Not far from the coast of Kenya in the iridescent Indian Ocean lies an island called Lamu, very much the same as it was a thousand years ago. Since time out of mind, Lamu has been a bustling entrépot of the African-Arabian trade, its wharves aswarm with dhows freighting ostrich feathers, elephant tusks and green hashish, its bazaars awash with every exotic skin tone from Tibetan gold to Zulu ebony. And in recent years, gliding inconspicuously in their shimmering wraparound kikoys among all these motley traders, an increasing number of Western adventurers have been living out fantasies straight from the Arabian Nights.
For a dollar a night, boarding houses in Lamu town will afford a visitor not merely clean lodgings but access to the flat roof with unlimited sunset-watching and stargazing privileges. Lamu marijuana is cheap and powerful, restrictions against it are minimal, and the African equatorial heavens are spectacular and infinitely absorbing. Thus many are persuaded to stay for months on end, renting ancient high-walled townhouses for $20 to $50 a month.
The traditional Swahili ambiance of Lamu town thrives at the 200-year-old Petley’s Inn, complete with first-class bar and restaurant and pool, yet blending perfectly with the island’s unique tranquility and magnetism. Automobiles are banned from Lamu’s narrow streets, constructed to shade the people from the equatorial sun and to generate refreshing sea-wind currents. Transporation is by foot and donkey mainly, or by m’tabi, a sturdy Swahili motorboat with a swan’s curve belly and bow. Every jetty and marketplace is lined with shops decorated with brilliant banners and awnings, the owners and customers alike wearing long white khanzu-robes and fezlike kofias. Business is brisk and noisy in the morning and picks up again toward sunset, after the long afternoon doze.
Thus life stirs early in Lamu, with the predawn muezzin prayer calls ululating fluidly from the island’s 22 mosques. The men go to pray, while the women in their black habitlike bui-buis begin breakfast. For a visitor, wandering about Lamu at any time of day is like a translation into another time, and especially so at dawn and dusk. Thursday evening, the eve of the Muslim Sabbath, is celebrated abroad from every mosque with the hypnotic Sufi music of drums, tambourines, flutes, hymns and chants. The same joint partaken to enjoy the sunset will carry one irresistibly through the musical Oriental streets, haunted with immemorial genies and houris.
It is the gentle mystical tradition of Sufi that lends Lamu its ageless Islamic atmosphere. “We have a different sense of time here,” explains M’zee Selim Ahmed, a 60-year-old Lamu shaykh. “We know that we live in a paradise, and we want to continue to cherish the timeless values we hold to our hearts.”
Lamu town itself dates from the first provenance of itinerant Sufi preachers, who 700-odd years ago settled Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. The intervening centuries blended the Bantu and Arabian languages and cultures into modern Swahili, a wildly cosmopolitan culture deeply infused with the tolerance and illumination of Sufi Islam.
The Sufi influence accounts for the benign official attitude toward qunnab (hemp) on Lamu and for the exceptionally liberated condition of its womenfolk, virtually unique in all Islam. While the bui-bui is still worn everywhere, Lamu women typically allow the veil to slip after dark, revealing smoky black eyes and bright African fabrics underneath. Virginity is still expected of very young brides, but older girls having once “dallied” are suprisingly free to have lovers. Marriage is no absolute totem on Lamu, where adultery and divorce are almost fashionably commonplace. Polygamy is allowed for men, but rarely practiced due to its expensiveness; and the women are virtually into serial polygamy, many 25-year-old girls having four or five divorces behind them.
Yet the Islamic society on Lamu is as tight and cohesive on every level, from family to government, as any small American town in the 1900s. This proceeds naturally from the communal prayers, fasts and festivals of Sufi Islam, so that a kind of homely holiness pervades the entire island. Visitors with a sincere interst in studying Sufi and Swahili discover themselves welcome in Lamu households, and the shaykhs take great pleasure in instructing Western tourists.
And always there’s the beaches, particularly the eight-mile stretch of surfside sand near Shela, a village populated mainly by devoted dope smokers. Hot and windy the year round, the climate is terrific for swimming, fishing and sailing, and at Shela’s luxurious Peponi Hotel one can order anything from malt beer to lobster thermidor. But the cardinal attraction for any pilgrim to Lamu occurs every 28 days, when the full moon swells up yellow out of India over the ocean, and dope smokers from all East Africa salute it from Shela Beach through a rising ghostly mist of communal cannabis.
