Sunday, May 20, 2007

Amsterdam - First Backpacking Trip - Day 2

I drifted in and out of a shallow sleep for the rest of the night. Being right next to the bar, my head was filled with reggae and R&B for the entire night, interspersed with the sounds of muted conversation and laughter coming through the walls. I felt close to the action. It seemed that the fun continued 24/7, that someone was having fun at all hours of the night. I was also awakened by my roommates returning late from the bars, and we exchanged greetings as people came in the room.

I woke the next morning just in time to catch the end of breakfast. Walking out, I saw one of my roommates and decided to sit with him. Groggy from the jet lag, we talked about what to expect while backpacking and some of his adventures. He was a very interesting person, an Indian who went to school in England. He told me his stories of horseback riding in Northern India, near the base of the Himalayas. He told me about how riding through the forests, he would not see anyone for days at a time. I was entranced by his stories of adventure and exploration. He was very mature and seemed to have experienced a lot. His stories roused my sense of adventure, and I realized that I would be unhappy with my life unless I have some of my own adventures in the future.

By 2pm, Soutrik and Barro were finally ready. I noticed that whenever I go on trips, I seem to always be the one with the most energy, always ready to go and explore. I seem to have a lot of energy while travelling, and can never wait to explore new places. Following a suggestion from Alma, our Canadian roommate, we headed off to the Twin Dolphins coffeeshop for their tea. Now, for the ones who are unfamiliar with the terms, a cafe in Amsterdam is a bar, and a coffeeshop is an establishment that deals solely in marijuana. Seeing that I am in Amsterdam, and that I had never been high before, I figure I'd go for it since I believe that people should experience as much as they can in their lives, as long as it is safe and does not harm others. On the way over, we explored the market and stopped off for some lunch, where I tried a kroket sandwich.

Entering the twin dolphins, we ordered their tea, a hot chocolate served with a tea ball filled with tea and marijuana leaves. We sat downstairs in their lounge, which was very well decorated with ocean themes. There were great murals and aquariums on the wall. The downstairs was extremely thick with smoke, and even if you didn't have anything yourself, the smoke was thick enough to relax you after a few minutes down there. Soutrik and I sat down there, sipping on our tea and chatting with our friends for a hour or so. The tea tasted like skunky hot chocolate.

After an hour, with the tea gone, and still not feeling anything other than begin somewhat relaxed, we wondered if we were doing something wrong. I had been warned that the effects were slower to start when eating marijuana, but after over an hour and still not feeling anything, we weren't sure if we didn't have enough since we had shared one tea between the two of us, as suggested. To try the get the maximum effect, we tried to shake some of the strands our of the metal tea ball and drink them with the tea. Soutrik decided to have another, but I convinced him that we probably should take it slow, and maybe we just needed to build it up in our systems over a few days.

Arriving back in our room, Soutrik and I sat down to chat, while Barro decided to go take a nap in his room, where he was forced to move due to the amount of people staying at the hostel. About about five minutes of sitting around, it suddenly hit us like us running in to a brick wall. It was amazing how fast the effect came! It is very difficult to describe what it feels like, but everything that people say about being high is true! Everything starts taking on extra significance, and you can see strange, very fluid visualizations everywhere. Soutrik and I talked very fast for a while, and then I found it very enjoyable just to sit quietly with your eyes closed, where you can see colourful shapes all around. I wondered if this was why meditation was so popular with the group of people who often used marijuana.

The experience was very interesting. I had visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations. I can even see whatever I talked about, even if it was an abstract idea! Very strange! But is was very different from being drunk in the fact that you can control all of it. I found this to be the most interesting part of the experience. Especially when the effects were starting to ware off, I'd get lost in my thoughts, but as soon as I realized that I was high, everything became crystal clear, as if I was under no influence at all. At the same time, everything in the past would seem as if it was a dream, so I would never be sure if I said what I said, even if I had stopped talking just a second ago! All in all, a very interesting experience.

