The Hummingbird

Light pooled and dispersed between the shadows, containers of cool air vaulted beneath the broad leaves. Through the canopy vines we bathe in the greenery and soak up the wildness of nature surrounding us. I look across at Choco, sitting on a wooden bench sipping his Belikin, with the beginnings of a smile and finally a look that bordered on contentment.

I started out this morning with Choco. Round head, dewlap like flap at the base of his skull, large belly, Mayan descent. I knew little more about him despite the fact he had picked me up every day since I had been in Belize. He was very pleasant but also very quiet and he had a look as though the monotony of daily life had worn him down a little.

Each morning he would arrive at 6am to take me to the dive shop. Mostly our 10 minutes together was consumed by my excited ramblings of today’s scuba diving excursion, my sub-aquatic adventures from the day before and if we had time, what happened last night at the pub. I didn’t get much by way of a response from Choco, he nodded and responded with brief sentences like “very good” or “what will you do tomorrow?”

Today though I was going on a road trip to explore a large cave system about 3 hours from Placencia and I faced the proposition of over six hours alone in minivan with Choco. As usual he was on time. I was keeping company at the top of the road with Miguel, a security guard from the guest house at which I was staying. “Good luck with the Hummingbird” he commented as I jumped into Choco’s van and waved him goodbye from the window.

“What is the Hummingbird?” I asked Choco.

“It is the road we will be driving”

“Is it dangerous?” I asked

“No” he replied and with that we slipped back into our usual early morning one directional discussion. However, not feeling like driving in silence for six hours and tiring of my own voice, I started pressing him for conversation.

I pried from him an update on the border dispute with Guatamala and his view on whether I should hitch there the next day. Teased from him details regarding his family life and growing up in Belize. Investigated the Mayan peoples and the remnants of their rich culture; and when we had exhausted all standing topics I pressed back in my seat and felt the warm morning air flood through the window as I commented on the postcard perfect scenery along the Hummingbird Highway.

By the time we got to our destination Choco had relaxed and was now starting to initiate some discussion. I almost wished we could drive a little longer, thinking I had nearly cracked him.

About four hours after he dropped me off I found Choco diligently waiting for me for our return journey. He was leaning back against his van with his shirt off. The Belizian sun reflecting off his protruding round smooth belly. He saw me emerging from the jungle and quickly whipped his shirt back on and gave me a wave.

I had spent the morning hiking through the jungle, zip lining through its canopy, exploring an extensive cave system and floating down a stream. Wet and filthy dirty I grabbed a change of clothes and beckoned Choco to join me for lunch. I handed him a beer and we sat along a wooden bench quietly admiring the tumble of rapids in the nearby stream.

We jumped into the van and a discernibly more jovial Choco declares “Guinness is my favourite. I like Belikin but Guinness is the best.” It seems as though beer has acted as a social lubricant for the now much chattier Choco. I suggested I might want to get some beer for the trip back. “Guinness is the beer I drive best on.” Choco adds. “ I know where we should go!”

A local toothless man with a weak chin stepped from the verandah of the general store as I exited with my bag of Guinness. “You’re gunna need something to get you back through the Hummingbird.”  He quipped, following this statement with a booming laugh as he scratched his head and looked out towards the jungle.

“I wonder what he meant by that?” I asked Choco as I handed him his first can of Guinness. Choco shrugs. His beam widening as he cracks the top of his can. We swerve off down the road with Choco chuckling aloud. “I like Guinness”

At first Choco’s chuckles made me smile at him enjoying himself so much. Then I couldn’t help joining in. Both of us chuckling like school children, Choco’s whole body shaking, as we cruised the Hummingbird. Then I saw a sign by the road that said “Prepare to meet thy maker.” I still hadn’t determined the nature of the threat of this road. Needless to say it was a little disconcerting seeing that sign as Choco cracked another beer with another high pitched chuckle.

I searched the road up ahead for signs of danger but it gave me no hints. It seemed like a perfectly safe road. Perhaps there were tight turns that fall away to plummeting ravines or cliffs with loose shoulders that I hadn’t noticed on the way here. Maybe bandits that lay in wait; or could the warnings I had received be the universe cautioning me about my increasingly intoxicated driver. My vigilant watch for impending disaster was broken by Choco opening up and giving me the run down on his girlfriends. In fact now that Choco had started talking I couldn’t shut him up.