Who knows? You might find yourself passing a long-handled hash pipe between Richard Burton and the Khalif Haroun al-Raschid. Or merely giggling like crazy with a very attractive sunburned fellow pilgrim from Kalamazoo or Copenhagen. And here you all are in Lamu.
Carnival Cruises will continue to deploy drug detection dogs to search for pot and other drugs, according to a brand ambassador who confirmed the cruise line’s drug policy Tuesday.
Don’t plan on smoking if you’re vacationing on a cruise: Carnival Cruise Line (CCL), Royal Caribbean (RCL), Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH), and every other major cruise line operating or departing U.S. ports bans cannabis consumption on-board. Most display “Drug Free Zone” signs aboard and employ a zero tolerance policy.
Cruise lines follow federal law, which trumps state laws, even though their ships are not flagged in the U.S., so cannabis is prohibited in nearly every circumstance. The open seas are not actually lawless and laws typically extend miles from shore, and most cruises stop in multiple countries.
The Gwinnett Daily Postreports that Carnival Cruise won’t be changing its policy on cannabis anytime soon, after a brand ambassador clarified the cruise line’s efforts to control cannabis use on-board.
“As for the drug detection dogs, well let me say that they have, along with our no tolerance rules and enforcement, made a massive difference to the problem of people thinking it is legal and allowed to use marijuana on their cruise. It isn’t,” Carnival Brand Ambassador John Heald posted on his Facebook page on May 23.
Some cruise guests complained of the weed smell that is common on cruises. Passengers say they get it while ships dock on ports and when they venture into the city.
“They really need more drug dogs when we are getting back on the ship because people pick up drugs in ports and that is when I smell marijuana on the balconies,” a commenter named Janet replied on Heald’s page.
Problems with Drug Sniffing Dogs and Cannabis
There are a handful of problems with using dogs to sniff out drugs and pot. Commenters raised concerns about allergies to dogs that might be interfering with privacy.
Heald continued, “These uber intelligent and highly trained dogs are used at embarkation and occasionally, not every cruise on every ship will sail as well with their handlers. Again, the ships are large enough for this [to] not be a concern for anyone who is allergic…”
It turns out that the Washington Post asked this same question last March, and a CCL representative confirmed the cruise line’s cannabis policy.
“In case there’s any confusion, let me remind guests that while marijuana and cannabis products may be legal in some states, we are required to follow federal law irrespective of the law in the state where you may be boarding your ship,” CCL President Christine Duffy told the Washington Post.
Since dozens of states have legalized cannabis in one form or another, drug dogs in general are losing their jobs in droves. In other cases, drug-sniffing dogs are getting trained to ignore cannabis. Why? A major exposé from The Chicago Tribune in 2011 claimed that drug-sniffing dogs can pick up on and follow the biases and prejudices of their handlers.
At the auspicious time of 4:20 p.m. on April 20, 2023 I’m in a state of supreme zen, floating on my back within a mineral pool heated by underground hot springs to 85° F. With my shades pointed upwards at the warm springtime sun, I feel absolutely euphoric as tension dissolves from my body. It’s only in the absence of the tightness and stress I’ve been holding that I begin to feel the impact of the weight I’ve carried with me on the drive from Oakland all the way to the top of the Napa Valley. This 4/20, I’m incorporating the cannabis plant as one element of a full holistic jump towards joy. A new company, Cannescape, is hosting an overnight event in wine country that spotlights the best of California’s famed agricultural bounty and cannabis is on the carte du jour.
While weed-infused dinners are not uncommon in the Golden State, their grey area legality in terms of cannabis consumption means they are often hosted at private homes or event spaces. Founded by San Francisco-based travel writer Chelsea Davis, Cannescape is breaking boundaries in the tourism industry by pairing cannabis cuisine with legendary hotel properties. Her first event, held in February, took place at the Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco, a spot that’s hosted rock ‘n’ roll royalty. Her second event took place on 4/20 at Dr. Wilkinson’s resort in Calistoga, an area known for its mineral pools and volcanic mud baths. When we speak prior to the 4/20 event, Davis is on the heels of a press trip to a luxury hotel in Fiji.
