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A Shitty Thing to Write About

6 Jun

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It was a bus shelter empanada that made me break that bathroom in Cartagena.

Three hours before consuming it, I was in a seedy cantina with my new friend, Atlanta: an ex-army medic and survivor of the Fort Hood massacre. Atlanta’s PTSD had pushed him to the north east of Colombia where he volunteered at an isolated jungle hostel, periodically returning to civilisation to replenish his stocks of rum and cocaine. It was on one of these trips that we met, striking up a conversation as he urinated on a police car—the sort of introduction you can only have in Cartagena. After an evening of mayhem and laughter, he decided to smuggle me back to the Sierra Nevada, too.

We found a bus shelter hidden in a laneway that, for reasons unknown, was still selling tickets in the middle of the night. We asked the emaciated Morlock behind the counter for two on the early bird bus to Buritaca.

“And,” I added as an afterthought, “one of those empanadas.”

“I wouldn’t eat that,” Atlanta said, eyeing my Colombian surrogate midnight kebab.

He had a point: it’d been baking under a heat lamp like George Hamilton for the better part of the millennium, and the hands that plucked it from the cage were varnished with grime. Nevertheless, I took a bite. It was basically Whiskas in shortcrust pastry; and while a reasonable person might think, ‘Yuk, if I wanted to eat something crusty and fishy, I could just track down Lindsay Lohan and have a gnaw on her’, I was too stubborn to admit that he was right. So I forced it down with the vigour of a dickhead.

Back at the hostel, I clambered into my bunk, set an alarm for quarter past dawn, and dropped into sleep.

My stomach woke me before the alarm could. Apparently the piscine abomination I’d just consumed was so fetid that my body’s only option was to violently expel it. Right. Fucking. Now.

I vaulted off the bunk with an athleticism that I don’t possess and spent the next hour trudging to the bathroom and back until I gave up and lay on the floor, my head resting on the tiles, breathing shallowly through my mouth like a pregnant kelpie. I was okay with this—what little pride I had was lost when vomit had leaked through my fingers when I didn’t make it off the bunk in time.

And, on a side note, I’d like to apologise to the girl in bunk number seven. If you send me the dry-cleaning bill, I’ll reimburse you.

At about 3:45a.m., my belly gave the sort of ominous rumble that tells you to find a toilet, trash receptacle, or tin-can of sorts. Exhausted, but desperate, I grasped the side of the sink, intending to use it to lift my turgid carcass from the floor. As I pulled myself up, the basin came out from the wall, separated from the porcelain column it rested on, tottered elegantly in midair for a moment or two, and then crashed to the ground like Newton’s apple.

So—to recap—I was trapped in a bathroom wearing a Peter Alexander singlet in fetching, vomit-fleck yellow, and men’s Target-brand boxer shorts with an erroneous, easy access crotch panel. Half-digested Nemo could be found in my hair. My hands clutched part of a sink with the remainder scattered in shards around me, and, to be honest, I probably smelt like a sex crime.

My stomach rumbled.

Oh, and I still needed to go.

The remainder of the basin dropped from my fingers.

 

Shortly later, I snuck to the reception for confession.

The night porter was sitting at the desk, his feet crossed at the ankles, a block of chocolate resting on his belly. He was engrossed in his laptop, which was playing pornography. He jumped when I approached him, dropping his chocolate (which is a nice euphemism for what I’d just been up to myself, really), adjusting his glasses and offering an uncertain, “Hola?”

I attempted to explain in manic Spanglish, trying to highlight the fact that I hadn’t intended on smashing the bathroom like Keith Richards on crack, but an empanada (“Which might have been cat food. You know, el gatto.”) caused me to vigorously evacuate everything from my system which had, inadvertently, caused me to break the bathroom.

Perdon?”

“I’m not on drugs you know,” I babbled. “Honestly.” For some reason it was very important to me that he know this. “I mean, I know it’s Colombia but I’m not.” I blinked, my anxious eyes jittering across his face. “I promise. But the bathroom is—”

From the desk, the naked woman on the laptop let out a moan. We both glanced at it. With one hand he slammed the lid.

“—completely fucked.” I finished.

He explained that his English was not very good, and even if he spoke fluently, he’d struggle to cohere the nonsense that I was hurling at him, so I should just shut the fuck up and show him whatever the hell I was ranting about.

To paraphrase.

I led him to the bathroom, head bowed like a war widow. He looked in. Coughed. Crossed himself.

I glanced up.

The toilet hadn’t flushed properly.

Fuck.

“The other bathroom,” he began, a smirk on his lips. “She is okay?”

I frowned. “I guess so.”

He locked the door. “Then use other bathroom tonight.”

That was it?

Wait—that was it?

He just shut the fucking door? I could have done that! In fact, why didn’t I just do that?

“They fix in morning. Now it’s late. You sleep.” He laid a paw on my shoulder and, remembering the porn, I tried not to think of where it had been.

“You need something else?” he asked.

“Do you have any Gastro Stop?”

He frowned. “I don’t know what this is.”

“How about a cork?”

“Goodnight, miss.”

 

The following morning, Atlanta was in hysterics. “I told you not to eat that shit!” he crowed.

“Be kind to me,” I mewled.

Dehydration had pulled my eyeballs into my skull and the soles of my feet were laced with micro-cuts from the porcelain. Brittle and wan, I was shaking like a dild—

…um, like a…llama. With Parkinson’s. Yeah.

I’d run late for the bus, too. Which was total bullshit. Colombians operate on ‘Colombian time’: a vague assemblage of moments distinguished by phrases such as ‘mas tarde’ and the idiom ‘ahorita’, which, to Colombians, means ‘Nowish…ish.’ It’s impossible to be behind schedule when even a nebulously binding reference to time is abstract. This bus driver was apparently a German expat because Atlanta had to bribe him to wait for my leaky arse.

“You want drugs?”

I peered at him through knock-off Raybans. “You think cocaine fixes everything.”

“I’m not sharing that. I mean these,” he fossicked in his pockets, dropping loose tobacco, receipts, lint, and lighters on my lap before presenting a battered pill packet.

I turned it over. “Codeína?”

He nodded.

“You want me to take,” I squinted at the packet, “sixty milligrams of codeine for food poisoning?” In a distant part of my brain, my nurse training came online. “I don’t think it’s indicated for that.”

“Codeine causes constipation,” he began with forced patience.

It’s true, codeine can turn chia seeds into concrete…and we had eight hours before we reached Buritaca…

“If nothing else, it’ll help you sleep. Keep the pack,” he grinned. “I’ve got shitloads.”

That pill packet would resurface a year later on a bus in Nepal.

 

My gorgeous sister and I had travelled through there in January and—aside from a slightly rapey overnight train, a pair of sunglasses landing with a squelch in a squat toilet, and a clutch of hysterical pilgrims that nearly swallowed my blanket-wielding sibling whole—we’d navigated it without incident. I even swam through crap and corpses in the Ganges, managing to emerge free from sin and dysentery. So when I kissed my sister goodbye in Pokhara, feeling bulletproof, I did what any cocky tourist would do: I gave salmonella prevention the middle finger and ate a discounted hamburger.

The following day, when the rancid meat was somewhere in my jejunum, I boarded a bus to Kathmandu, fragile and cranky. Initially, my ire was blamed on the obnoxious Americans behind me: the ones comparing the selfies they’d taken with malnourished, haunted, but tentatively hopeful Cambodian orphans on their recent poverty-porn world tour. At the first rest stop—with six hours left on a bathroomless bus—I sprinted off to abuse a roadside toilet. It then became as clear as the second line on a pregnancy test that I was screwed.

Buying a bottle of water, I downed the Colombian codeine along with a handful of Gastro-Stop, hoping to calcify the evil that was incubating within me. It worked and six Gastro-Stops later, I was in Kathmandu.

I disembarked into chaos, knowing that my hostel was somewhere, unsure of where, but trusting HostelWorld’s claim that it was a $3 cab ride away. The first two taxi drivers didn’t know where somewhere was, but could get me everywhere else for $5. I declined, and since they didn’t want to go nowhere, they followed me around until I tersely said that I wouldn’t be going anywhere with them.

The third driver didn’t speak English, but nodded with the sort of earnestness that I find charming. I showed him the address on my iPhone—a move which proved to be as useful as a bathroom door around Oscar Pistorius—he couldn’t understand it and I couldn’t pinpoint where Samjhana Street was in the melee before me. We drove through crowds, sporadically stopping to ask random strangers for directions, my iPhone proffered like pocket-sized oracle. In three Gastro-Stops we found it. I checked in, went upstairs to my room, and passed out on the stained futon.

I awoke just before midnight in a batten-down-the-hatches state that can best be described as ‘gastrointestinal Armageddon’. Throwing open my door, I bolted downstairs to the dingy washrooms. This became my first evening in Kathmandu: a veritable red, white and green kaleidoscope of bad decisions punctuated by a shitty staircase. In desperation, I took my entire stash of Gastro-Stop, something that may have caused mild delirium because I recall kicking open the toilet door at one point and swaggering to the bowl like John Wayne after an enema, snarling, “Hello again, you old bastard. Remember me?”

Even though I’d booked the hostel for three nights, I decided to leave early the next morning, because fuck running up and down stairs like Tom and Jerry. I splashed out on a hotel that had a bathroom in the room, packed my bags, and headed to the front desk.

Not wanting to pay for the whole stay, I approached the clerk with a smile and said, “Hello, my grandfather’s dead. Can I check out?”

In Australia, a family emergency trumps a cancellation fee. In Nepal, it opens up a negotiation. With a small nod of condolence, he tallied my bill, swiped my card, and presented me the receipt as if it were inconsequential: bacon rind given to a hungry dog. I glanced at it.

“You’ve charged me for three nights.”

“Yes.”

“But I’m only staying one.”

“Yes.”

“But,” I paused, trying to direct my thoughts through the fog of fatigue. “Can’t you…?” I trailed off, letting the sentence rot in the air between us like a bag of liposuction fat.

He slid a notepad and pen across the counter. “What is your offer?”

I stared at him. “What?”

“You tell me what you want to pay and then we discuss.”

“But…I,” pause. “No! My—”

“And I’m sorry for that.” He tapped the pad, looking delighted. “Your offer?”

The only offer that felt appropriate was a bucket of dicks for him to suck but I had no idea where to unearth such a treasure—not in Nepal, anyway—so I gave up. I reasoned that the money wasn’t worth the very real danger of shitting my pants mid-negotiation—a tactic that could have worked in my favour, but seemed like the sort of thing I’d ultimately regret.

 

Outside, the streets were still quiet and I stopped at the only pharmacy that was open. I bought the essential narcotics from the white-smocked clerk, neglecting to do the currency conversion in my head. Later that evening, I discovered that he’d charged me roughly three times the amount he was supposed to. A fact which bothered me roughly three times the amount it should have.

Sure, it was a minuscule amount of cash to me but a modest amount to him, but I was vexed: It was wrong, I was just a tourist. And I was sick. Vulnerable. He was taking advantage of that. He was shitting all over me. I had to say something—for colonically-challenged travellers everywhere.

Two days later, lathered into frenzy, I strode to the store with my indignant inner monologue juggling words and phrases in my head like linguistic Sudoku. I stormed up to the pharmacist, struck my fist on the counter, and said—among other things—“You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

Yep. Apparently food poisoning turns me into Dorothy from Oz. I mean: who says ‘ought to’ in general conversation? What the fuck was that? Why not just go all-out and put my little soliloquy into iambic pentameter?

At the end of my rant, he was flummoxed. Here we go, I thought. He’s going to find some ridiculous justification for it.

“Madam,” he began delicately. “I’ve never seen you before.”

My first reaction was shock, “What?” which slowly gave way to confusion, “I was just in here the other day,” then realisation, “Oh,” and finally, a throbbing mortification: “You didn’t serve me, did you?”

He shook his head.

I looked around, trying to pick the offender from the line-up of neat men in matching uniforms. “Does your twin brother work here?” I gave what I hoped was a charming, disarming, and completely non-racist smile. “Maybe he served me?”

“Madam, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Okay,” I turned, and then looked back. “Just, you know, don’t overcharge tourists. Not that you do. Because, um, we now know,” grin, “that you don’t.” Pause. “I’m a nurse by the way! Yep. An egalitarian nurse who is totally supportive of refugees and…”

I prattled on like this for a while, determined to dig myself out of the hole I’d just placed myself in.

Perhaps I should have just buried my shit in it instead.

Most cats do that, you know—bury their crap.

But not this one.

This cat flings it into the ether of the internet in a scatological frenzy.

Sharpening claws with a Swiss army knife

24 Jan

Switzerland was a girl that you simply couldn’t feel neutral about.

Ha! See what I did there?

Don’t get me wrong, she was quite friendly; but she was also a European princess, the only daughter of rich parents, who would frequently say offensive, ignorant and moderately hilarious things, then chastise you in a prim voice (“You have no right to speak to me like that!”) when you dared to question her questionable logic.

