First Date at a Ghanaian Strip Club
Like Albania, Ghana was a random-country-generator destination. After being detained for three hours for arriving in the capital of Accra without a proper visa, I made it into the country as what the immigration officials declared an adventurer/travel writer under the condition that I would write an article that would attract American tourists to Ghana. Needless to say, the official that approved my entry would not likely approve of the following article.
After a short, euphoric taxi ride to the hostel, I got settled in my dorm. Spending three hours detained without the privilege of a using the bathroom had prevented me from taking my ritualistic morning shit, thus my first order of business was to hit the can. In the bathroom filled with smells that brought back memories of my teenage trips to Uganda, I opened Tinder.
An hour later, I realized that Ghana was going to be a blast. After 5-10 minutes of very selective swiping, I had six matches, one of which messaged me first. Her name was Darlene – a thin, dark-skinned, 23-year-old Ghanaian girl with a pretty smile and both a sassy and painfully not funny profile description. After exchanging several fun and sexually suggestive messages, we made plans to meet up at 7:30 that night.
I showed up at Kona Bar in Osu frantic because I was running late. I sent Darlene a message at 7:29 letting her know I was going to be five minutes late. Upon arrival, I received a message saying that she was going to be 15 minutes late. At 8:15, I was two beers deep when she finally arrived. Her late arrival was immediately forgiven when I saw her. She was much prettier than her profile pictures suggested. Our embrace was awkward. I went for the European cheek kiss I had grown accustomed to over the last few months and she went for I-don’t-know what. Nonetheless, I saved myself by complimenting her on her good looks. We sat down on the same side of the table and started talking.
She started by telling me that her dad hadn’t let her out in the modest pink sweater and not-short-at-all jean shorts that she was currently wearing. She opened her purse and showed me a pink skirt that she had apparently put on over her shorts before leaving. She went on to tell me that her father thought she was a virgin, that he refused to let her live on her own, that he had scared off her only boyfriend, and that he enforced a curfew. Rather than be discouraged, I was turned on. She was repressed and wanted me to know it.
Another fun aspect of the night was that, as a decent looking white man, I was a sort of status symbol. She felt proud to be out with me and made comments about how other women would be jealous for her having scored a white guy. Much of our conversation was about cultural customs. She taught me the West African handshake and reminded me that it was impolite to offer or accept anything with the left hand.
After a drink we went to an authentic African restaurant where I basked in the opportunity to eat with my hands without being criticized. Much to my dismay, she wanted to dance. Accepting the fact that I was going to spend the next couple hours feeling embarrassed and miserable, I opened up my Google Maps app and plugged in her favorite club. On the way we passed Hot Gossip – a notorious strip club. I told Darlene that I had never been to a strip club. Once we arrived at the dance club, I was denied entry. My decision to wear shorts to avoid such places had paid off. Still in disbelief that I had never been to a strip club, Darlene suggested we go to Hot Gossip for a drink.
Upon entering, I scanned the room. There was a bar to the left, a main stage with a single stripper pole straight ahead, three pool tables off to the right, and a healthy amount of seating around the perimeter of the room. There was seating around the stage for those wanting the attention from the strippers. The shitty music was loud enough to make conversation inconvenient but not loud enough to make it impossible.
We found a seat close to the stage and ordered a couple of beers. I scanned the room a second time this time paying attention to the people. There were about ten strippers total. One was on stage performing, three were entertaining guests seated around the stage, and the others were milling around the room either chatting amongst themselves or with patrons. Darlene ridiculed the strippers and I agreed with her criticism for the most part. First of all, none of them were topless. Second, while there were a couple very attractive ones, the majority were not. Third, a few of the outfits were ridiculously tacky. For example, one of the strippers was dressed as a cross between a maid and a bunny rabbit. Another was wearing thick, white, 6-inch heels with black half-calf socks.
The most interesting aspect in my opinion was the demographics of the club. The first thing I noticed was that I was one of only two people of European ethnicity in the room. “Snowflakes”, as Darlene called us, are not uncommon in Accra but tend to frequent only upper-class establishments. A table over to my right consisted of a group of overweight Indians that were enthralled by the dancers. This did not surprise me as I knew that there is a relatively large population of Indians in most major African cities. Much more interesting were the other two prevalent ethnic groups: the Lebanese and the Turks. According to Darlene (and later confirmed by another Ghanaian friend of mine), the Lebanese are the richest ethnic group in Accra. According to Al Jazeera’s special report on Lebanese immigrants to West Africa, a combination of political instability, economic forces, famine and conflict have brought Lebanese people to cities like Accra. The Lebanese at the strip club seemed to be doing well for themselves. They were ballin’ out of control by Ghanaian standards, throwing more cash than the rest of the patrons combined. The Turks, on the other hand, kept to themselves. The Turkish population in Ghana consists largely of engineers and businessmen working for large Turkish companies hired by the Ghanaian government to carry out various infrastructure projects. As a result, they are similarly affluent.
