Thursday, April 16, 2009

Life in The Forest

The Forest. Couchsurfing in Style.
I think by the time the Brit shook the dead mouse's head out of the toaster over the side of the porch, I realized that I wasn't couchsurfing in the usual kind of couchsurfing place. The mouse had been at first mistaken for a tea bag stuck in the toaster, and then accidentally decapitated by the removable bottom tray. A few minutes later, a cup had been glued to the porch ceiling on one of the spots not covered in graffiti. They tried to glue a beer bottle up there as well, but it was a bit too heavy. I don't think they were doing it with the leaks in porch roof in mind.

To be honest, I actually had a pretty good idea this place was different even before walking in. There was a classic backpacker van in the driveway (unmarked, tie-dye sheet in the back covering the windows) a speaker sitting in the tree, and a broken couch next to the unlocked front door covered in mandarin oranges. Probably the most orderly part of the property.

This place has a name: The Forest. Their mission? To pack in as many couch surfers as physically possible into the one house. The night before good Friday, they had beaten their record by a sizable margin. The first time somebody told me, they had packed 22 people under the roof. This number seemed to grow with each telling of the story until last night when a journalism student interviewed us all about the place, the number had risen to 35. Apparently there's a lot of argument depending on whether you count the permanent and semi-permanent residents living in the bedrooms, living room, porch, abandoned building next door (“the squat”), the metal shed, and a space underneath the shed known as the “undershed” which supposedly was fixed up to be one of the nicest parts of the property. These things happen when you take a small house in a student neighborhood and decide to open it up online to any traveler who needs a roof over their head for the night.

Amazingly, I spent the first night in my own room, when a drunken Dutchman nicknamed “Gigs” passed out across the living room couch and mattress I thought I was going to use. Turned out one of the rent-paying residents was out of town that night picking fruit for some extra cash. I was told as long as I was was careful of the jagged hole in the glass door and could find my way around the clutter in the dark because of a blown fuse, I could sleep there. Actually come to think of it, they didn't tell me about the broken glass hole-- I found that on my own.

I didn't get to bed until well after two or three in the morning. We were all having too much fun hanging out on the porch. I did help out a bit with the group cooking projects, an amazing stir fry with homemade peanut sauce and an Easter cake that sort of collapsed but managed to taste like cornbread with chocolate icing. The crowd sat up, debated politics, compared travel stories, relationship stories, music, and anything else that came into our heads (and the local iPods) that night. A Quebec independence activist got in argument with a Brit about how the Queen secretly controlled all the Canadian law enforcement agencies, the Brit contending that the Queen didn't even know enough of anything to control things in her own country. The chef from Italy and the waitress from South Carolina got in a rather heated discussion of their own about how tipping should work in a restaurant. And everyone had something to say about the politics of health care when we got to that topic. I'm surprised any of us went to bed at all.

I spent the next night sharing the shed-- more or less exactly what it sounds like: a tin shed out back converted into a bedroom with an extra mattress on the floor. Not bad, aside from the noises of Sanchez the pet possum and the other 3+ resident possums getting into fights on the metal roof. I woke up the next morning, shook all the ants off of my shower kit, and walked up to the porch where I had hung my towel to dry. It wasn't there. I asked around, but nobody had seen it. After poking around for about ten or fifteen minutes beneath the porch, around the common spaces in the house, and in the seemingly endless pile of wet laundry that had accumulated after two original tenants had left taking the washing machine with them, I found the thing in one of the private bedrooms sitting on a plastic chair, newly damp. I then looked around for a mop to get rid of the standing water in the bathroom before I took a shower. I asked one of the tenants if they had one.

“Hmm. I think I saw a mop, once.” He replied, thoughtfully. “No, wait, that was the last house I was living in.”

This was my home for four rainy days and nights in Brisbane.

Many thanks to everyone in the forest for all the adventures, including bringing home the kilogram chocolate egg, the mattress in the tree, and of course that which shall only be referred to as The Game. You know what I'm talking about. Special thanks to the full-time residents for permission to write about the place, uncut. If I follow through on my threat to write a play about the place, I'll let you know.
Check out this entry's Photos.


  1. Just tell me you didn't have any toast.
    ..... lv,anonymom.

  2. I'm through with saying I'm jealous, so I'll just say - FREAKING COOL.

  3. Hola Joel!

    siempre estamos rezando por ti, para que te vaya bien en cada lugar que vayas!!!

  4. Anonymom- It would almost be worth the reaction to say I did, but no, no toast for me.

    Count C.- That's the attitude! Now you can go realize how freaking cool what you're doing is too, yes?

    Mary- Gracias! Oye, ¿cuándo te vas a los EEUU? ¿Pronto, no? Me escribes todo cuando llegues, queiro saber que piensas de Spokane y todo. Será bien diferente. Un Abrazo para todos!

    NanLimo- Thanks! Looks like you're working on one of your own there about Indonesian tourism? Lemme know when it launches, you've got my curiosity.

  5. "I think by the time the Brit shook the dead mouse's head out of the toaster over the side of the porch, I realized that I wasn't couchsurfing in the usual kind of couchsurfing place."

    Joel, the first half of that sentence is my new favorite idiom. "Yeah, my sublet is pretty shitty, but at least the Brit didn't have to shake the dead mouse's head out of the toaster."

  6. Andy (Brit from The Forest!)July 11, 2009 at 4:11 AM


    I know this post is old now but I just found the URL for your blog on my phone so thought I would check it out.

    Looks like your trip is still going strong and I'm glad to see you are having a good time. I will try and keep myself updated on your whereabouts. It makes me feel like I'm still travelling.

    Good times in the Forest!

    Andy ( The Brit )

  7. Peace and scavening from the Forest crew,

    Madly cool to hear accounts of our previous adventurers! Hope you're couches get cleaner each time and your personal space gets molested less by travelers, possums and general randoms as you trek on. Keep it surreal!

    The Forest!