Way of the King

On Wednesday morning, a friend tagged me in a Facebook clip of ‘the most dangerous hiking path in the world’.  I watched it, saw it was in southern Spain, and replied, “holy fuck, I’ll go this weekend!”.  Thus began a highly impractical series of misadventures.

I was actually already supposed to be heading to Madrid on Sunday evening to begin two weeks of intensive Spanish classes, so just had to sort out flights to Málaga—the nearest airport to the path—and a way to get to Madrid by Sunday afternoon.

I need to stress again that absolutely none of this was practical.

I found a flight to Málaga from Brussels airport first thing Saturday morning, and went ahead and booked that.  Of course, from Málaga I was going to have to get to El Chorro, a town an hour’s drive away, to then gain access to the path—El Caminito del Rey.  The minor issue being that I was arriving into Málaga shortly after the only train in the morning left.  The bus was going to take four hours—and you actually have to book your walking slot in advance, so I only had 1.5 hours to get to El Chorro.  Apparently, people normally book the walk months in advance, so that was the only time at which I would be able to enter.

First, I booked car hire.  Which would have been fine—albeit my first time driving on the right—except that my licence is non-EU.  Which means I need an International Driving Permit to drive in Spain.  And I don’t have one of those, you have to request them from the driving clubs in Australia, and their IDP services were all suspended until 9 January (even excluding the whole “international postage” and “complete lack of time in which to do so” factors).

At this point, I reconciled myself to a 90 euro taxi, because by hook or by crook, I was going to do this hike.

Thus it was that I had another 4am-ish start on Saturday morning, headed to the airport, made it to southern Spain, and checked my phone.  I saw that, now I’d arrived, the weather had turned: and the Caminito was closed for the day.  This was my one day!!!

But no.  This was unacceptable.  So I immediately booked the final remaining slot for the following day, which did unfortunately happen to be a slot with a tour, but there were no other options.  I then started trying to figure out how to get to El Chorro—there was an afternoon train—and where I could stay.  I was on the bus into Málaga proper, desperately calling accommodation options in El Chorro.

As it turns out, there is such a thing as “climbing season”, and El Chorro is surrounded by climbing canyons, so the town was absolutely booked out.  I saw that one of the hostels, the Olive Branch, normally offered tents—but even their tents were booked out.  So I did some more brainstorming, excluded the hotel in El Chorro as too expensive, and called the Olive Branch lady back.

“Forgive me, because I’m about to ask something really stupid, and you’re totally allowed to judge me,” was pretty much how I started.  “But I saw there’s a Decathlon in Málaga…if I buy a tent today, do you guys have any sleeping bags?”

She replied that they used to hire out sleeping bags, though no longer do—but as a result have a lot of old broken ones out the back, which I was more than welcome to.  She said that Decathlon would be closed for Children’s Day, in all likelihood, but I was clearly in a spot: so I could sleep on their terrace, if I’d like.

DEAL.

This freed me up for around four hours of wandering around Málaga before my train up to El Chorro.  It’s a picturesque little town, though it’s obvious that it’s been built up around cruise ships—and not just because there were two of the hulking beasts in the marina.  The town is very much geared towards tourism, and the major sights can be ticked off in a fairly short period of time.  Thus it was that I had a lovely adventure in the castillo overlooking the town, strolled past the Picasso museum (he was born in Málaga), checked out a Roman auditorium or two as well as some ancient baths—and, of course, had some tapas.

At last it was time to head to the train station, and I managed to get to El Chorro (I keep typing ‘el churro’, so please appreciate it every time I manage to write the correct thing…!).  It was then a 35 minute walk uphill, as it began to rain, before I made it to the Olive Branch.

I was very lucky in that they’d managed to find me a bed for the night.  While moderately less adventurous, it was going to be a heck of a lot warmer!! So I settled into the WiFi, booked a new coach from Málaga to Madrid for the next day (17:45 rather than 15:20) in case I missed the first one, and got to know my bunkmates.  It was a great bunch of people, actually, though I was the only non-rock climber.  Despite this glaring flaw, they invited me to dinner, and it turned into a late night involving a thoroughly civilised amount of wine and a regal feast.

The next day I got up early, and two of the guys drove me to the station on their way to ‘the rock’.  I then caught the busito up to the entrance to the park, más o menos, and headed on inside as day finished dawning.

