My first day at “Casa Robino,” I asked where the bathroom was. Simple question, I thought; it should have a simple answer.
“Just open all the doors – you’ll find it,” was the simple reply.
No hand-holding, no directing; power and responsibility are refreshingly balanced in the Casa. Even Robin (especially Robin), who does actually own the place, and pays the bills – he makes it a point to refrain from telling people what to do and what not to do. He just plants the seeds and watches people grow – towards the light. Always towards the light. Sure, he’s well-educated in social dynamics and sustainable development, but really he’s just an amazing guy who wanted to open his house to travelers, and enjoy the colorful patterns that emerge.
It’s the closest thing to anarchy I’ve ever experienced, and it was, in a word, inspiring.
It’s a haven in Amsterdam for hitchhikers and hobos and other long-term travelers, probably best described as a “nomad base,” or maybe a “radical experiment in sustainable hospitality exchange”…. People from all over the world are always coming and going, whether it’s for the regular Thursday night dinner, for a work-week on a hitchhiking magazine, to drop off clothes for the freeshop, or just to visit. People are free to stay, as long as they can interact and manage to arrange sleeping places with the other guests. Then, as soon as someone stays the night one time, they become a host! And it’s very important to give the hosts a hug, every day – the carebear currency. In this way, and through something Robin calls “sharism,” it actually works – every day I was surrounded by love and joy, and peace; people working together for the betterment of the world.
There’s a focus on sustainability in the Casa. People are encouraged to think about their everyday decisions, such as where you purchase bread from, or which methods you use to travel. Which industries are you supporting? The food is nearly 100% vegan, and most of the fruit and vegetables are dumpster-dived. There is a fleet of bicycles for everyone to use (I did my best to fix them up and keep them organized), and the computers all run Linux-based open-source software. And there’s a “no-borders,” global citizen sort of vibe in the Casa; yes, it is located in Holland, but that’s where the nationalism ends. If you ask the question “Where are you from?” you’re likely to get a very entertaining answer – maybe even in Esperanto. “You can take Holland out of the Casa, but you can’t take the Casa out of Holland.” Or can you…?
“Think of others before you think of yourself.” The network of people and ideas that the Casa is a part of (the center of?) is an impressive thing. Need a place to stay in Istanbul? We know people that know people. Need to know where to go to hitchhike from Norway to Portugal? Check the wiki-page they created(www.hitchwiki.org). And not just with hospitality or travel – it’s sharism on a huge scale. Once, one of the hosts posted a message saying the Casa needed a scanner – an expensive piece of technology – and within 24 hours, someone delivered a brand new scanner directly to the door for us to keep. I was in awe. And the really crazy part is that that kind of thing happens all the time!
I stayed at Casa Robino for longer than I had planned – it’s the perfect place for a travel-worn bike tourist. It’s Amsterdam, mythical city of bicycles, so I wanted to make it a big stop-over for my tour. But far, far beyond that – the best part – was that the Casa was the first place since I left Madison that really felt like home to me. I was actually able to host people, to say “Welcome,” and offer new people a cup of tea, without feeling like I was stepping on any toes. Robin and I became great friends over the couple months or so that I stayed – also quite a rare thing, whether you’re always on the move or not, really… I truly feel lucky.
I spent my time fixing things around the house and doing projects, permanently installing coathangers, hand-crafting a new book for Casa contacts; art, utility, and impromptu fun. I spent my time fixing bikes and exploring the city; getting lost turned out to be a great way to see the town. And of course there were parties and dancing as well. We bought fresh bread from the local Turkish and Moroccan shops every morning; there was a gorgeous Turkish prince of a cat named Pasha who chills on the check-out counter. Robin and I took a long bike ride to the sea, to send a message in a bottle to a friend whose boat sank in the Mediterranean. Robin and I took a long bike ride to his hometown, a beautiful quaint little village – I was treated to a tour of the countryside and some of mom’s cooking.
I provided a low-tech influence to the many labtop-centro people around me; after I posted a piece entitled “Why letters are better than email,” everyone assumed I was completely anti-technology(even though I did post it on the internet) and started calling me “the Caveman.” My huge beard helped too I guess, and I was staying in a room called “the Cave,” so I let the nickname live. I don’t hate technology, but I do think we need to keep it balanced in this day and age. Do you know how your computer works? I don’t, and it makes me a bit uncomfortable….
I met loads of interesting international travelers, including a guy who went around the entire world by hitchhiking, and also the only other person I’ve met face-to-face who has “hitched a boat” across the ocean. I learned some vegan tricks from Amylin, a vegan chef Thai masseuse artist dynamo who hitchiked from China. I learned to make banane flambé(a Carribbean recipe) from René, a very ticklish guy who uses Irish expressions in a French accent and rides his bike everywhere. Too many great folks to mention here, really, so I’ll just say that the sharing of inspirations was stupendous!