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The Russian drunk

A unique solution to the Russian Drunk issue, administered by a tyrannical government.

“So what do you do for work?”

Here we go, generally my rule is that anyone who starts a conversation with this question is going to be a complete bore. However, this guy looks like a person who has lived an interesting life, maybe it’s something about the tattered old doctors case beside his scuffed brown cowboy style boots, I do not know but I decide to ignore my rule and have a chat.

“Well, that is one loaded question. Would you like the long or the short version?”

“I have four hours to kill, how long is the long version?”

“Ok, well then, the long-abridged-version is not much to be honest, I’m doing a bit of traveling, currently trying to get a book published, climb a few hills. In a past life I was a pharmacist. You?”

“I own a house in Indonesia, just got divorced, ride a Harley”

“Good start”

This is where Rob the pockmarked trauma surgeon gives me a half hour soliloquy in his Texan drawl which fills me in on his fifty something years. I find people terribly interesting. I am waiting for Jette’s 3pm plane to land and, being a tightwad, have caught the last hotel transfer which dropped me at the airport at midday. Rob and I chat for hours over a coffee. I last opened the mental folder titled “Pharmacology” two years ago and it is surprisingly refreshing to dust off the cobwebs and be talking about drugs, debating dosages and indications.

“So what is the most internal ricochets you have seen?”

“Three, I once saw a bullet which went in the hip, bounced up to the scapula and changed course on a rib. Low velocity bullets are worse, high velocity just go straight through”

“Big problem?”

“Everyone is damn well shooting each other in America, it gets tiring. What are the drug laws like in Australia”

“Rather strict….”

(I will skip forward fifty minutes to the interesting bit to spare you the shop talk)

“Did you hear about how the Russians fixed alcohol abuse in their remote villages?”

“Nope, Antabuse, Zyprexa?”

“No, it is crazy what they did, this is something you would never get away with in America…or Australia”

“Go on”

“Well, the Russian government needed an effective and cheap solution to the Russian drunk problem. They took villagers who were killing themselves with cheap moonshine and had doctors put them under anesthesia, they cut a small line in their leg, then stitched it up again”

“OK, what? How is this helping alcohol abuse?”
“Well, when the patients woke up they told them they now have a special microchip inserted in their leg which will kill them if they ever take a sip of alcohol away from immediate medical care”

“Like back at their villages”

“Wouldn’t they just not believe the doctors and try anyway”

“No, so here is the kicker, while the patients were still in hospital and attached to a drip they told them they had to check the chip was active, they gave the patient a shot of whiskey and out of sight injected a whack of a short acting neuromuscular blocker into their drip”

Note: Neuromuscular blockers stop people from being able to use their muscles and to breath for themselves-like Tacrine which was used in the London Subways some time ago-one is completely conscious, with eyes open able to see and think but unable to move or breath, not a pleasant sensation I would imagine. The heart continues beating as, being somewhat important, it has a few safety systems in place. The people in London were conscious but unable to breath and died from asphyxiation.

“You’re making this up Rob, surely”

“No, all true, the patient is lying there unable to move or breath and they bag them”

“Bag them, like with resuscitation with the little bellows breathing for them”

“Correct, the doctors then frantically ran about acting like they were trying to save the patient’s life, they also unplugged the cardiac monitor to give the flatline beeeep warning and injected saline into the drip, pretending it was lifesaving drugs”

“So, after five or so minutes muscle function returned and they were able to breath for themselves”

“Correct and the doctors would casually say to the patient, ‘well the chip is active’ and walk out, apparently it works, 100% abstinence after the procedure”

Sometimes I am glad to be a tightwad, sometimes you get to meet the most interesting people. Rob went on to tell me about his (recently) ex-wife who stole his prescription pads nearly costing him his license and about his love for Harleys and Indonesia. The best story by far was the drunken Russians, I thought I should share it!