The Caminito, while spectacular, was in no way dangerous.  Perhaps during the 15 years when it was closed, where it had to be completed while bolted onto various objects.  Now, however, they’ve built a very sturdy path into the walls of the canyon.  Anyone with moderate fitness and surefootedness would be able to complete it with ease.  That said, while a lot tamer than anticipated—a LOT—it was stunning.  I don’t think I’d ever seen a proper canyon before, and I couldn’t help but imagine pterodactyls, rather than vultures, swooping from the heights.  It was prehistoric—a fact attested to by the ancient shell fossils in the walls.

After a nice chat or two with some Danes, and with some Ukrainians whose teddy bear’s twitter is apparently famous, I popped out the other end none the worse for wear.  Can, yon.

Now I had to get back to Málaga to catch the 6-hour coach to Madrid.  I walked up to the hostel, grabbed my suitcase, and walked back down.  And while theoretically there was a train just after 3pm, there was never any doubt that I was obviously going to try hitch-hiking.

While there weren’t many cars exiting the town, I was lucky to have only a few go past before a van pulled over (as is custom—you’re not allowed to have a van if you don’t pick up hitch-hikers).  There were two German guys inside, and the driver said, “I don’t have a seatbelt—is that ok?”

“Sure,” I said.  “I’m adventurous!”.  And so it was that I climbed into the back of this van, took the pillow off the bench, and braced myself against the table for some fun turns on the way to Málaga airport.

At this point, I was feeling I’d definitely be able to make my original bus, and so I caught a too-expensive taxi to the coach station.  (The taxi driver, by the way, was not very convinced of the safety of hitching.) I then waited and waited, the coaches arrived, I stashed my suitcase on the correct one and boarded.

Espera,” said the driver, beckoning me back.  He looked at my ticket.  He pointed at the date.  “This is for the first of July,” he said, “not the seventh of January”.

What, the, fuck.

“Go inside,” he said, “and see the staff.”

So I grabbed my suitcase and dashed to the Alsa desk, but it was packed.  Returning to the driver, he took me inside to the information desk, where another girl was freaking out over having exactly the same problem.  We’d both booked online, had selected the correct date from the website’s calendar, and been issued a ticket for the wrong date.  Thanks a freaking bunch, Alsa.es.

The lady behind the counter grasped our problem and got onto fixing it: the only problem being that there was just one seat left on the coach, and the other girl was at the desk first.  Soooo I had to wait until the 17:45 bus after all—and my second ticket had the exact same problem (i.e. 1/7, not 7/1).  The lady changed my first ticket, refunded my second, and I went and hid in Starbucks and had the whitest girl coffee I could find.

A few hours later, I returned to the station, and this time successfully boarded.  There was a brief panic halfway through the trip during the break, when I returned outside only to get on the wrong bus, because mine was MIA—but apparently it had just gone on a little adventure, and returned shortly.  That said, the bus took an hour longer than it should have, so it was a seven hour trip to Madrid.  Good times.

Upon arrival, it was time for yet another taxi to the hostel, where I apparently bounded in with enough energy for 2am that they immediately assumed I was Australian.  Result.

With a trip this impractical at the outset of the year, it’s boding well for 2018.

San José

I ended up in Costa Rica after meeting a Costa Rican guy on a course I attended in Fribourg Switzerland last year. The conversation pretty much went “you should come to Costa Rica”; “okay, that seems like a good idea”; and here we are.

Anyway, the guy in question is called Guillermo, and he lives in San José. The Dutchie and I had floated the idea of leaving a bunch of our stuff with him prior to heading down the Carribbean coast, and so we planned to catch up with him in San José in the evening. As it turns out, it was a holiday in San José and he had the day off work, so I wanted to head down earlier; also as it turns out, Anouk lost her phone, so there was no point in her sticking around in La Fortuna to make her WhatsApp date.  As such, we had our clothes laundered (sorely, *sorely* needed), then caught the bus out of La Fortuna for San José at 12:45.

I’m ahead of myself, though: I haven’t actually spoken about La Fortuna as a town.  I liked it, it had a good feeling to it, and lots of cute little nooks and things to explore. It was definitely a bit of a tourist town, but not in the same was as Tamarindo was: for one, where Tamarindo was an American enclave, La Fortuna was more European (many Dutchies and Germans); for two, La Fortuna was less trashy, and generally had way more chill.

