Getting Kicked Out of a Hungarian Lap Dancing Club

Budapest, Hungary • April 2014 • Length of Read: 14 Minutes

20938645_1946711155610057_821539921_n.jpg

The following extract has been adapted from my self-published paperback travel book, Crobs Abroad: A Scot’s Misadventures with a BackpackIt follows my mishaps across five different continents as I get comatose drunk on the Thai islands; kicked out of a Hungarian lap dancing club; kidnapped by the mayor of a Peruvian city; and trek for a week across the Moroccan Sahara. If you enjoy this post, then please visit my online bookshop for more details.

“We will shortly be coming around with scratch cards. For only £1 you could be in with the chance of winning free flights to any European destination of your choice.”

The fasten-seatbelt light faded with a simultaneous ‘bing’; just loud enough to shake all the plane’s passengers from momentary peace and to hear the subsequent drone of the PA system. That’s what these budget airlines do. Sucker customers in with cheap prices and for three hours they’ve got an impotent audience; hog-tied inside a metal box 30,000ft above terra firm and susceptible to all forms of advertising being barked at them by a pre-recorded bourgeois accent of security.

“Choose from our fine selection of regional teas and get a half-price chocolate bar.”

Seat 27b had been my location in this circumstance; trapped between two complete strangers with no aisle legroom and no window view. To my left sat a man with the build of a rugby player immersed in a Hungarian translation of 50 Shades of Grey. To my right, a fading rocker with a tartan flat cap and dubious goatee soul patch. I’d been told that travelling solo would get lonely, but at this point, I was snugger than ever. ‘This beats a Bolivian bus journey any day of the week at least,’ I thought to myself.

“Get our meal deal: A sandwich, packet of crisps, and a drink for only £4.50. Choose from Cheese & Ham, Tuna, or Cheese Savoury.”

Resting my head on the prop’s shoulder in an attempt to snooze I was abruptly shaken awake by a jeering flight attendant, waving a menu in my face and looking like she’d suffered a head-on collision with a peach coloured paint pot. I wasn’t aware Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas had found new employment after the closure of their beloved Chocolate Factory. Perhaps they’d taken to the skies in an attempt to track down the Great Glass Elevator that now housed their eccentric employer. Behind the tangerine glow of fake-tan, I could just make out a mouth asking if I fancied anything from the trolley, her face cracking with every lip movement. It wasn’t so much a flight as an overpriced nomadic cafe.

“Celebrate with a bottle of champagne for only £29.99. It doesn’t need to be a special occasion to enjoy a few bubbles.”

I politely declined the Black Label Brut, seeing it solely as an attempt by the cabin crew to mask the taste of the cremated badger penis that they were now shipping down the passage; the stickers on the aluminium containers labelling the mystery meal under the pretence of bangers and mash.

“Get 20% off our duty-free perfumes – The perfect gift for any relative.”

No, not even a nice splash of cologne could have covered that burnt smell. Six months had passed since returning from Rio and we were still waiting on a response from Rick. Perhaps the favela underworld had finally sucked him in for good, or perhaps his 'pay to cum' philosophy had finally drained the South American piggy bank. Even as I write this I like to envision that he is still living the high life in Rio however, coding by day and running a pimp ring by night. Coming into land I made a note to hang out in run-down eateries more often. They’re still a step up from airline food.

Heading to my apartment upon arrival at Budapest Airport, I was greeted by two affectionate camp men dressed in painters’ rags. They kindly gave me a tour of the building and laid down some ground rules. This had been my first time using Airbnb and I wasn’t too sure what to expect from my hosts. Jarno was tall, tanned, and lacking eyebrows, whilst his companion was short and stumpy with a greased back pony-tail. As we walked around I poked my nose in some of the kitchen units and was surprised to see that in place of the usual crockery were just rows and rows of jam jars; stacked high with different flavours.

Jarno explained that renting out apartments in the Pest neighbourhood was his primary job, but that jam production was where his true passion lay. He made so much of it, in fact, that there was no room left in his own house to store the stock whilst waiting for it to be sold. Using a money-spinning marketing strategy seemingly taken straight from the pages of the Business for Dummies Handbook he had, therefore, made the decision to line his guests’ cupboards with as much of the produce as possible in a small hope that they would buy some and cut-out the middle-man. I applauded his honesty and entrepreneurship. Once everything had been pointed out the pair then plotted the main city attractions on a map before leaving me to head out for a stroll. A cultural weekend in Hungary awaited, or so I thought.

I glanced up from a meal of grilled zucchini pancakes four hours later to see my gay landlords hammering on the restaurant window, grinning profusely and waving fast enough to generate the same amount of energy as a small wind farm. Kiskakukk was their favourite restaurant in the city and they were clearly pleased I’d taken their dining recommendation on board. Acknowledging the food with a thumbs up and rub of the belly I washed down the main course with 4 pints of beer, settled the tab and wandered out to explore the nightlife of the city’s ‘ruin bar’ district.

Quizzing friends before my trip on where best to go out in Pest the preponderant answer had always been “Grandio Party Hostel,” and any residence that carried taglines such as ‘The Party Animal’s Playground’ and ‘You Can Sleep When You’re Dead’ sure does seem a good place to start. With some writing to do whilst away it also aided my decision to get an apartment rather than stay there, guessing correctly the peace and quiet I would need at some point might not be readily available in a place which refuses guests over the age of 36 due to its sexual exploits.