I’d managed to conduct a few surface conversations with her when I first arrived at The Royale, always with a moderate amount of social lubrication, usually without incident. But, like a cancerous tumor snaking it’s way through your white matter, she would eventually wear me down and annoy the shit out of me.

Bärengraben

There were two things that Switzerland hated in this world: dogs and poor people. And, after a week of incessant teasing from Atlanta and I, I’d say that we now occupy spaces 3 and 4 respectively.

Virtual high-five to my jungle comrade.

Her hatred for poor people became apparent during a conversation Atlanta and I had with her about zoos.

Switzerland: “I think zoos should be banned. It’s completely cruel to the animals.”

Atlanta and I debated with her, bringing up conservation efforts, breeding programs, care for sick and wounded animals that may die out in the wild…

“I don’t care. It’s cruel. Lions should not be suffering in a cage in Switzerland.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “They aren’t really suffering. They’re in large pens being taken care of by people with degrees in zoology. It’s not like they’re living in the ghetto.”

“I don’t agree with it.”

I tried a different tack. “Okay, how about this: not everyone is fortunate enough to travel to the Serengeti to see a lion. Does this mean that they haven’t got the right to see one in their lifetime?”

“I don’t see why animals should have to suffer because some people are poor. It’s not the animals problem that they don’t want to work.”

Yeah. Uh-huh. That’s right- fuck all you poor people.

“It is cruel,” mini-Rinehart continued thoughtfully. “Switzerland is cold, you know. A lion has no business being there.”

“I had no fucking idea it was cold in Switzerland,” I snapped. “Thank you for the geography lesson.”

Pet Semetary

Switzerland fell in love with a stray cat that occasionally hung out at The Royale. It was a horrible little black thing that I christened Church due to the fact that it looked like it had come from the wrong end of the Pet Semetary. Switzerland would cuddle it, coo at it, and feed it spoonfuls of her dinner. From her fork. While she was still eating. When Atlanta and I began to wind her up she would retreat to the hammock, holding the cat like a security blanket, glaring at us, and smacking the nose of any canine that came within a ten feet radius of her precious pussy.

One lunch, as she was feeding the beast prime backstrap beef that had been cut from a freshly slain cow that morning, Atlanta was watching her in bemused horror. He elbowed me and whispered drily, “I’m sure there’s some local Colombians who would like that meat. I’m going to kick that cat so fucking hard when she leaves.” He paused, then said loudly, “CC, did I ever tell you the story about the cat empanada that I was served?”

“Cat? As in cat food?”

“No, as in cat meat. El gatto.”

“Bullshit.”

“It’s true. There were no pollo empanadas left so I ate cat. Doesn’t taste too bad, actually.”

Switzerland spooned a mouthful of soup, willfully ignoring us.

“You’re not doing that cat any favours by feeding it, you know,” Atlanta piped up.

“Why?” she asked, stroking the creatures head.

“Because you are taking away it’s ability to procure food for itself.”

“It’s a domestic animal.”

I took up the bait. “He’s right. That’s why you can’t feed the birds in wildlife parks, they lose the ability to hunt. That cat is going to wind up starving to death if you keep feeding it.”

“Cats don’t hunt.”

“Yes they do,” Atlanta and I said as one.

“It’s someones pet,” she huffed.

“This is a Colombian cat,” Atlanta offered. “Colombian cats aren’t like regular cats. They’re tough. They carry a switchblade and-”

“I’m sure someone will feed him,” she stroked the cats chin and continued in a baby voice, “he’s so lovely.”

“I won’t feed it,” he added cheerfully. “It’s going in the furnace as soon as I get hold of it.”

“Wait,” I said, putting down my spoon. ”Do cats carry a switchblade because people try and make empanadas out of them all the time?”

Inner Beauty

I can’t be too unkind to Switzerland. She did have a good appreciation for aesthetics:

“I really want to get married one day, but only to a blonde man. With no body hair. I hate body hair. That’s why I hated Brazil. It’s full of little, ugly, hairy people. I like blonde men and they have to be from a good family. I haven’t had sex in six months you know, I had to mentally prepare myself when travelling Africa for no sex because I don’t like African men, but I thought I’d find at least one blonde man in South America,” she turned to me and added thoughtfully, “I loved Australian men.”

I wanted to tell her to get her manicured, upper-class claws out of the pool of Australian men that my friends and I fish from. I should have pointed out that there are more blonde men from good families in South Africa than South America and that she should probably just fuck off back to Cape Town. She could even buy the baby she always wanted: “I’d love to buy an African baby. But only a cute one. Not an ugly one.”

And there was the time she did acid: “Everyone became ugly. I couldn’t stand it. I hid in my room for the night because I was just surrounded by hideous looking people. It was really quite frightening.”

Despite being constantly frustrated by her, I travelled with Switzerland for a bit, purely for the convenience and safety of having a human being beside you as you traverse Colombia. If you’re thinking that I was only using her- well, you’re right. I was. If you are tittering at what a horrible human being I am- well, you’re wrong. I’m fairly certain that she was doing the same thing: “I’ll stay at the hostel you are staying at in Santa Marta…maybe I’ll find some cool people to travel with there. It’s a drag being with the same six people every day. I need to find someone fun to hang out with.”

When international relations collapse

But, one evening, I very nearly throttled Switzerland.

We were at the beach, drinking fresh juice and staring at our phones, willfully refusing to converse with one another. We’d spent the better part of the afternoon bickering like pensioners at the bus stop. We’d heard a story a few days earlier about a rape ring that was once operating out of a popular party hostel in Medellin. It was a horrific tale that scared the pants off me- oh my, what a terrible pun that was- Switzerland, however, didn’t want to believe it because she had plans to stay there.

Switzerland: “I don’t think that people were really assaulted in the hostel in Medellin. They would have said something.”

“They probably reported it to the police who hushed it up.”

“Yes but I don’t understand why you wouldn’t write a bad review on Tripadvisor.”

Imagine reading that: Cindy gives XXYXY Hostel, Medellin 1 star, ‘The gardens are lovely but there is a good to fair chance that you will be viciously raped in them.’ 

Switzerland was staring at me. “Um…,” I said finally, “Shame?”

“Well they don’t have to put their real name.”

“Look, sexual assault is handled by every person differently and many people don’t shout about their experience. Most sexual assaults go unreported, actually. It’s that Victim Guilt thing.”

“Oh, I don’t believe that.”

I stared at her. “Well, honey, mental health is my fucking job and I know a little bit about this.”

“Yes, but I’d report it.”

“You don’t actually know what you’d do until it happens.”

“I’d go to the embassy and create such a fuss that the hostel had to be shut down,” she continued. This was a debate technique that she employed often. When your point trumped hers, she would continue on as if you hadn’t spoken. This would then cause an agitated silence from my end, and after a beat she would say in a little girl voice, “I wonder how the kitty is.”

At 5.30, I ask her if she wants to head back to The Royale. She agrees. Two minutes later she asks, “Oh my, how are we going to get back?”

I tell her it’s not a long walk. “But it’ll be dark soon, we’ve got to go now.”

She pays her tab, picks up her thongs, walks into a tent, and engages in a fifteen minute conversation about handmade bracelets while I tap my foot and swear under my breath outside.

“We have to go,” I urge her. “Now.”

“Yes, yes, I just want to buy a bracelet.”

You’ve had all fucking afternoon to buy a bracelet you vapid whore, I shout in my head. Get your silver spoon arse off that chair and let’s fucking vamos, Swissderella.

Eventually we leave. Somehow the conversation falls to the minimum wage in America.

“You know, I wouldn’t even get out of bed for $6 an hour,” she said.

“Well, some people don’t have a choice.”

“I used to babysit my brother and get $250 a week from my parents just for eating pizza and watching movies. And I got $30 an hour for my other babysitting jobs. I don’t see why they can’t just do that.”

There you go America: your economic woes have just been solved.

“I miss being fifteen. Life was so easy then.”

It’s bait that I can’t help but take. “Easy? You are travelling through Colombia,” I spat. “You haven’t even finished uni yet, what, exactly, about life is hard?”

Silence. Switzerland has now fallen ten passive-aggressive metres behind me. On the main road, we pass the marker that states it’s one kilometre back to the Royale.

“Should we get a lift?” Switzerland calls out.

I stop, looking around at the complete absence of anything. “From where?”

She points at a nearby farmhouse. “I’ll ask if they can drop us off.”

She approaches the porch and asks a random Colombian for a lift as if this is perfectly normal behaviour. I wait by the road, the darkness growing as quickly as my ire. We waste ten minutes of twilight as she tries to explain the location of an obscure jungle hostel to a flummoxed local who looks as if he wants to somehow evaporate into smoke to escape her pushy arse.

“It’s kilometre marker 46. You know the one,” she huffs. “It’s right there.”

After a beat she flits back to me. “He will take us but he can only take one at a time, so do you want to go first?”

I stare at her. “You can’t be fucking serious.”

“Or you can wait and I’ll go.”

“I’m not getting,” I spit, “on the back of a strangers fucking motorcycle.”

In my defense, walking into a house in a dangerous country and trusting that a stranger will take you 1km up the hill out of the sheer goodness of his heart is something that I consider to be ‘retarded. Deliverance retarded. Non-Academy Award winning you’ve-just-gone-full-retard, retarded.’ And if I was stupid enough to agree with her harebrained scheme, my two options were completely fucked: I could be the first on the bike and hope that I wasn’t going to wind up, at best, robbed in a field somewhere, or I could stand on the side of the road at night and hope that I wasn’t going to wind up, at best, robbed in a field somewhere. Furthermore, she has spent so much time trying to convince this Kogi fucktard to double us like Evel Knievel on the back of his motorbike, that it’s now nighttime. So, I snap. And I had every right to do so.

“You can catch the fucking bike if you like. Fuck this shit. Fuck you, fuck the franc, fuck Tag Heuer, and fuck the Red Cross, I’m fucking walking.”

Okay, I didn’t exactly phrase it like that. But my dummy was spat unceremoniously across the road as a Colombian man watched the exchange in shock.

Switzerland gathers herself, sighs, and follows me as I steam down the road.

“Take the fucking bike,” I call over my shoulder.

“Well obviously I’m not going to let you walk alone,” she huffed.

Santa Marta

She followed me to Santa Marta and we spent an awkward night making stilted conversation in the hostel bar. Prayer in C by Robin Schultz came on, and Switzerland let a small piece of empathy slip: “Oh, this song reminds me of my friend who died of malaria. I used to listen to it over and over when he…” she looked down at her wine.

Maybe she is human after after all, I found myself thinking. But, before I could pat her hand and say something forced and inappropriate, an insubstantial summer breeze flitted back across the table: “You know,” she said leaning forward, “the last thing I said to him was, ‘At least with malaria you’ll be nice and skinny’. He was dead a week later,” giggle. “Not a very good thing to say, was it?!”

The next day, she boarded a bus to Medellin and we made the thoroughly insincere promise to “catch up again!”

I don’t think I will. Having a body next to you when you trawl Colombia has it’s advantages, but having the wrong body is a CATastrophe of Pet Semetarian proportions. Sometimes travelling alone and relying on your instincts is safer than being with the wrong person. Besides, she would have dumped me as a companion when she found out I was poor, anyway.

Watch out where the huskies go…

20 Jan

A Colombian coke binge seemed like a good idea at the time.

Don’t judge that statement. I don’t actually do drugs in Australia, you know.

She adds defensively.

Don’t get me wrong: I have. On many occasions. The majority of my university years were spent in a purple haze. My memories of that time are so smoggy that I might have studied in Beijing…it’s possible, you know- I smoked a lot of pot and can’t be entirely sure where I was at that period of my life. I’ve enjoyed so many illegal narcotics that several of them don’t work on me anymore. My brain has mutated and apparently developed anti-bodies to most strains of MDMA. My time on drugs can be summed up by the word ‘Disneyland’, and I ceased with my sanity and without any stories that involved me robbing someone or sucking something to fulfill a suburban white girl Ecstasy habit.

In other words, I did the shit out of drugs and passed with flying colours.

But the first rule in the Drug Users Handbook is ‘When they stop being fun, it’s time to move on’, so I stopped taking them, choosing green tea, smugness and meditation instead.

Then I got to Colombia, a country that looks at an afternoon bump of cocaine much like a double espresso- it’s just a little pick-me-up to get you through that post lunch drag. It’s their cultural siesta. In fact, in Colombia, cocaine is cheaper than beer. I’m a traveller on a budget. A temporary coke habit was the fiscally responsible choice, really.