Choco it turns out was 44, had a wife and 4 kids and despite appearances was an unscrupulous seducer of tourist women. Didn’t see that coming. He started with his relationship with a Canadian tourist that he became, in his words, “overly friendly” with. He was going to run off with her, except there was a problem with his papers that required his wife’s signature. That was the end of that one he lamented.

After cataloguing a number of star crossed affairs he talked me through his relationship with a Spanish tourist who agreed to be “on the side” until she got his wife’s number from his phone and started texting her that Choco was going to leave her.  Choco denied everything and then “gifted” his wife a new smart phone, with a new number of course and broke it off with the Spanish lady.

He told me he was a bit hurt by the Spanish girl because he trusted her and she broke his trust. I tried to explain there may be some irony in a married man feeling betrayed by his lover but he didn’t grasp the concept and besides he was now having such a good time on this trip back home I didn’t want to spoil it for him. Choco and I were finally connecting. It may have taken half a day and a good deal of Guinness though.

I imagined what it would be like if I could always take the time to connect with the people around me. People I usually pass in my day that I don’t have words to say to or perhaps just no time to say them. Choco and I had little in common but for the next couple of hours we laughed, we drank beer and we ate some of the Namibian Oryx biltong I had in my bag.

By the time we pulled back into Placencia, Choco leaned over and patted me on the knee and told me he was very happy with the drive home, he had never had such a good time working and he felt like the day was for him.

We pulled up in front of my accommodation, the lady at the front desk called out “I see you survived the Hummingbird.” I looked at Choco, he shrugged again. I never found out what if any risks there are driving the Hummingbird. I did find out a lot about my driver Choco though.

Choco. Guinness lover, chuckler…. lothario.

The wind whispers “beware”

The evening is coming.  I walk through the dance floor, the sun retreating, sucked from the darkening corners, leeching itself from the dusty floor. Lunging and fleeing at the horror of the disco lights being switched on.

“Got your gloves on boys? I think we’ll have trouble.”

I step onto the street and light my cigarette, looking up the walk towards Guildhall. Save for two chavs trying to bum some cigarettes from a passer-by, the strip was dead…. for now.  A deep sigh and I start to prepare myself mentally, to stand on the door for another night in deep analogy. As a backpacker turned publican to support my travels, my shaking over the past few months is diminishing. I hope to god it is still only visible from the inside.

It may be a desolate evening on Guildhall Walk but it is still early and the wind rushing past the door is whispering “beware.”

“I just heard the Fleet haven’t got any security on tonight” Chandler comments, shaking his head as he lights his cigarette. “She must have forgotten the game was on or something? Maybe she’s closing up? Some of the other pubs in the street are, not worth the trauma.”

It was the calm before the storm. Portsmouth were playing Southampton in the local derby. I had bulked my security to six and told them to be extra vigilant on the door. That meant checking everybody’s ID. Not to ascertain age but to ensure that we were not letting any Scummers into the pub.

I had nothing against anyone from Southampton. In fact those that I knew were quite pleasant. But fitting in meant using terms like moosh, supporting Harry and Jim to take the Blue Army to the top of the league, and of course referring to everyone from Southampton as Scum. If we accidentally let some in, history has taught me they will inevitably make their city of origin apparent to everyone in the vicinity, provoking a mass brawl. A lapse on the front door would almost certainly result in carnage.

“Come on, lets duck around and see what’s going on, we’ll give her a radio to call us if she gets into trouble.”

****

I moved to position on the door through the sweaty grindings of an inebriated sea of dancing peroxide in strobe and coloured lights. Here I have somehow found my home, hopefully temporarily, inside the bottled and released actions of angry young men.

All under control, I thought as Chandler put in the call on the radio “Robbo, trouble at The Fleet. What do you want us to do?”

Shit, I spoke too soon. I press in my mic “Meet me out the back in the lane, keep two on the front door and one inside, bring the rest.”

The short cut across the lane allowed us to be at the front steps of the Fleet in seconds. It was kicking off well. At first glance there was two separate fights each consisting of about four or five punters. We split into twos and made short work of it. Barging into the middle of the fray we collared the main trouble, worked out who was fighting who and ushered one lot out into the lane.