In the morning before catching our coach (no apologies for the non-chromonological order of this post), we went for breakfast at a reggae bar called something along the lines of ‘Lava Lounge’, which fundraised to take care of stray local dogs.  We had some delicious huevos rancheros–and the waiter, Max, was hilarious.  At no apparent prompt, he tapped me on one shoulder while walking off in the other direction, and I started giggling hysterically.  It was so ridiculously unexpected.

Leapfrogging ahead in time once more, our bus to San José took quite a while–some 4.5-5 hours–though glady I managed to get some sleep for around an hour of that.  Upon arrival, we found a really nice hostel: Van Gogh hostel, near Terminal Mepe.  It was clean, spacious, quiet, and the owner was a lovely guy.  We’re going back there this upcoming Sunday.

Our next movement was to try and find somewhere to buy the Dutchie a new phone, because she is a legit addict.  The hostel owner suggested we catch an Uber to Walmart, which we did.  We then failed at finding anything at all we were looking for: Anouk found a phone she liked, but neither that store nor any other had the actual item for sale.  Then we couldn’t find an appropriate daypack for the Dutchie either, and we couldn’t find a needle and thread for me (as my pack has lost a strap).  Also, our blood sugar was getting pretty low, so things were getting somewhat silly.

At this point Guillermo came to our rescue, picking us up, and taking us to an Irish pub for dinner. We then went to a cool little bar, Casa, where I had some delicious sangria.  Anouk was also in heaven, as both the Irish pub (the Craic) and Casa had huge beer lists.  There really seems to be a cool craft beer/indie-type bar scene going on in San José.

Today, the phone/pack mission continued.  We headed to a nearby mall, failing to find a new phone for Anouk or a needle for me.  We did get some thread, though, so that was halfway there.  We also stopped by a bookstore, so that I could get some more books with which to practice my Spanish reading comprehension :).  The Dutchie, meanwhile, found herself a travel neck-pillow, which folds up to be a soft toy elephant.

I asked lots of people in the mall, and eventually someone suggested that we go to the central market in town to get a needle.  We were starting to run a little short of time, so caught a taxi, and not only found a needle almost immediately, but had time to continue the phone mission!  A lady who assisted with my Costa Rican phone number recharge gave us a place to head towards, and we started ducking into each and every phone store on the way, finding the phone the Dutchei wanted, and comparing prices.  And finally, success!!

San José I think has a bit of a bad rep.  It’s not really tauted as a travel destination, but our feeling is that you have to dig below the surface a little.   Yes, it’s gritty–my ‘danger danger!’ signals were going off in the areas around the bus stop, for example–but there’s a lot of life around, and a lot to discover.

We also saw reflected what the Tico from our ex-Tamarindo bus had been talking about, with many immigrants and a lot of economic disparity.  This is something our hostel guy expounded upon at breakfast time, too.  He’s an interesting guy who has travelled a lot and lived in quite a few places, and he sees the same trends occurring in Costa Rica as in the seemingly rest of the world at the moment.  He said that there were huge issues with refugees and irrendentism, pointing at Nicaragua taking land from Colombia, for example, and making a play at Guanacaste in the north of Costa Rica (where Liberia is located).  There’s a wall that has gone up between Costa Rica and Nicaragua to assist with issues, and he said that there are similarly hot borders across Central and South America, narcotrafficking, money laundering (he said this was 90% of Panama’s national income, for example), and deeply antagonistic relationships.  Coutnries such as Costa Rica and Colombia are pointed at as debauched capitalist societies, against the interests of countries such as Nicaragua (which, as you can tell, came up a lot).  There’s a lot of xenophobic scape-goating taking place in Costa Rica and Nicaragua alike, and these sentiments are mobilised by politicians and media for instrumental purposes.  The Costa Rican middle class has its taxes raised to pay for the poor, while the rich get richer. Diatribes in the region take an economic left/right slant rather than the more conservative/liberal slant you see in left/right arguments in Europe, for example: but the issues are the same.  Our poor hostelier couldn’t see any future that wasn’t bleak, that didn’t result in war in the next 15 years, in the region or more generally: with lack of education, inequality, corruption, exploitation, and mobilised xenophobia, he sees it as a powder keg.

