In the first part of our summer travel experiences, George Washbourn recounts his harrowing experience couchsurfing in Marseille
Unpredictability is the spice of travelling. The chance encounters in a hostel, the day plans that suddenly fall into place, maybe even a sporadic train journey to a random destination. As great as this can all be, a certain serving of unpredictability during my summer travels left me somewhat lost for words.
I was interrailing through France, heading south to Marseille from Lyon. I had decided to try out some couchsurfing in Marseille, having never done it before. I had found a nice looking lady to accommodate me for 4 nights, who had a promising profile of over seventy positive reviews. Looking forward to my opportunity to practice some French (she spoke no English), I had high hopes as the train trundled on.
Arriving in Marseille with instructions to meet her in front of the “le Macdo”, I wheeled my suitcase through the bustling station. I stopped in front of the big yellow arches, looked around and saw no obvious sign of my hostess. “No matter,” I thought, “It’s quite a big station, maybe there’s another McDonald’s”. Just as I set about looking for another “Macdo”, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and quickly turned around. “Hello,” she said, “I am your host”.
I’ll admit her somewhat stark appearance took me aback, not to mention her false internet identity.
In front of me was, essentially, not the same person as the website’s purported profile. She was a small lady, with wide eyes and a harsh unsmiling expression. Her hair was completely shaved, save for a ponytail at the back, and she had a tribal tattoo running down one side of her face. As a disclaimer, I am certainly not in the business of judging people on their fashion or style choices, but I’ll admit her somewhat stark appearance took me aback, not to mention her false internet identity.
After a scant and mumbled conversation in French, we arrived back at her apartment, just off one of the main streets in Marseille. It was a little peaky, but whoever expects five star accommodation from a couchsurfing arrangement is naïve, to say the least. The most striking thing was the apparent absence of any doors. There were a number of rooms, namely her bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen, but none of which had a door. Their doorframes bore marks from where the door had presumably been forcibly removed. There were also no lights, only a lamp in the middle of the lounge with a red bulb, casting a lurid glow across the flat. Finally, I was introduced to Fou Fou, my hostess’ uncaged pet rat. It was perched on the table gnawing on a piece of rotting fruit. For an initial impression, it was rather a lot to take in.
Finally, I was introduced to Fou Fou, my hostess’ uncaged pet rat. It was perched on the table gnawing on a piece of rotting fruit.
We sat down for dinner that night and shared a couple of words, both of us fully appreciating that we had very little in common. Going our separate ways, her to her bedroom and me to my sofa, I lay down and tried to get some sleep. However, with the aforementioned lack of doors, I could hear everything she was doing in her room. Various noises permeated out into the hall, but what I heard the most was a repeated sniffing sound, as if someone was blowing their nose. When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t help but notice a fair amount of white powder strewn across her bed sheets. Not wanting to stick around for too long, I headed out into Marseille for a day of much needed respite.
The next few days passed by in an exhausted daze, as I rarely got any sleep due to the non-stop parties at her place. There were also five other couchsurfers during my time there, making the already small flat incredibly tight for sleeping space. On my last night there, two of the other couchsurfers and I decided to go out to a club, so we used the flat for pre-drinking purposes.
Our host was being atypically chatty, predominantly due to the fact that she had done a solo gram of speed earlier that evening. We left for the club, making sure she was okay, only to return four hours later to find her banging her head against the wall in a fit of amphetamine-fuelled mania. After getting her to calm down, we all piled onto the sofa, a little shaken up by what we’d just seen.
On the following and final morning, I decided to shower before heading off to Nice. As there was no door to the bathroom, I quickly grabbed my towel and wrapped it around myself as I exited the shower. As I was brushing my teeth, my host peered round from the kitchen, telling me that I had a nice body and was ‘mignon comme garcon’. A welcome compliment, if it weren’t for her attempts to grab my towel off me. With that, I hastily said my goodbyes and rushed to the train station.
After this couchsurfing experience, I’m fairly confident that I would rather have had a thoroughly organised country cottage retreat than the dizzying madness of my Marseille sojourn.
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Featured image credit: https://ecpnr.org/files/images/content/marseille/marseille_1.jpg