I had reached the corner of Andrassy Avenue and Nagi Diofa Ucta before realising I’d stupidly left the map on the kitchen table, so stopped the next person I saw to get directions.

“Excuse me, could you possibly tell me how to get to Grandio Party Hostel please?” I asked clearly and politely.

“Ah, I don’t know where this Grandio you speak of is, but that shouldn’t matter,” replied the middle-aged woman. “There is a hotel right here with vacant rooms. What are you looking for? Sex? Or perhaps just a blowjob?”

It doesn’t say much for my judge of character that I’d managed to stop the sole prostitute within a mile radius. Perhaps a little too much of Rick’s enthusiasm had rubbed off on me. Bumbling a confused excuse I hurried away, merry from the alcohol but still no closer to becoming a ‘party animal’. Along the street, I found was a much more respectable female perched on the wall outside a bar with a cigarette in hand. My same question was again answered in vain, however. I began to wonder whether the hostel actually existed or whether it was just an elaborate Chinese Whisper that had been packaged as some urban legend and passed down from backpacker to backpacker.

We got chatting and Esme was shocked to hear I hadn’t yet tried Palinka, a habitual Hungarian fruit brandy. My protests that I’d only been in the country for about six hours were quashed as she proceeded to pull me downstairs into the establishment where her boyfriend Paul was in discussion with the owner. Esme made the introductions and after a couple of quickly exchanged words in Hungarian the owner went to the bar and poured me a pint and one measure of the potent, clear, traditional beverage.

“How much do I owe you?” I asked, not too sure how far my Forint notes would get me.

“It’s on the house, my friend. Welcome to Budapest.”

“Legend,” I smiled, raising the shot glass in a toast before knocking it back.

The chat began to flow as Esme and I sunk further sporadic drinks. Paul, the designated driver on this previously desultory Thursday night, told me of their recent journey to the UK to watch the Manchester Derby and delightfully produced a crisp Scottish bank note from his wallet that had been kept as a souvenir from their foray across the Channel. Explaining to him my failed quest to find the Mecca of all party hostels he started to snigger.

Grandio is literally 200m down the street. You must have walked past it to get here.”

“Shut up?” I responded, mouth ajar.

“True story. I’ll show you if you like, my car is parked a couple of streets back so we are heading in that direction anyway.”

Wandering out into the fresh air we made our way along the dug up street, severe road-works clearly in progress but having been abandoned for the evening. I continued to chat away to the couple when smack, out of nowhere I found myself face first in the concrete; dazed and confused as if I’d just been on the receiving end of a Mike Tyson right hook.

Dusting off, I looked up to see Paul and Esme in fits of laughter. Not paying attention to where I had been going I’d fallen straight over a manhole cover, ripping my jeans and tearing the lining of my puffer jacket. As the stuffing oozed out I quickly began to resemble a wounded teddy bear. Health & Safety laws were clearly not as stringent in this part of the world, cordoning off holes and hazards a seemingly unnecessary precaution. Lifting me back onto my feet Paul pointed towards a large black gated doorway.

“That’s it there mate,” he said.

Now, in my defence, Grandio had to be one of the worst signposted hostels on the planet. Apart from the equally dark lettering above the entrance, there was nothing to indicate that the door led anywhere other than the storage facility of a shop. There was no doubt that it was the place, however. I rang the small bell on the wall with anticipation for the electrifying welcome. Nothing. I tried again. There was still no answer.

“It is 1 am now,” shrugged Paul. “It’s possible that everyone has already left and sprawled out into the bars and pubs.”

“Mmm,” I reasoned. “That could be true. Hypothetically, where would the most likely place be that they’d head to?”

“Goszdu Courtyard probably. I could give you a lift if you fancy?” he offered, sensing the tone of my voice.

I stepped out his car after a short two-minute journey and wished them all the best. One of the things I love most about the randomness of travel is being able to make short connections with warm and amiable strangers who you’d never cross paths with during the monotonous routines of day-to-day life.

Kolor Bar was the first place that caught my eye, not because there were any other foreigners in sight but because of the three gorgeous Hungarian girls loitering in the foyer. We grabbed a table and over some more beers, they laughed at the tale of my prostitute encounter and torn rags. Sofia’s eyes sparkled at me as she exchanged quick-witted words in her strong dialect, but I’d become so shit-faced at this point I could do nothing but squint back at her like I was staring into a solar eclipse. Upon last orders at 3 am the girls sensibly hopped in a taxi and headed home, leaving me disorientated among the ‘ruin bars’ of Budapest. I stumbled outside in confusion and to my blind luck, a rickshaw skidded to a halt at the sound of my S.O.S cry.

“Hey man, can you take me home?” I drooled.

“You don’t really want to go home do you?” the jolly driver chimed.

“I absolutely do.”

“Are you sure?”

“100%. Categorically. Yes.”

“I know a place with lots of pretty girls…” he tempted.

“Okay, we’ll go there first.”

Like an absolute sucker, and after a fare of 5,000 Forint for a journey covering less than 500 yards, I found myself passing through the doors of a seedy strip club; the true dregs of Eastern Europe on show for the nocturnal underworld to see. Plonking myself down on one of the slimy leather sofas beside a scantily clad local the manager immediately bowled over and requested 9,000 Forint as an entry fee.