I learned a lot about Ghanaian culture at the strip club as well. First of all, the crowd favorite among the Ghanaian men was a heavy-set woman in her 30s or 40s. Darlene informed me that the local men prefer heavy women and that her slim figure was not considered to be as attractive. She also told me that it was unlikely that any of the strippers were Ghanaian. If they were, they were certainly not from Accra. Ghana is a religious, community-oriented culture and consequently stripping for a profession is socially intolerable. She guessed that the women were likely from neighboring countries like Liberia, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. She assumed that these women made lots of money, went home to families that were unaware of their professions, lived comfortably for a period of time, and subsequently returned to Accra when their savings dried up. Finally, although the tops stayed on all night, the women were not shy. Self-simulation, so to speak, was a go-to move and I saw genitalia on multiple occasions.
All in all it was a fun night. My experience is evidence that the best place to learn is in the school of life.
Straight Male Seeking Man: The Time I Organized an Orgy in Madrid
When I was single in the U.S., my sexual debauchery was limited by an aversion to drinking alcohol and a hatred for the club/bar scene. It is expensive, I despise hangovers and love the mornings, I’m a shitty dancer, I dislike radio rap, and my voice doesn’t carry worth a shit in loud places.
There are, of course, other ways to meet women. One of them is Tinder, a dating app I tried with limited success. Aside from a few good experiences, it was generally a waste of time. Girls on the app seemed more interested in boosting their self-esteem by acquiring matches than actually meeting anyone. As a result, I eventually deleted the app and acquiesced to trying to meet girls the traditional way.
Fast-forward to my arrival in Spain in late May 2017. I landed in Barcelona and made my way to my hostel. Right away it became apparent that the legend was true – Spanish women were stunning: tan, fit, and dressed to impress. The way they carried themselves suggested humility all too uncommon with beautiful women in the U.S. Feeling like a kid in a candy store, I struggled to contain my excitement – I was alone on public transportation smiling from ear to ear.
Also impossible to ignore was the attention I was getting from all these pretty girls. Was it because I was smiling like a weirdo? Was it my nice tan from a month in Guatemala? Were blue eyes rare here? Whatever the reason, I had the kind of pep in my step only attainable when you know there is nowhere else in the world you’d rather be.
Fast-forward another four weeks and I was ready for the next step. With my thirst for pretty ladies momentarily quenched, I was distracted by excitement for my journey around the continent of Africa. Thus, I boarded a ferry from Algeciras, Spain and crossed the Gibraltar Strait into Morocco.
Although only 9 miles separated the two countries, Morocco was another world. Silky short-shorts and small tops covering bra-less breasts were replaced by burquas and long dresses with jeans underneath. Nonetheless, a feeling of bliss raced through my body as I was once again outside my comfort zone. Starting in the north, my plan was to make a loop through the country. I would head south to the Rif Mountain range. From there, I would head to the Atlas Mountains in the middle of the country before hitting the coast. In total I would visit 15 cities/towns on a journey that I predicted would take three months.
Three weeks into my journey, however, I missed Spain. Understanding that it was natural to miss the conveniences of the Western world in developing countries, I was determined to suppress these thoughts. This became infinitely more difficult one fateful evening when I received a message from a Tinder match back in Spain. Unlike in the U.S., Tinder had been a gold mine in Spain. With more beautiful matches than I knew what to do with, I had stockpiled dozens for a potential return in the distant future. This particular match was a pretty little Spanish brunet we’ll call Daniela. She was exactly my type. On the cute-to-sexy spectrum she fell on the cute side. She had a shy smile and big green eyes. She was much shorter than the girls in her pictures and had a slight yet voluptuous figure. Her message suggested time spent studying in England: I fancy you. I responded that she was a little late and that I had moved to Africa. Before I could put down my tablet to take another puff from my Moroccan hash pipe, I received a response: Come back. I want your dick. After exchanging a series of messages in which I did my best to play hard to get, I capitulated. With my leaky boner safely tucked in my waste band out of sight of my smoking companions, I booked a last minute flight back to Madrid for the following day.
