The first part of this will be familiar to anyone who has been following along. It was an almost off-the-cuff response to a piece by Tourettes that featured on lostravellers. It tried to capture a bit of what Berlin brings out while mirroring his dissociative style, with only moderate success.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it wasn’t finished. The following is the full story, and what I hope is a more complete homage to the city.
It was a slow day on the roadwork ridden Polish highways. By the time we arrived in Katowice our hangovers had well and truly fermented and we were glad to be free of the bus. Town was packed for the festival and the meagre selection of hostels in Katowice was fully booked. Ryan had made the executive decision that campgrounds weren’t for us and instead had booked us in for a few nights in a hotel (yup, no spelling mistake there).
We were treating ourselves for the princely sum of 25 Euros a night and if nothing else about Eastern Europe appeals, then this alone should get you there. Despite our southern origins we were Western Princes, wealthy beyond belief and keen to splurge. What time would we be taking breakfast? Would we like the spa heated up now or later? I didn’t even know you needed to heat spas up.
The engines roared and the plane pulled up off the runway. I settled in for the flight and as Morocco fell away my mood lifted. I was still a bit shaky, but the prospect of some friends and Eastern Europe’s notorious nightlife had me well on the way to recovery. I transited through Madrid and, with a full day to kill, walked tentatively down her wide boulevards, still not entirely trusting of my stomach.
It was hot work and I was soon hungry, seeking shelter in the air conditioned aisles of a supermercado. The Spanish on the shelves was too easy after Arabic’s unfamiliar script and I felt strangely at home. I grew bold and, in what could well have turned out to be a foolish move, purchased a beer to have with lunch.
I’m not sure how you picture an exchange, if you’ve never been on one. I’m not even sure that I had a picture in my mind when I upped and left Auckland at the end of last year. The Exchange Office’s propaganda promised “international experiences” and “new friends;” and the walls in their office were crowded with pictures of people in exotic locales smiling maniacally for the camera.
At the final meeting there were murmurings that things mightn’t all be roses and sunshine, and that we should prepare for “culture shock” – but I paid them little heed. I’d been overseas before and knew what was to come, more or less: crazy nights, hot girls and little responsibility getting in the way.
The story for this goes like so: I read Tourettes’ piece on Berlin and thought, sounds like he had a right old bender – wouldn’t it be cool if we could share yarns about what we did in the same city? We’re there at different times, with different objectives and friends, but still the city leaves its mark. And with Berlin, what a mark that is.
We hadn’t meant to drink. But with Redbeard and I it was almost an inevitability. One last night to see out our brotherhood and our livers could finally have the rest they cried out for. So there we were, back on the beers and dressed in our finest party attire: bucket hats and waxed mo’s aplenty.
The last two weeks had been a bit of a struggle, with waning stamina and the ill health that six months of self-abuse can create. But we pushed on, chasing the dragon, night after night. At this point we didn’t know really know anything else.
Tired bodies aside we were in fine form and lapping up the beautiful combination of sun, sand and skin that makes southern Spain such a magnet for tourists. Rise late, rub face and sneak past the cleaning lady – feeling strangely in the way given that I had paid to be there. Then the beach for countless swims and a touch of paddleball before hunger drove us back to Cadiz’s warren of shops and the now familiar booze aisles of the supermarcado.
The night was all we knew and we pursued it relentlessly.
Two weeks in Italy with the family was just the tonic to the ills of Rock Werchter and by the time Mum flew out of Rome I was back on track. Fortunately, because my next stop was another festival and all the glory and horror of four days in your own filth.
To celebrate being alone again I slept on the floor in Rome’s Fiumicino airport with the other temporarily homeless, before rising early to fly to Bilbao. Redbeard and I were soon reunited and back trying to figure out another unorganised festival set up. In contrast to the Belgian precision the Spanish were positively ambivalent. We wandered up the hill behind the stage and, with no one to tell us any better, joined the rest of the people trying to make sense of camping on a slope. While the view was spectacular the novelty of angled camping wears off pretty quickly when you are constantly sliding out the bottom of your tent.
My final days in Holland arrived with the relentless speed of a Dutch train. Like everyone else I was caught, swept up in the temporal momentum and chaos of exams, last minute guests and goodbyes. What had I taken from this time? Would I ever be back to this cycle-mad place? Answers fell by the wayside as the days slipped away and then I was off for one last bike to the station, sweating under the heat of a continental sun and the sum total of my possessions.
It’s funny thing, chance. What could have been the human equivalent of two ships passing in the night insidiously creeps into something much more: a global series of encounters, often occurring with little other planning than a casual “see you.. around” – be it a few hours, days, or months later.
So here I am – a million miles from the mountain oasis of Pai, cultural light years from sweaty Khao San road, and a few train trips from a frozen Amsterdam – sitting on the train out of Dusseldorf, trying to piece together exactly how I got here.
It always strikes me how much of a role circumstance plays in romantic encounters. Despite our human tendency to claim control over the world, it is often just as much a product of time and place as it is anything else.
The remainder of our time in Pai slips by under a warm haze of Tramadol and weed. The weather is stunning, and we laze by the pool, reading and napping the days away.
We scooter out to some underwhelming hot springs and laugh at the signs forbidding you from cooking eggs in them. Later we discover the pool where you CAN cook your eggs, and it is a curious scene indeed. You emerge from forest into a small clearing and are confronted with half a dozen Thai tourists. They crowd around the steaming pool, cooking eggs suspended in plastic bags that swing from the end of bamboo rods. We laugh some more, and photo bomb the chefs standing proudly with their cooked lunch.
Brother Fox and I go for an excellent walk into the mountain jungle and follow a river upstream for several hours. The forest is lush, and different enough from the nature back home that we constantly find ourselves pausing to admire a different mushroom or strange plant. Our lazy pace fits perfectly with our mental space and we yarn contentedly, reaching the rewarding depth of conversation that comes easily to kindred souls.