“Do you want a dance then?” asked the lecherous girl beside me. “10,000 Forint for one song?”

I took a sip of the beer the manager had brought back instead of my change from the 10,000 Forint note. A dance for the same price as the cover charge? What a bargain. ‘Perhaps this night has just turned itself around,’ I thought to myself. I then took out my wallet and was shocked to find it completely empty. Somehow my entire funds had been drained. How was this possible? I’d withdrawn £80 Sterling from the ATM upon arrival. Had I been robbed whilst in such a state of inebriation? I thought the cost of living in Budapest was meant to be cheap as chips?

Catching wind of my broke-ass the manager quickly booted me out onto the street, not even allowing the time to finish the lukewarm drink that was still clasped in my hand. As daylight started to break I staggered in the direction of where my hippocampus thought the apartment to be, muttering the words ‘probably for the best,’ under my breath.

The Brazilian Prostitution Gauntlet

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil • August 2013 • Length of Read: 6 Minutes

The following extract has been adapted from my self-published paperback travel book, Crobs Abroad: A Scot’s Misadventures with a Backpack. It follows my mishaps across five different continents as I get comatose drunk on the Thai islands; kicked out of a Hungarian lap dancing club; kidnapped by the mayor of a Peruvian city; and trek for a week across the Moroccan Sahara. If you enjoy this post, then please visit my online bookshop for more details.

There was a little café on the corner block of our hostel. It was tacky: plastic chairs, plastic tables, plastic. A bald man from a neighbouring table kept glancing over. He was also foreigner at first sight. A true gringo. Unlike most tourists we'd met along our travels however, he was clearly apt at conversing with the locals. Sat opposite was a pretty little Brazilian girl who couldn't have yet matured beyond her teenage years. It was surprising therefore that he was clearly and shamelessly more interested in eavesdropping on our uncensored drivel, chuckling away and paying minimal attention to his date. She sat there stolidly, pushing a straw around her glass; head towards the picnic-blanket table cover so any possibility of eye-contact could be avoided.

“Are you guys from New Zealand?” he called over in a strong American West Coast accent. We glanced at each other perplexed, Screen and Skills both sporting Scottish rugby jerseys and talking about the potential marketing opportunity for importing Irn-Bru as a competitor to Inka Cola.

“Scotland bro. You’re American I presume?”

“Ah, my bad guys. Yeah straight from Cali. I’m down here to enjoy the beautiful woman and the beautiful weather.”

Rick was a handsome thirty-something. A real extrovert with a rugged Jason Statham look about him. A computer programmer who could work remotely so decided to split his time 20%/80% between Rio and his hometown of LA. The Pareto Principle in full effect. Over the previous six years of hopping back and forth, he’d become fluent in both Portuguese and in the customs of the city. If it weren’t for his pale complexion one would have been none the wiser of his real origins.

“You lads hit up the whorehouses yet?” he drawled, changing the conversation in a blasé manner and almost shocked at our lack of response. “Aww, you’re missing out boys if you haven’t. 300 Real (£80) will see you through the weekend no bother. And they’re classy, not the dregs and red lights you’ll find in Amsterdam. It’s done properly here.”

We peered over at his date, slurping on the remains of her smoothie and shifting uncomfortably in her camping chair. Whether it was the topic of conversation or the numbing of the plastic was hard to tell.

“Don’t mind her troops,” Rick laughed. “Doesn’t speak a word of English. She’s actually one of those girls herself.”

The penny suddenly dropped. The uncomfortable silence. The lack of eye contact. Rick was treating a prostitute to dinner.

“Classy, you see? Twice a year I get my mates to fly down to Rio for the week and crash at the apartment. I make them run The Gauntlet for their troubles. You boys fancy giving it a shot?”

The gauntlet, as Rick had so aptly named it, was his idea of the ultimate night out in Rio. A harlotry pub crawl if you will. His pals would hit up five or six bars and an equal number of brothels, the last man standing is the one who…well you get the picture. Originally thinking this was an elaborate joke we played along until it became clear that Rick was being completely serious. He was taking his date to the cinema after dinner and then wanted us to join him on a night of debauchery never to be forgotten. His enthusiasm and passion were winning us over. Unsure at first, we were warming to this prospect, however (perhaps fortunately), we didn’t even have 300 Real between the five of us. Skills was pumped up and suggested that he could get some money wired from home and we could pay him back. This was met by a sharp prod from Endy under the table, evidently entertained by the American but not willing to accept his proposal.

“Come on guys, it’s completely safe. They are all checked weekly and you don't just get a lay for your money. Don’t think of them as brothels, more like miniature Playboy Mansions. You get a robe and slippers, can watch movies, and sip champagne, all whilst a host of beautiful Latinas pleasure you to your heart’s and part’s content. I have to head now or we'll miss the start of the picture. Take my email and drop me a line when you get internet access.”

He handed over a plain white business card with his information, gave a salute, and then left arm-in-arm with his date as we struggled to contain our smiles. A comedic computer whiz with a beaming grin and an addictive personality only succeeded by his addiction to ladies of the night. We e-mailed him the next day out of sheer curiosity. How could one not?