Ozzy Osbourne concert – Drugs ARE bad

At the Ozzy Osbourne concert He stands in the middle of a hotly lit stage looking confused. Three young ‘rockers’ nearby hold their instruments and watch with anticipation, he simply stares into the crowd rocking on his feet. It seems as though his black knee length boots are the only thing keeping him upright. With mouth slightly open he blinks, two pixellated clones on large flat screens which flank the stage blink shortly after he does. It is obvious that his brain is trying to catch up with his body, he is trying to figure out how he got on this stage and what he is meant to be doing now that he is here.

A large sweaty lady with muddy boots eyes me from in front and starts to back her substantial backside uphill toward my shrinking frame. I am trapped by a group of drunken students behind but fight to avoid this coquettish bump being slowly delivered. Thankfully the large rump stops its searching when its owner hears the figure on  stage yell; “I CAN’T FUCKING HEAR YOU DENMARK” Ozzie Osborne has come to life, unwittingly saving the day when he realises that he is standing on the centre stage at the Skanderborg festival. He is being paid a large sum to visit a forest in Denmark while 60, 000 eager fans both mock and cheer him on. He has to sing. I have to get out of here.

Lotte and Peter, Jette’s sister and brother in law have kindly invited us to spend a day at the Skanderborg festival with them. Jette’s work has kindly allowed her two days off to do just that. The three usually spend a whole five days camping together and watching music in this forest festival just out of town. This year however Jette is saving holidays for our Asia trip and has only allowed one day for festival activities. Lotte and Peter however, are spending the whole five days as per tradition. They are camped just out of the festival arena in a large paddock which after days of solid rain and footsteps is now a mud bath. On top of the mud and due to the rain the whole paddock smells like piss as drunken revellers simply urinate right outside their tents. Can’t say I blame them really, but I don’t want to slip in the mud that is for sure.

Jette and I arrive in the late afternoon and relax in Lotte and Peter’s tent before we brave the weather for a walk in the forest. A forest with 60, 000 people, three stages, countless restaurants hastily set up and toilet and beer stalls filling every spare spot. For the first two hours I follow Lotte and Peter, open mouthed and clutching Jette’s hand for security. The scene is amazing. Tall trees look down patiently on the festival as if waiting patiently to have their serenity returned. The mobile infrastructure set up here is something to behold. Lotte and Peter, fully acclimatised to the spectacle after four days, spend the afternoon showing Jette and I around. “There is the Pubmarine, there is the waterfall”. A one storey high, artificial waterfall has been set up, “oh, there’s the pink trojan unicorn” Of course. We sit on some stairs between the drinks robot and the full size wind turbine planted in the ground. I drink a beer and watch people clamber with rubber boots onto the five meter tall trojan horse. This whole thing flies in the face of my previous forest experience. I once spent four days Tasmanian forest without seeing a single person and now I am in one with jacuzzis set up  where you can unwind and drink champagne. The constant hum of people wafts through trees behind us as we watch the Olsen brothers sing about love. The earthy smell of mud contrasts with the smell of spilt drinks and alcohol on passing jeans.

Once I find my feet, it takes about four hours, Lotte and Peter leave us to explore. Jette and I wander through the forest as a muffled roar comes between the dense leaf cover. Ozzie has hit the stage. We make our way to the main stage and peering over the crowd see a black lego figure bouncing around on the stage like a caffeinated toddler. Ozzie Osborne, famous singer from Black Sabbath, even more famous degenerate father from the reality series “The Osbornes”. One in four people we pass yell out “Sharon” mocking Ozzie’s famous call for help to his wife on the show. By the time we reach the relative calm of the Hippy Bar Jette and I are in stitches. Despite having an amazingly enthusiastic backup band Ozzie manages to kill his long popular hits with a confusing mumbling of lyrics. Between songs he stops to jump up and clap with a clear “I can’t fucking hear you Denmark” Seeing Ozzie enjoying himself so much while I hear the crowd jeering and laughing behind me makes me feel sorry for this fossil of rock. A lifetime of drug abuse has left him a target with a parkinsonian gait. I truly do not think he realises as he grins and murmurs his way through his set. However, I suppose it is a win/win situation. Ozzie gets paid to do what he clearly loves, we get to see a true rock legend, (the title legend is clearly forgiving of bad timing and fried grey matter), the festival organisers have a big name to add to the promotional flyers. I fight my way to the front of the very drunk crowd, of course people are polite to me as I bump my way past. This is where the large lady spots me and causes me to beat a hasty retreat.

