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The Pakistani Mafia (Barcelona, 2013)

Traveling: I’m slowly going through the stages of getting inured to being the only brown person that people have ever seen in real life. (First it was funny, like a Russell Peters skit, then it was surprise, then came the denial, then being jaded, then back to everything seeming like a Russell Peters skit).

Imagine my surprise when the people most surprised to talk to me in Barcelona (a civilized design city, and pillar of western Europe) were the henchman serving the Pakistani Mafia. This isn’t some big deal — they’re all over the place in Barca, especially on the street Las Ramblas where even though the government has banned the sale of alcohol after 11pm, a bunch of brown dudes stick red beer cans in your face every 5 steps.

It’s hard to reach into the dredges of my drunken memories, but I found out some interesting tidbits.

  1. THERE ARE A FUCK LOAD OF PAKISTANIS in Barcelona. Out of the fuck loads, like all of them are in some way affiliated with the Pakistani Mafia.
  2. They sell all the street drugs. In my conversations with Khaled, an enterprising young gentlemen outside the Razz Ma Tazz club, I learned that he could hook me up with cocaine, MDMA, ecstasy, and other unnamed mumbo jumbo. Oh and because I was brown and spoke two words of Hindi he’d throw in some stuff for free.
  3. Don’t buy drugs from the street Pakistani mafia vendors. Apparently they suck.
  4. It’s really common for young Pakistanis to come over to Barca and other countries near Iberia. They have a huge operation.
  5. Apparently the government doesn’t give a fuck, because well ILLEGAL shit.

Haoran has a video of a drunk me exchanging life stories with a Pakistani mafioso, I’ll see if I can dig it up.

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The Regus Experience (New York City and Buenos Aires, 2013)

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Not every Regus front desk looks like this.

Amidst the frenzied, impulsive “planning” for the trip down to Buenos Aires, the three of us made a pact to get actually get some shit done while traveling. For Doug, this meant continuing work at his fulltime job as a remote computer programmer. For Kenny, this meant learning programming, and for me, this meant some combination of helping Kenny and taking random Coursera classes.

God how our ambitions lie to us.

To facilitate these visions of productivity, we came across some great travel hacking resources from Maneesh Sethi, a popular online blogger. He had a blog article that made you jump through some hoops to get access to some of his flight hacking resources, one of which was entitled “free office space around the world.” The free office space is Regus, from whom you can finagle some deal where you can use their office space in cities around the world. We actually tried it in NYC, and it was great and productive.  (Although, we did end up getting kicked out of an NYC Regus for having our shoes off. Dirty hippies). In Buenos Aires that was a different story.

Doug was the first to venture to a Regus in BA. He came back reporting a really shitty office and lack of Internet. Fuuuuuck. We located the Regus in the most prime office building in BA and went there. The problem was that we looked like scrubs who had enough gear to survive the Gathering of the Juggalos. Doug was perpetually sucking on the tip of his camelbak tentacle, all my shirts were waayy too nipply, and Kenny… well Kenny didn’t pack any merino wool.

We walked into the office building in BA and found out that the Regus space was on the 20th floor. They asked us to name our company to get in and made us take passport pictures (only 2/3 of us were brown, luckily).

We are, to this day, known as the Guiding Hand Social Club to Regus offices. Our collective entity has 18 months of free Regus office accrued in our name. Great success, and finally great internet (and Mate!) at the best fuckin Regus in BA (it’s in Puerto Madero, but don’t tell anyone).

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Circuito Chico and Riding the Strugglebus (Bariloche, Argentina, 2013)

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The adventure town of Bariloche is known for it’s pristine views and outdoorsy visitors. We looked up a beautiful bike ride to do in the morning. The ride would take us all around the lakes in Bariloche. Nevermind that none of us hadn’t ridden bikes in, oh, about 6 months. Nevermind that instead of ~15 miles as advertised, the ride turned out to be TWENTY MILES OVER HILLS. Oh, and nevermind that in our group we had: (1) guy in ketosis who loved adventure stuff (DOUG!), (1) guy who couldn’t take normal poops because of a severe lack of fiber (ME), and (1) guy with a very bony butt (KENNY).

The circuito chico was a beautiful exercise in agony. We’d bike up rolling hills, and zoom down the other side while screaming war cries at the top of our lungs. We came across a little secret cove by following a path through the woods. We saw sights that weren’t meant for the world of men (seriously, there was a dude walking his CAT on a leash in the middle of the forest. WTF?). Bariloche is unmatched beauty.

And then we were only half way. Every part of my body was sore. I was complaining because I have a bubble butt, but then I realized Kenny’s bony ass must be even MORE sore. Somehow we limped to the Swiss village on the map. We found restaurant and ordered (3) large pizzas, some fondue, another pizza, and some more dessert.

Then we realized we still had 1/4 of the way to go…. combine that with getting lost and taking some anti-detours, and you get three dumb, sore, awe-inspired Americans.

We ended up missing the cutoff time to return out bikes and caused a scare. The bike rental dude called our hostel to inquire about the stupid Americans. I’m sure he was glad that we weren’t dead tho.

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Don’t Bark At Rabid Dogs (Istanbul, 2012)

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One late night in Istanbul, Doug and I were making the long trek back to our flat in Balthilimani. We walked by the Bosphorus, smoking cigarettes. We finally made it to the street right before our flat. 

