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This is a question Travel

I've had guns pointed at me in many different countries, sometimes even by our own side. I've also sat on my own on a beach on a desert island, which was nice because nobody was trying to shoot me. Tell us your tales of foreign travel.

Thanks to SnowytheRabbit for the suggestion

(, Thu 18 Apr 2013, 17:43)
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Watch who you cross the border with
In 2002 I found myself living in a backpacker hostel in the tiny kingdom of Swaziland with a mad rasta. Let's call him Jamal. Jamal was a crusty bastard with dreadlocks down to his waist, a dark Caribbean-emigrant complexion and the broadest cockney accent you've heard this side of Brixton, for that was where he was from. To say he "ran" the hostel would be doing his laissez faire attitude a disservice. It was more that he did nothing to stop people staying, and if they occasionally gave him beer money he gratefully spent it.

When the beer money was in short supply his backup vice was weed. Living in a country where decent weed literally pops up out of the ground meant that it was a very reasonably priced habit to have. He knew everyone who grew the herb within an easy stumble of the hostel and, when they had all run out (or got annoyed with him coming round sponging freebies) he would totter off to the park to score a matchbox for E10 (under a quid back then). The hostel was awash with the stuff and had cemented a legendary reputation which, ten years after its closure, still lives on in the memories of backpackers passing through the area. But I digress.

Jamal, somehow, had at some point got his shit together enough to acquire a Land Rover, which sat permanently in the driveway "waiting for parts". One day he announced that the parts - piston rings if I recall - had arrived in Johannesburg and that I was going to drive him there to collect them.

"I'm not driving a 700km round trip just for piston rings."

"Well obviously we're also going out on the razz, innit. I've got some cash off a deal I done in town and it's time we hit the big city lights, geezer!"

He had a point. Mbabane had pretty much no form of casual entertainment beyond drinking large bottles of local lager in dingy pubs with cages over the bar to discourage more enthusiastic patrons from serving themselves. Even the lone cinema had closed some years previously and I couldn't remember the last time I'd held a bowling ball. If Jamal did actually have some cash it might be a good way to get a cut-price weekend away.

"Alright, but you're buying the first tank of fuel this time, you slippery bastard."

We agreed we'd leave at lunchtime on Friday. One of the guests overheard our conversation and asked if she could hitch a lift, and I agreed. Kerry was a bubbly Californian girl who had just got back from researching the Lonely Planet guide to Namibia. As an aside, this sounds cushy as hell. Her budget was US$65 a day which was a fortune at the time and all she had to do every few days was make a tour of a random selection of hotels and ask to see the rooms so she could conjure up a credible sounding review. The rest of the time was "causal research" which basically meant doing whatever the hell she wanted and writing about it. Top travel tip there, I'm telling you.

Friday was hot, as usual, and my un-airconditioned Golf wheezed up to the border through a dry, dusty haze. We stopped to get our passports stamped and were delayed ten minutes while the immigration official interrogated Kerry about her tongue piercing.

"HOW! How do you eat?" she asked, goggling at Kerry's mouth as if she'd seen the shape of Jesus in her epiglottis.

"I put food in my mouth," she said mysteriously. "And I chew."

That revelation dispensed with we piled back into the little car and drove through South African customs. And that's where things came unstuck. After six months of living with the guy I'd forgotten what Jamal looked like to the uninitiated. Dreadlocked, wearing a stained t-shirt with a beer logo on it, tucking into his fifth can of said beer rather than putting on his seatbelt and loudly proclaiming, "well THESE cants are clearly going to give us uphill, look at that big fucker, his wife clearly got out of the wrong bed this morning" and so on didn't make him the least conspicuous person with whom to be driving through a border. Even less so when you're leaving... a country... that's famous for growing... ...oh shit.

I literally, don't laugh, hadn't thought about this. Was Jamal crazy enough to try and bring some stash for the journey? Definitely. Was he enough of a bastard to put me at risk by doing so in my car? Well, thought I; I suppose we'll find out. And find out we did as the enormous guard waved us over to the inspection area.