“I have a good sense of what I appreciate as a traveler and when I’m going to a property or a great dinner,” Davis says. “I feel like my background in writing about hospitality, travel experiences, and great dinner events has really helped in terms of planning these events.”
Upon arriving in Calistoga and soaking in the pool, I head to my hotel room to prepare for the Cannescape dinner. I grew up in Solano County, which borders Napa County, and have fond childhood memories of spending time with my mom and brother in Calistoga. In fact, the first time I stayed at Dr. Wilkinson’s was with my mom a few years back. Since then the hotel, which was originally founded in 1952, has undergone a renovation. The property kept its emblematic neon sign and the pools are the same, but it now has a midcentury modern look designed to appeal to a younger demographic.
Out front on the city’s main street under the neon there’s another sign reading, “Where wellness meets happiness.” On the property are directional makers pointing to “detox” and “retox.” Once the producer of crops like walnuts and prunes, the Napa Valley is now known as one of the most famous wine producing areas in the world. Calistoga fully embraces its place within the iconic wine growing region, but it’s an unusual place to host a cannabis event as the city does not allow commercial cannabis cultivation or adult-use dispensaries.
“Obviously there are a lot of people who are against [cannabis], who are kind of very set in their ways. They think it’s going to tarnish Napa Valley’s reputation,” Davis says of hosting a weed event in wine country. “There’s a lot of push and pull, but I think ultimately when I was trying to figure out a company idea that was also relevant and something that people were interested in, I was betting on this only continuing to grow in terms of a feasible tourism industry.”
The idea for Cannescape was sparked through Davis’s background in tourism and travel, more specifically her social media work for the Napa Valley Cannabis Association.
“Napa is known for its incredible wine experiences, beautiful vineyards, fine dining, very luxurious experiences, but they also want to cater to a younger demographic and this demographic wants more experiences,” Davis says. “So not just fine wine, but obviously something that makes California unique is the fact that cannabis is legal.”
California cannabis law dictates that only licensed dispensaries can sell THC infused-food and beverages. To work around this restriction, the dinner at Dr. Wilkinson’s is composed of CBD-infused dishes and does not include smoking.
“Most hotels have rules against smoking and that’s just an extra layer of complications that I’m trying to avoid right now,” Davis explains.
Upon heading to the glass-enclosed event space where the CBD dinner will be held, I realize I’m still a bit early and join in a yoga class that’s happening in the grassy area in front of the hotel lobby. The Cannescape overnight is happening in conjunction with Calistoga Wellness Week and I’m taking it all in. After forming what feels like an instant friendship with another guest attending the dinner, we join in another one of the Wellness Week activities and make scented candles together. Next we head to the six-course meal, which is being presented by a connection Davis made through her writing, chef Solomon Johnson. Johnson won the fourth episode of Chopped 420, a cannabis cooking competition produced by the Food Network. After he and his business partner chef Michael Woods started the Pan-African take-out restaurant, the Bussdown, out of an Oakland ghost kitchen, they opened OKO, a restaurant located in Oakland’s famed Tribune Tower. When I speak to Johnson he’s in his home state of Maryland where he is working to open a restaurant within a food hall.
“I’m not a cannabis chef and I try to remind everyone that, you know, I am just a chef who loves cannabis,” Johnson says. “I look at it like any other ingredient in my pantry.”
Johnson sees himself as an advocate of plant medicine. Microdosing is a key concept behind his CBD dinner.
“We’re going to make sure everyone is mindful of their consumption…Too much of anything is a bad thing obviously,” he says. “Being mindful and intentional about how you medicate, why you medicate, and when is an important part of growth as a cannabis consumer.”
The dinner event begins with a presentation from some of the event sponsors. That includes author and certified sommelier Jamie Evans, the Herb Somm, speaking about cannabis and wine pairings. During her presentation Evans passes around wine glasses filled with different botanicals, including cannabis, to showcase terpenes—aromatic elements present in both cannabis and wine that contribute to their taste. Stephanie Honig, board president of the Napa Valley Cannabis Association, speaks to the group about her experience promoting cannabis in a region known for wine. Honig is also the director of sales and communication for her family’s business, Honig Vineyard and Winery.