The Dutchie and I are now on a bus to Puerto Viejo, on the south-eastern coastline of Costa Rica.  We’ve ditched a lot of our stuff at our San José hostel, partly beacuse there’s been a rise in dangerous drug trafficking-type people in the area, and partly because why would be schlepp it around?!  We actually only managed to get one seated ticket for this bus, so we’re together in the baggage/disabled area, which I honestly don’t mind.  We have WAY more room than in the seats,a can get up and stretch etc, and I can whip out my keyboard and type out our adventures of the past few days.  3.25 hours down; one or two to go.

It was not air conditioned.

No Dill

(13-Jul-15)

Well here I am, back in vertical Germany, and finally starting to catch up on my Russia posts.  Needless to say, they’re completely out of order—but what are you going to do about it?!

Staying with Naz reminded me of all the little details about life in Russia.  She and her Belorussian bf live in an old Soviet apartment, in the Primorskiy District—partly developed, but still quite old.  There’s this ubiquitous grime covering everything, as though you’re seeing the world through a faint coffee stain.  There are the little old ladies selling flowers, the stalls with baked goods at the start of the day, the fruits and vegetables being hawked, and people wearing loudspeakers which broadcast ads at you, while their wearers bear indifferent faces.

After walking past the crying sounds of a harmonica one day, we got on the marshrutka (bus) to head into town—only to be greeted with a mouth full of gold teeth.  Not that the driver was smiling.  I think his teeth were just uncomfortable, meaning his mouth had to be propped open.  He then took us on quite the adventure—I’ve never been on a bus which did a u-turn in the middle of the street before!

It’s always quite interesting to have Naz’s South African perspective to be honest.  She describes Russia, even the cities (themselves a world away from the rest of the country), as being like the undeveloped parts of South Africa, or akin to the more dilapidated and uncared-for cities.  We started talking about different countries’ equivalents of bogans, about the trashy clothes, the bad hair, the grab and run attitude that you can’t go a day without seeing in Russia.  Incidentally, at this point I think I have to establish some kind of bogan scale, because nobody ever knows what the hell I’m talking about.  Basically, ‘bogan’ is Australian for a non-violent, opinionated person of typically low education or socio-economic status.  But I’m an idiot and didn’t make this graph 3d in order to incorporate opinions:

On a very much related note, someone peed in the lift to Naz’s flat.  The only way into the building, and someone decided it would serve better as a urinal.  And not even once, but multiple times in the week!  Eventually someone cracked and wrote “НЕ ПИСАЙТЕ В ЛИФТЕ!”, “don’t piss in the lift!”.  The next day, someone had rubbed out the не/don’t.  Next step in the battle was someone rewriting in the не, and also adding the same text in bright red on the other wall of the lift.  Who the fuck has a piss-battle over a lift?!

Anyhoo.  One of the few inconveniences associated with living in Russia is the fact that the water gets turned off in summer.  Usually just the hot water, though it could go either way.  And we’re not talking about an especially balmy country here—there are no palm fronds in sight.  Of course, the most inconvenient part is the fact that you’re not told when the water will be turned off, nor how long it will be turned off for.  Usually it’s a few weeks to just over a month, but it could really be any time.  And we don’t understand why—it’s not like other far-northern countries do this, though the Russian explanation seems to be something to do with checking the pipes.  How and what and why?!  Either way, it led to our  spending a couple of hours each day heating pots of water on the (ineffective) stove, then sploshing around in the bath scooping water over ourselves.

On one occasion Naz and I decided to go in search of a hairdresser, because washing your hair takes a fair bit of water, and doing it with freezing cold water isn’t that much fun.  After rather a number of hairdressers, we eventually found one that would wash our hair for under 1000 rubles (total rip-off), and who would let us go into the street with wet hair (though they thought we were crazy).  They were lovely, though Naz’s hairdresser was apparently pretty fond of booze, and smelled it.  Professionalism ftw!

I’m going to skip talking about dill and my hatred of it for the nth time, because it can really be summarised with (a) I hate dill (b) I always request ‘no dill’ (c) food always arrives with goddamn dill.  DILL IS DISGUSTING.