A lifetime later I find Jette who reports being stared at by a lone stalker since I left her. Jette thinks he has taken drugs, I just think he must be an excellent judge of character. I am growing tired of the crowds and of watching this walking advertisement against drug use

We meet the others and we decide to wander to the Blues tent. This is an open entry tent where up and coming bands play for free. The atmosphere is more agreeable than the crowded main stage area.

A few more beers sees Jette driving (and me drunkenly rambling) in one very muddy little Fiat Punto. We were going to camp the night but, despite having endured worse tenting weather on other missions, we decide to drive the short hop home to Aarhus.

Jette and I plan to visit this forest in the still of winter, I want to apologise for all the people intruding on her peace and to see the area in its natural state.

Ugly Betty

I have no money and am down to my last chocolate bar. I have returned, almost, to civilisation after ten inspiring days fulfilling a lifelong dream of trekking through a remote area of the Peruvian Andes. I had only a local guide and donkey for company. I have been well off the beaten tourist trail and have not met an English speaker in weeks.

Hungry, penniless and dirty I leave my guide at his small hometown and hitch on the back of a potato truck to Chiquan where I need an onwards bus ticket to Huaraz. My money and credit cards are in storage at Huaraz as I rightly figured that there would not be any ATMs in the mountains. Arriving in town it becomes clear that intense riots nearby have halted all forward transport. Chiquan is a small farming town on the edge of the Andes in Northern Peru, there are no banks (not that I have my cards) and nobody speaks English. I am a four hour bus ride away from money and food, in between me and my cards Peruvians are angrily burning tyres and smashing local banks to protest a Chinese gold mine, go figure. Spending the afternoon in this tiny town I dodge Llamas and sheep in the street and wander past mud brick homes clutching my English/Spanish dictionary like a Bishop does his bible as I try to find updates on the situation. I peer through a dirty cafe window with a Dickensonian stoop to see buildings burning on TV while an excited reporter in front nearly swallows his microphone as he babbles rapid Spanish.

My situation looks very grim.

Enter Betty. She calls herself Betty Feo (ugly Betty) after the television series of the same name I meet her in the town square as we both watch young men jumping into vans to join nearby riots;



(this conversation is translated from my halting Spanish)

“What are you doing here? What is your name?”
“Mi nombre es Ben, I’ve been…”

“Haha! HOLA Ben-Ten!”

“You Peruvians must love that cartoon, everyone calls me that here. Anyway, I’ve been trekking but it looks like I am stuck here for a few days”

“This is not so bad, mine is a lovely town, I can show you around”

“That would be great, but I have no money and my credit cards are in Huaraz”

“Huaraz is bad now, very bad riots, you will not go anywhere now Ben”

“This is my worry haha!”

“You have no money right? Then no food?

“Sadly, only about twenty Soles, which I need for the bus” (approx $5)

“Then you must come to my new Cafe for dinner tonight, I need a gringo to try out the menu”

“But I have no money”

“Pfft, forget money, you will be helping me, but be honest about the food”

“I can do that, no guinea pig please!”

“I will not do that to you, this will be fun, come to that building just over there around six”

“Ok, thank you so much”

That night I knock on the door of a newly set up restaurant to be greeted by an imposing man, “You must be Ben-10!”, laughing he waves me inside. Betty bounces out of the kitchen in a fresh looking apron, she ‘Holas’ and hands me a glass of red wine, saying that dinner will be ready in a few minutes.

Betty and her friend produce a feast of delicious local food which is easily enough to sustain me throughout the next day. My new friends and I share two dinners as I wait for the riots to quiet. Nights are spent drinking red wine, passing around my English/Spanish dictionary and laughing as we try to tell stories or make jokes in an unfamiliar language. They do not ask for a penny. When the riots stop and with the help of Betty I find a bus to Huaraz, retrieve my money and credit cards and continue my travels south.