The baddies on the street wanted to go on with it for a bit but having one publican with a mile of front and three security guards who didn’t need it, seemed to settle them down reluctantly until their supporters inside kicked off again with the same group of guys.

They were dealt the same apparent injustice as their comrades and were also relegated to the alleyway. All seemed to be calm inside with the antagonists now pacing the laneway between The Fleet and the back of my joint. After checking the manageress was ok I left Chandler and another guard on the door of The Fleet to ensure the bad guys didn’t get back in and start things off again. I needed to get back to my gaff to ensure it wasn’t suffering the same fate.

We were not in my bar twenty minutes when Chandler put another call through “Robbo receiving?”

“Go ahead”

“Ah Robbo, I think you had better get back over here…..and bring help.”

One of my bouncers heard the call and met me at the back door, we poked our heads out into the lane, the crowd had swollen to over fifty and Chandler was pushing some back onto the street.

“Crap, lets go” We jogged quickly along the fence line and onto the steps of the pub, joining our other two guards. The crowd had lathered themselves up into a frenzy. Shouting. All the bad words. The guys inside were just as bad, banging on the windows riling them up further with every jeer.

‘What the hell happened? They were calm?”
“As soon as you left these guys called in their mates, we’ve had our hands full keeping them outside and then these pricks in the bar started taunting them. We’ve got to shut the doors, we can’t take all of them.”

“Do it, close ‘em.”  It perhaps wasn’t my call but this was getting out of control. Adam grabs a door but the angry mob rush at us in an attempt to force their way past. We were four guys standing on the steps of the pub, pushing the crowd back. A bottle smashes above our heads and a fist glances my cheek. “Shut the door” I yell.

The onslaught was relentless though and none of us could remove ourselves long enough to unhinge the doors. Our pushes became punches to try and protect ourselves before the mob lunged as one, busting through us.

I am forced to the left of the door, my security all to the right and a sea of aggression divides us. The next few minutes was a free for all, like a medieval war scene, two opposing forces collided as the wave of baddies flooded the door. Terror sets in, your instinct to survive heightens prickly on your skin as you duck and throw haymakers in futile attempts to avoid the flurry of fists, boots and bottles.

A guy rushes me with his fist cocked, I throw one, hitting him worse than flush and then wrestle him past me against a pool table as another one follows him, punching me in the eye. The adrenaline pumping through my veins, a natural anaesthetic. I ward him off the best I can, my arms feel like they are restrained as we jostle, my punches ineffective.

We spin, someone has picked up a pool cue and swings it at me, he is just out of reach. I am punched in the back of the head. I fail to turn to see my new opponent, instead I palm the second guy in the face and launch myself at the snooker fan forcing him backwards onto the second table with his cue lost from his grip. One massive elbow across his head and he stumbles back off, hesitant to reengage.

I look up breathless, stricken with fright. The battle was lost. My shirt ripped, hair wet with sweat and beer. My bouncers each had their hands full, and were being pushed back towards the bar by the animalistic horde. Men were now leaning across the counter grappling at the terrified bar staff. I make my way through the frenzy of fists, lashing out at anyone and everyone in desperation for survival.

I see Chandler and grab his attention, pulling him back towards me “get the guys, protect the bar staff and let these idiots punch themselves out” I yell. He grabs the other two bouncers and we span the bar face, kicking and punching off anyone that came close, staff behind us in a mix of fear and excitement.

Someone ripped a radiator out and hurled it, a glass ash tray took a gash from someone’s head and pool cues were the weapon of choice at the far side near the tables. It was hard to see whether anyone knew which side they were on anymore or if they were just caught up in the exhilaration of the moment.

Fights however never last long, for starters I don’t think anyone really enjoys getting the daylights kicked out of them and it is a fact that kicking the daylights out of someone else is a very tiresome exercise. The fight began to peter out and we moved back in, grabbing the weary combatants and throwing them out onto the street one by one. This time their obnoxious stance of defiance was fleeting and they all walked away, no doubt to tidy themselves up to enter another pub somewhere to celebrate and retell tales of their gallant and bravery in battle.