It is funny what three weeks in the Muslim world can do to a man. Upon arriving in Madrid, I was unnaturally aroused by things I normally took for granted like tan shoulders and nice hair. Instead of appreciating the tiny summer outfits, I wondered what their fathers would think seeing them dressed like that. With my date with Daniela fast approaching, I started to worry about my stamina in the bedroom. It had been three weeks since a female had touched me. To make matters worse, the close quarters of Moroccan hostels had prevented me from adjusting the antenna, so to speak. All in all, I was not feeling like myself: I was nervous. Before heading to Daniela’s apartment, I downed a half bottle of red wine to calm my nerves and desensitize my tallywacker.
Daniela lived in the working-class northern district of Madrid called Tetuan. She had warned me that a friend from the UK was visiting, but not to worry – we would be left alone. As I ascended the stairs to her apartment, I noticed that I had not only sweat through my army green T-shirt, but it was also dotted with drops of sweat that had not been soaked up in the basketball-sized puddles under my arms. Reminding myself that she had messaged me first, I took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. Moments later, a blond girl almost as tall as me answered the door. She was wearing a cotton tee shirt and did not seem to be wearing pants. She looked like a model: pencil thin with elegant features and a stunning smile. I leaned back to check I had the right address and asked, Daniela está aquí? She laughed and responded in seductive British English that Daniela was in her room getting ready. The model girl turned around motioning me to come inside and I noticed that she was indeed not wearing pants. Fucking Spain, I thought to myself.
After making small talk with the British girl (we’ll call her Emily), Daniela called her into the bedroom. Not knowing what to do, I looked around the small studio apartment. It was remarkably cluttered, but not dirty. I helped myself to some wine that was sitting open on the counter, taking large gulps straight from the bottle. I managed to spill on myself, adding more spots to my shirt. I prayed I would able to take it off before Daniela noticed. A few minutes later, Emily came out smiling and told me that Daniela was waiting for me in her room. I walked over and entered the tiny, dimly lit room where I found Daniela lying on her bed topless in lingerie. Without saying a word, I shut the door, stripped down to my boxers and climbed into bed.
Much to my satisfaction, Daniela was an enthusiastic lover. She was shamelessly loud and a serious dirty-talker, mixing some English into her aggressive Spanish commands. After a whopping five minutes of respectable performance on my part, I was dangerously near the point of no return when the door opened. Emily entered the room as if according to plan and climbed into bed. I cursed myself for not taking my time with Daniela and warned Emily that I wasn’t going to make it much longer. She took off her shirt and told me not to worry – we had all night. Needless to say, it was the best night of my life.
The next morning during breakfast, I asked Daniela what she was doing that night. “Not you,” she responded much to the amusement of Emily. Unable to hide my disappointment, I sipped some drops of orange juice from my empty glass and took a bite of toast. Had I not performed up to standard? I thought everyone had fun. I fucking did at least. What is wrong with me? I know... I’m too fucking skinny. Goddammit! Emily interrupted my self-pity party to offer a suggestion. “Do you have any friends?” Daniela’s face lit up with lust as she looked up at me excitedly. I responded that I did not have any friends in Madrid, but that it wouldn’t be hard to convince someone at the hostel to join me. Determined to succeed in finding a Super Smash Brother, I inhaled the rest of my toast, cleaned my plate and left the apartment.
After leaving the apartment, I got nervous. How the hell was I supposed to convince another man I didn’t know to participate in sexual intercourse with me? Was I even comfortable having group sex with another man? The idea of seeing another man’s penis in the flesh was disturbing. Plus, what if it was way bigger than mine? Then what? Or what if he says yes because he is bisexual and then tries some shit on me?
I decided that the best way to go about my mission was to make friends with someone, gain his trust, and proceed to casually mention that I was in need of a wingman. It sounded easy enough. I entered my hostel and headed for the common area. Daniela and Emily had been specific. My new friend had to be “fit” (British for handsome), tall, and preferably muscular, though not too muscular. Tattoos were a plus and long hair was a no-go. Like a jealous girlfriend interested in finding a girl for a threesome, my goal was to find a gentleman that fit the bill without being better looking than me. The last thing I wanted to do was sit on the sideline as a watched my Eskimo brother have all the fun. It was 1pm – the time of the day in Spanish hostels that people are both checking in and checking out. One look at the busy common room and I knew I couldn’t do it. There were too many people to have a private conversation and I did not want to make a group announcement and commit social suicide. Deflated, I decided that this undertaking was neither worth the effort nor the embarrassment. I told myself that I should be happy that I had such an amazing experience and move on with my life. Not sure what to do, I went upstairs to my dorm, laced up my basketball shoes, pumped up my ball, and headed to the park to play some pickup and clear my head.