It’s my second night at The Royale and Atlanta and I have just left the party that is blazing through the bar. We clamber up fifty dirt-hewn steps by the light of our mobile phones to arrive at my room for the evening: a man-made hilltop cabin that overlooks the jungles of North East Colombia. The next morning, a woodpecker will rythmically slam it’s beak into the balcony railing, acting as a natural alarm clock, and my blurry eyes will peel open to a glorious view of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This night, though, Jim Jefferies is playing on my laptop, a half filled bottle of rum sits, uncapped, by a cheap lamp that is perpetually surrounded by Colombia’s largest jungle bugs, an open packet of tax-free Venezuelan cigarettes lays on the bed beside me, and the table is covered with AUD$1600 worth of Colombia’s finest disco shit.

Over here, five grams of cocaine is worth less than a packet of cigarettes in Australia, and our transatlantic bounty is spread haphazardly before us. We dip our noses into a pile of white snow like talkative, debauched huskies. We rack line after line and when I feel my heart start to beat faster than an ice addict masturbating after three days of no sleep, I take a break, chain smoking cigarettes and talking about myself as if someone gives a shit. As I natter, Atlanta blows a handful of coke in my face like a child with a dandelion. As an Aussie, this sort of behaviour is hard to get used to. Coke in Australia is more precious than the purity of your first born child. When I arrived in Colombia, I was still chewing the empty bag to get every molecule of Charlie into my system, by the time I got to Rancho Relaxo, it was so prevalent that I was giving myself cocaine milk moustaches for cheap laughs. I had cocaine smeared on, and snorted off, several parts of my anatomy. The whole thing was like a scene from Blow.

My mum must be so proud of me.

My mum must be so proud of me.

Atlanta and I rant at each other with the manic, misplaced sense of self assurance that copious amounts of narcotics brings. The hours slip away, and eventually the party downstairs disbands. Aside from our two person and a-man-on-a-laptop-screen party, all is silent.

Then a gun shot cuts through the night.

Upon hearing it, Atlanta immediately snaps to life like a KGB sleeper agent who has just heard the trigger phrase. He pauses Jim Jefferies, slams the lid shut on the laptop, pulls the plug on the lamp, and plunges us into darkness.

“Someone just got shot at the checkpoint.”

I struggle to sit up on the bed. “Where’s the check point?”

“Just out the front of the hostel.”

“Just out the…what the fuck?” I screech.

“Be quiet, I want to listen.”

Everything around us is silent. I have now leapt, in one fluid, drugged-out motion to stand at the balcony, clasping the rails with a labor-inducing fervor. I peer apprehensively over the blackness of the hostel into the jungle before me. The amount of cocaine in my blood has surpassed ‘excessive’- I’m currently at ‘Charlie Sheening’- and half a bottle of rum is slowly digesting in my stomach; but in that moment I am more sober than Robert Louis Stevenson at a Logie’s after party.

Yeah. I couldn’t think of anything funny so I went for nonsensical instead.

Anyway, nothing can kill a buzz quicker than South American jungle paramilitary. I stare at the night stretching malevolently before me and begin to wonder if I’m about to die with cocaine boogers caking my nostrils and an M16 jammed beneath my mandible. Full scale drug paranoia hits me. “Are we safe?” I squeak.

“Yeah, they probably just shot someone trying to smuggle something over the border.”

A drug shoot-out. In Colombia. In a guerilla and paramilitary soaked area of the jungle that I probably shouldn’t even be in. Where I am currently fifty shades of fucked up. ‘I’ll take ‘Stupid things that gringas do’ for $500 please, Alex.’

“Drugs?” I squeak.

Atlanta laughs. “God no,” he drawls. “The biggest thing being smuggled into Colombia from Venezuela right now is gasoline.”

I glance at the 10c per packet, tax free, Venezuelan cigarettes beside me. “And illegal tobacco?”

He nods, switches Jim Jefferies back on, and settles back in the chair to rack up more lines. “It was probably just a warning shot fired into the bonnet of the car as they tried to sprint across the border. It’s nothing.”

I’m in the middle of nowhere and a gun has been fired fifty feet away from me. To anyone who doesn’t live in a South American Golden Triangle, it’s fucking far from nothing. Atlanta is an ex army medic who grew up in Georgia. Gun shots probably accompanied the majority of his lullabies. Rifle fire is like elevator music to him. I’m from Sydney, the place where gun crime is as common as egalitarian bogans. In short, this is far from a normal occurance for me and I’m fucking terrified. Has someone just died? Are the military going to come into the hostel and look for witnesses to shoot? Or were the shots fired from the guerillas in the Colombian mist, and not the military at all? In other words, am I going to fucking die?!?

Atlanta sees the look on my face and immediately switches into Southern gentleman mode. “Anyone coming up that hill will need a flashlight and we’ll see them. We’re safe.”

This calms me mildly.

“Besides, it’s nothing like the time the military stormed this place and Boss Connecticut and I had to negotiate with them while we sent all the guests to hide up in the jungle with their passports.”

Any calm that has settled in my drug-addled brain leaves abruptly. “Um,” I begin. “What?”

“It was fine. They just came in with guns because they wanted money.”

“Wait..what?”

He offers me a rolled up fifty mil bill and explains. One sleepy evening, armed militia stormed the property with machine guns drawn. The hostel staff sent the guests up into the mountains to hide with their passports- you know, just in case negotiations with the armed men went sour and they had to flee the area and/ or country. The guests hid, presumably discharging bodily fluids from circular orifices while below them, agitated Spanish raged as the owners renegotiated with heavily fucking armed, mildly fucking sociopathic, post adolescent, testosterone fuelled military.

“That won’t happpen again. Not tonight, anyway.”

I glance at my bag which contains my passport and a laptop which can probably be sold for a plane ticket in a pinch. “Are you sure?”

Atlanta glances at me. “Calm down, Tweak.”

“I’mnotfuckingtweaking,” I snap.

He ruffles my hair. “It’s going to be fine.”

To be pompously continued in the next post…

The Panamanian Pirate Story: Guns, Guts and Bellies Full of Rum

10 Jan

It took Panama City 67 minutes to rob me.

Yes. Rob.

Again.

I know, I know.

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It’s kind of sucky being known as ‘The girl who got robbed’ in hostels. I’m getting good at being mugged, though. Not a tear was shed and I could even crack bad jokes to fellow travellers later that evening.

What I didn’t know when I arrived in Panama City was that I had booked a hostel in the ghetto. Unintentionally. I’d travelled there to catch a boat to Colombia through the San Blas Islands, and had simply booked the place that offered such a trip. After the robbery I would begin to notice how poor the area was. The razor wire that stretched endlessly over the fences of every house. The barred windows. The belligerent drunks. The cops that shook money from locals in front of you. The nighttime symphony of car alarms and gun shots.

Yes. Gun shots.

Crime

It’s 5pm. My plane skidded down the Panama City runway an hour ago and I have spent the last 30 minutes exploring the local area. It’s close to twilight, so I decide to head back to the hostel. I inevitably get lost and try the GPS on my phone. The GPS isn’t working. The phone goes in my pocket and I turn down a street that should be the one my hostel is on.

The police would later tell me that I have just walked into one of the most dangerous areas in the city, a place that even locals avoid. Simply being there carried the same level of danger that rolling through the favellas in Brazil in a diamond encrusted wheelchair whilst smugly fanning oneself with hundred dollar bills would. It doesn’t look malevolent, though. It looks like an ordinary residential neighbourhood in Central America. It reminds me, ironically, of Havana. Kids are skipping rope, ladies are parked on wooden crates outside their flats, and old men are lazily smoking on balconies, surveying the street before them.

It’s light out and the street is crammed with people, but as I walk my spider sense begins to tingle. Something feels dangerous. Wrong. Something in my gut says that I need to turn the fuck around. Immediately.

Of course, I ignored my intuition. Stop being a pussy, CC, I thought. It’s just because it looks like Cuba. You’re overreacting.

I pass a cross street. A guy follows me. I turn around, he grabs me, pins me to the bonnet of a car and, for the second time in as many months, I find myself grappling with a large Afro-Caribbean local. When you’re catnip for thieves, one robbery is much like the next and can be described in a bored, concise manner: We struggle, I gouge at his eyes- yes, I really did that- he pulls his head back, undoes the clasp on my bag- impressive considering it was an anti-thief backpack that usually took me ten minutes to undo- and snatches it from me. I manage to keep hold of one strap and pull back, he takes a swing at me, I duck-

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-kick at him, miss, lose my grip, and watch him sprint away. I hesitate, give chase, turn a corner and deduce that he has disappeared through a doorway that appears to lead to a residential courtyard. There is a lady standing at the door. She is staring at me. I don’t follow him. I hang my head and return to the street like a defeated pussy…cat chicken. Just like Cuba, my headscarf and sunglasses have flown off my head in the attack. In Cuba, they were delivered to me as the neighbourhood children crowded around to help. In Panama, my counterfeit Raybans are gone, and my headscarf lays forlornly on the ground. I pick it up and note that the locals are still resolutely refusing to catch my eye.

Yes, my attack had witnesses. At least eight. Did they do anything? No. One woman was sitting three feet away with her two sons. That hurt more than the robbery, actually. The fact that a mother would sit and watch a woman get attacked by a large man and not even squeak. But, I would quickly learn that they fucking hate tourists in Panama. Hate them. If anyone has had a different experience I’d be glad to hear it, but my time there was marked by abject hostility from nearly every local. Shop assistants would roll their eyes when I asked them to repeat rapid Spanish. Dutch backpackers told me stories of locals spitting at their feet and calling them a Gringo. The vibe of Panama City is, ‘you have and I don’t, so fuck you’.

Now, admittedly, there is a juxtaposition between locals and tourists. 3km away from the slums is a mall filled with Hermes, Cartier and Chanel. It even has a horse riding shop stuffed with leather saddles and jodphurs, and I haven’t seen too many fucking ponies in Panama City. So, in a way, I can understand their disdain for us, but in another I say, ‘No, fuck that, and fuck you, Panama.’ Every major city in the world has a schism between the rich and poor. Walk the Champs-Elysées and you will see rich tourists strolling past homeless beggars clutching cups of coins. It’s the same in Sydney, in New York, everywhere. It’s life.

Which brings me to my next point. Or rant. No, let’s say ‘point’. Rant sounds angry. The belief that people steal in Central America just because they’re desperate.

Piss off.

Seriously. Piss. Off. I’ve been thinking about this a lot today and I have managed to formulate an argument to make that statement shatter like windscreen glass. I’m in a quarrelsome mood, too. I’d be happy to engage anyone who disagrees with me in my crosshairs in a stirring, expletive filled debate.

Rant

The Gina Rinehart’s of the world aren’t being bag-snatched. Thieves target tourists- and locals- in their own areas, not the in rich, touristy ones. If it were solely about desperation, they would be going for the fattest targets.

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We aren’t in Sherwood Forest, and tourist theft isn’t an action that bridges a socioeconomic gap. It’s opportunism. Nothing else. The truly desperate aren’t usually the thieves, anyway. They are the broken-down beggars you see clutching Styrofoam cups on the streets.

Plus, if it were sheer desperation, the street vendors would routinely have food stolen from their carts by starving Oliver Twist types. They don’t. So that argument is bullshit. The men who have robbed me in a mildly violent manner, and those who have robbed other travellers in a majorly violent manner aren’t simply acting out of need. That’s like saying rape happens because men get horny. Sure, ‘need’ is a factor, but there’s a whole lot more bubbling away in the cauldron. Disenfranchisement only leads to crime if it breeds contempt, and that’s an individual response to a situation. I’ve been in poor countries- Thailand, Cambodia, Mexico- that don’t have hostile locals. Anyone who is happy to fuck over another human being just so they can have a little more, whether it’s a poverty line bag-snatcher or a wall-street banker that embezzles billions of dollars- because rich people steal, too- is a dick. A pure dick. A limp, warty, flaky one. There is no justification on this planet that will make me believe that inflicting fear or violence on another human being is acceptable. I don’t give a fuck what your bank balance is.

Take my Cuban experience: Cubans aren’t starving. They get a food ration from the government. Sure it’s not a lot, and the wages- roughly US$30 a month- are extremely low, but you can buy a cup of coffee in Cuba for AUD 4c. Four cents. It’s all relative. And the literacy rates and healthcare in Cuba are among the best in the world. Many Cubans are healthier and better educated than Americans. The dude who robbed me there was not an emaciated, poverty stricken fellow. He was sinewy, he was dressed in clean clothes, and he had shoes on his feet. He didn’t rob me because he was desperate, he did it because I looked like a tourist and he figured he could get something from me. It was greed not need.

Guts

A few days later, I go to the tourist mall to get another backpack. I succeed.

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Hooray for me. $30 lighter, I hail a cab on the street and ask to go Hostel Mamallena. The driver nods.

“How much?”

He holds up three fingers. “Three dollars.” His pinky nail is the length of your average cocaine aficionados bump digit. I want to ask him how he finds adequate amounts of keratin in the fried chicken and chips laden Panamanian diet. I don’t. I just nod and bundle into the cab. It pulls away from the kerb.

“It’s five,” he says, glancing back at me.

“What?”

“Five dollars.”

I lean forward. “So it was three dollars out there but once I’m in the cab it’s five?”