We empty the bar, shut the doors and to the shaken thank yous of the manageress we ambled back to my pub…… no doubt to retell of our gallant and bravery in battle also.

Pub Crawl?

“Pull the nose up a little Robbo.”

“A little more, that’s it. A little more. Pull the nose up mate….”

I felt the controls move in my hand as the pilot took over control of our light aircraft and touched us down safely at our first outback pub. I have never flown a plane before and it felt a little bizarre to be trying to land a plane now under the watchful eye of our pilot and my white knuckled mates in the cabin behind me.

We circled the pub a couple of times signalling to the publican to leave his only two customers and bring the ute to the airstrip. Some boys had arrived, on an outback pub crawl… by plane.

To keep his licence, Sam our pilot needs to keep his flying hours up which can be an expensive proposition. We struck a deal whereby we pay for fuel, food and accommodation; he takes care of the rest. A cheap way for three of my closest mates and I to fly around outback Australia for five days stopping at some of the country’s most iconic bush pubs. Sam closely guides our take-offs and landings and then throws us the controls.

The redness of the earth below is harsh and undulating and broken by the carvings of long dried waterways. The dirt tracks scouring the sparse scrub below inspired a renewed realisation of the remoteness of some of our destinations. Occasionally the dust from a road train hangs in the air showing us the direction of dirt roads in the distance.

We skirted metres above Lake Eyre racing Emus across the white pan, Galahs guiding our wingtip. We played golf across three state borders at Cameron’s Corner. We circled the amphitheatre of Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges and walked around the Dig Tree in the footsteps of famous explorers Burke and Wills.

We ate kangaroo burgers and quandongs and bush tomato chilli jam. Sitting around a fire at night beneath a black sky shattered into a million stars. We slept underground in reconverted opal mines in White Cliffs, in repurposed shipping containers in Parachilna and in old drover’s quarters at William Creek.

We graced the tiles of pubs like the Birdsville, the Mount Hope and the Prarie. Grand old pubs, with history on the walls. Pubs where you land your plane on the dirt road a couple of hundred metres from the front bar, where the old cockeys pull up a stool next to you to tell you stories of the land. Pubs where the Akubra hat of each local bloke who has passed on is nailed to the roof.

And as this venture was officially a pub crawl we felt obliged to drink beer in between….. just to wet the whistle….. flying in the outback can be a thirsty proposition…. you understand.

A lo Cubano (The Cuban way)

You don’t walk through Havana, you stroll dreamily but with an excitement that really only grips you when you explore a new city. And when you do that in Havana it is as though everything you have known is forgotten and you are born again, learning a new world for the first time. The streets are alive, the musica heady and emanating from the corner of every old town bar. Street vendors sing for our attention and cats lazily watch on as we make our way towards our accommodation.

We rented an apartment in the old town for CUC40 per night. Options were scarce but our casa particulares was only the equivalent of AUS$30. The owner, like everyone else in Cuba, spoke no English. Usually this is no problem. In fact we revel in determining our way deep in another culture. However today two Nicoles booked to rent this apartment…. on the same day. This added a degree of difficulty to our interactions, as our Spanish had deteriorated to phrases used most regularly on Speedy Gonzales cartoons.

Our host confused, thought she had one guest named Nicole coming in on the evening flight and so didn’t pick us up at the airport in the morning. As travellers who always pack a healthy dose of patience and good humour, my Nicole and I made our own way into the city, unruffled. In fact we were delighted to do so, finding the incursion into new realms energising.

The building in which we were to reside for the next week had a dangerous look to it. There was no predatory vibe from the people, more from the broken staircase, the exposed nails and electrics, and the balconies that hung on the dirty facade out into the street. Hung sounds too secure, more dangle precariously than hung. Held by layers of peeling paint, remnants of a chore long since abandoned.

The doorbell didn’t work so we managed to follow someone in and meandered our way through the building, at times finding ourselves moving through people’s living rooms that had somehow over the years morphed into common walkways. They smiled and nodded, unphased as we passed by their tele.

There was no one home in our apartment but through an elaborate display of hand gestures and broken Spanish that may have looked like interpretive dance to the onlooking residents, a neighbour found what I guess were the communal keys to all apartments and let us in.

