This feature was originally published in the November 2013 edition of High Times under the title “Kief in the Rif” – a typo mistaking the incredibly harsh Moroccoan kif for the luscious kief crystals that give Mary J her famous kick. But what are you going to do? It’s High Times for chrissake.
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.
(as published at Lostravellers…)
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.
Going on exchange is good for a whole host of reasons, including the significant amount of free time you find yourself confronted with. Being an avid tripper and having chosen to study in Holland (for obvious reasons) it seemed only natural to combine their readily available hallucinogens with a spot of sightseeing.
So there we were: my ever-keen friend Redbeard and I, chewing a handful of psychedelic truffles (White Diamonds – for the experienced tripper) as the bus left Tilburg. Our destination was Efteling: a fairytale inspired theme park nestled amid the green pastures of southern Holland. Notoriously zany, it seemed like the perfect place to combine the euphoria and other-worldliness of truffles with all the adrenaline of roller coasters.
How wrong we were.
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.
Our first morning in Prague had been a struggle, albeit one of our own making. But we were determined to make the most out of our 800 koruna donation to the Prague Municipality Office and so headed out again to brave the aged concrete of this former Soviet state.
Fortunately we were no longer unaided, with an old workmate agreeing to show us some of the city’s less touristed spots. It had been a while since I last saw Erza, a slew of unpaid parking fines and a drink driving conviction ensuring that it will be a while before he returns to New Zealand, if ever.
But the recognition was instant and we were soon headed in the direction of the old town. Erza and his friend explained that they wanted to take us to a place where you can smoke; Erza obviously remembering a few post-work sessions in the car park behind the bar and the big doobies of summer days in Western Park.
But the shop was shut and we opted for dinner instead, willingly led into the depths of a cosy pub and its smog of cigarette smoke. I copied Erza and ordered the local stew, quaffs of Pilsner Urquell perfect for washing down the hearty dumplings that came with the meal.
The bus slowly winds up the hill, breaking, as the driver prepares for yet another hairpin turn. The road from Chang Mai to Pai is known for its huge number of corners, and we are not disappointed. Our ride climbs higher and higher, and the verdant jungle of Chiang Mai gives way to sparser mountain vistas.
Pai is the very definition of laid-back, a small hippy town where life meanders by for the relaxed locals and backpackers that stroll the main drag. At night the street turns into a food and clothes market that offers a wealth of tasty snacks and tie-die, the samosas and banana pancakes winning particular favour amongst our number.
Our hostel hosts, the eccentric German, Peter, and his Thai wife, Darling, are hilarious and almost certainly on opium. Their response to our query for board is extraordinarily laconic and at odds with the tourist trail’s usual hard sell. We are eventually provided for: VIP accommodation no less, one room complete with four thin swabs spaced out on the floor. We are given a “special price” by a manically grinning Darling, who explains that it is because “you are tall, like my son, veery tall.”
If you’ve done any travelling in South East Asia then you almost certainly have heard of, if not actually experienced for yourself, the mayhem of Laos’ hedonistic capital, Vang Vieng.
Once a quiet riverside village, as the story goes, Vang Vieng is now big business: big, underdressed, intoxicated Western business. While easily the most touristy place I have been in Asia, the village still attracts thousands of visitors every year; backpackers coming for the joys of getting loose in a rubber tube along the banks of the Nam Song river. A ramshackle collection of bars line the edges of the brown river, and the same blaring electronic pop that plagued us over New Year’s reverberates in the shade of the vast karst mountains looming in the background.
The town itself is small and almost completely full of Westerners. There are a plethora of restaurants serving banana pancake trail staples, with the main difference whether Friends or Family Guy is playing above the raised platforms and low tables. Many restaurants offer the addition of a “Happy Menu,” covering everything from mushroom shakes and weed pizza to speed. Despite the ubiquity of such contraband, Brother Barefoot and Phantom are caught smoking a joint in their room, and told to find replacement accommodation; a strange paradox in a town of arbitrary lines.
Having survived the island jungle our entourage headed north, bound for Laos. Returning to Vientiane was largely uneventful. The Laotian capital is a sleepy riverside town in comparison to the bustle of touristed Thailand and not much had changed since I was there last. We feasted on the excellent Indian cuisine, sipping Beer Laos in the afternoon sun, and wandered along the river’s edge trying in vain to get a game of Frisbee going, with the wind strongly in opposition.
At the insistence of Tijo, Redbeard and I were cajoled into heading out for a few beers. It was a quiet evening and the curfews in Laos make for some fairly tepid nightlife. Vientiane is not a party town but none the less we persisted, Tijo obviously gravitating towards the one ex-pat girl in the quiet bar. A few brews later and we were reluctantly accompanying an increasingly drunk Tijo to go get a sandwich on the other side of town, the new girl fallaciously assuring us that it was just around the corner. And then around another corner. And another.
The streets are deserted so it is with some surprise that we round one final corner and are finally presented with the promised vision. Tijo munches on the first of what will be many late night baguettes, and we hop in a tuk-tuk to head home. The tuk-tuk driver, however, has another suggestion.
“hello my friends, you like opium?”