“Yes.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“Okay, four.”

I had paid $3 to get from the hostel to the mall. It’s a scam, but it’s also just a dollar, I’ve also just been robbed, and the principle of the matter also just seems unimportant. I belligerently agree and sit back in the seat. As we drive, I notice that he is periodically turning around and staring at my legs. It’s fourty degrees outside, and I’m dressed in cut-off shorts and a singlet, my hair tucked into a hat. Uncomfortable at the attention, I pull my shopping bag over my lap. He continues to appraise me in the rearview mirror. Abruptly, he stops and picks up an old man.

What the fuck? This isn’t a fucking collectivo taxi.

They speak in Spanish and he drives the old man in the opposite direction, detouring, so I now have no idea where I am. Why did he pick up an old man when he already had a fare? That’s weird. I move my phone from my pocket to my underpants. I have nothing else of value on me, I tell myself. I have USD$9. That’s it. You’re fine, CC.

I don’t feel fine, though. My heart is hammering, adrenaline spiking. My gut instinct is saying- just as it did just before I was robbed- that something is wrong. He drops the old man off and continues to stare at me in the rearview mirror. I look out the window, trying to look completely blasé while engaging in frantic self-talk: I have nothing monetary on me, so robbery isn’t a threat, but what if that’s not what he’s after? I recall the way he was staring at my legs. I suddenly feel completely naked in my skimpy summer clothes. I tell myself that I’m being paranoid because of my experience thus far, but then I realise something: I might be. This could be completely innocent. I could just be a neurotic, narcissistic woman who believes that random men are desperate to rob and/ or rape her.

Or

It might not be. My gut- usually accurate- could be right and I have two options: I can get out of the cab now, on a crowded street, and be a safe potential neuroitc, or I could stay, convince myself that I’m just being silly, and open myself up to the possibility of something horrific happening.

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And, well…Fuck that.

The cab stops at traffic lights. I throw money at him and exit.

Trying to hail another cab is difficult. When drivers do stop, they completely refuse to take me. Eventually, one agrees. His son sits in the front seat. He drives the opposite way that the first cab was taking me. Two minutes later, I am at the hostel. I give him $5. He looks for change.

“Do you have a dollar?”

I take the coins out of my pocket. “No, sorry.”

He looks at my outstretched hand, takes two quarters, and gives me back my $5 note.

Which proves my point: a cab driver with a small child is arguably going to be more desperate than a twenty-something one- cocaine habit or not. The latter immediately scammed me, then drove in the opposite direction to where I was supposed to go, even when I gave him the exact address of the hostel. Thinking about that too much scares the shit out of me. The former took me straight to my destination and charged me the correct fare. There are cool people and fuckheads in this world, and the two exist beyond races, borders, and socioeconomic statuses.

Epilogue

It’s morning at the hostel. I am smoking and chatting to Illinios, a retiree, when a group of people storm through the gate. They clutch waterlogged backpacks, looking drained and fed up. I recognise one- the Canadian from my dorm that I had spoken to on the evening I was robbed. He was meant to be on a boat halfway to Colombia right now. I ask what happened.

The captain of the boat got pissed on rum, raised a sail in a direct wind, and capsized the boat.

Everyone went overboard.

All electronic devices and cameras suffered irreparable water damage.

If it was nighttime, people would have died.

If it had happened two miles later, people would have died.

Canada was pissed off, but philosophical, “We could be dead. Or injured. It sucks, but luckily we were near an island and my family and I are safe. It’s the fourth boat that has sank this week, you know.”

They don’t mention that on the website.

I told him that I had to cancel my boat trip for a flight to Colombia instead.

“You’re lucky. Don’t go on the boats, they suck and are dangerous.”

Canada’s dad walks out. He turns to me, “If you find my iPad, can you give it to the staff? I left it in our room accidentally before we left and it’s not there now.”

I take a drag of my cigarette. There’s an iPad that was placed on my backpack yesterday. It wasn’t mine, and I figured that a dorm mate was using my rucksack as a make shift table of sorts. “Is it in a black case?”

Daddy Canada looks hopeful. “Yes.”

“Wait here.”

His face lights up when I give it to him. He throws me into an over-enthusiastic hug, kissing me loudly on the top of the head. “Thank you! Thank you! I was so angry that I left it at the hostel, I thought I’d lost it. But lucky that I did because we now have a lifeline! Thank you! How much do I owe you?”

This surprised me. “Um, nothing.”

He throws me in a hug again.

I’m not adding that part to tie it into a

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‘see, I was robbed and I’m still honest, aren’t I a good person’ moral because I honestly don’t think I’m any better than anyone else for giving him back his iPad. I did it because I’m a Nomadic Nimrod who frequently finds herself in the sort of crisis he was in, I know how welcome help- no matter how small- can be. I’m not a saint, I’m just paying things forward.

Canada said that I was lucky for cancelling the boat. I had to, when I was robbed, I lost the money for the trip, which had to be paid to the captain in cash on departure. Unable to justify the frankly exorbitant cost of the boat after the theft, I booked a flight instead. I didn’t like doing this at the time, mind you. The exact thought that went through my head was, I’m not even getting the fucking boat now. What a fucking waste of money. I’ve travelled briefly to fucking Panama to donate several hundred fucking dollars to local fucking scumbags before fucking off again.

Now? Well, I don’t want to degenerate into a pompous ‘everything happens for a reason’ lecture, but maybe I am kind of lucky.

Or, maybe I’m just justifying being robbed like a Roaming Feline Numskull again.

But maybe if I hadn’t been bag-snatched I’d have gotten the boat. Maybe it would have been lovely for a night. Maybe we’d have then crashed. Maybe I’d have lost my phone, laptop and camera. Maybe I’d be deposited like a wet sack of garbage in Panama again, with the knowledge that I now had to find a flight to Colombia, a bed for the evening, and an argument strong enough to beat the hostels ‘No Refunds on Boat Trips for any Reason’ policy.

Maybe, things aren’t so bad at all.

Happy New Year from Playa del Carmen

31 Dec

I don’t think I like Playa del Carmen.

There. I feel better now.

It’s not Mexico. Well, technically it is, and I’m probably sounding incredibly conceited and elitist right now, but Playa is a shiny tourist hub where the drinks are overpriced, the stores are designer branded, the locals speak American-accented English, and the food is NOT REAL MEXICAN. Real Mexican food- pozole from a tiny family run restaurant, tacos al pastor grabbed at 11pm from a street vendor- is delicious. The stuff they serve in Playa del Carmen is the American idea of Mexican food- what my sister calls Tex-Mex. The cheese is that fluorescent Jack Cheddar nonsense that looks like it could clog your arteries, a highway, and negotiations between Israel and the U.N. in one mouthful.

The Beautiful People

I went clubbing with people from Hostel Che one evening.

I was provocatively dressed in ripped denim shorts, thongs, and a faded Sonic Youth T-shirt. The girls around me wore cocktail dresses, high heels, and expensive gold jewellery. Their hair was straightened, their make up perfect, the sick desperation on their faces apparent. I was still coated in tanning oil and salt from the beach. I fit in like Vulvatron at a Beiber concert. If a man were to run through the gauntlet of prettiness to pick up the girl on the dance floor who is shaking her booty so much that it resembles two ferrets fighting in a denim pillowcase, he’d have found a moderate amount of sand still hiding at the apex of my arse crack. Like a grainy, x-rated Kinder Surprise.

At my second hostel, Bendito Rancho, I was lucky enough to befriend one of the beautiful creatures. UK Girl was perfectly nice- and her designer pool wear consistently matched her espadrilles- but she looked like the type who will, in thirty years, be back here with a handful of girlfriends; having ditched her rich husband for a naughty week that will culminate in bedding a Mexican towel-boy after a Margarita-fueled brunch.

One evening, I was chatting to a group of South American’s, trying desperately to play linguistic Sudoku as Argentina’s basic English failed him. Knowing that it would be good practice, I invited them to speak slow Spanish with me. While I was revoltingly chuffed that I could now pick up one word in every seventeen-point-four, the whole process was making my head hurt. Following a second language that periodically turns your brain into overcooked rice pudding can be draining. UK Girl came in with a group of friends, all of them clutching tiny boutique shopping bags filled with tufts of coloured tissue paper.

“CC, I want you to come and meet the girls.”

I obediently followed and was introduced to three blondes, all drunk on Daiquiris and discount Gucci.

“This is CC. Girls,” she added with a wink, “I think we’ve found a new partner in crime.”

I stood, smiling like a dickhead.

UK began to complain about the restricted hours that the air-conditioner in our room operated on. Last night she was so hot that she had to leave the dorm and sleep in a hammock. Mosquitoes bit her. Can you imagine that? Completely unacceptable. She left to talk to reception about it.

I glanced at the girls before me. Have you ever seen one of those American high school movies where the popular crowd zeroes in on the new girl, testing her cool-factor before ultimately spitting her out like a putrid dog bone? It felt like that. I’ve never fit in with The Beautiful People. I’m too weird. I know it and they seem to sense it. On the few times I’ve tried, there’s been three minutes of polite conversation that abruptly ceases when I say something inappropriate and am immediately led to the abattoir like a babbling, nitwit lamb. I prefer to lurk on the fringes of society, having humourous and often eccentric conversations with the other oddities of the world. They’re my people. However, judging someone based on their attire and artfully applied blue eyeshadow is probably not cool, so I dredged up a small amount of charm and sat awkwardly on the bench, trying to follow the conversation. I understood more when people were speaking Spanish.

“I think I have to buy that dress even though it looked like a potato sack.”

“Why?”

“Because you said it looked good on me.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to buy it.”

“No, I think it does. Wait, what colour was it again?”

“Wait until you are sober.”

“I’m so,” bend forward at the waist, “drunk. Did that dress make me look fat?”

I left a conversation that included the words Fox News, corruption and xenophobia for this, I thought.

“I should have given my number to that guy at the club. He was a good dancer.”

“Which means he’s good in bed, right?” I added suddenly.

Six eyes studied me curiously. I lit a cigarette. Doesn’t it?

“Is paying $120 American for that dress too much?” Drunk Girl continued.

“Well, just don’t buy the belt.”

“But the belt was hot.”

“Do you think I’ll see that guy again?”

“She wouldn’t negotiate with me on price, the bitch.”

Cackle.

Shortly after this, my brain plopped on the table and they disappeared in a whirl of Pandora and Viva la Juicy.

Well I’ve Never!

Last year in Prague, I heard the sentence, “Chlamydia is easy to get rid of, if you want an STD, that’s probably your best option.” I had befriended a group of twenty-something girls that had all managed to bed more men than me, even though I had a ten year head start on them. Usually, I’m not the depraved one when I travel.

Then I checked into Hostel Che.

A group of people were drinking on the balcony. I went out for a cigarette and was invited to join them.

“We’re playing ‘I’ve Never’,” Mexico Dude said.

Of course you are. Every drinking session I’ve entered into on this holiday has degenerated into an ill-advised game of ‘I’ve Never’.

“Want to play?”

Sure. I settled down on the floor between Finnish Girl and Posh American. The rules of the game seem to change every time I play it. Usually you can just eject something, whether you have done it or not, then surreptitiously glance around the room to see who’s lived more dangerously than you. However, these guys had a rule: You have to say something that you’ve never done.

“So far we’ve had, ‘I’ve never done drugs’,” Mexico gestured to a pretty Chilean. “Tried anal,” point to Argentinian girl, “had sex in front of someone,” nod to South Africa, “gotten a tattoo,” Japanese Guy, “or watched porn with someone,” Posh American. Mexico glanced at me, “Your turn.”

Fuck. In ‘I’ve Never’, you drink if you’ve done it. If I’d entered this conversation fifteen minutes earlier, I’d be drunker than Mickey Mantle during a Yankees play-off. I swallowed. Despite over-sharing with formulaic regularity on this blog- something that leaves my Dad pleading, “Stop writing about sex, CC!”- I’m not usually inclined to lay my dubious sexual history bare in front of relative strangers.

“And I have to have never done it?”

Mexico nods. I rack my brain. “Um,” I began. I’ve never gone ATM? No, I’m sitting with people who have never done drugs, explaining ATM, snowballing, felching, or the good ol’ Angry Ewok would probably result in someone throwing themselves off the balcony with their hands firmly clamped over their ears. “I’ve never…” tried beastiality? No, why would I go for beastiality? Let’s not analyse that too much. Quick, they’re staring at you! Think of something. Now, CC, now!

“I’ve never shat on anyone,” I blurted out.

Silence.

“Or been shat on,” I added thoughtfully.

We started playing another drinking game after this.

The Consolation Prize

The following evening, I was in the bar with Brazilian Psychic, Mexico Guy, and Argentinian Fellow. Brazil and Argentina leave and I’m chatting to a very drunk Mexico. He’s very young, maybe 21? Slightly misguided. Completely lost. Sort of like a stray puppy that you want to adopt.