Crashing A Hooters' Bikini Contest

Toronto, Canada • May 2014 • Length of Read: 12 Minutes

Photo Credit: Hooters.ca

Photo Credit: Hooters.ca

The following extract has been adapted from my self-published paperback travel book, Crobs Abroad: A Scot’s Misadventures with a Backpack. It follows my mishaps across five different continents as I get comatose drunk on the Thai islands; kicked out of a Hungarian lap dancing club; kidnapped by the mayor of a Peruvian city; and trek for a week across the Moroccan Sahara. If you enjoy this post, then please visit my online bookshop for more details.

I’d arranged to meet Aaron and Alfie for dinner that evening on Adelaide Street and whilst they went for a couple of apartment viewings I took the liberty of catching up on a precious few hours’ sleep. The boys had managed to ‘win’ some one-year working visas in the lottery that is the Canadian immigration application process and were staying at the hostel whilst they searched for suitable employment and a cheap, but handy, dwelling. Interestingly, in Toronto at this time all drawn up rental agreements required full payment to the landlord for the month in which the entry date was signed. This meant that whether you were moving in on the 1st June or the 29th for example, the entire June rental fee was payable. As my visit to Canada fell in the last week of a month in 2014 this meant that a large number of the hostel’s guests were taking the same approach as Aaron and Alfie, all with the plan of checking out and moving in come the 1st of the next month.

Things were quite competitive because of this, but I was still amazed to see how many people were looking at moving in with one another having only met weeks, or even days, prior. I suppose that’s the mindset of the traveller, though. Someone who is always willing to create friendships and dive into things just for the curiosity of what lies ahead. ‘What if…’ not a phrase to be found in many of their dictionaries or phrasebooks, regardless of the language it’s written in.

Come 6:30 pm I was fully recharged and strolled my way yet again downtown towards our meeting place, a little pub opposite the restaurant we’d unanimously agreed upon. Sipping on a frosty one whilst waiting for the lads to show I looked over at the sign above the building as the busty waitresses swarmed the tables in their tight white T-shirts and infamous orange hot-pants. If the accompanying knee-high stockings weren’t enough to stimulate my attention, then what was spelled out in old cinema lettering above the doorway most definitely was.

[7 PM - HOOTERS BIKINI CONTEST]

“Signed on the dotted line then and there before anyone else could get their stinking paws on it,” beamed Aaron as the boys rounded the corner. “We are now officially residents of this glorious city.”

“Brilliant. And we can’t have you living here never having gone to Hooters now can we?” I chuckled, pointing at the sign.

“What a way to celebrate. Things are just falling right into place.”

Hooters was bursting at the seams as we joined the queue behind some creepy Chinese dude who clearly had no idea how a ticketing process worked. When he therefore inevitably got into a row with the maitre’d over the cost of entry the Liverpudlians and I was happy to throw our $10 cover at her and swoop in to grab a front row bench before the show started. Sitting down, I ordered a pitcher of beer from our lovely server Annie and took in the surrounding phenomenon. The 98% male audience was on tenterhooks as an announcer climbed up on stage to explain how the competition would work. There would be three rounds: bikini; swimsuit; and evening wear, with a winner being crowned at the end of it all based on the decision by an expert panel of judges. I looked over at the four fat, hairy, pale, middle-aged men and wondered what their credentials were. They could have been talent scouts for a high-end modelling agency for all I knew, but a more educated guess would be that they probably spend a little too much time locked in their bedrooms with the blinds shut and high definition porn on repeat.

As Annie came back for our food orders a young guy of similar age sat down on his own at the bench opposite; a scraggly beard and fashionable beanie hat not quite enough to mask his ruggedly handsome face. Joseph had arrived in Canada from Wales, via Monaco, and was there to support his girlfriend who was competing in the contest. In yet another ‘coincidence’ it turned out that he actually graduated from the same University course as Aaron and Alfie did, only in the following year, and that they had a host of mutual friends. It was agreed that they’d also all been in attendance at some of the same flat parties before but just hadn’t bumped into one another.

“Man this is sick,” exclaimed Joseph, slapping his palm on the table. “I move to Toronto to be with my girlfriend, not knowing another person in this city, and randomly bump into two guys that I went to University with at a Hooters bikini contest. You just can’t script this stuff.”

“Yeah, it’s crazy how things like this work out,” I nodded with a grin.

“Hey, we’re all having a little post-party celebration after this. You guys should definitely come along, and that’s more a polite request than a question.”

“You don’t have to ask us twice bro.”

“Awesome. Currently, it’s just me and the girls so it would be good to have some male company for a change. As nice as they are and all I do sometimes miss the lad banter.”

“Have you managed to find a job since coming over here then?” Aaron asked.

“Not for a lack of trying,” sighed Joseph.

“I know what you mean,” agreed Alfie. “Aaron just got a part-time job as a kitchen porter at Sneaky Dees up on College Street, but I’m going to keep browsing for something more permanent. Craigslist seems to have some decent odd-jobs though if you’re really scraping for coppers.”

“I’ve been scouring that and Gumtree but it’s difficult to tell what’s legit. Also, some of the stuff is pretty freaky. I came across an ad the other day that was offering $400 cash for you to masturbate and ejaculate on camera.”

“Would your face be shown?”