“We all want the best thing for Napa,” Honig tells me in a phone call prior to the 4/20 event. “We’re third generation, our family business, and have four kids and want Napa to be successful and valuable and prosperous in the future obviously, but we just disagree on what that looks like. For some vintners or some Napa residents it’s really about sticking to wine exclusively. To me it’s looking at, you know, there is no other industry that doesn’t look at consumer trends and adapt to some extent.”
Most of the people who visit Napa Valley are Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, Honig explains, noting that the region needs to look towards attracting a younger demographic in order to remain successful.
“We’re losing [young tourists], we’re losing them to places like Mendocino and Lake County where they can go and have an experience of going to a winery, but also going to a brewery and having great food and going to a cannabis garden and having a diverse experience,” Honig says. “Napa has had double digit success for the last 20-30 years and it’s amazing, but I don’t believe in hanging your hat on that. I think you really just need to move forward and look at what’s next.”
During the 4/20 event Honig says she believes low-dose cannabis beverages can be an alternative or additive to alcoholic beverages. The Cannescape dinner reinforced this idea by beginning with non-alcoholic cannabis aperitifs from Artet. Next, myself and the other diners jumped into Johnson’s meal. Each course incorporated 10.5 mg of CBD, but we were all also offered a side dish containing 30 mg of THC-infused avocado oil to add to our dishes as we pleased. Highlights of the dinner included a black bean soup with a tempura cannabis leaf crisp and a crab tart with maltaise sauce and caviar. The whole experience felt decadent and by the end most of the dinners were smiling and sedated by the effects of the CBD.
“Think about [CBD] not being psychoactive, but being more relaxing, it’s a notable difference and I think that’s part of the education process,” Johnson says. “A lot of people at this dinner may be first timers and they may not have experienced the quote unquote ‘medicated’ feeling so I think it’s great. It’s like the kiddie pool, you know what I mean?”
Johnson says participating in dinners like the one hosted by Cannescape are a “powerful social experience” that should include educating diners so they can break down the stigmas associated with cannabis. It’s also a chance to boost tourism dollars in the local economy.
“Having this opportunity to work with so many iconic spaces is fueling the fire in a way that we would not have been able to do on our own had we been trying to provide this service without them. But it’s also a symbiotic relationship in the sense that these spaces don’t always get booked out,” Johnson says. “Whether people want to admit it or not we are in an economic crisis where people are very smart with their money in the Bay Area just in general.”
After the dinner, I part ways with the one person I knew prior to attending the event, cannabis entrepreneur Amber Senter whose company Landrace Origins provided the coffee during the next morning’s two-course CBD-infused breakfast. Senter spent her 4/20 holiday getting a massage at the resort’s spa and was headed to Washington, D.C. the next day for the National Cannabis Festival. We both agreed that the Cannescape event was one of the classiest 4/20s we’ve ever experienced. “Wellness” is a buzzword that gets thrown around often in both the cannabis and travel industries, but the magic point of ultimate relaxation arrives when you combine cannabinoids with other healthy habits like eating fresh food, participating in physical activities like yoga or taking in the waters of natural mineral springs.
“We’re premiering a new section of cannabis tourism which includes fine dining with travel and cannabis-infused dining,” Davis says.
The YouTube algorithm is a mixed bag. At worst, it will suggest something you’ve already watched before or is currently trending and completely unrelated to your subscriptions or political beliefs. At best, however, it will strike gold and suggest a video that’s right up your alley—something that shows the website knows your tastes and interests better than you do yourself.
Surely this has happened to you at one point. It has to me. More than once, actually. Every now and then, YouTube unexpectedly pushes me down rabbit holes I never even knew existed but am pretty glad to have discovered. I’m talking about entire subculture communities revolving around things as specific as “illegal” Lego techniques, finding the tiniest apartments in central Tokyo or amateur fossil hunting.
The videos that make up these rabbit holes are entertaining enough on their own, but the thing that really excites me about them is the notion that I have accidentally stumbled across a secret world hidden on the internet. It’s sort of the online equivalent of accidentally walking into a really cool speakeasy or bookstore; they’re cool precisely because nobody knows about them.
Anyway, here’s a guide to some of these rabbit holes.