“I’m really shy,” he was saying.

“Dude, so am I. You learn to get over it, though. Just remember that most people have some level of discomfort in social situations.”

He nods, staring at his drink. “I really like Pretty Chilean Girl.”

At this point, Brazil and Argentina have rejoined the table. “You have a shot with her,” Brazil tells Mexico. “I’ve spoken to her. She likes you, but she’s waiting for you to make a move.”

Mexico grimaces. “I can’t make a move. She’s too pretty.”

Mexico has a point. Chile is absolutely gorgeous, and she hasn’t got that friendly, approachable beauty, either. She has the intimidating look of a Victoria’s Secret Angel. She’s lovely, but I can see how Mexico would be scared. I glanced at him. He seemed like a nice guy, so I decided to intervene.

“I’m going to tell you a secret. Always try your luck with girls like Chile. Most men are terrified of beautiful women and they never get approached, so if you are brave enough to do it, the odds are stacked slightly in your favour before you even open your mouth.”

He glanced at me, prodding the ice cubes in his glass.

“Trust me. Go for it.”

He ruffled my hair. “You’re awesome.”

I drained my glass. “Yeah, I know.”

Shortly after we left for a club and here Mexico began to get closer to me, drunkenly touching my waist.

“What the fuck are you doing?” I asked bluntly.

“Chile isn’t interested.”

So you’ve gone for the consolation prize. How lovely. What an ego boost: ‘I can’t get the pretty girl, so I’ll just go for the older one with lines on her forehead who is probably desperate enough to shag a lubed rubber chicken if it’s thrown her way.’

“What? No, stop, yes, she is,” I protested.

That was almost a lucid sentence.

“She told me to get away from her,” he tried to tuck my hair behind my ear and I waved him off impatiently, making a beeline for Chile.

“He’s a player,” she said bluntly. “He has no chance.”

“What? A player? No he’s not.” I can usually spot a player. Unfortunately, they are the smooth, irresistible ones. Mexico was awkward, shy and overly enthusiastic. Like a puppy that hasn’t been neutered yet. I suspected that he had put the wrong moves on her and fucked it up somehow, so I asked her to give him another shot.

“No.”

Fair enough.

I avoided Mexico for the rest of the night and left the club a little after three, drunkenly getting lost on my way back to the hostel. When I arrived, Mexico was standing in the dorm. He lunged at me.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

“I want to sleep with you.”

“No.”

“But you’re awesome.”

I’d tried to play Cupid and the poor schmuck had misread my intentions spectacularly. “I’m not sleeping with you. I’m ten years older than you, for goodness’ sake. I’d destroy you.”

That isn’t even true but my god do I love saying it to younger guys. It conjures up all sorts of images. I’d ruin you for other women forever. I’m like a Laotian landmine, my friend. You wouldn’t know what to do with me. Note that I only ever say it to someone that I have zero intention of shagging. Don’t want to raise the bar too high if I’m actually going to drag someone into bed with me.

“I’m twenty seven.”

I was surprised. “Are you?”

“I am.”

“It’s still a no.”

“But I really want to have sex with you.” His voice turned into a whine, the surefire way to get a woman into bed: ‘Oh, come on, don’t be mean. Have sex with me. Pleeeeeeease? I’ll be your best friend…’

I racked my intoxicated brain for something that would shut him up. My first thought was ‘I have a boyfriend’, something I had employed in Puerto Escondido with an older Texan dude that would periodically say to me, “Anytime you want to have some sex, CC, you just let me know.” I told Texas that I had a boyfriend in Australia, thinking that it would stop him. It didn’t.

“So? He’s probably fucking someone else right now.”

For some reason this annoyed me, and I felt the need to stick up for my imaginary guy. “He’s not like that. We have a bond. It’s special,” I began, wondering if I could Stranger Than Fiction a man into existence. “He wouldn’t fuck around on me. He loves me.” We are going to buy a sharpei and a house full of Ikea furniture when I get back to Australia.

My non-existent boyfriend actually made things worse. When Texas suspected that Manchester and I were involved, he became passive-aggressive towards me, leading me to eventually snap, “If you keep acting like a cunt, I’m going to stop hanging out with you.”

Texas narrowed his eyes. I’d forgotten that American’s don’t like to be called that. But the C-word stopped him in his tracks quicker than the B-word did and he thankfully stopped badgering me for a root.

I looked at Mexico. Calling a man who is pawing at you in an empty dorm a cunt didn’t seem particularly smart. I needed to find something else to say.

“I’m a lesbian,” I said finally, pushing him away at the chest.

I wish it was that smooth. What I really said was, “I’m a…lesbian. A. Big. One. I love…minge.”

I love minge: a sentence brought to you by excessive amounts of Absolut Citron.

He stopped. “You’re a lesbian.”

I nodded enthusiastically. “Oh…yes. A. Huge. Lesbian. I find penis repugnant.”

I find penis repugnant.

I actually said that.

I find penis repugnant.

Who uses the word repugnant when describing genitalia? And how stereotypical is that statement, anyway? Do lesbians even find penis repugnant?

It worked, though. This pretend lesbian climbed into her bunk shortly after to dream about her imaginary partner in Australia, leaving Mexico to abuse his repugnant man-bits in peace.

Terror at 10,000 feet

12 Dec

I dropped my iPhone in the toilet.

Yep, John West decided to go fishing for some brown trout.

Seeing my brand new phone at the bottom of the loo didn’t bother me for two reasons- the first being that I’d dropped it on the way down, so it was only marinading in filthy Mexican toilet water instead of filthy Mexican toilet water mixed with beer-laced urine; and also I had spent the morning drinking with Manchester- an English expat I met in Puerto Escondido a few days earlier. I handled the drowning of John West with the misguided optimism that can only be brought on with high levels of alcohol coupled with an excessively handsome drinking companion- it was blithely downgraded from catastrophic to ‘Oh, toilet water can’t be that harmful for something as technologically advanced as the iPhone 5c, right?’

But John West died that day. His funeral was a simple affair: three shots of Mezcal poured into the cistern, a few heartfelt words, a mariachi band playing something upbeat yet melancholic, and a simple burial in the back pocket of my backpack. I, and my underpants, will certainly miss our old friend.

I’d met Manchester a week earlier through a mutual friend. It was a sunny and hedonistic Thursday in Mexico, and we’d spent the day drinking beers in front of a local supermarket. We were animatedly chatting away, the beer flowing as quickly as the funny stories, when he uttered two particularly intriguing phrases. The first: his ex-wife was once a lesbian who he had managed to lure back onto solids by oral fixation. The second: he had the uncanny ability to make any woman expel fluid from a particular part of the female anatomy. It was my belief that not all women were capable of such watery bedroom antics and I told him so, but Manchester assured me that we all are. It was his guarantee, uttered not in the pressured speech of a poser, but in the quietly confident voice of a man who knows he’s got the skills to back up his mouth. Or the mouth to back up his claims. Or the dexterity to-

I’ll stop there.

I could argue that shagging him was a science experiment. I was simply being a wild-eyed sexual explorer, drunkenly venturing my little canoe out into the crystalline waters of female bodily fluids with nothing but a misbuttoned yellow rain slicker and a brave smile for protection. I wasn’t doing it for me, but for every other vagina on Planet Earth. Plus, I was benevolently giving him a slightly larger population sample to base his claims on. That’s all it was. It had nothing to do with the fact that he’s an intelligent, funny, interesting, and charming guy. No. I’m just a vapid whore.

Five nights later, after a sixteen hour binge involving over-the-counter Lignocaine, horse tranquilisers, double choc Magnums and three Czech prostitutes; we had ditched the juggling roadside clown and were sitting, bleary eyed, on the back of a bus heading towards San José del Pacífico- a tiny mountain town of about 800 people that sits five hours north of Puerto. There’s not much there beyond natural beauty- no banks, no WiFi etc- and it’s 10,000 feet above sea level.

Just keep that in mind.

Manchester and I spent the journey there draped over each other like discarded marionettes. The road was too winding and bumpy for me to welcome anything that resembled sleep, so I stared vacantly out the window as the bus wound us up the mountain towards the sky. We reached San José, blearily found a hotel, checked in, and promptly collapsed onto the bed. Later that evening there was a textbook romance moment: watching a beautiful sun set over a breathtaking mountain range as an affectionate stray dog slobbers on your shoulder and paws at your lap. It was lovely.

The following day shit got messy.

Now, before I go on I want you to stop and put yourself in Manchester’s shoes. You’ve met a quirky, blue haired, Australian traveller. You’ve only known her a week but you have fun together and you like her. You invite her up to the mountains. You figure that your days will be spent drinking hot chocolate in front of an open fire and strolling the main street holding hands while goofily gazing at each other through dilated pupils. It’ll be like a Nescafe commercial.

Now, if after the first night, that quirky, perky blue-haired lass morphs into Crampy: the sweaty, violently ill, dank, aquamarine yak; what would you do? You can answer honestly, there’s nobody in your head but you and the tracking chip that the Government implants in us all at birth. Would you bail? Or would you look after her?

Because he looked after me.

For three days, I lay in the foetal position with knifing stomach cramps, fevers, sweats, chills, and shortness of breath in the high altitude. I was so weak that I couldn’t leave the bed. Which meant that anything above a bathroom break was a frivolity that simply had to be avoided. I didn’t shower. I couldn’t shower. I wanted to, but I was fairly certain that trying to do so would see me faint and slam into the porcelain tiles where I would lie twitching like a dying Marlin. You really should pity Manchester. Then canonise him. Knight him- he is English after all. I mean, he’s known me for one week. And believe me, I ain’t that flipping special, but that man valiantly took care of me as I groaned the Star Spangled Banner on sweat-stained sheets. After Day One of no showering, Crampy the Yak turned into Crampy the Yeti. I can’t even begin to describe the nightmare that was my body on Day Two. I haven’t been that sick in a long time and if I was in Sydney I probably would have taken myself to the hospital, but I was in a teeny, widdle Mexican town. With no doctors. The pharmacist had selfishly died a few months earlier. And there was no way I could have managed a winding five hour bus ride back to Puerto, so Manchester and I were locked in a chain of events that went from romantic to horrific at warp speed.

On day three, in desperation, he visited his friend, the village Shaman. He returned with a herbal tea, a remedy encased in a recycled red-and-white yoghurt container. I was to ingest a litre, wait until bedtime, brew another litre, ingest that, then join the Shaman for a Temazcal in the morning.

I was mildly skeptical, but highly desperate. I would have happily masticated distilled donkey snot on Ritz crackers at that point.

I managed to keep the first dose of tea down. I waited a few hours, drank the second dose, and passed out.

The next morning I felt marginally better. The stabbing pain was gone, and I could get out of bed without the room turning into a bad acid trip. We went for the Temazcal.

Which was a half hour walk from town.

In the freezing cold.

At a Sherpa’s altitude.

I mutely followed Manchester like an extra from The Walking Dead, silently accepting his encouragement and affectionate taps on the backside, glazed eyes determinedly fixed on the road ahead.

A Temazcal is an earthenware Mexican sauna. It’s outdoors, sort of like a mud hut. You strip down to your delicates, they seal you into complete blackness, and you get to make forced conversation with a bunch of strangers as herbal tea is poured over hot stones and the temperature climbs towards the Dante-esque. Then you crawl out, have an icy shower of fresh mountain water, and pour four cups of hot tea over yourself.

Now, I suspect that I may have some people with nursing training who read my blog, and I suspect that they are now calling me all manner of fucking idiot for doing this with a roasting fever that should have taken me towards copious amounts of IV antibiotics and little else.

But it worked. It wasn‘t fun. My god, it was fucking horrific, but damn if it didn’t get me onto a bus to Puerto the next morning. At sea level, everything looked better. I could breathe. I visited a Mexican doctor, described my symptoms in Spanglish, then got a lovely bag of drugs for my efforts. I do like drugs.

So that’s San José. Señor Navarro who runs the Four Elements Temazcal is a hero. Manchester almost deserves to be named on the blog for the accolades and years of free vagina he will no doubt receive. I think I’ll just put up posters around Puerto Escondido with his face and “Ladies, when I leave, please shag him often and well.” Actually, they both have Crowd Funding Pages for some eco-projects that they are separately engaging in, and when I get the link I’ll donate a kidney or two then put it up on the blog for any benevolent soul to do the same. You may or may not be the type to nurse a near stranger for three days, but surely you have a couple of bucks to spare for some good-hearted people.

And I am back in Puerto. Much healthier. More fragrant. And surely I’ll be perky again soon.

Sufferin’ Succotash

29 Nov

As I write this, I’ve been in Puerto Escondido for nearly three weeks. This beautiful beach side town has made me it’s unintentional prisoner as I wait to receive a package from Australia. I underestimated Mexican postal services. I foolishly thought that an express post package that should arrive overseas in three business days would have made an appearance in Puerto Escondido within a week and a half. Silly CC- I forgot about the phenomena that is Mexican Time. If one was going to compare the Mexican postal service to anything, it wouldn’t be to a Looney Tunes mouse.