“Yeah, it was a whole torso effort. Not that I was thinking about applying for it anyway. Curiosity gets the better of you sometimes though when trolling the web and you can find yourself clicking on some weird shit without even realising.”

“True that. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone online just to quickly check my e-mails and ended up being still at the computer a half hour later scrolling through galleries of people with bad tattoos.”

To get the show underway the girls all strode out in catwalk formation down the stage which had been erected especially for the event. Something that might have also been ‘erect’ was the bizarre Korean pensioner who whipped out a professional camera (complete with tripod) and started taking photos like he was on safari. Despite how many elegant birds were prancing about, a 30x zoom lens with a shutter speed comparable to that of the rounds fired by a Gatling gun seemed a little unnecessary. Joseph’s girlfriend was gorgeous and put up a staunch performance to appear third overall, but ‘contestant number 3’ was undoubtedly the queen of the evening and the judges all agreed. She was absolutely shredded from head to toe and either had a serious squat routine or had been prescribed some crazy anabolic steroids.

Following the show, Joseph took us over to meet his other half and the rest of the girls that had been performing. One with short hair was so off her face on blow that she appeared to think she was in the middle of a lads’ mag photo shoot. Wrapping her arms around each of the far-too-willing punters she would hold a sexy pose for 2-3 seconds, presumably until the ‘camera flash’ in her mind went off. I looked at the mass of creepiness funnelling out into the street. It didn’t even bear thinking about what they were going home to do.

The girls were all dolled up in their evening dresses from the final pageant round and with the adrenaline rush from the event still at a peak they were pumped to be heading out, especially a tall brunette called Laura. When her boyfriend finally arrived from a gig he’d been playing we all went round the corner to a pub and ordered some pitchers. Mick was Australian by birth and like Joseph had decided to settle in Toronto for the time being as a result of his newish relationship and the strong bar scene. He was one-half of a folk duo and provided guitar and backing vocals to his female accompaniment’s soaring pitch. He also drank like an Aussie, immediately sculling the pint of beer placed in front of him by Aaron on return from the bar.

Across the table from me was a strange looking Asian guy, already on his second pitcher and trying desperately to get the attention of the short-haired Ms Blow who was still running at Mach 1. Ali was a self-professed drug dealer and proud of the matter. Despite my complete lack of interest, his greater lack of social queues led to me being excitedly shown photos of the cannabis farm he’d been cultivating back home. I couldn’t quite figure out what game he was trying to play so called “bullshit” right to his face. He left me alone and departed soon after when his supposed mistress gave him the cold shoulder. Or perhaps it was because we were heading to a different bar called The Officers Club? The name alone giving our not-so law abiding citizen the chills.

As we huddled around a wooden table in the smoking area at the back of the new venue I turned to Annie, our waitress who had joined the party straight after her shift had finished.

“That girl who won,” I pondered, “She was so well-defined physically it was scary. What does she do outside of work?”

“That is what she does for work,” replied Annie bitterly. “She’s a body builder. We were short of entrants so they got some additional people to fill the lineup who aren’t actually Hooters employees. She doesn’t even go here.”

“Seems like it should have been a void competition then, or that the prize should have at least gone to the runner-up?” I mused. “But on a separate note, you just quoted Mean Girls didn’t you?”

“Yeah totally, especially since the prize was an all-expenses-paid trip to Miami – no shitting you. And on that separate note, yes I did just quote Mean Girls. Good pick up on the reference,” she winked.

This glimmer of sexual tension was immediately broken by a random Chinese dude in a purple jacket. At some point, he had shuffled his way into the party and was now rolling a little tablet around the table.

“All you need is a little bit crushed into your drink and you’ll be sorted for any eventuality that may befall you this fine evening,” piped the aged punk-rocker to his left in such a wavering accent that it could have originated anywhere from Shetland to Southampton. I didn’t have time to ask where he hailed from however before Ms Blow leaned over the table, grabbed the pill from the Chinese dude’s grasp, and swallowed it whole.

“Does anybody know what effect Viagra has on females?” queried one of the girls at the table, looking at her colleague with a mixture of disgust and bemusement.

“It makes their clitoris pop out instantly and become absolutely enormous,” said the aged punk-rocker with a wry grin.

Before the conversation got any weirder I turned to Aaron and Alfie and gave a slight nod towards the exit. Their facial responses were those of agreement so the three of us bid a kind farewell to the Hooters’ cast, exchanged details, and made some rough plans to meet each other that following weekend for a festival happening on Centre Island. I’d left the glorious city behind by this future date, but keeping true to their word Aaron and Alfie did meet up with Joseph, Mick, Laura and co., and have remained close friends ever since.

Six months later, in fact, I would log onto the internet from a beach hut in Thailand to see photos from a road trip the Liverpudlians and the Aussie had taken together along the entirety of Route 66. Culminating in a Robert DeNiro-style fancy dress party in Las Vegas, Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, The Deer Hunter’s Michael, and Cape Fear’s Max Cady even went as far as getting matching tattoos to commemorate the experience. To think none of this would have happened had we not been sitting at that very table, in that very restaurant, at that very time.

