Friday, June 5, 2009

Couchsurfing in Morocco

I have mentioned couchsurfing on this blog before, but i’ve never really explained what is it. So, for those of you who don’t know - couchsurfing (CS) is a network of travelers, who offer (each other) free accommodation for some period of time (usually few days). "A host" is a person who offers his/her home for sleeping. "A surfer" is a traveler who takes you up on your offer and spends some time in your place - hence "to surf" :). You don't necessarily have to be a host in order to surf or vice versa. The system is built on mutual trust and respect and every surfer or host who has had a connection with another user is encouraged to leave a reference telling others how was the experience. This is a way to keep the program safe and functional – honest feedback. Both hosting and surfing is strictly free. A host may charge for example for the use of his private phone or a surfer can bring a bottle of wine for dinner etc, but in all other aspects it's still free. CS is not really about traveling cheap, it's point is not to provide free hotel but to enable social networking. You meet new people, see other cultures up close etc.

Me and Jevgeni have been hosting about a year and during this time we’ve met some very cool people. I haven't had any bad experiences, nothing even remotely negative to say, everybody's been very respectful and polite, usually also social and outgoing. As a rule people who CS are also travelers, so it’s easier to find a common ground by sharing travel stories etc. With some people you connect better, with others less. But it's the same in life, it's not like you're friends with every person you meet, only a small amount of them stand out exceptionally. Tartu, the city i live in, is kind of off track, you actually have to make an effort to come here, it's not just easily on the way from one place to another. That means fewer travelers find their way to Tartu, as opposed to our capital Tallinn. In the same time we also get more "serious" travelers who actually want to go an extra mile and see a smaller city also, not just the capital.

When we started hosting my friends and family thought (yet again) that we are crazy to open our home to strangers like that. "You will get robbed!" was the main warning i heard from them. OK, everything can happen, but i really doubt that a person from Canada will come all the way to Estonia to steal my TV and if necessary i can always reduce the risk to a minimum by choosing only surfers who have lots of positive references from their previous hosts. If 20 people write that this surfer was an awesome dude, very polite and cooked for the hosts, then you can assume his going to be the same at your place. And if he really does something to offend you or to create a problem, you can leave him a negative reference (which he can't delete himself) to warn others. And no serious traveler would ever damage his chance to get hosted again with getting a bad reference, so they behave very good. Experienced travelers are usually anyway very respectful and polite, it's the one-time tourists who might bring with them a small expectations of your home being a hotel, because that’s the only way they are used to travel. But like i said, such problems are very rare, the CS system takes it's safety and user control seriously.

CS is an awesome program, but in Morocco it can be tricky. In Morocco 99% of hosts are male and yes, some hosts are very decent and trustworthy, but there are also too many hosts who are using CS as a dating service to get white women. I’ve heard some creepy stories about single female travelers that got strongly harassed by their over-enthusiastic male hosts, who had failed to understand the concept of couchsurfing. But there are also entrepreneurial Moroccans who use CS site as means to make a living and finding costumers for their riads or shops. Very often profiles promising things like „authentic berber life-style“ etc are actually providing accommodation as a service though you might not be informed of it before you arrive or sometimes you hear about it altogether in the very end. They might expect a „donation“ or so on.

In October last year, when me and Kaidi were planning our Morocco trip, i was searching a host for us near Fes. I found one guy named Hassan Bouaouina (on the photo ->) who was terribly happy and inviting and wrote me immediately back saying yes, of course, he can absolutely host us bla bla bla + long list of nice things tourists can do in his village, places to visit bla bla bla and in the end of the e-mail he added [quote]: „my guests don't pay like normal tourists, the charge is lower“. I got of course all puffed up „what you mean pay? CS is a free culture exchange program!“. But out of the interest i asked how much he wants to get paid, thinking that maybe it’s something symbolic like money for dinner etc. He wrote back that he is a poor student and he will only charge us 250 euros. (!). I didn’t know if to laugh or to be furious – the sum was so inflated and unrealistic, it seemed that it must be a bad joke. My plane tickets from Estonia to Morocco and back cost the same! And this guy here is kindly offering us few days of accommodation in his family’s mudhouse for 250 euros. But no, it was not a joke, he was dead serious. We exchanged quite many e-mails, so there’s no chance that i misunderstood him. I reported him to CS admins, hoping they will boot him off the site, but i guess they gave him a warning and only stripped him off his „city ambassador“ status.

„Ambassador“ is a title you get if you are verified and endorsed by the program and it’s usually a sign to others that you are 200% trustworthy. Ambassadors are appointed by the key members of the program who live in the same region so it can be at times a bit of a „friends vouch for their friends“ circle, which makes it possible for people like Hassan to get away with charging his guests and not getting his account suspended.