SPEEDY

Once I learned to blithely flick the bull ants off the bed and ignore the geckos fighting in the corner of the room, the accommodation I stayed at for my language school was lovely. Mix that with amazing people in the area and the purpose that comes with a scholastic responsibility each day, and I found myself quite content with my Escondidian routine. After travelling for six weeks, it kind-of, almost felt like my little Mexican home, but when the language course finished, I had to find new digs. Without giving the matter much thought, I chose the hostel that a friend was staying in. It was disconcertingly devoid of human beings every time I walked past, but The Texan had found a private room there for $2000 pesos for the month- an obscenely good rate- so I booked a room for three nights.

I didn’t notice my surroundings on the first night. I’d been involved in a particularly debauched drinking session with The Texan and an English expat chum of his, and I fell down no less than eight times during the 500m walk back to my room. Once I made it to the door, it took me a good fifteen minutes to open it. I stood, swaying in the hallway like an inebriated fuckwit, clumsily inserting and reinserting each key over and over. I was given three keys when I checked in and I never did discover what the other two were for. I jammed them into everything from the storage closet to the cat, but their purpose remained enigmatic.

The next morning I woke up looking, feeling, and smelling like a bruised puddle of bulldog vomit. The bathroom was located down the hall. It was a poky, light blue room, smothered with leopard spots of mould. The noxious odours of Mexican feasts past had long stripped the paint from the walls, and what was left hung in flaky chunks like sunburned skin. The toilet cistern lid was broken, and damp books were piled haphazardly on top it like some make-shift lavatorical library. And there was never, ever any fucking toilet paper in there. In fact, if you asked at the front desk for toilet paper, the staff would half heartedly look behind the counter before saying, “I don’t have.” This was uttered in a completely indifferent tone, almost as if you’d asked for a pen or a cigarette lighter. The first time they said it I was flummoxed, “What do you mean, ‘you don’t have’?” I asked in Spanish.

Shrug. “No tengo.”

“I need to go to the toilet,” I said. “What do your suggest that I use?”

She smiled, nodded and said, “Use. Yes.” Then she turned, walked across the reception floor and stood by the fridge, staring at the wall, her back to me.

It was a tactic that I had employed myself. The staff spoke almost exclusively Spanish and when they’d say something I didn’t quite catch, I’d lean forward and ask them to repeat it. They would, and if I couldn’t cherry pick enough words from the sentence to create a meaning, I’d often just repeat the last word they said and add a ‘yes’, so it sounded like I understood them thoroughly enough to confirm the final word of their sentence. You know, you do it if someone offers you directions:

“Turn right at the park.”

“The park, yes.”

“Then first left.”

“Left. Yep.”

“Then go straight past the school…”

“The school, got it.”

But since the phrase was spoken in a second language, I could have been agreeing to anything:

“We’re going to slaughter a stray dog in a voodoo ritual tonight. Right here.”

“Right here,” Enthusiastic nod. “Yes!”

When the reception gals couldn’t deliver the bog-roll, I was forced to fossick through my bag for travel wipes and, when they ran out, odd athletic socks whose partner had fallen victim to Mexican lavanderias. I’d drop each in the basket beside the toilet with a small sigh- another travelling companion lost in Mexico, like a pilled, grey drug cartel victim.

The shower in the bathroom was a single jet of water, a quarter of the diameter of your average garden hose. The shower head was cemented to the wall, so it stuck straight out at an 130 degree angle. This meant that the adjacent sink often got a better bathing than you did. Unfortunately the angle wasn’t obtuse enough to dislodge the seventeen bars of pubic-hair encrusted soap that were perpetually glued to the porcelain of the sink; but it did create a striking paper mâché effect with the yellowing Surf Class pamphlets that were stuck to the top of it. It looked like something an obsessive compulsive preschooler had created after binge watching Playschool under the influence of acid. The water pressure was unyielding, and, despite the room being constantly shrouded in steam, freezing. It was like trying to clean yourself in a Urinating Cherub Fountain. In fact, if the water had of been warm, it would have felt like I was being peed on by an excessively well-hydrated vagrant. Showering became an endurance event: not something pleasant and refreshing that you do of a morning, but a necessary ordeal undertaken only to rinse the smell of the mattress from you.

The mattress smelt like interspecies erotica, sherbet, and broken promises, but I’ll get to that.

My room had a large concrete mesh window which offered a lovely view of an abandoned toilet in the courtyard. If I squinted, I was transported to The Labyrinthian Bog of Eternal Stench. My window didn’t have curtains on it, something I realised as I was dressing after the shower. There was a cleaning lady outside who was systematically moving through the courtyard, scrubbing the concrete with a weathered red broom. It was refreshing that they paid so much attention to the ground outside. I mean, my room was wallpapered in dust and spiderwebs, and the pool was a particularly fetching shade of flourescent green, but at least the external concrete was clean. That patch of cement may have been more sanitary than my sheets. It was certainly cleaner than my mattress, which had morphed from beige to yellow under the strain of assorted bodily fluids from a thousand anonymous hosts. When I spied the lady, I ducked into a crouch, trying to hide. However, since I could still see her, there was a good chance that she could see the naked thirty one year old squatting on the floor like she’s trying to insert something into her vaginal canal, so I stood up slowly, not wanting to attract her attention. I did, anyway. I’m not sure if the moment our eyes locked was more uncomfortable for her or me. I think it was for her- the hairbrush dropped from my ‘giney when I stood up, and it clattered loudly to the floor with a wince and a disapproving glance.

I’m kidding.

I bring a frozen zucchini when I travel. It’s more ergonomic.

I forgot to take my toothbrush into the bathroom and I couldn’t bring myself to go back in there, so I went to the sinks in the common room to complete my ablutions. Turning the handle gave me a puff of smoke, several bats, and small dribble of rust coloured liquid. I didn’t have a bottle of water on me, so the receptionist helpfully offered me some. I accepted it gratefully.

“Can I have some toothpaste?” She asked as she handed me the glass.

I paused. It was the first time that hotel staff had asked to borrow my toiletries.

“I’ve run out,” she continued.

I was so baffled that I agreed before considering the implications of giving my toothpaste to a stranger to smear across something that scrubbed the bacteria from her mouth. I realised the ick-factor as she was fetching her toothbrush, and when she returned with a dog eared blue thing, I told her that she could keep the toothpaste.

“Really,” I said, offering her the full tube of Colgate like some babbling dental hygiene fairy. “I have plenty and it’s nearly empty, anyway.”

I wasn’t given a top sheet, so that evening I slept huddled beneath my sarong. At some point during the night the fan had stopped working, and I awoke just after 3am in an environment sufficient to bake scones in. The skin that hadn’t been covered in brightly coloured cotton was now covered in bright red mosquito bites, which itched in an insomnia-inducing ditty of frustration. I lay there, mentally offering Satan everything from my soul to the virginity of my first born child in exchange for sleep, trying to ignore the itching that was slowly making it’s way from my skin to the last shred of my sanity. Something crawled over my arm, I smacked it and felt it scurry up my shoulder and onto the pillow. I vaulted out of bed in one fluid motion, turning on the light and flapping my hands at the wrists.

The light allowed me to see that the mosquitoes had made their way into my room via a hole in the flyscreen, which was roughly the size and shape of an overdeveloped child’s fist. I was considering what other item of clothing I could sacrifice to jam into this filthy hole when a moth flew through it. It might have been as drunk as I was the previous night because it spectacularly missed the lightbulb to crash land just below my left eye. My hands started flapping again, the moth flew away, and the next fifteen minutes were spent chasing it around the room with a thong. It was a wily little bastard, I’d thwack one wall seconds after it careened off to the next one. This noise woke up my neighbour, who thought that a spell of vocal masturbation would be just the thing to get him back to sleep. The walls were thin, and I heard enough to be able to confidently do it myself, had I wanted to. I should have offered him my zucchini.

After destroying the moth, I sat on the bed, lit a cigarette and listened to the overweight fellow next door flog his meat like an unemployed butcher. I reasoned that noxious tobacco fumes might be enough to drive away both the bugs and my ever-increasing desire to repeatedly punch a badger in the ovaries, so I smoked and lazily batted at buzzing mosquitoes while he jerked away on the other side of the wall. The only sounds in the hostel were a symphony of pleasure, hunger and frustration. And I don’t even know which was which.

I checked into a hotel after this. It was three times the price. I saw clean white sheets on the bed when I checked in. Totally worth it.

“Me talk pretty one day.”

20 Nov

In an oestrogen laden opening sentence I can sum up my Wednesday: I got my hair done. In Mexico, it’s about $50 for a full head of blonde foils and a cut. For the men that don’t speak ‘vanity’: that’s cheap. Really cheap.

I went to Spanish class afterward and tried to tell my teacher about it. I failed. Dismally.

This leads me to transcribe the actual conversations that I’ve had in Spanish with my language teacher. I can’t say that it all happened on one day, but, unfortunately, it did all happen. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse, really.

“So, CC, what did you do this morning?”

“I have the white stripes this morning,” I motion to my hair.

“Ah, you do look different! Where?”

“Um, on the street. Here.”

On the street?”

“No, no. On the here street. There.” I point out the door.

Pause.

“Um, what’s the word for ‘down’ again? Hmm…okay, I walk down the street here for the white stripes.”

“Okay.”

“I run up the school for my reservation there today. Now I am a little tired but happy.”

Pause. “Escaleras is stairs. Escuela is school”

It’s nice that she speaks gringa. “Yes. I like it but I want it blue now.” I motion to my hair.

“Blue?”

“Well, when I arrive in Mexico my onion is blue. I like blue. Blue as well, now.”

“Your…wait, what?”

“I have blue…um…paint for onion with my bag and I want make onion blue. On Saturday, more or less. Maybe Sunday.”

“What are you saying?”

“My onion is blue on Saturday. Many months ago it was purple, but now with white stripes I can all blue.”

She realises what I am trying to say. “Oh! No, no. Cabello is hair. Cebolla is onion.”

“Ah.” The frown that the hairdresser gave me earlier suddenly makes sense: ‘Thank you, my onion is very good now.’

“Okay, what about last night? What did you do last night?”

“Last night I write and I go to my American friend and I drink beer with her. I drink beer because I am on vacation now and I am unemployed all day now and this morning I use the bathroom for cold shower. And I eat many chorizo tacos. I like chorizo tacos. It is very cheap with 25 pesos because I buy chorizo tacos for arrive eat.”

“You bought chorizo tacos take-away. Llevar is to take. Llegar is to arrive.”

I nod. “I need to eat more fruit and no more chocolate because I am a lazy rabbit here and I don’t gymnasium here for run. In Sydney, yes. I eat many Nutella in Sydney and run at gymnasium but here, no. I smoke a lot. More and less. I need do less smoke but more run. No. Yes?”

“Right. Let’s start the lesson now. I’m going to ask you questions and I want you to answer in Spanish, okay?”

“Yes, yes, yes.”

“What days do you study Spanish?”

“I study Spanish with the Oasis school from Monday to old man.”

“What? No, Friday is pronounced like this. Not viejo. A viejo is an old man.”

“Ah, yes, yes, yes.”

“Okay, so what time are your Spanish classes?”

“My class is three at the point.”

“No, en punto, is o’clock, not a la punta.”

“Right.”

“La Punta is a beach here.”

“Okay. Can we study on the beach?”

“Not really.”

I’m mildly crestfallen. “Okay,” but remain optimistic, “but the room is large and there is one fan so it’s not, um, fire here now but beach maybe fire there today.”

“Caliente is the word for hot.”

“Right.”

“Now you try asking me some questions. Let’s start with ‘where’. Ask me a ‘where’ question.”

“Where…is…your mother.”

There is a pause. “My mother is dead.”

Awkward. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. Ask another one.”

“Where is…Batman?”

“…what?”

“Nevermind. Where is my kitchen?”

This continues on. For some reason, she thinks that my conversation skills need work. So, this happens.

“What do you do in Australia?”

“I am a sick in Australia.”

“You are a nurse in Australia.”

“Yes. And I work in a…nurse house. A big, loco nurse store.”

“A hospital.”

How could I fuck that up?! It’s the same damn word in English. “Yes, a hospital. For loco.”

“A psychiatric hospital.”

“Yes.”

“What do you do for leisure?”

“At cafe, I drink coffee with my Australian friends-”

“You can just say we drink coffee. What else do you like?”

“Or we go and drink all the wine glasses.”

“You drink wine?”

“I like the wine very much.”

“Red or white?”

“White when I go there, red when relax on my house.”

In my house.”

“Yes, yes, yes.”

“Do you dance?”

“A little, but I am a rectum…no, wait. I am a retarded. I make bad dancing, no, wait- I am bad dancing. I want good dancing but I make bad dancing…so, um, no. No dance in Australia.”