The Escape From Lima

Lima, Peru • July 2013 • Length of Read: 10 Minutes

1268292_10202117142754691_1677077679_o.jpg

The following extract has been adapted from my self-published paperback travel book, Crobs Abroad: A Scot’s Misadventures with a Backpack. It follows my mishaps across five different continents as I get comatose drunk on the Thai islands; kicked out of a Hungarian lap dancing club; kidnapped by the mayor of a Peruvian city; and trek for a week across the Moroccan Sahara. If you enjoy this post, then please visit my online bookshop for more details.

Flight AA2153 touched down on Peruvian soil at 04:30; five minutes ahead of schedule despite the pilot having attempted to find every pocket of turbulence littering the Tropic of Cancer that ghastly evening. I was knackered from the northern-to-southern hemisphere crossing and wanted nothing more than to just curl up in a ball and snooze for the rest of the night. To do this, however, meant first finding some form of accommodation. Endy’s guidebook recommended a hostel called The Point, and with no public transport running at that purgatory time between night and day we agreed to take the financial hit and split a cab.

Sleepwalking towards the taxi rank Skills pointed out that it may first be a good idea to withdraw some local currency, but in crowding round the beat-up ATM at the exit to Lima Airport’s baggage reclaim hall we came to the stark realisation that nobody had a clue what the exchange rate was.

“What are you thinking Endy?” I asked in hope, pointing at the various options available. “200 Soles? 500 Soles? 3000 Soles?”

“Well, the guidebook says that it’s S/.2.65 to USD$1.”

“And when was that published?”

“Eh, 1997.”

“Right, does anyone know roughly what Peruvian inflation has averaged out at over the past 15 years?”

“……”

“Fuck it, S/.500 it is.”

Upon leaving the terminal a friendly woman immediately approached us offering just the service we were after. How convenient. In broken English, she told us that two taxis would cost S/.400 and that this was ‘muy razonable’ - mighty reasonable. As she plugged this great deal, however, we couldn’t help but notice the giant poster in the background depicting lines of polished Mercedes; fresh from a full valet service and driven by men wearing coattails and wide-brimmed hats. Something about this image made us think that the service might be a little too high-calibre for our straight-out-of-University budget and style. Opting to turn down the kind lady’s offer we instead trudged outside to a line of dilapidated cars where a cabbie, who could have been mistaken for a Don Corleone tribute act, said he could do the trip for S/.50. No matter how dodgy the situation appeared to be we couldn’t argue that this wasn’t a stonking deal.

Bundling into the back we were scared to ask what other services he could provide for a similar fee; the combination of his mafia dress code and blacked out station-wagon giving a hearty tip-of-the-cap to the opening scene from Goodfellas. ‘If we are to become embroiled in any protection racketeering during our outings along South America’s Gringo Trail,’ I thought to myself, ‘then this may well be the guy who could save our backs.’ As concerned as we were, however, after a half-hour of winding up and down Pacific Ocean cliffs we safely arrived at our hostel and piled out of the squashed four-seater. Evidently, the required people-to-seatbelt ratio of taxis doesn’t apply to wannabe gangsters. We had flights booked out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for two months’ time, and until then the continent was ours to explore. As it turned out this would primarily be done by hopping from pub to bar to club, with some wild misadventures thrown in to keep us on our toes.

1233169_10202117075873019_386016415_o.jpg

Awaking the following lunchtime in a groggy haze I stumbled from the top bunk towards the bathroom where I bumped into a man wearing a radiation suit and carrying Ghostbusters equipment. Pausing to watch I was slightly disappointed when it was not the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man he was trying to fend off however but simply some cockroaches. I went for a piss and made a mental note not to use the hostel’s kitchen at any point. Having freshened-up I began to feel a thirst coming on. Initially confused as to why the reception fridge wouldn't open after almost yanking the door off, I went a little red when the girl behind the desk handed me a key for the massive padlock strapped across its front. In fits of laughter she then pointed me in the way of the supermarket, and with the others still to stir I headed out for my first taste of Lima by daylight.

Before embarking on my South American adventure one of the main pieces of advice provided by a well-travelled uncle was to get in and out of Lima as quickly as possible, and meandering around the sewage infested back alleys of the Barranco district I could see why. In only two blocks I passed a burned-out police car and numerous wild dogs whose growls and stares made me extremely thankful for the rabies injections I'd paid a small fortune to get. My sense of smell was also nearly obliterated from the stench of urine puddles that turned walking the pavements of the Peruvian capital into one endless game of hop-scotch.

Picking up a tuna baguette I returned to the hostel. The others had finally arisen and, despite my protests, were keen to have a look around the neighbourhood themselves. We only got as far as the garden gate, this time, however, when glancing to our right, a kid came flying out a side-street on a skateboard only to be T-boned by an oncoming car. Before we could even comprehend what has just occurred, and as quick as the crash had happened, the boy then stood up; dusted himself off; and legged it, leaving a 14-year-old shaped crime scene imprint in the bonnet of the busted hatchback. The driver got out from behind the wheel looking absolutely perplexed, and as a security guard from a nearby building came over to analyse the situation we quickly headed back inside before being asked to give a statement and testimonial.

