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My Close Encounter With A 'Tinder-Surfer'

A Bogota lawyer's foray into the world of online dating opened her eyes to 'Tinder-surfing' — couch-surfing with benefits — as practiced by a semi-celebrity Belgian named 'Zebotta.'

Careful how you're swiping
Careful how you're swiping
Erika Rodríguez Gómez


BOGOTÁ A few months back I decided to carry out a little experiment on male conduct on Tinder. That's the dating website that allows you, if you "like" someone's profile and they reciprocate, to meet up with the person and then take if from there, depending on what you're up for. For some, it's a way to play the field. Others use Tinder to find the love of their life.

My motivation for opening an account was that my (former) boyfriend was cheating on me. What I needed, I decided, was to pick up some casual partners the way I might pick up a few items at the drugstore. But contrary to popular belief, I discovered that the people you find on Tinder aren't libertines in search of super-open, polyamorous relationships. Instead, they're regular people who are just into online dating.

I found that the most experienced members (and let's be clear, they are men), start the interaction with a useful question like "What are you looking for?" Focused on my research/recovery, I would answer with an equally useful "Going with the flow," which opened the door to all manner of conversations, dates, and men.

Paradoxically, the person with whom I did not have a real date — the notorious Anthony Botta, or Zebotta, the Belgian who has used Tinder to get free travel lodgings and coined the slogan "Every day is a date" — turned out to be the climax of my ethnographic inquiry.

Obtaining a match, he sent me three heart emoticons and the message, "you're my first match in Colombia." His looked like a winning profile from the start, with a specially designed sequence that includes an arrow penetrating a paper that says "your heart," and concludes with a computerized picture of himself. Perhaps a little overdone, I thought, but interesting. So I replied, "mmm, don't believe you because your profile's a bit flashy, anyway, glad about the match."

His reply was terse, "Do you know Tinder Surfer?" I searched it quickly on Google and found he had invented something called "Tinder-surfing." Sexist, was the first thing I thought about a guy teaching people to travel without spending money in hotels, while turning into a local Casanova. Just the idea of a man choosing women as if he were picking from a herd of animals, and letting her become his next hostess and more, sounds pathetic. He'd done it in Europe and had now chosen Colombia as his first Latin American destination.

After exchanging a couple of messages on WhatsApp, we arranged two dates for which he never showed. He must have sensed I might meet him with friends who would ask him why he wasn't just couch-surfing — using the application for people who simply host each other on a spare bed or couch — or question how he has the gall to say that he usually spends just one night with most women, but would stay a week in their homes "if there was chemistry."

Come on, traveling the world with free lodgings and added sex, booze and food is something only men could think of. Or does one imagine girls on Tinder daring to embark on the same adventure in a world where women are raped and murdered every day? Zebotta himself advises it's not for us women, as it could be "a little dangerous."

A woman's goal shouldn't be to seek male approval, either in the real or digital worlds.

And let us not fall into the facile argument of, "nobody is forcing you to lodge him," for it distracts from the inherent, conceptual problem with Tinder-surfing. The "pretty foreign celebrity's' attitude was no surprise. Just a few words, a skyrocketing Don Juan ego and some bland, ineffective insinuations about what Tinder can, admittedly, give you: a bit of fun, no strings attached, provided you know what men want.

Anthony is not honest for telling you from the start what Tinder-surfing is. He does not really give you the option of deciding whether or not to host him, but informs you he is a "famous' traveler and you're lucky to have been chosen. It is an opportunity to appear for three seconds on one of his networking sites. Seriously: are there women lodging and paying to entertain a YouTube traveler who depicts their lives as comical?

Zebotta is turning into a brand, and firms are making all sorts of offers so he will promote their products. He is on the verge of no longer needing to strive, seduce and walk into a range of filmed situations to get a bed, and likely breakfast the next day, even though his ally, our sexist culture, applauded his conquests while he did.

Like all settings where power relationships are established, Tinder is an application steeped in gender, class and racial discriminations, because it gives status to those who fit best into hegemonic beauty conceptions and who best expose their "interesting and successful" lives.

A woman's goal shouldn't be to please men or seek male approval, either in the real or digital worlds. While liquid modernity allows us to enjoy a casual night with one, two or even three men and throw them out the house the next day, it should also allow us to have egalitarian and fair relationships wherein we are not just a handy tool for "brilliant adventurers."

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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