After about two hours, two new roommates came in our room to settle down. Thinking back, they were both extremely high themselves, but of course, we didn't realize it at the time as we were trying to hide the fact that we were high. I'm not sure why we needed to hide it since everyone else around us was high, but the paranoia from the marijuana probably had something to do with it. We started talking to the two who had just come in and started introducing ourselves. Suddenly, Soutrik, visibly distraught, said to me very urgently "Let's go. Let's go for a walk." Thinking that Soutrik just didn't want them to know we were high, we decided to leave the room and take a walk in the dark of the Voldelpark beside the hostel. As soon as we stepped out, Soutrik said to me "Dude, you know why I wanted to get out of there? I-I think they were trying to rob us! They were asking all of these questions like 'what's your name' and 'where are you from.' I think they're trying to get our information so they can rob our homes while we're not there!" At that point, I started getting worried, but just to reassure Soutrik, I responded "You know, I think you're just thinking that because of the pot. It makes you paranoid." As soon as I said that, Soutrik stopped, looked at me, and said "You're absolutely right!" And that's when we both cracked up as we realized they they weren't trying to rob us after all.

For the next hour, we walked around the Voldelpark and up to Lidesplein. Finding ourselves somewhat hungry, we bought some warm, freshly made oliebollen from a stall. We scarfed it down, thinking that it was the best pastry we had ever ate! I still remember how absolutely delicious the oliebollens were! Unfortunately, after that day, we were never able to find oliebollen, or really, any food, nearly as delicious as the ones we had that night.

For the rest of the night, we just hung around the bar and kitchen, chatting with the other guests. We also saw a cat asleep in the basket of free bread, which we thought to be very cute. Just chilling out and enjoying the music and company of other backpackers, and taking an occasional puff from a blunt being passed around, we had a very relaxing and social night. That night, I finally recovered from my jet lag, and had a very good 7 hours of sleep, maybe partially thank for the marijuana that was still sure to be in my system.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Amsterdam - First Backpacking Trip - Day 1

During the train ride, the three of us were staring out the window at the landscape we were rolling by. We were all visibly excited even after a red-eye flight across the Atlantic. We continually remarked how amazing it is that we are now in Europe about to start a long backpacking trip! It just seemed so surreal, as we've never really travelled without our parents before. It felt so liberating, but also quite scary as we didn't know what to expect. We were all by ourselves in unfamiliar territory, half way around the world from home.

Pulling into the station, we jumped off of the train and walked outside in front of the Amsterdam Station Centraal. We immediately gave our camera to someone and took our first photo of us on our first backpacking trip! After that, we visited a tourist information centre across the road, but they didn't have much free information. Too excited to wait in line, we decided to walk toward the hostel we were staying at, the Flying Pig Uptown.

On the entire way over, we frequently stopped to take photos. Ok, maybe a bit too much, but what can you expect? It was the first hour of our first ever trip with friends, and it was in Europe! I also felt very strange since my family had just taken our first trip to Europe the summer before, so everything in Amsterdam was strangely familiar to me. During my trip with my family, I had never even though there would be the day when I would be wandering these streets with friends, without my parents anywhere near. Amsterdam is very different without your parents. Well, it's not nearly as awkward for sure!

After a long walk through a very indirect route due to some confusion, we finally saw the large yellow sign with the "Flying Pig" name and logo on it. Walking down the quiet street right by Voldelpark, we were all very anxious to see what a hostel looked like from the inside. I was very nervous since I had never shared a room so with so many strange and unfamiliar people. It made me quite homesick thinking about the idea.

After checking in, we made our way down a small cramped staircase. At the bottom was a hallway, somewhat dimly lit with some bulbs with a yellowish tinge. The air was thick with the smell of marijuana smoke. There was the sound of reggae coming from the bar, and the walls and doors were covered with strange paintings of drug use, pigs with propeller hats, and marijuana related things. Walking past the thick smoke, we came to our room.

When we arrived, everyone else was out of the room. With the aid of a single dim light bulb and the dim, gloomy light coming in the windows from the perpetually overcast Amsterdam skies, we examined the room. There was room for 10 or 12 people. Some stuff was lying on other beds, and a bottom bunk that was sheltered by a sarong wrap. The walls were light green, with dark green stencilled giant marijuana leaves in a neat pattern. It was obvious that we had arrived in Amsterdam, the centre of the Western pot world. The cramped, damp washrooms located by the bar where you can hear the music and talking from inside also contributed to the ambiance. We decided to take a short break to recover from our flight. Deciding that we needed to force out the jet lag, I dragged both of my fellow travellers out after a long struggle lasting a couple of hours.