Playing some table tennis in the security of the property we met Luke from New York who was also only spending one day in Lima before heading off to the heights of Cusco to catch up with some of his Israeli pals from College. Over pizza at a nearby restaurant, he told us of the inductions undertaken by those pledging for his fraternity, some notable challenges including downing a ‘fish pint’ and participating in an ‘elephant walk’. I would best describe this latter term to those readers not familiar with such proceedings as a ‘naked homosexually-intimate conga’. Grown men kneeling down on all fours and grasping the penis of the person in front of them through their legs whilst a fellow ‘pledger’ does the same behind. I couldn’t help but see Luke in a different light following this admission. Neil, the Dutch Barman who had served up the food, kept us entertained in a different manner for the remainder of the evening with convincing theories as to how thermometric and geological metamorphosis could explain the construction of The Pyramids and Stonehenge. He also ensured we were kept topped up on Cusquena, the local beer. When not pouring pints he operated tours of the continent and as last orders were called said that we definitely needed to visit the ‘sexy woman’ when in Cusco. Despite our desperate pleas, however, he wouldn’t divulge any further information as to what this might entail.

Woken up the next morning by a regiment of the Peruvian Army marching down the street we bode farewell to Luke and headed to the shops to buy some supplies for our flight. Gadams and I also took this opportunity to find ourselves a touring mascot and entering a dingy shopping mall our prayers were answered in the form of a stuffed giraffe who was quickly christened George. Peering out the taxi window on the way to the airport that afternoon our new pet was treated to a deconstructed mobile circus performance that the whole city was seemingly involved in. When stopped at traffic lights and crossroads we witnessed juggling unicyclists, fire breathers, and a man pulling a wheelbarrow full of wheel-less wheelbarrows; shooed away street vendors trying to sell us refreshments for the show; and admired the severe patriotism expressed through every political building being draped with the red and white vertical slithers of the Peruvian flag as if a blanket had fallen from the sky. For the grand finale, our driver almost ripped his exhaust open as he pulled into the airport over an enormous speed bump. Never mind sleeping policemen, this thing was the size of a small rhino. Despite our short time there, upon boarding the 55-minute flight to Cusco we were not sorry to see the back of the Peruvian capital. When anyone now asks me what the best thing to do in Lima is I tend to echo my uncle and respond with the five letter word: leave.

Soaking Up Salta & The Argentinian North

Salta, Argentina • August 2013 • Length of Read: 12 Minutes

74898944.jpg

The following extract has been adapted from my self-published paperback travel book, Crobs Abroad: A Scot’s Misadventures with a Backpack. It follows my mishaps across five different continents as I get comatose drunk on the Thai islands; kicked out of a Hungarian lap dancing club; kidnapped by the mayor of a Peruvian city; and trek for a week across the Moroccan Sahara. If you enjoy this post, then please visit my online bookshop for more details.

Unlike the Bolivian taxis which took as many people as would fit as long as the doors could be fully closed, Argentinian motorists were clearly more compliant with the Highway Code requirement for all passengers to wear seatbelts. Therefore, we arrived at Loki Salta in two separate cars. Each meter was frozen at 105 Pesos (£11) having been ticking over like the second hand on a clock as we blasted along the highway, past the airport, and into the rural suburbs on our journey from the terminal. This seemed like an unusually remote place for a hostel to be located but we would find out later that a single bus ticket to the town centre cost just 3 Pesos (£0.30) per person. A smiley American with dyed red hair and piercings met us in the car park. Robin was the manager of the hostel and seemed a little overly excited for our arrival.

“Hey, I take it you are the Scottish boys that phoned this morning? Welcome to Salta, we’ve had a fine spell of weather as of late.”

“Thanks very much, we’re glad there were some rooms available at such short notice. We’ve set foot in both the Cusco and La Paz sister hostels already and the vibes were great.”

“No worries about that. Apart from the on-site staff we actually only have two other people staying here at the moment; Australian guys about your age. We only fully-opened last month and are still trying to find our feet.”

“Aw OK, it’s just that when we phoned this morning it seemed like there was a massive party still underway?” queried Endy.

“Not quite,” sniggered Robin. “We’ve been quite low on guest numbers the past couple of weeks so when people call we crank up the music full volume in the bar to pretend that the place isn’t actually a ghost town. A horrible joke, I know.”

“At least you’ve come clean I suppose,” reasoned Screen. “We’ve been living pretty rough the last week so it would actually be quite nice to just have a couple of days to chill out and recharge the batteries.”

“Well, we can certainly cater for that. There’s a football pitch over there; we have snooker, table tennis, and a bean bag cinema inside; there are hammocks strung out on the patio to lounge in, and an incredible menu of home-cooked dishes to choose from.”

“Awesome,” smiled Gadams, “and what about swimming?” he asked, pointing past the grassy pitch to a hollow bowl.

“Unfortunately, the pool is out of action at the moment; not enough people to justify the expense and all.”

“No worries,” I fake-sobbed. “First things first is to check-in and grab a shower. We do apologise for appearing in such a smelly mess.”

“You aren’t the first and you most certainly won’t be the last. Let me give you a quick tour of the place.”

Robin may have been pulling our legs on the phone that morning, but she most certainly wasn’t lying about the set-up of this hostel being perfectly tailored towards our desires. The main building was a vast open-spaced hanger with a full-length bar on one side. The full-length bay window opposite led out to a hammock-littered patio. Past the football pitch and swimming pool were a collection of modern stone huts that housed the guests, with wild horses galloping around the fenced field yonder. A more tranquil atmosphere I’ve yet to come across for the Argentinian equivalent of only £12 per night. We got our room key, took some much-needed showers, and then sprawled ourselves out on the bean bags for the remainder of the afternoon. A battered copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sat lonely on the bookshelf so I immersed myself in its pages as sports played on the TV behind. Loki Salta was answering to our every need, and things were about to get better.