On the way to the park I had an epiphany. What better place to find tall handsome men than on the basketball court?! Making friends playing pickup is super easy when you have a J as wet as mine! When I got to the park, I discovered a group of Americans playing 3v3. There was another kid watching, so I suggested we play 4v4. They said that they were up for it, but only after completing their game of 3v3, as if adding two more players would ruin their game. Instead of going to the other hoop to take some warm-up shots, I hung back and scoped the group looking for my handsome man. Much to my delight, there was suitable candidate. He looked very young – maybe 19 or 20 – but was definitely a good-looking lad. He was about 6’2 with bright blue eyes and a sturdy build. He had a brutish way about him that was a product of his cluelessness on the basketball court, lack of coordination and bright white tennis shoes that looked like something out of a 1990s Wal-Mart. I was confident that Daniela and Emily would approve. Anxious to win over his trust and friendship with my basketball skills, I got myself on his team.
After obliterating the other team 21-5, I suggested we reorganize the teams to make them fairer, but my new friends were worn out. As they walked off the court to collect their belongings, I realized it was now or never. I grabbed my blond friend (we’ll call him Oliver) by the shoulder and asked as quietly as I could, “Yo, can I ask you a super weird question?” Perhaps expecting a homosexual advance, he shrugged my hand off his shoulder. Embarrassed that I had touched him, I quickly explained my predicament. His friends, seeing the confused, uncomfortable look on his face, wanted in on the secret. “This dude wants me to come to an orgy,” he told them in disbelief. I quickly reassured his friends that I was 100 percent straight, and that I had had a threesome with two beautiful women the night before. I reached into my backpack, removed my tablet and pulled up Daniela’s Tinder profile. While the kids passed the tablet around, I explained that her friend was even better looking. “I don’t know man, this is weird,” Oliver said looking to his friends for reassurance. “Dude, if you don’t want to, I will,” said his short, chubby Latino friend. The rest of his friends agreed. I was about break it to them that I was only interested in Oliver, when he finally agreed to join me. We exchanged contact information and I headed to the nearest café for Wi-Fi to alert Daniela of the good news.
Oliver and I met outside of the metro station several hours later. He was dressed for the occasion, wearing jeans and a long-sleeved button down shirt. He was sweating in the 100F heat, no doubt regretting his choice of clothes. After boarding the metro, I opened my backpack and offered Oliver one of the many whiskey shooters I had brought for the ride. Both of us needed to loosen up.
To my surprise, the experience was almost as fun as the night before. When we arrived, I was surprised to find Daniela and Emily fully dressed. With Enrique Iglesias music playing too loudly in the background, I introduced Oliver to the girls. He was smiling shyly, intimidated by how beautiful they were. Daniela told me I had done well, inspecting Oliver like a cattle rancher inspecting a stud. “Take off your clothes,” she told him. A wave of dread swept through my body as I wondered whether I had been duped into delivering these girls my replacement. As Oliver undressed, I became increasingly uncomfortable. Where am I supposed to look? What do I do with my hands? I decided to put them in my pockets and look at the floor. “What the fuck are you doing?” Emily asked me. “Get naked.” The feeling of dread was replaced with relief as I undressed. Standing shoulder to shoulder next to Oliver, both of our boners raging, I felt like I was playing an inmate in a prison porno skit. My friends are never going to believe this, I thought.
Both Oliver and I performed admirably. We managed to not touch each the entire night except for a couple high fives. The next morning after a pleasant breakfast, we said our goodbyes to the girls and set off into the figurative sunset back to the city center. Back downtown, Oliver and I stood on the sidewalk reflecting on the amazing night we had. We knew we might never top it, and that was okay with us. As we said goodbye, I wished him good luck on his travels and offered my hand for him to shake. “We’re hugging bro,” he said with a smile. As I walked back to my hostel, I felt a deep sadness and realized I would miss him.
