Hidden in the upscale suburbs of Vancouver is an ordinary looking house: likely a Canadian-Asian family that works a nine-to-five and is raising 2.1 children. It has brown wooden siding, stucco walls, and a trampoline in the front yard. But looks can be deceiving.
It’s dark outside. Not more than an hour ago we were being interrogated by the Canadian Border Patrol. We walk up to the door and are greeted by a black bumper sticker in the shape of a bat. Next to it is a welcoming sticker informing us that we’ve arrived at the correct house: CouchSurfing, it says. We knock and a friendly, accented male silhouette tells us we can bring our luggage in and leave it in the closet. The closet is overflowing with about a dozen other suitcases and a few dozen pairs of shoes. We walk about four feet to the left and find ourselves between about thirty pairs of eyes staring back at us and Michael Cera. Scott Pilgram vs the World is playing on an overhead projector. Had it not been for the few mumbled “halo!”s, we would not think they noticed us come in. I sit down in an office chair, the only visible spot left to sit. Adrienne comes in behind me and squeezes in between two guys on a couch. They greet her with British accents.
After the movie, the lights come on and we meet the personalities behind all thirty pairs of eyes. “So who lives here?”, I ask. A blond girl with a french accent tells me that she lives there, and lists off another half dozen names of the house’s residents - they are not in the room at the moment. We stay up for another two hours and talk with the house guests: about a fifty-fifty split between friends of the residents and travelers. Among the travelers: half a dozen guys from the UK, three girls from France, four guys from Australia, and another few from Germany. We are the only Americans. There are no Canadians.
On the wall directly to the right of the projector is a jet black bat, wings spanning two metres, created from cardboard and ducktape. Across the room, black sheets made of denim clippings, presumably from old jeans, are draped across the ceiling in thick layers, as if to mimic the entrance to a cave. This is why the call it the Bat Cave, I realize. In the room are five couches, the one to the right of me sitting squarely on top of a coffee table such that the two French girls sitting on it are elevated half a metre above the rest of the cave dwellers. When the time for sleep finally comes, we pick up the couch off of the coffee table and set it where the project screen had been. We open it up into a bed that sleeps two. The couch stakes off a one and a half by two metre portion of the living room for us. All other couches and every last inch of floor space is filled with sleeping bodies. As I grab a quick glass of water before heading to sleep, I even encounter a girl in the corner of the kitchen floor, deep asleep on a camping pad.
I am awakened by the sound of zipping backpacks and shuffling feet. One guy wakes up, awakening another with the sounds of a zipping sleeping bag and a crinkling camping pad. The second lad wakes up a third, and so on, until all dozen of us are awakened in domino fashion. The chatter of a dozen European accents fill the house as we walk out the door to catch the SkyTrain to downtown.
When we return in the evening, there are about half a dozen CouchSurfers in the front yard sitting around in a circle talking. Adrienne says hello as we walk inside to plug in our phones, making use of the valuable WiFi. Without Canadian data and calling plans, our phones are of little use. A few minutes of down time later, Sam, our CouchSurfing host and the Bat Cave’s creator, mentions that a few of the locals are going to Temple for dinner and asks if we want to join. We accept. There is no discussion of how to get there; instead, we join in on their weekly routine of stuffing thirteen people into a minivan: two people in the passenger seat, five the in middle, four in the back, one in the trunk, and a driver. We arrive not at a restaurant called Temple, but an actual Sheik Temple. We enter and there are ten rows of tables, each surrounded by white people with bandanas, a lot of dyed hair, flowery skirts, and too many body piercings to count. There is exactly one Indian family eating amongst them. After waiting in line and having our trays loaded up with Indian food by turbine-bearing Sheiks, we sit down and eat, not stopping to make conversation. About ten minutes and a stuffed stomach later, we load all thirteen of ourselves back into the minivan and head back to the Bat Cave. “How often do you guys do this?”, I ask. “Every Monday, at the very least - and sometimes more” tells me one of the French girls.
We wander to a nearby park and play basketball: the game where throwing the ball into the hoop before the person in front of you gets them “out”. If you’re the last one to get out, you win. I was the first one out. A bit more humiliation and a few games of soccer (using maple longboards as goal posts) later, we start to head back, but make a detour. There’s a house under construction: wooden framed with no windows or walls. Following our host in, we walk up two flights of stairs and a wooden latter to end up on a tarred off roof. We are met with a perfect view of downtown Vancouver backdropped by a fluorescent pink sunset. We sit and watch the sunset.