Ugly Betty deserves a name change. She is one of the most sharing people I met in my travels through South America, even in all of my travels. I will always be thankful for the generosity and kindness of this stranger who welcomed a stranded traveller into her home without asking for a thing in return.

Drunken Psychiatrists in Ecuador

I return home from my Quilatoa trek to a very quiet hostel. The boys are still at the beach, there is nothing on television and I soon get bored. Answer; wander down to the local pub to have a few beers and to see what the night will bring. Within one hour I am in a very loud pub comparing our respective governments and healthcare systems my new friend Dr Ricardo alberto hidalgo Molina. Dr Ric is a very intelligent and currently very drunk psychiatrist from Chile. It would seem that he owns a never ending bottle of whiskey. Many people come and join our table, this man knows everyone despite being a long way from home. I do not dwell on this fact. Dr Ric is very short of stature, has a big beard, big heart and is everything a good psychiatrist should be…..crazy and smart and with zero inhibitions. His lack of inhibitions is beautifully displayed when, despite my protests, he forces me onto a stage to salsa dance with some friends of his.

The night and whiskey flows by, at around 2 am I decide it is time to go. Whilst waiting for a taxi Dr Ric decides to analyze two rastifarian drug dealers to find out what “makes them tick”. Thankfully just as he is hitting some raw nerves a taxi arrives to our rescue. The two mean looking men realizing a sale is not going to happen look about ready to really loose patience with their impromptu psychoanalsis. We bundle into a taxi and head for home. So I thought.

Dr Ric joins me and two new friends of ours in a taxi. Ric downed a few quick whiskeys just prior to leaving. The effect of which is that he has no idea where he is staying and is confusing his french, spanish and english. After about an hour of dead ends and last minute U-turns we see Dr Ric safely to his hotel and out of our care. He leaves telling me I must come and stay with him for christmas in Chile. I thought this was an empty promise.

My two new friends, both students keen to practice their english, invite me to their home for a night cap. “It is not far away” they assure me. Soon I am in a student apartment 45 minutes out of town in a very shady looking neighbourhood. We share two beers between the three of us, tell a few stories and soon we are ready for bed. It is 3am and not one car is on the road, I have no intentions of walking anywhere apart from to the bathroom. My student friends kindly offer me their guest room for the night. The guest room is a closet sized room about one meter high, under their stairs with just enough room for a single mattress. I crawl in and fall asleep clutching my money and jacket. I am slightly concerned that I will be robbed. Last week I had my wallet stolen along with $300, my credit, bank cards and my drivers license. Needless to say I am hesitant to trust anyone at this stage. My new friends seem ok though…..

I wake in the morning, promptly bash my head on the very low ceiling and emerge from my hobbit hole somewhere in Quito. I am slightly disorientated and thankfully still clutching my money and jacket. I wake my friends, thank them for a great night, share empty promises to catch up again and bid them farewell. They still do not believe that we eat kangaroo in Australia.

Back at the hostel I have two days of spanish classes. My classes involve walking around the beautiful town of Quito with my teacher, hanging out in parks and asking strangers for directions and the time. If only pharmacy classes were as pleasant.

In these two days I manage to find an orphanage to deliver some donations for two friends in Tasmania. A very rewarding and sobering experience. Despite help from Ecuador’s postal employee I also manage to send a package of presents home to my beloved niece and nephew to fill their christmas stockings. The postal lady seemed more interested in opening all the presents to find out what is in them. Hopefully she decides that my family need the presents more than hers!

Quito, Ecuador homestay

Mum is currently ironing Ando’s shorts and pants to get him ready for a flight to New York. It is refreshing to be surrounded by such domestic normality. However I do not pass the opportunity to tease him about being ‘madres poco nino.’

I am enjoying torturing my new family with bad Spanish while sleeping with my pack in a room the size of a beer carton. There is no floor space and to sleep I have to spoon with my pack. Spooning with big red has not become weird yet, we have shared some highs and lows this year and have formed a strong bond in the process, there are no secrets between us.