“What were you guys planning on doing for dinner tonight?” asked Robin suggestively.

“Not too sure yet. We were probably just going to get something here if that’s OK with you?”

“Well, we’ve invited all the staff from another hostel down the road for a barbeque this evening if you fancy joining? We’re all just going to chip in 20 Pesos and then some of the guys will get as much meat and beers from the supermarket as possible. Tristan and Shawn, the Aussie guys I mentioned earlier, are currently in town but they’ll be making their way back for it as well.”

“That sounds absolutely delightful. Count us in.”

Two hours later we were making acquaintance with the boys from down under in a scene that could have been taken from The Great Hall in Harry Potter. The long wooden table at which we were seated groaned under the weight of ribs, steak, and vegetable skewers. The Aussies had been on the road for five months already and were slowly winding their way up the whole American continent. The eventual plan was to secure some working visas in the Canadian mountains when they near-enough ran out of land to explore.

“For me, it started out as just a two week holiday in Cancun,” began Shawn. “Tristan had sold all his belongings beforehand: car; furniture; clothes; the lot. His plan once the rest of our crew had flown back to New South Wales was to get his own ticket to Buenos Aires and then just see where curiosity took him.”

“I originally planned to do the trip alone, but when Shawn broke up with his girlfriend just a couple of weeks before our boys holiday I suggested he join me,” added Tristan. “Hesitant, he hadn’t made any formal decision until we were actually in Mexico, and it wasn’t until the last day that he decided not to board that flight home. We now think it will be about two more years before next setting foot on Australian soil.”

Everyone looked like stuffed turkeys as the plates were cleared and as we brought out the cards to play some drinking games two English hipsters appeared at the reception; confused expressions on their faces. Whereas we’d been offered a full tour of the grounds upon arrival, Alexander and George were immediately thrown by Robin into a game of ‘Fuck the Dealer’ before even having the chance to see their dorm room. In fairness, they were more than happy with this command, and after a few rounds of this ludicrous game were well on their merry way. As the name suggests, the aim is for the participants to get the unlucky person dealing the cards as drunk as possible by guessing correctly the colour, suit, or value of the next card being played. Robin had placed a stein-sized plastic measuring jug in the centre of the table and before each turn players had to pour some of their drink into the rising concoction as their ‘bet’. When the vessel was filled to the brim, whoever was the dealer at that point would have the pleasure of trying to down the mix. That person turned out to be Skills.

“This is going to be a piece of cake,” he drunkenly boasted, never the one to shy away from an ‘alpha male’ situation. Halfway through the game a couple of very cute English girls had also arrived, jumping the total guest residency from two to eleven in just one day, and it was clear he was out to impress. Bottoms up.

Skills started off strong as the cheers from the crowd (including Lucy and Natalie) spurred him on through the first half-litre of the vile mixture. When he got about halfway, however, he started to splutter. The wrenching said it all. The mixture of beer, cider, and fruit juice was about to come straight back up and there was no stopping it. Skills will take to his grave the statement that he did indeed make it to the bathroom on time, but the video footage and vomit stains on his shirt prove otherwise. At least he wasn’t the only one to make a fool of himself. Following this incident, Robin thought it was her duty as the manager of the establishment to finish off the dregs. This only led to her also making a quick dash to the latrines to cough up her BBQ burger and salad. Lucy, Natalie, Alexander, and George all made excuses of being tired and headed for bed; unable to comprehend what they’d just walked into.

I was the first to arise the following morning as usual, and stumbling into the bathroom to brush my teeth was given quite the shock treatment. Staring back at me from the open toilet lid was a creature from the deep. As my vision adjusted to the light, a shit the size of a baby’s arm wearing a boxing glove leered back at me from the pan. There could only be one culprit.

“Gadams,” I yelled, waking the entire utopia. “What the hell have you done in here?”

“Ah yeah, I had a little bit of a sore stomach last night,” he blearily responded.

“They say the equivalent of a man giving birth is like pissing out a whole orange, but this is surely taking it one step too far. How on earth were you even walking around with that log inside you?” I gave the lever a flush but the stool of tree trunk sized dimensions didn’t dislodge. I panicked that it might mutate and start attacking.

“Oh my God man, it was as painful as it looks trust me. I sat for over half an hour with my fingernails scraping the opposing wall; squeezing until I thought an intestine was going to pop out. I must have sweated more in that period than the entire length of the Inca Trail, including the incident we shall no longer speak of.”

“You mean the incident that I’ve thoroughly documented in my journal and am likely to include in a future publication?”

“Fuck. Well, I still don’t feel too great in all honesty; almost like I’m recuperating from an open-wound surgical operation. Would you mind if we extended our stay here for an extra day? Kick a rugby ball about and see what the town centre has to offer or something? I don’t think I could face another day travelling in this state.”

“As long as you allow said incident to be put in writing.”

“No shame. We have a deal. Shake on it?”

“Only if you’ve thoroughly washed your hands…”