The Value of Role Models: My Week with Two Inspirational People
After a few months of traveling, settling down in a city felt good. The problem with living in Madrid, however, was that I was running out of things to write about. The longer I spent in one place, the less interesting my life became. I made friends, developed crushes on girls, and fell into routine. Although I will eventually settle down somewhere, now was not the time. With every intention of returning to Madrid in the near future, I started to plan my next adventure.
Before I could decide what the next adventure would be, I met a 21-year-old German dude named Janni. After an awkward introduction, we talked about our travels. Janni had been traveling for five months. His journey had taken him from Germany to South Africa, through South Africa to Mozambique, from Mozambique back to Germany to live in Berlin, from Berlin on to France, and finally through France and into Spain. He would return to Germany in two weeks to begin the process of becoming a human rights lawyer. I enjoyed chatting with him and was interested to hear more about his story, so before packing up to head to my favorite café to do some writing, I invited him to join me for beer and tapas later that evening.
The first thing I noticed at dinner was that Janni was well informed. We discussed current events like the refugee crisis and recent developments in European politics, and I was impressed with his depth of knowledge. I was also impressed by how adventurous and introspective he was. Like me, his first backpacking journey had been in Sub-Saharan Africa. My trips to Uganda had been extremely formative, so I was not the least bit surprised to learn that he too had come away from the experience with life-altering shifts in perspective. After a stimulating conversation about Africa, the conversation shifted to future travel plans. He told me about his plans to go camping in southern Spain and invited me to join him. In need of a break from the city and inspired by his sense of adventure, I accepted his invitation.
Our plan was to head to the coastal city of Malaga where we would ask locals for advice about where to pitch a tent on the beach. Unfortunately, however, we were warned that camping on the beach would leave us susceptible to robbery. We decided that camping in the mountains would be a better idea and planned to leave Malaga the next day. Little did we know, escaping Malaga would be harder than we thought.
We slept in late our first morning. Hungry, but determined to not spend much money, we went to the grocery store and bought ingredients for a nutritious feast: steak, lentils, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions. While cooking, an overweight, middle-aged Spanish gentleman (who we will call Rafa), apparently oblivious to the gigantic quantity of food we were preparing, offered us his raw potatoes and chicken breast to add to our meal. Doing our best to be polite, we graciously accepted his offer and reciprocated with a cold beer. As it would turn out, this exchange was the beginning of a magical friendship and a wild 48 hours.
As we prepared our meal, we talked to fellow travelers in the kitchen. We expressed our amazement with the kindness and generosity of Rafa. “He’s an amazing guy,” said Leo, a tall, slender 21-year-old Italian dude who we would later learn had no more than 10 euros to his name. After chatting for a while, Leo invited us to join him, Rafa and the rest of the crew on an afternoon trip to the local beach. With nothing else to do, we gladly accepted the invitation.
An hour and a half later, we met in the lobby to head to the beach. The group was smaller than planned and consisted of Rafa, Leo, Leo’s Italian friend, Janni and me. Rafa was dressed for the occasion with a tight-fitting black tank top decorated with holes cut in a floral pattern and a rainbow bracelet. The conversation in the lobby was in Spanish. Janni, who spoke no Spanish, relied on me to translate. When the conversation got too fast or when I missed something, Leo translated for the both of us. The beach was just over a kilometer away from the hostel, but Rafa insisted on calling a taxi van. Janni and I looked at each other uneasily. We were traveling on a budget and unwilling to pay for a taxi. After telling Leo that we would meet them at the beach, he told us not to worry and to get in.
Once at the beach, Janni and I took out a speaker and a bottle of wine. Rafa and Leo’s Italian friend took a siesta, while Janni, Leo and I passed around the bottle and chatted. “Dude, Rafa is so generous. Who is this guy?” I asked Leo. He explained that Rafa owned a successful security company that employed 80 people. He had come to Malaga on vacation a month ago, had fallen in love with the hostel, and decided to stayed. Leo told us not to worry about paying for anything when with Rafa, casually stating “he just wants to fuck you.” Janni and I exchanged apprehensive glances as I took a large swig of wine.
Upon returning to the hostel, Rafa asked us if we were interested in joining them to celebrate his “name day.” In Spain there are several national holidays to commemorate various Catholic saints. This particular holiday celebrated a saint that shared Rafa’s name. For 20 euros we would get a bracelet that bought us dinner at a fancy restaurant and entry into two expensive nightclubs in town. Having been on the receiving end of Rafa’s generosity all day, we decided that joining him to celebrate was the least we could do. Determined to leave the city the following morning, Janni and I agreed that we would enjoy dinner, go to the first club and leave after having one drink.