We somehow managed to sign out a need also for the owner’s phone number and after much referencing of our phrase book I managed to communicate to her that Nicole was aqui ….ahora. Here? Now? A squeal that seemed like a mix of delight and panic came down the line. Then click. Nicole asked if she was coming? I shrugged.

We spent the next 15 minutes taking in turns of walking onto the balcony and waving to the children on the opposite balconies, when our host burst into the room with a flurry of hugs and a niece in toe that could translate in broken English.

We worked out the apartment had been double booked and so a couple of phone calls later by our host and we were being led through the streets of the old town to our new apartment by the niece and her boyfriend who were eager to find out everything they could about Australia. The new accommodation was equally small, dated and tired but clean and our new host was lovely. So with that sorted we headed out into the city.

The streets of Havana are clean, save the rubble of abandoned building sites. The architecture captures perfectly time and place and still in places shows glimpses of their majesty in the 1950s. Now they are run down, their brightly coloured paint faded though to charming hues. Doors, walls and balconies maintained over the last 60 years only with bits of wire to keep them functional. The sides of some buildings possess the stigmata of stairways and rooms that were once in an adjacent building that didn’t survive the decay.

People sitting in corrugated iron doorways or on the footpath in front of their house watch on as we explore their streets. Their clothes dry in barred windows as they gather around a small television. Their doors all open to the street for ventilation. As we walk towards the centre of the old town we pass the faces of those who look worn and saddened by poverty, contrasted with those that laugh and dance in a carnival of energy and pizzazz. Vintage cars pass you in the streets and add to the scene which demands you to wander wide eyed. For a moment then, you are transferred to a world that looks like Las Vegas may have looked 70 years ago…. If nothing was ever maintained again. An intriguing and maybe a little sad product of the country’s politics.

A truck commercial on television in Australia 10 years ago was for a “one tonne Rodeo.” The commercial was set to the song Guantanamera. The country’s most noted patriotic song calls to us from every other bar. It has been slightly ruined for me now as I can’t get the damn commercial out of my head.

We head to La Floridita for my Daiquiri and La Bodeguita Del Medio for my Mojito. An old lady, craggy face, hat and long cigar, the Cuban portrait personified stares at me as we walk by and then bursts into a loud cackle throwing her head back in full body display. I think I missed the joke…..  or maybe it was me?

This was our first stop since leaving Mexico. Mexico was an easy lover. She provided brilliant food, breathtaking lodging and relatively easy travel. Cuba makes you work for her love. The food is not so great, you continuously encounter money situations and the accommodation is certainly questionable. But Cuba is a seductress. She has a rhythm, a vibe that is intoxicating, that takes you by the hand and draws you into a salsa dance curb side.

The smoke from fat Cohiba cigars drifts into the air around us, tantalising our cerveza cristal and 18 year old rum before catching the cool breeze and mixing with the music from the band. We sit back on our plastic chairs on the street corner, taking it all in as the humidity of the day lifts.  Glad we made it to Cuba before the western world arrives in droves, with their oversized red shoes and golden arches; putting a Starbucks and Hooters on every other corner.

I look across to Nicole enjoying the Cuban music and sing along….. “one tonne Rodeo, guajira, one tonne Rodeo.”

Well, that was surreal!

I hate the misuse of the word surreal. I hear people say things like “I bumped into my friend at the train station the other day, it was so surreal.”

It wasn’t. Unless you friend was a pink elephant with your undies on his head telling time from a melting clock, it wasn’t surreal.

I look around me though and there is no other word that can really describe what I’m seeing. I’m dressed in lederhosen, so are five of my closest mates. Our drinks are oversized one litre plastic cups filled with Vodka and Redbull. Around us monks, hillbillies, centurions, minions, Donald Trumps, flamingos, creepy baby heads, a wardrobe with legs (presumably from the lion, witch and the wardrobe), Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins, Muy Thai fighters, pirates, jockeys, unicorns, T-rexs, leprechauns carrying blokes, pregnant cheerleaders, fighter pilots, snipers, lifeguards, policewomen, dictators, the Chinese army, a clergy of nuns priests and bishops, a couple of Harry Potters, numerous Where’s Wallys, a handful of broadcasters, some tinder screens, Oompah Loompas, prisoners, geishas, pharaohs , TMNTs, Tetris pieces, the odd Mother of Dragons, a trace of rabbits, bathers from the 1940s, guys with dressing gowns and shaving cream, Shrek, Asterix and Oblisk, Storm Troopers, Budgie Smugglers and the Super Mario Bros.