As mentioned in my post ‘Вернуться‘, I bumped into one of the managers of the brilliant Eclectic Translations in a book-store in Piter.  Eclectic is the company that did the English subtitles for Leviathan, the Yolki films, and a bazillion more—they’re brilliant.  Anyway I went to ‘Trannie’ (Translator) Tuesdays at their in-house bar a couple of times while in St Petersburg and had a fairly brilliant time drinking far too much wine.  The first time I went, I got rather unplannedly tipsy, and pretty much announced as much when walking in the door at Naz’s apartment.  She’d been expecting me, so had had water heating up on the stove for my bath.  I therefore found myself, post-vodka, sitting in an old rusty Soviet bath, washing myself in an inch or so of water, and happy as Larry.  Really all I needed was a rubber duck to complete the scene.  Naz then proceeded to take the piss out of everything, to my hysterical reaction.  My favourite line was “Fuck Zurich; I’ve never been to Switzerland, but I don’t think I like it.  Zurich poo-rich”.  Yup; much maturity was had.

I did learn one thing of particular interest, in relation to Russian border security.  One of Naz’s friends was due to come in on a cruise ship, and generally customers on a cruise apparently don’t need visas, as they are under the ‘captain’s cloak’ (ie the captain’s authority).  Not for Russia, though.  Recently the country decided to withdraw that privilege, in a fairly unprecedented (from what I gather) fashion.  So now there was a big ship full of people stuck in port.  However, in Russia there’s always a way, always a rule to be broken, always a way around.  In this case, passengers were told that as long as they booked a particular tour with a particular company (at an exorbitant price, no less), they could enter St Petersburg.  You couldn’t pay directly, though—you had to pay in euro, to a bank account in Norway.  Not sketchy.  Not sketchy at all.  (Russia never is.)

Ирония Судьбы Revisited

Arguably the most famous Russian film is Ironiya Sud’by, “The Irony of Fate”.  It’s tradition to watch it every New Year’s Eve—those who’ve been reading for a few years may recall that I watched it on NYE when I was living here.  It’s a very, very Russian story.  Basically, it’s set during Communist times, when everybody lived in the same type of flat, with the same type of furniture, on look-alike streets.  So this chap Zhenya Lukashin gets drunk at the banya with his buddies one night in Moscow, passes out, winds up on a plane thanks to some would-be helpful friends, and the next thing you know, he’s in Leningrad (St P).  He eventually wakes up in a state of confusion, and drunkenly catches a taxi, giving his home address.  That address also happens to exist in Leningrad, and the block of flats looks exactly the same, so wonders on in to ‘his’ home, where disasters abound.  It’s just the most Russian.

Anyway, one of my friends did something vaguely akin to this on Saturday night.  We had planned to go out, but instead he found himself inebriated and booking a train to St Petersburg.  By the time he realised (ie when I texted him asking when and where to meet him), it was too late—he was already well on his way.  But don’t you worry, I still arranged myself a thoroughly random Moscow night out.

I’m getting ahead of myself though, so quick recap—Saturday morning I took the free walking tour, as it had been a couple of years since I’d been to Moscow, and I wanted to reorient myself.  I then went for some food and a browse through a bookstore on Tverskaya, but wasn’t actually feeling very well, so went back to the hostel for some drugs and naps.  It was shortly after waking up that I discovered out that my friend Hoos had pulled a Zhenya.

Anyway, Hoos offered to get his friends to take me out, but they were… remarkably unresponsive (as it turned out, the guy in question’s phone battery ran out).  So I went for Japanese at Dve Palochki (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again—Japanese food in Russia is so good!!!) and considered my options.

Naturally, my first step was to turn to Reddit.  I posted to the Moscow sub, asking what I should do with my evening.  However, the sub didn’t seem that active, and I’d heard that Couchsurfing (CS) was pretty big in Moscow, so I decided to check it out.  I’d never actually used Couchsurfing before other than to advertise a room (when I was living in St P) and to give other people references.  Nonetheless I eventually figured my way around (phone in one hand, chop-sticks in the other), and saw some guy had posted on the Moscow group asking if anyone was keen for a night out.  Perfect!

This guy, who we’re going to call Jensen (partly because I didn’t ask permission to use his name, and partly because he looks remarkably like the actor Jensen Ackles—side note, I realised on the train to St P that I actually spent all weekend with incredibly good-looking and intelligent men), was a Finnish guy in town for work.  I sent him a message via CS with my Russian number, and heard from him pretty quickly.  Then—to adventures!

Jensen told me he’d meet me at the exit to Kitay Gorod metro station, which was near where I was staying.  He arrived and said that he was near a ‘coffee house’ and a church.  Now, for those who don’t know, these are probably the two most common things in Russia.  Also, as it turns out, there are about a zillion exits to K-G.  So I checked all of them.  Eventually I found him by the statue of Cyril and Methodius, the monks who decided the Cyrillic alphabet was a good idea (I agree), and he was a thoroughly normal human being—see?  Internet strangers aren’t so scary :p.