“Do you do anything else?”

“Yes. With my Australian friends and I-”

“You know you can just say-”

“We can drink many beers. But before we have to lay down on the pizza at two in the morning.”

Silence.

“No, wait, after. After we lay on the pizza. Before beer, after pizza.”

More silence.

I realise my error. “No! Shit, piso is floor. We lay down on the floor.”

“You lay down on the floor?”

“Yes, yes, yes. Many beers. We sleep. And we drink many coffee and eat bacon because I am happy in the morning with my bacon. Bacon is friendly.”

“Just say delicioso.”

“I thought amable was nice?”

“Yes, but it’s personality nice, not taste nice.”

“Oh, correct. But I don’t like eggs for breakfast. Or lunch. Or-”

“Right. I get it. What else?”

“I do not like green eggs and ham!”

She doesn’t laugh. Maybe it was lost in translation…or maybe I said it incorrectly. “What else?”

“I write a lot. Also I write blog of good.”

“Write what?”

“Blog of happy. Ha-ha good, more or less.”

“Funny?”

“Yes, yes, yes.” Well, I do try to make good happy-funny for my friendly amigos.

“Are they real stories or do you make them up?”

“All real because I am bad with living and I make crazy story many days. When I travel, I do bad things.”

She didn’t bat an eyelid at the fact that I have made myself sound like a serial killer who hunts abroad. “What silly things?”

“I make lost. Other night. There. Not here. Many times.”

“You get lost?”

“Yes. Every day more or less. And I am a bad Spanish, as well.”

“CC, you have to drink more water and less beer because the climate is so hot here that you get dehydrated and it makes you tired and unable to think straight. You look a little tired today, yes?”

“A little. Tonight I eat chicken tacos at a store of take away food and tomorrow I must go to the beach and read but not when the sun is strong because I am all white and when I am many time in strong sun I’m going to, um…ouch.”

“Right, enjoy. I’ll give you more reflexive verbs for homework.”

Buenos Aires! Oh, shit. I mean, good day. Thank you. See you tomorrow, my lawyer.”

“Teacher, CC. I’m a teacher. Adios.”

Voy a Surfear

15 Nov

I need to be honest with myself. The charade has to stop. Something happened today, and I simply can’t lie to myself for one more moment. It doesn’t matter who started it, who called who a cry-baby, it ends now. It’s time to be an adult and admit one simple truth:

I suck at surfing.

Like really, really suck at it.

It’s okay. In the half hour walk from the beach I’ve made peace with it. My ego, which lay in tattered shreds, has been scotch-taped back together. I mean, it’s not like I’m a total spaz. Well, I kind-of am, but I have plenty of skills that more than make up for my lack of grace on the ol’ longboard. I can wiggle my ears, you know. It’s true. I have a some sort of bizarre muscle mutation in my cranium which allows me to move them without touching them. When I was a kid I used to pretend that I was Samantha from Bewitched, but a horrible accident meant that I could no longer wiggle my nose, so I had to resort to ear calisthenics to cast spells instead.

That’s not true.

Well, it is, but after typing it I realised how weird it sounds.

I’ve never been particularly athletic. In school, my best friends and I would enter P.E class, clutching our limbs and moaning like World War 1 soldiers on the front line. Diseases that had been cured would come out, “I can’t play volleyball, Miss. My polio is acting up again.” Once, during the headily petulant era of Year Nine, I wagged P.E. My friend and I walked to the shops and ate ice cream instead- a move that threw down a gauntlet of decadence that would scurry behind me like Thing Addams for decades. My teacher noticed that I was missing. Not my friend, just me. Apparently the absence of an argumentative, pubescent horror child that made her life difficult was notable. It certainly wasn’t my Lacrosse prowess that kept me in her memory, anyway.

I played softball after school for one season. I wagged that, too. When forced to play, I would stand in Right Field, disinterestedly watching the ball bounce by as my team mates shouted things like “fucking move”. My parents would watch from the sidelines, pretending that they had a child who was a source of pride. “Maybe don’t just stand with your arms folded, CC,” my mum helpfully said after one particularly heinous match. “Try and, you know, look interested.” I’m not sporty. Anything beyond lifting weights while scowling at the floor, or running on a treadmill like a hamster to Don’t Stop me Now by Queen is beyond my capabilities. So, my decision to take surf lessons was really an act of bravery. I’m still a soldier on the front line, I just have a better excuse than polio now. ‘Hungover’ usually works.

My first surfing lesson was fun. I was with five fresh-out-of-the-army Israeli’s, one of whom, bafflingly, couldn’t swim. I don’t know what drives a person to choose surfing lessons as a leisure activity when they look like a three-legged Collie flailing in the water, but Lame Dog Goldstein did serve as misdirection for my suckiness. You might think I’m mean for saying that. The way I see it is, he either has, or will, slaughter about seven hundred and eighty six Palestinian children in his lifetime. I have the moral highground. Which means I can compare him to a disabled canine. Don’t like it? Well, email me and we can engage in a long debate on Zionist Propaganda and anti-semitism. I’ve read The Gun and the Olive Branch. Well, half of it. But I’ll win, anyway.

Enough of that, though. I didn’t think that my crapness was any more than the average level of I’ve-never-done-this-before. Sure, I’m Australian and I should know how to surf, wrestle crocodiles, and match a cork-adorned Akubra to any outfit, but I watched Jaws at the tender age of ten and as a result I’ve managed to get through thirty one years with minimal time in the ocean. In my first surf lesson, I kind of stood up. Kind of. I did manage to get a good paddle going. Then I sat on the board, staring pensively at the ocean like some ludicrous Layne Beachley. It was fun.

This lesson something happened. I’m not entirely sure what.

Perhaps I should have been practising. I could have spent my nights lying on the kitchen floor and leaping up like a ninja instead of drinking beer and socialising. The whole thing is probably my fault- I’m not taking my non-existent career as an amateur surfer seriously.

In the fourty eight hours between lessons, the Israeli’s had all been transformed into Hasidic Kelly Slater’s. The one who couldn’t swim was gone, replaced with an impossibly attractive girl who carried herself with the arrogant grace of the genetically blessed. The bitch could surf, too. She even did a fist pump as she rode the wave. A fucking fist pump. It’s true- I saw it as I clutched my surfboard, choking on salt water. “Fucking Israeli’s,” I muttered as I tried to sit up. Karma- or God- tipped me off the board then. I looked like a Down Syndrome porpoise as I remounted.

The instructors are lovely, and incredibly patient with me. “CC, you look really tense. You need to relax,” one coached. “Don’t think that can’t do it, don’t think that anybody is judging you-”

“I’m judging me.”

“And don’t feel that you have to stand up, okay? Just have fun.”

“You’re right. I’m allowed to completely suck at surfing. It’s my right to be absolutely terrible and I’m going to milk it.”

When it became clear that my ‘kneel on the board and let out a high pitched shriek’ technique wasn’t working, I was taken aside and given special ‘stand up’ lessons. “Oh god,” I exclaimed to the instructor. “I’ve fallen behind the class and need extra tutoring. I’m in remedial surfing now.”

He laughed and offered me some advice. “Try not to, you know, be so awful.”

Whatever he said worked, I managed to stand up and balance on the board without a wave twice. Therefore I can do it, but I don’t think I can do it, so when I am on a wave, instead of casually rising and giving a little fist pump, I find myself thinking, Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, fuck, fuck, fuck, stand up! Stand up! Stand- gurgle, gurgle, choke.

At the end of the wave I’d surface rapidly, choke on the Pacific, and flap about. I must have looked like a dying seagull because the instructors would look at me in horror. “CC! Are you okay?” I was always fine, the only thing that took a real battering was my ego, which, after two hours, was almost worn down to a nub. I was called over and told to try another wave. I asked the instructor what time it was. I think he knew I was two seconds from fed-up because he said “If you like, catch this wave and then you can go back to the sand.”

“So I can sit on the shore and suck at surfing quietly from the sidelines?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you!”

I managed to stand up for a nanosecond on that wave, and the adrenaline was enough to make me want to go back out. I didn’t, though. I was battle-scarred. I grabbed my thongs, ripped off my rash vest and began a long trudge up the stairs back to the surf school.

In a bikini.

And nothing else.

Sometimes you just can’t get it right. Not only did I suck in the water, I sucked on land, too. For reasons that still remain unclear to me, I chose to leave my clothes and towel at the school. So I had to walk the main street of town in pool-underwear. In Puerto Escondido, you can’t walk anywhere without running into people you know, so my solitary trudge of defeat was witnessed by many acquaintances. “Hola,” I would say to people, trying to cover my midsection with a sea soaked rash vest. Do you like the travellers physique? I’d think. The soft lumpiness is thanks to Corona and chocolate. Look at this bulge, I’ve had to eat seventeen tacos to get that bulge. Have you ever seen a chickie with a rim of flesh there? No? That’s right, I’m hot shit. That’s why I’m almost naked in broad daylight. Thank me later.

Some days you are a triangle peg in a world of Layne Beachley’s, some days you are a general on the front lines, bravely fighting polio, but most days, self deprecation can soothe a shattered ego.

The Adventures of CC and John West

9 Nov

Day of the Dead

Sunday night, I found myself in the middle of a Day of the Dead parade, hurriedly looking over my left shoulder, with a pink iPhone shoved in my underpants.

Yes. In my undies. Down the front.

It’s a sentence that will stop anybody from borrowing my phone ever again. Unfortunately for me and my poor iPhone- which is now affectionately nicknamed John West- I had no other option. How did I wind up in the middle of a street parade with a mobile phone awkwardly prodding at my genitals? Let me explain.

It’s my last night in Oaxaca and I am almost dias de los meurtos‘d out. I’ve hung out in cemeteries with Kentuckians, photographed parades with impossibly chic French women, and tonight I just want to grab some dinner and enjoy the fact that I have my dorm to myself. I’m sitting in Zocalo, smoking and reading a book on my iPhone, when a guy sits uncomfortably close to me, furtively eyeing me as I put my phone back in my pocket. He starts to talk. His name is Gustavo. And, hey, even though we just met, why don’t I add him on Facebook? His eyes drift to my pocket. Right now.

Something about Gustavo gives me the willies. I can’t put my finger on it. It could be that he sat very close to me, it could be that he appears twitchy and nervous, it could be the fact that he was wearing headphones without listening to music (I mean, come on, that’s weird, right?) or it could be the fact that he fingered my ring when he shook my hand.

Get your mind out of the gutter.

I mean, he shook my hand and ran his finger along the Claddagh ring that I wear on my ‘fuck you’ finger, tugging it ever so slightly. In any event, after five minutes I want to leave my creepy companion and retire to my hostel. At 9pm. Like a thirty-something geriatric. I rise.

So does Gustavo.

I pause.

“Go,” he gives a strained smile.

I wait, frowning. “You first.”

He motions with his hand. “No, you.”

It’s an excessively polite Monty Python skit. I start walking. He trails me. I abruptly zig-zag across Zocalo. He zig-zags, too. I reach the edge and stop, turning around. He stops too, pretending to be fascinated by a jewellery stall.

If Gustavo is a crook, he’s a clumsy one. Nonetheless, the walk to my hostel is down a quiet street and I really don’t want to punch a Oaxacian- with or without nefarious motives- so I take the long way through the crowded parades, figuring that I can lose him.

When out at night, I no longer take a bag with me, choosing instead to wander the streets with my possessions in my pockets, like some heavily pear shaped bag-lady. The problem is, Gustavo knows where my iPhone is. I’m not sure if it’s paranoia or common sense that drives this, but I decide to move my stuff from my jeans pockets, just in case. My coin purse fits in my shirt pocket. As I do up the button, I ponder where to put my phone. My shoe? My bra? Oh, wait- I know!

And down the pants it goes. It’s ingenious, really. Look, if the evening were to escalate to a strange hand being in my knickers sans consent, a missing phone will be the least of my worries. And while it’s not comfortable, it is set to vibrate so if someone calls me, well, things will improve considerably.

Hierve el Agua

Twenty hours, a bus, a collectivo taxi and four chain smoking French men later, I am two hours from Oaxaca, at the ethereally beautiful Hierve el Agua.

It’s 5pm, and if I want to make my bus to Pochutla, which leaves Oaxaca at 9.30pm, I should probably leave. It’s still light and I make the 1km walk back up the hill, pausing to admire donkeys, cacti, and men herding goats. Near the top, I see a couple get into a collectivo taxi. Perfect timing. I’ll climb in and be back at the bus station in 45 minutes.

But I wouldn’t be writing this post if the collectivo waited. It didn’t. It skidded away as I was nearing the top.

Hmph.

No problem, though. Another will arrive. I perch on a rock to watch the sun set over the mountains, painting the sky with a kaleidoscope of pink and orange. I take several thousand photos of it.

sunset4sunset3

sunset5

snuset2Beautiful, isn’t it? However, as 5pm slides into 6pm, I begin to wonder where the hell the next collectivo is.