Mum is the head of the household and compensates for an almost empty nest by taking in lost Spanish students. Mum comes up with a new nickname for me every time I see her. This morning I was a ‘povrito’ (poor little boy), this afternoon ‘delicisio’ (self explanatory) tonight I have been promoted to ‘cholito’ (Spanish version of nigger). Dad makes the odd tired and grumpy cameo appearance between shift working. Their son Ando is a very muscular and very gay flight attendant. I spent much of last night teaching him how to say platypus. This is a very difficult word for the native Spanish speaker to wrap their tongue around, “Try again mate…Plat-a-puss.”

“Plant-i-pies….plat-u-pees…..plat-a-push, oh, just forget it Ben. Hey do you like to party?”

As well as improving my Spanish I have learnt that when a gay flight attendant asks if you like to party the correct answer (for the straight man of course) is “No.” Confusion reigned supreme after Ando got the wrong impression with my reply, “Yes, a bit, depends on my mood mate. I used to go out and party with just about anyone at every opportunity you know, but these days I mainly just enjoy staying in on weekends and partying with a few friends.”

My new home is in a very secure compound which from the outside closely resembles a gaol. This is some comfort to me as Shaun recently had his house entered by four armed robbers. He and his family were tied up for four hours and held at gunpoint while the men casually loaded televisions and anything of value into a waiting truck. Suffice to say I do not begrudge having to open three separate locks to arrive home.

Walking to Spanish school and watching the psychotic traffic I think about the little differences that make Quito such an interesting town. Young people walk with salsa songs squeaking from mobile phone speakers, they strut along the cracked pavement like it is their private WWF walk on music, “aaaand In the blue corner is the Juan Bigflank!”

People more dance than walk about their way, this is a skill I am working on and have only mastered after one too many Mojitos, similar to dancing and karaoke.

It is impossible to get a decent feed of vegetables without paying some kind of gastronomic tax. The weather is very stable and the scenery spectacular. Things are cheap; one litre of beer is one dollar, mineral water only forty cents. Police do not equal safety, if you were in trouble they would just as likely watch the action with nonchalant disinterest and wait for a payoff from the aggressor. One really comes to value friendship with a walk to the ATM becoming two vastly different experiences with or without friends, as does catching a bus or going to the shops.

That said the city is beautiful, it is bristling with parks and old colonial buildings. There are some truly spectacular sights to enjoy whilst firmly clutching wallet and camera inside coat pockets.

People are happy and do not know what an ab-blaster or toasted sandwich maker is. They do not care much for material things. Group them together on a sunny day and press play on an old scratchy stereo and they morph into one single, stomping, ecstatic entity. Compare that scene with the unhappy house wife in suburbia. She is surrounded with shiny big screen watsits and plug in thingamies all pre-ported to make life both easier and happier. She waits all day for her husband to return from work with more funds for that much needed 20 000 amp poo-wizzer. She whiles away her time pushing a Dyson 3 000 and trolling the internet on her brand new 100 inch Dell million giga-thingo deluxe ‘master hub’ searching for the secret to happiness.

I wander into the Spanish School very glad that I am off that bus, red rucksack, crappy old camera and myself are doing just fine. I am slightly disappointed I have never seen a

20 000 amp poo wizzer in action though.

My last week of lessons are very difficult. Having mastered present tense and obligatory statements my teacher and I have moved on to tackle future and past tense. I would be happy to just walk the parks asking people for directions with my teacher laughing from a safe distance like last week. Thankfully I now possess enough Spanish to upsize my KFC meal and to order more than one beer at a time. The more Spanish I learn, the easier it is to learn. My current work is to translate a paragraph and answer some questions. My translation reads as follows;

‘Such how agree tomorrow. Seven months, ten to reunite the people plaza. Think morning delicious and the day is presented. On seven point arrive the bus immediate sound first gear. Hurrah! Mr conductor. Roll up your rucksack and seat occupants each trip results in singers of songs. Own the occasion, for some count jokes and laughs…’

My confidence about navigating South America alone is high as written Spanish is harder than spoken. I think.

I hope I never need to reunite the people plaza or I will be in big trouble. Staring at my books I have reached an executive decision not to learn past or future tense, it is much more fun just living in the present.

Own the occasion for some count jokes and laughs.

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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