It’s pretty hard to budget on a year long trip and as you reach those final couple of months, the price of accommodation becomes a major factor.

The cheapest bed in the cheapest part of town is all well and good but in some parts of South America that can mean you’ll be sharing a room with half of the Amazon rainforest. Towards the end of 2008 I entered Patagonia, which is well recognised as the most beautiful but expensive part of Argentina.

With the British pound about as much use as an inflatable dartboard, I was intrigued to meet a girl who mentioned that to cut costs she was travelling by couch surfing. The couch surfing website describes its mission as “seeking to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance, and facilitate cultural understanding”.

To a freeloader like me it meant a free bed for the night from someone willing to put me up. So, having registered, I was delighted to get an email from a guy called Lucas offering me a place to stay for a few days.

There was a slight issue in the fact that he lived on a farm a little way outside Rio Gallegos, the town that I was staying in, however he reassured me in numerous emails that I could get a train out to the area and he would pick me up from the town station.

In truth, the number of emails he sent was bordering on harassment. However, I was assured by a couple of mates that I was just being cynically British in the face of genuine South American hospitality.

The next day I packed my bags and set off to stay with my new Argentinian friend on his farm in the beautiful plains of Patagonia. As promised, he picked me up and once introductions were out of the way he drove for two hours until we arrived at what resembled a sort of Amish settlement.

At this point I was starting to regret my thriftiness. However, as we were miles from anywhere I masked my apprehension and nodded along politely. Within a couple of hours my worries subsided as Lucas took me out and introduced me to his neighbours, explaining that there were seven families in the area all of whom moved out here, built their own houses and
now ran businesses.

No wired religious undertone, no signs of interbreeding, just seven houses and seven small farms living in a lush valley floor and surrounded by two enormous mountains. Even to a city scamp like myself this was pretty appealing.

Joining the family

That night, Lucas’s family, all of whom spoke perfect English, prepared an Asardo (Argentinian BBQ consisting of steak, chorizos and red wine). They also invited a couple
of the other families round, most of whom spoke English and were very inquisitive about England and the English lifestyle.

As the evening drew to a close Lucas’s family took me inside and there, sitting on the sofa, was the daughter of one of the families from the Asardo. Lucas explained that the one family really liked me and was looking for someone to move to the settlement and marry their daughter.

As I started to laugh, I looked around the room, only to see a series of stern faces. It seemed that Argentinian hospitality knew no bounds. Along with a free bed and meal, they were looking to chuck in a wife.

Not really knowing what to say, I explained that although it was a nice offer I had a life in England. Within seconds Lucas’s mother and some other ladies were in tears. The men stormed out, leaving Lucas looking like a five-year-old who’s had his bike stolen.

I felt terrible and although Lucas later tried to persuade me to stick around it all got a bit…
well Amish. With newspaper headlines of “the 23-year-old was last seen…” flashing through my dreams I decided to get up early the next day and head back to town.