Anyway, this just so happened to have been the start of the walking tour, and so we went for a stroll, me recounting some of the tour highlights as we went.  We walked up to and through Red Square, stopping by the front of the history museum (my favourite night-time Moscow sight to date), and seeing some kind of amazing fairy-tale show projected onto Moscow Manege.  From there we walked for a few more blocks, finding ourselves on Arbat Street.  And we hadn’t found a bar yet (apparently we’re blind).

We went walking up Arbat, and eventually found an Irish pub.  So yes, an Australian and a Finn went to an Irish pub in Russia.  Why not?  We ordered cocktails, and were eyed off (one eye only) by half a moose head.  We wondered where the other half was.

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Next we went in search of another bar, but are apparently just awful at finding them.  So we checked out my Reddit thread, as by this time, a few Muscovites had written suggestions for bars and clubs.  We looked at the various locations and settled on one, enticingly called ‘Hidden Bar’.  We’d done enough walking, so jumped in a taxi with an extremely friendly Georgian man.  I was in the back seat, and I remember at one point he was telling Jensen how there are ‘so many beautiful women’ in Moscow, but you have to be very, very rich ‘to get a good one’.

We made it to Hidden Bar, which was one of the least hidden bars I’ve ever encountered.  Other than the random address, that is.  I mean, there were seriously big signs and arrows all saying ‘Hidden Bar’ and pointing straight at it!  So we went on in, had another cocktail, and I completely failed at communicating in any way thanks to the music volume.  I tried though.  I tried my little heart out.

Finally we headed just down the street to Cuba Libre, which had extraordinarily loud music inside, but had an outdoors section where we could actually sit and chat.  Ha maybe it sounds a bit weird, but it was so nice to have a normal conversation with a normal guy around my age.  Most of the people at school are in their early twenties, which is fine of course, but it does make a difference.  Actually, this is something Jensen mentioned—he was saying how he’d often dated older women, and how one time when he was 22, he was turned down by one.  Apparently he was quite offended, as there was obviously nothing wrong with him—but now, looking back, he can see how much he’s grown, and how different he is now to the person he was then.  I’m trying to be delicate in my phrasing here, so I guess it’s kind of like your face—as you get older you lose the fat from your face and it becomes more defined.  The same kind of happens to your character.  (Is that PC?  Did I achieve tact?  If so, it’ll be a first.)

Anyway, it was 3:30 and starting to get light (featured image), so we called it a night.  He disappeared into a taxi, and I (after taking a photo of a map on his phone) wandered off into the night.  I stopped and asked directions a couple of times, but wasn’t actually that far from my hostel, so was back by 4am.  With the, worst, blisters.  Haha my shoes are full of blood, it’s pretty impressive.  But that’s fine—and what’s more, when I got back, I discovered that I had the room to myself!  I exclaimed as much to the lady on the desk, and she said that she was going to check a guy into my room, but then she saw I had it all to myself, so figured she’d leave me like that.  Best logic ever??  But yes, that was my internet-led night.  I’m calling it a win.

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Herbie’s Big Adventure

Friday morning I managed 45 minutes of my French class before leaving sick.  The only obvious cure was to spend the weekend going out in Brussels.  Naturally, things didn’t go to plan.

Friday evening started off well enough, taking a stroll through my suburb then heading to an Irish pub at around 22:00.  One of the guys from uni was celebrating his birthday, so there were quite a few of us there.  I spent a lot of time talking to people whose names I still can’t remember (seriously—I’ve been at the school for two months now.  I think it’s reaching the point where it’s too late to ‘fess up and I’ll just have to stop talking to people).  Eventually though, things were dying down, and a cohort of us decided to head into the city.  I was dying for a night out (read: dancing, drinks, poor judgment) so despite my sobriety, obviously joined in.

There were two taxi-loads of us, and so I jumped in with an Italian guy, an American, and a girl called Oz (not to be confused with Hugh Jackman:)

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The American guy, who gave me permission to use his real name but who I am instead calling ‘Herbie’, was very fucking wasted.  And so, being in the passenger seat, he instigated a conversation with the Rwandan taxi driver, asking questions such as “how long have you been in Belgium?” (1997) and “so why did you leave Rwanda?” (Oz, barely holding back a face-palm: “think about it, Herbie”).  Italy meanwhile wasn’t holding back on the face-palming whatsoever.