I left Hassan a negative reference and the guy got tottaly pissed at me. At first he wrote me three times a week trying to convince me to remove the reference. His first approach was lamenting: „What’s the big deal?“; then he started saying that i had misunderstood everything and he never meant to charge us, that he would make an exception for us. Not a very intelligent guy after all, i though. After a while he started claiming that it wasn’t even him who wrote those letters, that somebody had logged into his account and pretended to be him. When this didn’t get him the desired result he commissioned couple of his past couchsurfers, who had been obviously very pleased with their surfing experience, to e-mail and inform me that Hassan is a truly an excellent guy and would never ever ever charge for hosting. One French girl took the whole affair rather personally and wrote me 3 very long letters varying from very emotional to extremely rude and abusive. I think as a last resort he tried to hack into my account to remove the reference himself, because suddenly i started getting regular e-mails from CS system informing me that there are too many unsuccessful log-in attempts to my account. If nothing else, the guy is definitely persistent :).
Hassan actually has a lot's of positive references, so he most likely hasn't tired to charge anybody that blatantly before. Maybe he just got tired of all those wealthy Westeners, who stay in his place and thought he can just as well make money off hosting them.

CS website has this feature that if you are logged-in, you can see all the surfers who are currently visiting your country/city etc. Each time you log-in your location is recorded thus allowing CS to display information like „nearby travelers“. So every time i log into my account in Morocco, i start getting kind offers from Moroccan guys inviting me to come and visit them in Rabat, Ourzazate or God know where else. And this time was no different. „I live alone in a big apartment, i can show you around town, we can go to a desert tour, etc“. Are there really women who go for these offers and think they’re legit? These guys never have any credible references, if they have any at all it’s usually brothers and friends who vouch for them. They usually don’t have even decent decriptions of themselves and by the looks of them the most of them are also severly illiterate.

So i’m in a pickle here now .. so many choices .. i wonder if i should go first to Rabat or Ourzazate .. ? :) :)

Young groovy generation of Moroccans


  1. As always an excellent posting.The
    way you write is awesome.Thanks. Adding more information will be more useful.


  2. Hey,

    Your blog was very helpful, thanx.

    Also, I myself do tend to raise my eyebrows over couchsurfing and miscommunication, especially in third world countries. We might all be travelers, but we do come from different socio economic backgrounds.

    As for the French girl, ignorance is bliss...

  3. What an interesting story! Great information too for others that may couchsurfing and encounter a situation like this. So ridiculous he tried to hack into your account!

  4. nice and interesting comment and i agree with you in most of what you wrote, i am a CS member in Morocco as well and i had a looot of experiences and never charge guests simply because it is not the CS spirit at all. i had met this Guy called Hassan and i heard from him a different story of quitting CS community!!! it is interesting how life proves us different things. i can also say that CSers differ from a place to another and there's nothing to do with country or skin colour, it remains a matter of education, personality, tenets and aims in life.

    i used to invite people to my place starting from the "Nearby Travellers" but i discovered that CS has a CouchRequest system and who wants to stay with you will definitely CS request you.

    CS totally changed my life to the best and got into the dream of Nomadic life, learning from people and travelleing within my house. i had hosted people from all continents and had met great people as strange people is life.

    well; your story here is nice and thank you for sharing that BUT never forget that people differ everywhere...^_^.

    welcome to Morocco anytime and have a nice day.
    greetings from the land of peace!
    Rachid (oulissfan)
    Peace & hugs

  5. Hello Rachid!

    I totally agree that as much as there are different people in the world, there will be different approaches to couchsurfing. And it's totally ok, as long as it stays in the spirit of the CS. I didn't publish that story because i wanted to humiliate Hassan or embarrass him, or tell that all couch hosts in Morocco are bad. Quite the opposite, i don't even doubt there are some really genuinely lovely people out there. But Hassan behaved so rudely and horribly that i felt he was quite worth getting his face plastered in the internet and name shamed. He actually was later leaving me comments under this blog post calling me a whore and bitch, plus a lot of graphic sex related abuse. And i've also seen some internet pages where he claims that his a true victim here because some white bitch is out to get him and so on. Normal person does not behave like that, normal person apologizes for example and that would be the end of this story.

    I've been hosting more that 50 people by now from over 20 different countries, plus surfing myself as well, i'm glad to see that people like Hassan are very much rarity. It is truly a great way to meet people and i will definitely look you up when i'm heading to Morocco again!

    Thanks for commenting!

    1. hi ragne
      Sorry, but families in Morocco providing their best in order to make the guests love the place, I think that you have a different look for Morocco

  6. Hi,

    I was thinking on going to Marrackets using CS but I'm a bit susspicious about all the host beeing males (even some mark as female are boys at the end). Any tips you can give me?
    Thank you

  7. Well, if you are determined to CS in Morocco, then only go for the hosts with A LOT of positive references and watch that those references are actually from travelers, not from his family members and friends. And just in case also find yourself a hotel (write down an address), so you would have a backup option if something goes wrong with the CS.

    Good luck!

  8. I could not agree more with a post!


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