David Hasselhoff is singing in front of me surrounded by Baywatch babes and bizarrely accompanied by a Chinese midget also dressed as a lifeguard sitting on a tower.

South Stand at the Hong Kong Sevens. Where have you been all my life. Oh and some rugby was played too – Fiji won. I think.

Rio de Janeiro

We taxi it to the fringe of the Lapa street party at the base of the aqueduct that connects St Theresa with the Centro. The streets are humming and so am I. The smell of BBQ wafts through the air and the rhythm of drums accompany it in a harmony of sensory exhilaration that would enthral and electrify even the most seasoned of travellers. We push into the heaving crowd soaking up the colour and vibrancy of movement, dogs and children weave underfoot and flags and streamers frame the azure above. Canopied street stalls and bar entrances to buildings from the 1800s line the street with live samba, choro, rock and reggae tunes emanating and possessing any space between the movement of mocha skin from locals and tanned tourists alike.

We find a less dense area to stand and drink, suitably appropriate to a beer and sausage stand while placing us in the middle of same minded locals well and truly in party mode. Caipirinha, a fuelled mix of cachaca rum, lime, sugar and ice is the perfect chaser to Batidas straws of fruity and milky elixirs that surely need to follow a refreshing Brahma Chopp.

We indulge and before long have conversations with multiple groups of locals most of who can speak English and others who are just keen to communicate with a series of nods, smiles, and the little Portuguese we can muster. We mingle in and out of dancing groups and sidle along side all who look friendly or interesting. Herman is seeking out a Brazillian with a brazillian.

I am talking to some brazen young shirtless local men who have the potential to be dangerous if not simply intimidating but I am suitably inebriated and any unfounded prejudgement is placed aside and partially substituted for a friendly enthusiasm to marinate in their culture. I glance over my shoulder to check Herman is ok. He is throwing his hands about in an animated fashion, three tourists watching on entertained. I turn back to the group. After the obligatory introduction via comments on the crowd and our respective origins, we engage in the finer and more important discussion topics.

“You guys have some hot hot women here” I complement.

“You need to have one” Estevan, the ringleader of these amigos who seemed smoother than a rat with a gold tooth, replies enthusiastically. He is a tall confident well groomed guy who I was happy talking to for now and who seemed friendly enough, but whom I wouldn’t trust my wallet or sister with. “Which one do you want?” he continues.

“Ha, you talk like you own them” I respond with a laugh.

“I don’t own them my friend but you don’t have to be so slow here in Rio, you see a girl you like, you just walk up to her and take her.”

“Take her?”

“Sim, beijo … kiss her”

“Yeah right” I laugh “We have a name for that at home”

“Serious….. look I will show” Estevan struts into the path of a pretty brunette walking with two girlfriends on her wing, and presents long enough only for a quick “ola” before leaning in and kissing her. Abruptly halted, the brunette girl reciprocates his advance and after a good 10-15 seconds of passion Estevan spins on his heel and returns to the fold. “See…. Now you.”

“Hold on there fella, as impressive as that was, how am I to know that wasn’t your friend or girlfriend, or wife…… or sister” I announce cheekily to the laughter of the boys. Estevan punches my shoulder softly and playfully for the sister comment as he is slapped on his back by his mates.

“I tell you I don’t know that one” he says

“How about I pick a girl for you to just walk up to and kiss”

“No problem” Estevan replies. I turn and scan the party.

“How about…” my finger points out towards the crowd

“no touristas” Estevan adds

“Ok how about….” Finger still scanning, “this one” my finger stops on a girl standing close to us and then quickly shifts at the last second to a girl over a little. “Yes, her, the short hair white singlet shirt”

“Which?” Estevan says “oh, yes, no problem.” Estevan, swagger in check parades to the target and within seconds is engaged in an embrace and kiss suited more to a honeymooning couple than that of a chance encounter. He returns and all eyes are on me

Their eyes eager in anticipation of my move in this game.