Soon enough we got to De Brouckere station, where we would meet up with the guys from the second taxi.  Herbie meanwhile needed to go to the bathroom.  He said he was going to go and see if there was one in the metro station, so sent himself off down the stairs.  I’m chatting with Oz and Italy and we’re starting to wonder if Herbie is still alive.  Oz walks over to the top of the stairs to see if she can aspy him, when suddenly there’s the sound of glass hitting the ground and Herbie running up the escalator yelling that he’s been mugged and to call the police.

The story as Herbie tells it is that he wandered down the stairs looking for a toilet, when some homeless guys ask him not to go there in the station because that’s where they’re sleeping.  (Herbie meanwhile keeps asking for a ‘restroom’, which is a word nobody here knows.  I’m sure that helped!)  Anyway he wanders onward, fails to find a bathroom, and so turns to come back to where we’re waiting for him.  At this point, he’s grabbed from behind around the throat by a big homeless dude.  Herbie says, in a thick Southern accent, “je n’ai pas parle de francais, parlez anglais?” (which is wildly incorrect, but given I heard him say it at least twenty times Friday night, am 100% sure it’s what he was saying).  The homeless guy says “of course” (I like to imagine he was eloquent while saying it, and possibly wearing a bow tie) and asks for money.  Herbie gives the guy 10 euro, the homeless guy says he must have more; Herbie gives the guy his 9-euro phone.  At this point the homeless guy releases him and so Herbie runs away, and seeing his quarry escaping, the homeless guy throws a wine bottle after him.  The bottle hits Herbie on the left side, on his back above his hip, and crashes to the ground.

Anyhoo while Oz and Italy tried to calm Herbie and find out what had happened, I called the police (an adventure in and of itself).  Italy and I help lift Herbie up onto a park bench, because he’s in a lot of pain from where the bottle hit him.

Soon enough the police arrive, with so many guns (Belgium), and a not-particularly-friendly dog.  They check out the scene of the crime as it were, and Oz accompanies one of them down into the station to point out the culprit.  Once that’s sorted and the guy’s being arrested, the police call an ambulance and Herbie reluctantly gets stashed into it.  Meanwhile, Oz or Italy were going to have to go to the station to give a statement, and I was sober so volunteered to also go with them.  So Oz and I pile into the back of a police car with two incredibly model-esque police officers (one guy, one girl with a gun of such epic proportions that I later found it gives her back ache) and whoosh!  Sirens on, screaming through the city to the hospital!  Excitement!!  (And yes, yes I giggled inappropriately.)

The next few hours saw Herbie, Oz, myself and the two police officers waiting in his hospital room for an x-ray, while Herbie desperately asked every medical staff member he saw for the wi-fi password.  Haha in between swearing loudly every three minutes just about on the dot, and telling us how he broke his thumb playing football.  He has five screws in it!  (/s)

Oz was meanwhile hearing from the guys from the second cab, and as it turned out, they’d followed us to the hospital and were in the waiting room.  Poor guys!  I was hoping they were out drinking twice as hard on our behalf.

Anyway eventually Herbie had his x-ray and it was just soft tissue damage; I let him use my phone to email his parents; and we then spent more quality time in the police station.  It was a grim little room, full of low plastic seats, a one-way mirror, and caging over the window.  Herbie was walking relatively well by this point, and his parents called my phone to check he was all good.  I can’t hand-write cos of my gimpy wrist, but the other two filled in statements.  However the police were still trying to find some way to recover Herbie’s phone—the homeless guy had told them the name of the person he’d given it to—so told us to wait some more.  Oz lived just around the corner so was finally free to go home, but I said I’d wait with Herbie until he was on his way home (I was updating his housemate on his whereabouts in case of further misadventure/disaster).  Finally—finally—our police came back and said it was a lost cause at this point, and we were free to go.

Sweet freedom!!  It was well after 4am by this point and there were obviously no buses, so I saw Herbie into a cab and then summoned myself an uber (please use my discount code, kids: uberexplaura) and was home to eat chocolate cake and crash before 5am.  Result.

Saturday night was also epic, though happily of the completely opposite kind.  But that’ll have to wait—the girl has places to be!