By Candy Pilar Godoy, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The ancient notion of hospitality has been drastically revamped thanks to Couchsurfing, a social networking site which offers travelers a couch to crash on and a free look into the lives and homes of locals. But Couchsurfing does more than help budget travelers save a couple bucks.
Every Thursday evening in Copacabana, travelers, expats and Cariocas gather to meet, mingle, and share experiences. Meetings regularly garner over 200 participants, with the weekly assembly promising discount drinks and a friendly crowd.
Carioca Rafael Rodrigues Procopio, Rio’s Couchsurfing City Ambassador, explains, “People go just to hang out and have fun with other CSers … There are so many new friendships and connections made. This is the great thing about the weekly meeting in Rio.”
Procopio became a member in 2008 and has hosted almost 200 people in a span of only 2.5 years. “Without CS I would have never meet a guy from India or a girl from an exotic place like Transnistria” he says.
As City Ambassador, he volunteers by moderating the Rio de Janeiro group, answering inquiries and organizing events. He, along with other CS moderators, welcomes recent arrivals to Rio with a message and invitation to the weekly meeting. “Nowhere else in the world has a weekly meet-up like ours,” he says, “plus, there is a great view of Copacabana Beach at night.”
Patrick K, a Rio transplant from Germany, attends as a means to socialize. “My job takes up a lot of my time, so I don’t have much opportunity to get out and meet people. These gatherings are a great way to make friends from Rio and all over the world.”
The brainchild of Casey Fenton, Couchsurfing began in 1999 when Fenton bought a cheap flight to Iceland on a whim. Uninterested in staying cooped up in a hotel room all alone, Fenton took a chance and emailed 1,500 Icelandic students asking for a place to stay. Over 50 responded, and he spent the weekend exploring Reykjavik and staying with locals.
The experience changed Fenton’s idea of travel and he brainstormed ideas about creating cultural interactions. He launched Couchsurfing in 2003 with the help of some tech-savvy friends, and undertook a mission to let others “participate in creating a better world, one couch at a time.”
The experimental site flourished and became one of the most active cultural exchange sites on the web. Today there are more than 2.5 million members with over 3 million successful surfs.
Over 230 countries and territories are represented, with over 1 million available couches offered. Brazil boasts the eighth largest Couchsurfing community of any country, with Rio placing in the top forty out of over 79,000 different cities available. Travelers are able to find company and guidance from locals, and what better way to experience Rio than with the help of a Carioca.
Rio’s weekly meetings are held every Thursday from 8PM to 1AM at the Pizza in Cone kiosk across from Rua Djalma Ulrich in Copacabana.