We took a walk to a nearly supermarket, the large Albert Haijns chain. We bought shampoo, toothpaste, some food, and three bottles of wine at 1.5 Euros apiece. You know you are in Europe when wine is just as cheap as water! Arriving back at the hostel, we made some pasta, and met many of the others who were staying there as we were lounging around the kitchen and sharing our wine. Before going out for the night to check out the nightlife, we sat at the bar surrounded by marijuana smoke, and had a Bailey's hot chocolate (quite tasty!) while chatting to a Canadian girl who was also staying in our room.

Finally, after a while, we headed out after somehow spontaneously gathering 8 of our roommates. Since our hostel was close to Leidseplein, we ended up at the Bulldog, which I now know to be the "tourist" hangout spot. Soutrik and I split a special brownie, although we didn't feel any effect at all, while our new Canadian friend bought a few blunts for the night. I ended up trying a puff, my first puff of pot in Amsterdam, sitting in the corner couches behind the busy dance floor. It was also the first time I had heard techno, and I had enjoyed it a lot. The ambiance was great, the dimly lit Christmas decorations hanging above the dance floor, the dim red lights everywhere, and the trance-inducing techno music which was just loud enough to remove your from reality while not being uncomfortable. Everyone around us seemed to be enjoying themselves, relaxed under the influence of numerous substances.

Retiring for the night, not at all tired thanks to the time difference, we tried to go to sleep. This had been a great first day in Europe, and we can't help but feel that we were going to have the time of our lives even if the rest of our trip was like our first day, being jet lagged and uncomfortable with our new surroundings. As we laid in bed trying to sleep, the rest of our roommates who had returned early with us dozed off straight away, under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, and who knows what else.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Plans Nearly Finalized - Morocco Still on List!

Alright, my travel plans are nearly finalized! And I've decided to still visit Morocco. Although terrorism is a concern, it can happen anywhere and one shouldn't let them keep you from learning about the world.

The current plan for me is to fly into Madrid to meet up with Felix. We then fly to Ouarzazate, a southern city in Morocco. Meeting with with my long-time family friend Lori in Marrakech, we continue up through Gibraltar and along the southern coast of Spain and France. Lori will leave us from Barcelona while Felix will leave after meeting up with Andre in Nice, France. Andre and I will travel across the southern coast of France and down Italy, meeting up with David in Greece. After Andre leaves, David and I continue the trip. Although our original plans was to visit Turkey, David seems to be worried about the terrorism in Turkey and the current political instability, so it looks like we may end up not visiting Turkey. We continue up north to Sofia, where David departs. I continue to Romania, and am considering spending less time in the Romanian Alps to take a quick trip to Moldova since this is their first year with the relaxed visa policies. I would like a chance to visit the country before it becomes overfilled with tourists. I then fly out from Bucharest to Lisbon, where I will spend the last few days of my trip before flying back home.

All in all, a very busy plan, but there is just so much to see in this world! I see these types of travelling-backpacking trips as almost like scouting missions. I want as much exposure to different places as possible, and in the future I can return to the places that I find most interesting. The world is just too big, so unfortunately, you have to choose between knowing a few places well and knowing a lot of places in a very shallow manner. Although I would hate to leave with a shallow and incomplete view of the local cultures, I believe that knowing about more cultures is more important to develop a more complete view of this world. Besides, I absolutely do plan on returning to the more interesting and mysterious places in the future to get a deeper sense of their cultures.

I am also trying to learn the basic words needed for travel in the different languages I will experience: Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, (brushing up on my French), and Romanian. I am focusing mainly on Romanian at this time since that is the leg of the trip that I will travelling without a travel buddy.

I'm very much looking forward to this trip, but as of now, I still can't envision myself on it because I am so overloaded with end-of-the-semester project for my last week in University! I'll be sure to provide more details when I get some more time to.