We arrived at the fancy restaurant to find a long table of 14-16 well-dressed people. Janni and I situated ourselves at the end of the table across from a muscular Moroccan-Swiss dude named Mahmood. The dinner was incredible. There was unlimited red wine and 10-15 courses of mouth-watering, authentic Spanish dishes. Rafa was the star of the show: loud and happy, flirting with the waiters and letting it be known that he knew everyone. Everyone at the table loved him and he seemed to love everyone. The group had a sort of mafia family vibe and Janni and I felt special for being part of it. Everyone was kind and welcoming, as if an invitation from Rafa had affirmed our coolness. At one point, Rafa pulled out a cigarette and started smoking at the table. Expecting the waiters to ask him to put it out, we watched in amazement as they rushed over with ashtrays as the rest of the group followed suit.
At the club, I reiterated our plan to leave after one drink and Janni agreed. When we tried to buy our first drink, Rafa appeared out of nowhere and paid for it. After enthusiastically thanking him, we agreed that it would be rude to leave so early. We decided that we might as well forget about tomorrow and focus on having a great night. After clinking glasses, we downed our drinks and headed to the bar for another. As if he had been spying on us, Rafa tracked us down and peeled a 50-euro bill from his monster wad of cash and bought us another. This went on for another couple hours, while between drinks we smoked Rafa’s hookah, danced, took goofy photos, and nervously scoped out pretty girls while avoiding the ugly ones that refused to leave us alone.
By the time we left to head to the second bar, it was already 4am. Rafa had bought us each four or five drinks, and we weren’t the only ones. The night was his treat for the group and he was intent on paying for everyone. On our way to the next bar, I realized that we had two new companions: one of the waitresses from the restaurant and her beautiful friend. Rafa had apparently given them bracelets and they were now a part of the crew. Before I had an opportunity to introduce myself to the pretty friend, her and the waitress were grabbing my arm inspecting and ridiculing one of my tattoos. Although she spoke perfect Spanish, her features suggested English roots. Caught in the spell of her mischievous smile and stunning green, freckled eyes, I struggled to find the words to either tease them back or defend myself. I spent the rest of the night ignoring my friends, persistently following her around like a fourth-grader with a bad crush. Fortunately, my clumsy behavior did not scare her away and I was lucky enough to get to know her over the next couple nights.
The next 24 hours were equally amazing. The combination of the lack of sleep, the bewildering night and the self-confidence derived from being embraced by a guy as cool as Rafa put both of us in a friendly, hyper-social mood. That afternoon, determined to reciprocate, we bought sixteen beers and offered them to anyone and everyone in the hostel. We took a page from Rafa’s book and tried to make everyone feel as welcome as possible. Janni was doing such a good job inviting everyone to come together and become friends that a Canadian dude thought he was a bar promoter.
After another night of excess, Janni and I knew we had to escape Malaga. Although it had been quite possibly the most fun 48-hour period of our lives, this lifestyle was not sustainable. Thus, we boarded a train and set off for a small mountain village called El Chorro. On the train, we discussed the lessons we had learned from Rafa. He had spent hundreds, if not thousands, or euros on his name day party, but that somehow seemed unimportant. What had left an impression on us was the masterful way he made us feel welcome and appreciated. He created a contagious sense of community that empowered others to be more friendly and welcoming. We reminisced fondly of the similar atmosphere we had created at the hotel the following night by emulating the behavior we admired so much in Rafa.
When we arrived at the Olive Branch campsite in El Chorro, I booked two nights: just enough time to detox and get back to the city. I had such a nice time hanging out with Janni, however, that I ended up staying five nights. Our days were simple, yet blissful. Aside from one enjoyable hike, we spent the vast majority of our time not doing much of anything. We busied ourselves with simple things, like cooking the free food left behind by other campers, playing pool, doing “yoga”, listening to music, talking about girls, lounging around in the sun and hanging out with other campers. We finished each day with a bottle of wine and a game of chess.
During one particularly interesting conversation inspired by Rafa, we discussed the importance of role models. Some people espouse the idea that mimicking the behavior of others is unauthentic and therefore objectionable. In our opinion, however, if you are determined to grow, it is best to surround yourself with as many people that you admire as possible and try to emulate their best qualities. The glorious thing about traveling is the amount of motivational people you meet that have inspirational qualities and interesting outlooks on life. To not emulate Rafa’s inclusive and generous nature or Janni’s enthusiasm for life and tremendous conversational skills in the name of being authentic would be a shame. I plan to continue traveling for the foreseeable future as I follow the example of the happy people I meet that bring joy to my life and the lives of the fortunate people they encounter.