And here's the thing about southern Africa. It's all a big laugh - weed's a quid, everyone knows someone who grows it, the papers pad out any vaguely related story with patriotic asides about "tourists who flock to the kingdom of Swazi Gold" - but actually, in actual, real fact, it's completely illegal. And when you've got an African police force subsidized by American money with a specific remit to enforce marijuana prohibition, they don't mess around. You can find yourself in gaol in a heartbeat and African gaol is not somewhere for a skinny white Brit to find himself if he values, well, any kind of bodily integrity. I started, figuratively, to shit in my pants.

"Where are you going?" the guy barked while making a show of re-inspecting my passport.


"Open the bonnet."

I complied, and his mate radioed in the chassis number to check it wasn't stolen.

"You, get out," he said to me. "Show me the boot. And you," he stabbed at the others with a large finger, "you don't move." He walked round to the back of the car with an imperious and haughty look on his face. I'm onto you, his face said. I'm going to take great pleasure in watching you get bummed in the holding cells.

I knew the only way to proceed was to comply fully and not wind the bastard up but at the same time I had convinced myself that Jamal had brought a cheeky bud along somewhere in the car and was physically trembling. Jamal was smoking a fag and grinning like a loon.

"Go on mate, sort him out; I ain't got all day to sit at the border."

Did I mention I hate Jamal?

The boot had three bags. Mine, I knew, had nothing of any consequence in it and the guard rifled through a pair of jeans and some shampoo without a word. Next was Jamal's bag. Now I figured he wasn't dumb enough to have something significant in his bag but at the same time there was every chance he'd have a pipe, or some loose tinfoil or some bloody thing which would then make them search the car and that would definitely turn up whatever it was the dozy gimp had secreted in some painfully obvious hiding place.

The guard rooted through various items of unlaundered underwear with a look of mild distaste while I held my breath and tried to look casual.

He found nothing to upset him.

Oh, thank everything holy, I thought. And now only Kerry's bag - just a few bras and last year's Lonely Planet and OH MY JESUS GOD WHAT IS THAT???

The guard's meaty hands had stopped dead. Under a couple of layers of neatly packed clothing he'd found a small cuboid object, about six by four inches and brilliant white. It was clearly some kind of substance which had been roughly shaped and shrink-wrapped in clear plastic. My heart dropped through my ribcage and landed on my balls. In a single moment I knew that we weren't going bowling in Rosebank that evening; no, instead we were the ones that were going to have fingers shoved up us before being tossed down a corridor. I mean, Kerry? The sweet young American who'd told me my shirt looked cool? Kerry? The girl who wouldn't even try a joint the night before because she didn't want to fail her annual drugs test a month later? Oh, yeah, nice one pineapplecharm, really smooth; now we know the truth, you dumb mug. God, you think you know someone...

The guard slowly, agonisingly, savouring-the-momently, lifted the white package just high enough to reveal the label. "Tampax".

He physically recoiled, hands first and then his entire body in one massive snapping movement as if he'd spotted a snake. "Shit!" exclaimed the man who, half a second ago, had been the very picture of African machismo. Then he slammed the boot. "Okay! You go now! Go!"

So in the end I did come dangerously close to literally shitting in my pants, only it was from laughter. The sweet, sweet, relieved laughter of a man spared anal gang rape by a tampon.
(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 1:59, 5 replies)
So not a 300 game night then?

(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 3:02, closed)
Not so much, no
Although Jamal did end up spending more than half the parts money on shooters in a dodgy Newtown club later, so that at least was fun.
(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 9:09, closed)
Good god - a qotw answer that's relevant, funny and well written, by someone who appears to have a functioning central nervous system!
Quick, have it shot, stuffed and mounted!

And have a clicky from me.
(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 14:11, closed)
^ this^

(, Sat 20 Apr 2013, 20:10, closed)
Fanks, man
I love QOTW. It's still worth panning for the gold.
(, Mon 22 Apr 2013, 9:41, closed)

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