym.
 
 
Good afternoon friends, family and fellow travel enthusiasts. I would like you all to meet a new character in my travel saga,, my Morocco travel buddy Sam! As many of you knew, I was originally planning on spending a month in Grenada then heading to Israel. However, as I traveled further and further south in Spain, the idea of Morocco became more and more alluring. I had always wanted to go there, and the idea of being in Africa seemed so exotic. There were two things in the way, however. I did not want to travel Morocco alone and if I did visit Morocco, I wanted to do it right and spend a substantial amount of time there. 

I had no idea how to go about finding a travel buddy, so I turned to my default website, CouchSurfing, for advice. In the Morocco group I noticed that an Australian had posted a note looking for a travel partner for two weeks in Morocco. He seemed pretty normal, so I responded on a whim...and the rest is history.

Sam and I emailed back and forth for about a week talking about traveling and creating a tentative Morocco plan. Just like me, Sam is a fellow nomad and has been traveling through China, Mongolia, Russia and Northeastern Europe for the past three months. This is the first time I've had a travel buddy (other than mom) and I was pretty excited to bum around with a fellow nomad for two weeks! 

Some important facts about Sam:

Camels are his favorite animals (he got bit on the head by one in Mongolia)

He likes to eat kangaroos (apparently you can but them at the grocery stores in Australia)

He is excellent in both befriending the local Moroccans and kindly warding off scammers. 

He wears purple leather size nine shoes (just in case anybody wants to send some)

He makes excellent play on word jokes such as, "there are more rocks in Mo-rocco than anywhere else." I'm sure I'll be loving these by the end of week two...

Considering we're both into CouchSurfing, hitchhiking, eating at the sketchiest food joints we can find and getting into completely strange and awkward travel situations, I'm sure we will get along just fine.

*********
Update: Sam and I have now been traveling together for a week now, and everything has been working out perfectly! We seem to compliment eachother really well. I get worked up and frustrated about certain situations-getting ripped off by cab drivers or too many Moroccans trying to pester us-and he calms me down, and he gets bothered by other things such as being charged too much for bread or leaving our backpacks at the bus station for the day, and I calm him down. We have also worked out a great system for bartering...we'll go on about how we're students and have no money, then I say we need to talk privately so we leave and when we return the price is magically lower! We barter everything from bus tickets to hotel rooms to vegetables at the market, it's becoming a  hobby of ours. 

We also went from complete strangers to a married couple within a few hours of arriving in Morocco. Because were traveling together (and in Morocco), everyone assumes we must be married. Street vendors try to convince Sam to buy nice bracelets or carpets for his wife. We like telling people that we met online and making jokes about our "romantic Moroccan vacation." Needless to say, we have been getting a lot of mileage out of the married couple act. 

I must admit, I never thought I'd meet my husband online, let alone so soon, but Morocco really has a way of bringing people together!
Picture
Sam and me in Marrakech
 
 
My first day in Portugal was culture shock. Coming from the Netherlands where everything is orderly into semi-chaotic Lisbon was definitely something I had not prepared for.

By the end of my first day in Lisbon I was ready to pack my bags and get as far away from Portugal as possible.  I'm not sure what I expected Lisbon to be like, but as I spent a whole day traipsing in the pouring rain through a city full of decrepit buildings and graffitied alleyways, I knew this was a far cry from the "California of Europe" I had conjured up.

By the end of my I-hate-Portugal-day, I was desperate to figure something out. There happened to be a weekly CouchSurfing meeting that night, so I decided to stop by. I met a lot of local Portuguese along with some foreigners living in Portugal. They gave me tips of what to see, offered me a place to stay and even invited me on a road trip to a small town north of Lisbon for the weekend.

The city might be different from expected, but the locals sure were welcoming! I decided that a Portuguese road trip was bound to be an adventure, so I agreed to join the crew. The thing about Portugal, is that everything is, well, slow. The people are relaxed and take their time doing things, a stark contrast from the United States, which in tern can be very interesting when coordinating a road trip with nine people. It was a small glimpse back into my Mexico days when I´d sit at cafes all day, show up to everything an hour late and take a whole afternoon to make plans for a night. Regardless, I loved it all and had a fabulous time getting to know my new friends and their culture.

We went to a small university town about two hours north of Lisbon called Coimbra. Our friend Bruno had a vacation home in a quaint little village on a river and surrounded by rolling hills just outside of Coimbra. The house was tiny, but we somehow managed to squeeze in nine people!

We got in touch with several Couch Surfers in Coimbra and met up with them throughout the weekend. Two of them introduced us to an all you can eat restaurant where each meal comes with a whole bottle of wine for 7.5 Euros...that was a big hit! We also attended a rock concert at the university. In the arena, each discipline had their own bar to decorate, and students clad in cloaks (traditional college wear here) danced on the bars.

The weekend was a perfect getaway for me, and I made some great friends. I now feel somewhat attached to Lisbon, and apparently have adapted very well to the Portuguese way of life, as I have now been here for a week and am still not ready to leave!

Picture
The CouchSurfing gang in Coimbra