“Ok, at the risk of looking like an absolute idiot in front of you guys, I’m going to give this a go….. Just walk up and kiss them you reckon.” I start towards the crowd saying over my shoulder “Promise me, you will help me out if I am attacked by a jealous boyfriend or if this girl slaps me.” The guys laugh again. I’m in trouble aren’t I, cant back out now though. I spot a very pretty girl in jean shorts and big boobs snuggled into a midrift crop top. I stop directly in front of her and look into her eyes, she is beautiful.

I say only one thing. “sorry” and then I lean in and kiss her. She kisses back to my absolute amazement and so I pull her in close. We kiss again after a quick turn and wink to Estevan and his amigos.

“Herman, Herman” I stop kissing and grab my kissing partner by the hand. “Herman you can kiss any girl you like” I am so excited, I drag her towards Herman.

“Mate, what are you talking about” I have his attention.

“Seriously, you can kiss any girl you want”

“What”

“Just go up and kiss a girl” I squark

“What”

“Mate, listen to me and stop saying ‘what’, this place is different, you can just walk up to any girl you like and kiss her, those guys told me to, I did it and now I have….. hey what is your name”

“Hee hee you funny” Mariana was pretty in a worldly way and with confident eyes that more seemed to take pity or amusement in my courting attempt. Sympathy hook up or not, I was stoked it worked.

Herman was onto it and in minutes came back with Ana. I was a little bummed, Ana was hotter than Mariana. We introduced the girls and celebrated our revelation between us secretly before taking their hands to further explore the street party. Now with dates.

We drank, ate and danced until late and thoroughly enjoyed the company of the girls who taught us about Brazilian culture, music, dancing, drinking and anything we noted that seemed different from home. Not once did it occur to us that we had just been given the key to pick up any girl we wanted, presumably, and that we were stopping with the first girls we found. We are idiots.

It was getting late and not being ones to head home early we ask the girls to take us to their local gaff and all pile into a taxi. Mariana gave the cab driver directions and although the ride was only about 15 minutes I was happy it was over since Herman had somehow swindled his way into the back seat with the ladies whiles I sat up front with an unwashed driver who looked a little like a Brazilian Steve Buschemi. The driver chatted the whole way through stained and crooked teeth and didn’t seem to comprehend that I couldn’t understand a word he said. I smiled a lot and nodded, if he pointed at something I said “si” and pointed to it as well. This seemed to suffice for company for this guy and he appeared very satisfied with our conversation when we arrived at our hole in the wall destination faring us goodbye with a hearty hand shake.

Inside the décor was simple, wooden tables with bench chairs and scattered in coasters. The walls dirty with beer posters and old notices for bands that obviously didn’t perform here. I order a round of drinks, the girls go to powder their nose while Herman and I reflect on what a great night we had and lay some anticipations about what the rest of the evening would hold with the girls. I look around “mate, do you notice their seems to be a lot of pretty young girls in here with some not so good looking older guys… and one of them just smiled at me and pulled her tit out the side of her t-shirt”

“I was just going to say the same thing, I have seen two sets of cans since we came in” Herman responded, but we didn’t have time to extrapolate any theories from our observations, the girls were back and our attention was focused back on them. Mariana and Ana come back to the table only this time Mariana sits on Herman’s knee.

“What are you doing?” he said confused

“We changed” she replied

“What do you mean you changed?”

Ana sits down next to me “Well we were in the toilet and she says she like you better than him and I like him better so we change” She responds matter of factly to Herman.

“Ha” I rock back in my seat and clap my hands together over my head, “The old switch-a-roo”

“I’m not sure I am entirely comfortable with this… I’m not happy about this at all” Herman glares at me across the table.

“Mate, not my fault, if the girls want to swap, what can we do about it? We kinda have to swap” I laugh and pull Ana to my lap. We start to kiss, Herman sits there with a bemused look.

Reluctantly Herman accepts his new girl and before long, Mariana is whispering in his ear and a grin came over his stupid looking face from ear to ear. Mariana calls something out to a friend of hers in the bar as Herman leans over the table and mouths the word “threesome”. Within seconds Mariana’s friend is sitting on the other side of Herman whispering in his ear also. Herman has a thousand mile stare and his eyes are starting to slowly roll back in his head.