Heroic Dose: The Time I Ate 19 Grams of Mushrooms
At the ripe age of 24, my wildest days are behind me. Rewind six years to my senior year of high school. I was the VP of the student body, president of the business club, captain of the varsity golf team, and a straight-A student. On the weekends, however, I doubled as a psychonaut, or one who “embarks on inner voyages with the aid of psychoactive substances” (Urban Dictionary definition). In other words, a friend (we’ll call him John) and I did as many hallucinogenic drugs as we could afford/get our hands on. We mixed hallucinogens, tried research chemicals, and experimented with different settings and doses.
On a typical Friday evening in the sleepy mountain town of Monument, Colorado, John, our friend “Mark” and I were hanging out at our favorite smoke spot. John had recently started to fund his psychedelic escapades by selling psilocybin mushrooms to unsuspecting minors in town. This meant that we had a virtually unlimited supply to consume ourselves – a life-changing development no doubt. For weeks he casually carried them around in his backpack, impervious to the legal risk he was putting himself in. With pot smoke swirling in Mark’s beat up Jeep Cherokee, John and I consumed our typical dose of 7 grams each (4x the recommended dose for experienced psychonauts).
After an hour of the routine uncomfortable come-up, the drugs had taken effect. I felt great: colors were more vivid, the landscape more beautiful, our minds sharper and more creative, sense of humor enhanced, and the feeling of camaraderie intensified. After no time John suggested we go deeper. Neither of us had ever taken more than 7 grams in one sitting, but I was always up for a challenge. We each consumed another 3.5 grams, bringing us to a total of 10.5 grams. This was easily the most we had ever heard of anyone doing and we were very proud of ourselves.
Back at Mark’s parent’s house – our safe haven throughout high school – we were tripping balls. It had been two hours since taking the additional eighth and night had set in. Although I was having a great time, my grasp on reality was uncomfortably slippery. I was haunted by the mental image of an angel on my shoulder reassuring me that everything was fine. While this sounds comforting, the angel was noticeably uneasy. He kept looking over his shoulder, as if anxious that his adversary, the devil, was planning a sneak attack on the two of us.
At this point I decided a trip to the bathroom to splash some water on my face was a good idea. Mark’s upstairs bathroom was shared by two brothers and showed it. Bottles of shampoo and cleaning supplies were glued to the counter in the same place they had been the first time I had been to Mark’s house two years before. Hair was everywhere, collecting in clumps in areas where the black mold lived. With zero recollection of why I had entered the bathroom, I pulled down my pants and sat on the toilet. I sat there for God only knows how long admiring the wavy patterns all around me. I awoke from my trance to a knock on the door. John was making sure I was okay. After realizing where I was, I responded that I was fine and would be out in a minute. I flushed the toilet and watched the golden sludge that had dripped out of my infantile dick disappear. I proceeded to step over to the mirror and made eye contact with a reflection of a face that was not mine. This little creep that was looking back at me had no irises – only giant black pupils that revealed a scared soul. His hair sat lifeless on a head that was entirely too big for his skinny, weak body. A pimple on his temple was nearly the size of his eyeball and was pulsating. Another knock on the door. I opened it to see John standing there with what was left of the bag of mushrooms. “Dude, there are 16.5 grams left. I’m down if you’re down.” Not to be outdone, I downed another 8 grams.
Within an hour, the slippery grip I had on reality had completely dissolved. The slight panic I had felt before was washed away by a tidal wave of amazement and confusion. Beautiful geometric patterns danced to the reggae music playing and to the cadence of my breath. Time stood still and each song took me on a different journey. I saw pink and turquoise sparkles everywhere and I made up my mind that they would be my favorite colors forever. Conversation completely ceased as we both tried to tread water in the tsunami that was ravaging our minds. Eventually, Mark broke the silence to say something along the lines of, “you guys are too fucked up and it’s late. I’m going to bed.” Desperate for an escape and terrified to leave the room and potentially face Mark’s parents, we decided to try to sleep.