Six melts seamlessly into 6.15. I’m tapping my foot. Hierve has closed. Tour buses are trundling past. Nobody else is making their way up the hill, and the French dudes from before are absent. I begin to wonder: Do collectivos come this late? Am I supposed to wait here? There is nobody to ask. I decide to walk to the guard booth that we passed on the way in. Maybe people are still there. Maybe they can call a collectivo for me. There is one road leading to the booth, so I will pass anything coming this way, anyway.

So I begin to walk.

Alone.

In the middle of nowhere.

At night.

It’s getting cold, so I put my cardigan on, crossing my arms protectively over my chest. It occurs to me that I now look like a horror movie victim. Not the slutty one that dies first, maybe the bookworm who bites it spectacularly in the third act. I’m utterly isolated out here. Even my Mexican SIM card service has abandoned me. My only companion is Mother Nature, and the donkeys that randomly hee-haw my predicament. It felt like Wolf Creek 3. Or Mexican Creek, perhaps: ‘In Hierve el Agua, nobody can hear you scream…

It’s completely dark, did I mention that? Like, totally dark. I can’t see my booted feet on the road. If I don’t get devoured by a carnivorous goat, there is the distinct possibility that I will trip in a pothole and fracture my left ass bone, or step in a bear trap and have to gnaw a limb off like a rabid monkey. Therefore, to keep myself from spinning out, I begin to sing ‘Dry the Rain’ by The Beta Band.

This is the definition of my life, lying in bed in the sunlight…

So, at this point I have officially lost my mind.

A set of headlights approaches. Feeling more and more like Laurie ‘Boo’ Myers, I flag it down. It swerves past me, slams on the brakes, fishtails, and halts. It sits, idling maliciously. With a small amount of trepidation, I approach.

The Golf Cart

Hola,” I begin uncertainly. “Ah…” I pause to gather the correct words, then begin in a slow, overly-enuncative voice. “Neccissito una collectivo taxi para la Mitla autobus stacion?

His reply? Spanish. Of course.

I try again. “Autobus? Para Oaxaca?

Spanish.

Nothing is ever easy. In frustration, I throw random words at him: “Autobus. Mitla. Oaxaca. Saucepan. Toilet seat. Turtle procreation proclamation. Anything?”

This continues for an uncomfortably long period of time until I begin to understand a single word he is saying: “Voy.” i.e.- ‘Go.’ He gestures to the cart and I come to the hopeful conclusion that he’s saying, ‘Jump in, love. My chariot will rescue you on this cold evening.’

Five minutes later I am sitting in a golf cart as we drive back to the place where people wait for collectivos. We pass it.

Nothing is ever easy. Where the fuck is he taking me?

A group of people stand on the road, holding hands like some Hillbilly Mexican Manson family. The cart skids to a halt. The Manson’s approach. Two men, two women, two children. They begin to pile in. I skid over. The women are particularly portly and won’t fit. I skid over more. I now have one ass cheek perched precariously on the seat. They fit. Unfortunately, I don’t. A man sits beside the driver. There is still a man and two children to fit into an already full golf cart. In the spirit of charity, I move my bag from my lap. A moment later I have a small child randomly perched on it. Her sister stands beside her, staring at me in that openly curious way that kids do. A lady gets out, a man gets in, the lady sits on his lap.

We now have 8 people stuffed into a vehicle no bigger than a 1976 Mini Cooper.

Pause and picture that.

I am shoved up against the side of the cart, angled diagonally, holding onto the seats. I look like a proud father with his arms around the family at Christmas dinner, but there is terror in my eyes, so I probably look like Tony Soprano during the final season of The Sopranos. With, you know, hair and stuff. Wait, he’s dead now, isn’t he? Okay, so I look like a live, female, average weight version of-

You know what? Never mind.

Anyway, the side of the cart is made of flimsy, waterproof fabric. There’s no guarantee it will support my weight. The whole thing smells like an impending brain injury. The golf cart’s engine is spluttering and, in a mark of automotive protest, it won’t travel beyond the speed that the average egg-and-spoon race is run at. This gives me plenty of time to think about how much easier my life would be if I stuck to organised tours like a proper tourist, instead of stubbornly opting to do it all myself. I could be in an airconditioned tour bus right now, happily trancing out to the new Opeth record on my iPod. Instead, I am squished like a Skittle between a fat woman, a sheet of oil cloth, and a potential future in a motorised wheelchair.

Life on the Highway

After fifteen days, the family exit the cart. My ass can spread out again. There is relief for five minutes. Then, relief turns to horror as I am deposited on the freeway like a sex crime victim.
It’s every little girl’s dream to one day be left standing on a highway, at night, in the freezing cold, with a now almost desperate urge to urinate, isn’t it? The driver thought so. He pointed at the small group of people waiting, called out, “Collectivos!” and gaily puttered up the hill.

Apparently, this is where the collectivo’s pick you up to take you back into town. I wait awkwardly beside my car-less comrades. It’s just after 7pm. We are in the middle of what could arguably be the desert. Despite wearing jeans and a cardigan, my teeth are chattering.

Ha- I am now officially The Chattering Cat.

*Boom tish* Thanks folks. Hey, try the brisket- it’s fantastic.

For every set of approaching headlights, the four of us desperately throw our hands out. Cars speed past. Hitchhiking seems like an option. Or suicide. Or, frankly, squatting to pee in front of strangers.

I’m not sure how I get myself into these predicaments. Really. I don’t welcome chaos. I don’t ask for trouble. But when I travel, my sense of wonder often runs neck-and-neck with anxiety and dread. Let’s not forget that I have no fucking idea where I am. Well, I can pinpoint “Mexico” and in a pinch narrow it down to “two hours from Oaxaca”, but aside from that I’m screwed. I could be on Pluto. It’s certainly cold enough. I smoke cigarette after cigarette, trying to stave off cold, hunger and possible stress incontinence.

Life would be so much easier if I knew more Spanish. I could ask these people beside me, ‘What the fuck is going on (!?!) Is it normal to wait a fucking decade for a fucking collectivo on the fucking highway at mothershagging nighttime?! How do you people do this? Why do you do this? Yes, the night sky is radiantly pregnant with twinkling stars, but there is a little place called civilisation, and in it they have transportation options. Let’s talk about that over a Corona sometime.’ We would bond. They’d hug me, adopt me as a foul-mouthed surrogate child, and I’d feel infinitely better about the whole ‘I’m kind of almost lost’ mess.

The Dudes

A bus approaches. Without thinking, I stick my arm out. It slows. I get on with one other fellow. The doors creak shut behind us.

The bus contains men. All men. Workers, by the look of them. There is one seat available. I take it. I have no idea where the bus is going but it’s warm, there is Mambo music playing, and it smells like the Miami Heat locker room after a Celtics game: sweat, dejection, blood, and cum.

The bus stops. Half of the people get off. The driver turns and addresses me in Spanish.

I suppose that I have to get off the bus now.

Wait- I have to get off the bus?!

…No!

It’s warm and safe and although your taste in music sucks, I’m not standing on the fucking cold freeway again.

I can’t guarantee that I didn’t say that out loud. Really, I don’t remember. I think I disassociated.

He says “taxi”, points, then physically shooed me. Off the bus. Now. Come on you silly tourist. I don’t have all night.

I exit the bus. He doesn’t charge me. Small win.

AND I discover that he has dropped me outside the bus station that I initially caught a collectivo to Hierve from.

Awesome.

But it’s now shut.

Hmph.

Three guys from the bus approach me. They ask where I am going. Tired, desperate and thoroughly fed up, I pout, “Oaxaca. Taxi,” and cross my arms like a two-year old. They reply in Spanish. I don’t understand them. They motion up the road. “Taxi. Oaxaca. Aqui.”

I walk. They turn around every now and then, addressing me in Spanish. I repeat the one phrase that, ironically, I can now say flawlessly, “I’m sorry, but I only speak a little Spanish.” They laugh but continue to speak Spanish. Since I have no idea what they are saying, I begin to answer thusly, “Yes…no…bottom left…fourty seven…last Tuesday…”

One says, “Speak English.”

Yes. Not ‘hablas inglés‘ but ‘speak English’.

I stop, now more than a little indignant. “Can you guys speak fucking English?”

They laugh. “A little.”

Cunty. Very cunty.

They ask if I want to go and smoke some weed with them. Oh, sure, I think. I’d love to abandon my inhibitions with a group of strangers who have spent the last ten minutes poking fun at me. Sounds awesome. Let me get my coat. “No, thanks,” I begin with a smug grin, “I don’t smoke weed anymore. You see, I smoked a lifetime’s allowance between the ages of twenty and twenty two and I have to wait for the multiverse to catch up with me.” Sure they can’t understand me, but being clever in stressful situations makes me feel slightly better.

As we walk, my paranoia rises (see why I don’t smoke weed?!) I have no idea where I am going, I just know that three guys have indicated that if I follow them down a dark street, I can get a taxi. The walk begins to feel like a trail of lollies leading to the witches house in the forest. Following total strangers into darkness seems about as clever as amputating fingers with toenail clippers. So I try to find a taxi as I walk. But whenever I stop to flag an approaching set of headlights, the guys stop, too. They tell me that I have to keep going. I have to follow them because taxis don’t stop on the street.

Seriously- what the fuck kind of bullshit is that? ‘Taxis won’t stop on the street’? I just hailed a motherfucking bus from the highway. And it’s been my experience that you can’t walk down the road anywhere in Mexico without a taxi hopefully beeping it’s horn at you. Either you can hail them from the street, or I perpetually have a stream of toilet paper trailing from my pants and they are trying to tell me.

Now I’m convinced- following these boys any further will be about as safe as a marriage to Ike Turner. I stop in front of a store that appears to be open. The store owners are standing at the door. Good. Witnesses. I open my mouth to say, ‘My name is Casey Millikin and in the event of my disappearance please call the Australian Embassy on-‘ when one of the guys walks back to me, stopping just inside my personal space. “You have to follow us to get a taxi.”

“That’s okay,” I say, looking at approaching headlights. “I’ll hail one here.”

“Are you scared,” he asks suddenly.

This catches me off guard, which apparently makes me forget how to speak. “…Hu?”

He grins malevolently. “Are you scared?”

“No, I’m not scared,” I say, sounding fucking terrified. Of course I was scared. You’d be, too. Only a high level sociopath would feel no fear in that situation.

He lunges at me. “BOO!”

I still had to wee, you know. It’s a miracle that I didn’t widdle like a firehose in fright. In fact, if I had spent my life procreating like a normal person rather than existing in a state of arrested development, it’s entirely possible that a weakened pelvic floor would have made me wet my pants right there. He walks away laughing and I bravely mumble that he should really find an opportune time to fuck his mother.

The dudes leave. I remain stubbornly in front of the store. Another golf cart approaches. I flag it down.

Necessito taxi para Oaxaca?”

He drives me 200m up the road and charges me ten pesos. No- It’s not a rip-off. It’s the best ten pesos that I have ever spent. It’s a dollar that assuages my fear. It’s a coin that ensures I won’t make a YouTube cameo as a headless corpse in a snuff video.

Anyway, to wrap it all up, I get a cab to Oaxaca, pick up my luggage from the hostel, have the best wee ever, and make it to the bus station with three minutes to spare.

I said before that I don’t know how I get myself into these predicaments. I have an idea, it’s probably my robust taste for adventure- the same thing that will arguably be my downfall; but I’d be lying if I said that a small part of me didn’t enjoy these moments. Not at the time- at the time I’m a puddle of anxiety and fear- but in retrospect when I am safe, weeing, and warm, I giggle like a maniac. Perched on the hostel loo, enjoying a good-ol’ micturition, I had to clamp my hand over my mouth to stifle the laughter. The thing about periodically finding yourself in situations where you don’t know if you are going to make it out without the loss of your dignity is that you really appreciate the little lights beyond the tunnel: flushing toilets, safety, the first drag of a Marlboro Light washed down with a mouthful of lemonade while waiting for your bus to Pochutla to arrive. My god. They’re like sunshine in summer.

The point of this post was actually to point out that my, um, Cuban experience has infected me with moderate levels of paranoia. I’m not sure I like it. It’s making me paranoid, actually. I’m paranoid about becoming paranoid. I usually don’t look at the world through a filter of mistrust. I usually don’t keep a mobile phone in my underpants. Here, I have had two evenings in a row where my survival instincts have come online. While it’s nice to know that I have enough common sense and intuition to allow me to escape unharmed; it’s also a big crash to earth to discover that you can’t automatically trust people. Maybe I’m not paranoid, maybe I just have a sense of safety awakening in me, something animalistic that has stirred and raised it’s furry head from slumber. Maybe there’s a fine line between security conscious and paranoid; and I am, for the first time, learning to skirt it.

Whatever it is, please call me on +52 5551 366 354. Anytime. I may need help, or I may just have a mobile phone in an opportunistic location. Either way, you will quickly become my favourite person.