Monday, August 22, 2005

Mudwrestling for a Room

August 20 – boat from Belfast
Even if you know fate doesn’t exist, you can’t count all the things that went a certain way to end up where you are. Let’s not start with some HBO executive’s decision to send someone to the Philippines to do a story, or even my friend Eileen’s firm recommendation that a free week in Southeast Asia would best be spent in Thailand. For the sake of this story we’ll even skip past the Bangkok Airways ticket agent who sat me next to Ross who invited me to find a beach hut with him and his British mates.

Lets start on the night 17 months ago that I followed the British mates into a Lamai, Thailand bar and found a ring in the center that looked a lot like the boxing ring I’d travel all the way to Asia to video. This ring though was slicked with jelly. “We tried mud for a while but it just ruined everything,” the Texan owner explained. Let’s start when I decided I should mudwrestle.

They sent me up to a changing room and gave me some shorts and then I got ready to battle two lithe Thai women. As the Texan began introducing “The Hoss, here all the way from New York City,” I nervously shivered in the entryway and glanced over at two guys sipping beer.

“Good luck,” one of them said.


It was the next day walking alone on the beach that I scurried up the hot sand and stopped into a beachside bar to get lunch. I choose that bar because four girls were playing guitar at one of the orange tables but when I went to order my curry I found the guys who had wished me luck the night before still recovering from the unmentionable end of their evening.

Bill and Paul commended me on my wrestling technique, and then I went up to the girls and asked to borrow their guitar. We all got to talking and then we went out every night that week. Bill and Paul were on an Around the World trip, which was a pretty amazing thought. They invited me on to Ko Phangan with them and we spent a few nights on Hat Rin beach, drinking Beer Chang and pulling German girls.

“Wait a minute,” I thought when the boat took me back towards New York and they got to stay for the next night’s full moon party, “I have to go back to work and you get to do this for another eight months?”

So that’s how I ended up here (wherever I am somewhere in the Irish Sea on my way from Belfast to Scotland) backpacking around the world for a year. But that wasn’t even my point. My point was that the main thing you do—or that I’m doing at this point—is chasing people more than places.

I’m traveling from Bill and Paul to Jennifer and then onto Idell before stopping into Annaelle. The trick you see, to save money, avert loneliness, and have the best time is to meet people in their hometown.

The mudwrestling didn’t just send me on this trip, it took me to a housewarming party last night in Bangor, a Belfast suburb. In the last year and a half (and mainly in the last month) I’ve developed a more streamlined means of arranging these kinds of arrangements.

Step 1) Go out with some people from your hostel.

Step 2) Locate a girl among the group who lives in a country you’ll be visiting in the future.

Step 3) You can probably figure out by yourself.

Step 4) Crash at her place when you pass through her town.

There are certainly variations on the theme. Jennifer, an erstwhile New Yorker who lives in St. Andrews, Scotland actually offered me a place before I bought her any beer. She has a friend who I met in Brisbane, Australia six months ago and turned her onto my blog. Jennifer read that I was in Ireland and invited me—sight unseen—to crash at her place and now I’m on the ferry over to Scotland to take her up on it.

Idell, my old roommate from West 73rd Street, lives in Montpellier, France these days and apparently has a spare couch or floor.

Annaelle lives in Toulouse, France and was kind enough to stick rather strictly to the above outlined Steps.

In the first week of September I’ll have been in Europe for three months and more nights than not I’ll have slept for free. I didn’t set out to spend time in Rotterdam, Bangor, St. Andrews and Toulouse. I can’t say I’d recommend them all. But after a while it turns out the point isn’t so much ‘where’ as ‘who.’

People are complaining I don’t write enough these days and I want to tell them to go ahead and write about their own weekend. I stopped traveling a few weeks ago and now I’m just living. The tourists can look at the Louvre, I’m going to go to the housewarming party. It’s better than a housewarming party at home because everyone here speaks with Irish accents. In the day you can walk around and look at stuff, and on the nights there aren’t any houses to warm you can go mudwrestling until you find someone with a spare bed in Spain.


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