Three hours later, a piercing sound disrupted my nightmarish hallucinations. I had been flying through a void in a state somewhere between sleep and madness. Now God or someone was honking a horn at me in disapproval. “Dude! Turn that shit off!” Suddenly I was shot back into a state of semi-awareness. I was in Mark’s room lying on the hard floor. I sat up and put my hand in a massive pool of drool that explained why my face was so wet. It reached out for the source of the racket and found myself holding my phone. The light emanating from the screen was too bright to see what was going on, but I was able to silence it by squeezing it with all my might. Back in the pitch darkness of the room, my only option was to submit once more to the tortuous hallucinations. Years later, the sun rose and I was able to go outside where I gradually regained my sanity.
The purpose of telling this story is not to dissuade people from trying magic mushrooms. To this day, 19 grams is by far the highest dose I have ever heard of or read about. While stories of legendary psilocybin experiences abound, I am proud that John and I went deeper than all of them. While I do not necessarily wish to relive the experience, I would do it again if provoked. Every psychedelic experience is a unique opportunity for introspection, without which I would not be as mindful or happy of a person as I am. As a parting gift, I leave you with some wisdom from Terrance McKenna:
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.”
Two Weeks to Sell Everything: A Lesson in Minimalism
Written on July 13, 2017
April 27, 2017 in Boulder, Colorado
On a beautiful spring afternoon I pulled up to Cloud Nine Float Center for a meditation session in an isolation tank. I was two weeks away from graduating with two undergraduate business degrees and a degree in Spanish and Portuguese from the University of Colorado. I’d done well enough to earn a high-paying corporate sales job, which started in downtown Denver that summer. I had accomplished everything I had set out to accomplish.
In the tank, rather than drift into the usual blissful state of clear-headed awareness, I found myself troubled by anxious thoughts about the next stage of my life. When I had taken the job in the fall, it had been exactly what I wanted. I was in love and ready to start a life in the city with my girlfriend. Now, with the girlfriend now an ex, the life I had designed was no longer ideal. The following day, determined to redesign my life for maximum happiness under new circumstances, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Guatemala – the first stop on my trip around the world.
With no plans to return, I set out on a mission to sell absolutely everything I owned in two weeks. I started by bringing all of my clothes to Plato’s Closet; a store that buys used clothing at a fraction of its value. What Plato’s Closet did not take I gave away. Next, I gathered all of my sports equipment and brought it to Play it Again Sports, a store that buys used sports equipment. What they did not want I also gave away. I took my outdoor equipment to a similar local store in Boulder. I sent my electronics and textbooks to eBay and let them sell it for me using EBay Valet. I sold my furniture on Craigslist for ¼ of what it was worth. Finally, I brought my car to a few used car dealerships in town and sold it to the one that offered me the best price. 10 weeks after beginning my experiment in minimalism and I feel compelled to share some lessons learned.
July 11, 2017 on a train somewhere in southern Morocco
Having fewer things and more fun experiences has me feeling freer and happier than ever. I don’t miss any of my things whatsoever. If I did, I can always repurchase them. I also appreciate what I have much more. Every item serves a specific purpose without it which would not be served. Finally, I have less to things taking up my mind’s precious real estate, helping me to be more present and live each moment to the fullest.
Furthermore, the knowledge that I am living my dream from funds acquired from selling things I did not need has been very rewarding. It has trained me to think in terms of opportunity costs. A new pair of shoes or a watch is a couple of dinner dates in Barcelona or a trip to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. A smart phone is two weeks at a language school in southern France or a month living in Cape Town. When considering whether or not to buy something, ask yourself “what in the world would make me happiest?” If the purchase is helping you achieve that reality, buy it! If not, you are better off without it.
My experiment in minimalism also served as a reminder of the magic of giving. After 10 days of trying to sell everything I could, I started to give away what was left. While most of the gift recipients understood that I was merely getting rid of junk, some of the gifts were thoughtful. A few people were touched that I had thought of them. Both the looks on their faces and the thought that now they have something that reminds them of me brings me far more happiness that a material item possibly could.
Finally, the experience revealed how hopelessly dependent U.S. society is on accumulating material BS. Since making the decision to not participate in this fickle pursuit, I have told many people my story. I have found that while many people are interested by the idea of “ending the hunt” (phrase coined by author Dan Harris) for material possessions, very few people seem to have given it any thought. On a few occasions, however, open-minded, intelligent people were frustrated and/or embarrassed that they have not thought critically about what they buy and keep. This normally leads to an interesting conversation in which I almost always end up suggesting that the person do two things: watch the documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things directed by Matt D'Avella and read the book The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. If a life with less stress and more happiness and freedom is something that interests you, I suggest you start your exploration into minimalism there.