It was really dark — only a couple of street lamps gave their light. Doug was wearing his fucking 3 wolves howling at the moon shirt. We’re about 10 min from our flight, and then we notice that to our left, maybe like 25 yards away, was a pack of mangy stray dogs. They looked mean.

The Brilliant Doug, wearing his wolves shirt, takes one look at them and barks. Yes, Doug barked at the pack of rabid mangy stray dogs. They paused for an infinitesimal moment … and then started barking and charging us, foaming at the mouth. A pack of mangy stray dogs. We shat our pants and fucking booooked it up the hill to our flat. We didn’t risk looking back. It was some scary shit.

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Midnight Express, Part 2 (Istanbul, 2012)

One night in Istanbul, Doug and I joined our friend Tarik Bilal and his buddies at a bar in Beyoglu. Bilal is a prototypical hip Istanbul sociaite. He knew all the ins and outs of the nightlife and took us along. The bar was really divey and reminded me of San Francisco.

Doug started feeling sick and left, while I messed around in the bar with my shitty English. I talked to Doug later that night and found out: 

He asked some guy if he had weed. The guy invited him into the bathroom to smoke some hashish. The hashish extremely harsh and nasty, and Doug was scared he had to give up some sex “in exchange” for the hashish. (This may or may not have been Doug’s first gay experience. We’ll never know). I was extremely, extremely jealous of Doug for having found the elusive marihuana in Istanbul (despite Bilal’s protesting that it’s really easy to find, that was definitely not our experience). He kept saying it sucked, that the hashish sucked.

After I left Istanbul, Doug stayed for another few weeks. Apparently our other friend Kacper was good friends with a grower, so he was all set.

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Midnight Express, Pt. 1 (Istanbul, 2012)

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If there’s one movie I’m glad I didn’t see before going to Istanbul it’s Midnight Express. “The true story of Billy Hayes, an American college student who is caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and thrown into prison.”

Doug and I went from smelling Cali Tree on every block in San Francisco to the Morrowind-esque foreign trade city of Istanbul. We missed our cali tree, so in usual space cadet fashion, we tried to get our hands on some. After spending the day exploring Old Istanbul, we were wandering around near the golden horn when a man approached us. “HASHEESH?” he grunted at us. Doug and I shared a glance and were like “yeah…”. We gestured and used our rudimentary Turkish. The man looked disgruntled and asked us to follow him.

We followed, he walked away from the main street. Told us he could get us some weed for 100 Lira, and kept raising the price. Then he told us we’d have to get into the car to go with him somewhere to get the weed from his friend. We kept getting further and further away from the main street. Ok, fuck that. Shit was getting really weird, and I hadn’t even seen Midnight Express! We turned around and started walking back.

The Man followed us and shouted at us: “WHERE IS MY WORK MONEY? WHY U FUCK ME?” I just kept power walking, and we went into some 5 star hotel to ask them for directions and escape from this crazed fool. The hoteliers could tell we was scurred, and they helped us out. Finally, we got back to the tram and booked the fuck out of there.

In conclusion: watch the fuck out when buying marijuana in Istanbul, or you’ll end up in a Turkish prison, and that does not sound fun. However, our journey to find the elusive marihuana in Istanbul does not end here…

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Pedro y Ana (Lima, Peru, 2013)

This one’s serious.

It was our last night together in Lima and our last night traveling together outside of the US. Kenny and I finished up a food binge and were walking through one of the parks in Miraflores (perhaps with the ulterior motive of finding marijuana) when we saw and heard a man and a woman on a bench beckoning to us. We walked over, and both of them excitedly asked us if we were “Hindi.” (After being mistaken for Israelis all over Argentina, this was welcome). They told us they loved music, and that they loved Indian music.

Pedro and Ana introduced themselves. Pedro — about 5’8″, paunch belly, wearing capri-like pants. Ana — a little shorter, jeans, t-shirt. Both had weathered faces and laughed a lot. They invited us for a drink at a nearby bar.

We were hesitant, pussy travelers, but we went along. I stumbled with my Spanglish when we came to a little hole in the wall bar (I don’t know if it’s even fair to call it a bar). Pedro was friends with the owner/family — a small, squat woman who brought us 40s. We sat on the second floor and some salsa videos were playing on the TV. We giggled and talked and laughed, drank many beers. They told us about Peru, about Peruvian women, about having fun, drugs, life, music, faith.

We noticed the way Pedro and Ana talked. A little jittery. A little crazy. We noticed them sneaking off to the bathroom one at a time, and coming back with renewed energy and optimism. They seemed sad but hid it beneath this veneer of gaiety. Ana brought out a joint for us. “For the cute Indian travelers!” she said. It was shitty, welcome weed. Ana kept telling us to be happy, to pick up some Peruvian girls. We all were getting progressively more drunk.

Ana told us that Pedro was doing cocaine in the bathroom. That he did a lot of cocaine. Pedro told us he was a professional musician. He gave us his CD. Ana taught us to salsa dance — we were awkward ostriches, they made fun of us.

Ana broke down crying, and pressed into our hands some twined necklaces and beads. “Charms from the sun,” she said. She said she didn’t have long to live, that she was suffering. Pedro was talking, and talking, and laughing, and disappearing to the bathroom.

I paid for all of our beers. We walked down the street while Kenny comforted Ana. I was really drunk, and I didn’t know how to feel. I kept it inside. They found us a cab back to Guadalupe’s hostel (Kenny had a flight to catch in a few hours). I still don’t know how to feel.