“Your friend does not know does he?” Ana says

“Know what?”

“That girl is a prostitute”

“Really? Um… are you a prostitute?”

“Ha ha no”

“But you are friends with her?”

“No I don’t know this one. I meet her when I meet you”

“How do you know she is a prostitute?”

“She tell me when we were walking through the street party”

“OK but I don’t understand ….. I mean …. I walked up to Mariana and kissed her and she kissed me back… because she is a prostitute obviously…. but why did you let Herman just walk up to you and kiss you?

“I think he is funny”

And why did you come with us?”

“You all look like fun”

“And you are sure you are not a prostitute too?”

“No, I am not a prostitute”

“Shit, I have to let Herman know” I look across at him, he was in his happy place. “I had better give him a bit of time before I break it to him” Ana agreed, besides we had a lot more kissing to do.
30 minutes and another round of beer later I had a drunken moment of clarity and there were a couple of local guys that seemed to be watching us intently. Maybe it was time to wrap this up.

“If you will excuse me ladies, I just have to use the mens room. Herman, would you like to join me?”

Herman squints at me like I am crazy “No mate, I would not”

I nod in the direction of the toilets, he nods in the direction of Mariana.

“Um, I think you do want to join me mate”
“Robbo I’m pretty fucking sure I don’t”

I lean in and stare a bit more intensely at Herman nodding slightly, he stares back shaking his head subtly and quickly. I respond slowly and with intent. “Herman my retarded friend, I couldnt be more obvious if I grabbed you by the scruff of your neck, please, get the fuck up, I want to talk to you.”

In the bathrooms I explained our situation to Herman. Herman met my status update with the appropriate amount of suspicion.

“This is not like the time you convinced me the girl we both liked was a white witch? Im on a threesome out there”

“Well let’s just think about that now Herman, in all your travels have you ever known girls to behave like the ones here in Brazil. They are all kissing us and showing their breasts, playing pocket snooker and inviting instant thresomes. Don’t you think that it is a little unusual?”

“I just thought we were hot in Brazil. I was planning on moving here for good”

Herman replied but leaving the events that lead to now with him for the briefest of moments reality sure enough sunk in and a look of utter devastation hit Hermans face.

“Have you ever met a brazillain prostitute’s pimp?”

“No”

“Neither have I but I really don’t want to and wherever the pimp is watching on from,  I don’t want to be arguing the toss with him as to whether we owe him for a nights services from the two girls you were getting your jollies with at the table”

“Ok then, fuck, Im way to drunk to be dealing with this. How do we get out of here then?”

“Its ok, I have a plan”

“Robbo, your plan sucks”

“Hey, you haven’t even heard it yet……Now we could have just walked straight out the front door but that will arouse obvious suspicions with the prostitutes. So…. Herman, you climb out the bathroom window here and I’ll go back to the table. The prostitutes will think you are still in the toilet. Maybe I will mention you have some sort of diarrhoea bug.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because its funny, what do you care, you aren’t seeing them again are you? Then I will pretend to take a call on my phone, Ill meet you on the next corner”

“Why can’t you be the one who climbs out the window?”
“Because I came up with the plan and also because I am not the one that needs to escape the pimp, my girl isn’t a prostitute”

“She was my girl first!”

“Semantics Herman, quit living in the past. Now get to it”

My plan worked to perfection. Herman had to scale a fence after being terrorized by a dog, but with minimal subsequent whinging he met me on the corner.

“Did they suspect anything?” he asks

“Mate trust me, I was as smooth as a rat with a gold tooth” Just then some high pitched prostitute yelling came from up the road. A lot of Portuguese and some English that says you owe me money. We start running in the other direction, the prostitute being joined by two other prostitutes. My girl wasn’t there, I was proud of her. Those prostitutes were quite quick, they were no doubt catching on us when Herman stopped for a moment.

“What are you doing? Lets go?” I yell

“Don’t worry Im creating a diversion” Herman shoots back. Herman pulls out a bunch of centavos and scattered them across the ground, throwing a couple of 2 Real notes into the air before returning to the chase.

Seamlessly we approach the next corner and slide straight into a cab, turning to see the prostitutes half a block away scurrying to pick up Herman’s change on the road. And we were off, laughing our arses off into the Brazilian night.