The traditional Japanese (originally Chinese) art of bonsai cultivation has gained a sizeable global following in recent years, so much so that you’ll find no shortage of YouTube channels of (mostly white) guys making videos on how to turn neglected little shrubs into aesthetically pleasing trees. The practical goal of bonsai cultivation is to make a young plant look like an old, mature one. Its spiritual significance is the calm and patience you develop sculpting living materials that have minds of their own. Even if you don’t really care for the underlying philosophy, they’re some of the most satisfying before-and-after videos out there. And if you really want to be wowed, you should check out demonstrations from the masters themselves.
Everybody knows Bob Ross – fuzzy afro, soothing voice, devil-beating brush – but did you know he is only the tip of the iceberg as far as televised painting goes? Ross wasn’t the first to artist to become a television instructor, nor was he the last. His teacher, a big, booming German guy called Bill Alexander, is considered the OG. Born in East Prussia, he came to the America to escape from the Second World War, tried to make a living as a traditional painter, failed, then found decent success on PBS with The Magic of Oil Painting. Ross, who started out as one of his employees, not only stole his format, but also many of the sayings and mannerisms we now associate with The Joy of Painting. For such a famously chill media personality, there was a whole lot of drama going on behind the scenes—drama you can learn all about on YouTube.
Theme park history
This one can be a bit of a minefield. Stray off the path and you’ll find yourself surrounded by Disney adults wearing Minnie Mouse headbands ranking their favorite Magic Kingdom attractions or giving tips on how to get the best parking spot. Really, you want to stick with one channel and that channel is called Defunctland. Run by a dude named Kevin Perjurer, it specializes in publishing insanely well-researched documentaries about theme parks and the ambitious but often incompetent businessmen in charge of them. Topics range from Walt Disney’s embittered battle with his unionizing animators to all the debauched things that ever took place on New York’s Coney Island. Their best video, by a long shot, is a 2-hour-long documentary about the logistical nightmares caused by Disney’s Fast Pass system, which I guarantee is one of the most outrageous things you will ever watch in your entire life.
Ever since the release of Free Solo, it seems like bouldering gyms have started popping up everywhere in the U.S. Honestly, I get it. Watching the Oscar-winning documentary, in which Alex Honnold scales El Capitan in Yosemite National Park sans rope, you’re guaranteed to walk away with a newfound appreciation for the art and athleticism of rock climbing. You also become convinced that Honnold must be the greatest rock climber of all time, but that’s not the case. He’s definitely the bravest, but the best? Believe it or not, but in the world of the sport, El Cap is actually considered a fairly easy route—easy enough for Honnold to attempt it without equipment and stand a good chance of surviving, anyway. If you want to see some truly insane climbing, you should check out the YouTube channels of people like Adam Ondra, who perform climbs so technically challenging that nobody, not even Honnold, would ever attempt them without getting geared up first.
As a backpacker, I pride myself on traveling to destinations most of my friends and family members would not visit unless someone forced them. As far as the backpacking subculture goes, however, I’m still somewhat of a newbie. My idol is a YouTuber called Bald and Bankrupt, who goes to places so remote or dangerous that the people there are genuinely baffled when they run into him. A tall British man who speaks fluent Russian, he spent years travelling in and around Russia. Specifically, to small villages in the countryside struggling with brain drain—i.e. all the young people leaving for the big cities and never coming back. He was in Ukraine when war broke out, and joined refugees on a train to safety. He then turned around and went back into Russia, but was arrested and banned from reentering the country. I haven’t watched his videos in a while, but last I saw he was in the Middle East traveling through Taliban-controlled territory.
The algorithm seems to like this one a lot so you may have seen some of these videos on your feed before. Basically, they’re about people that try to create entire ecosystems enclosed inside aquariums, terrariums, or even small bottles. By the time they’re done, their creations look like something straight out of a David Attenborough nature documentary. My favorite thing about these videos is the style, though. I’m not sure who started it, but many channels make their videos in the same way, with relaxing piano music and text instead of dialogue. It’s ridiculously relaxing.
Last but not least, this isn’t a rabbit hole or subculture so much as it is a community of artists that deserve much more attention than they’re currently getting. Over the years, YouTube has started functioning as a platform where entertainers who are unable to find work in “the industry” can share their creative output and grow an audience. Sometimes, in case of Felix Colgrave—who creates insanely trippy animated videos that, in hindsight, should have been included in my trippiest animated movies article—their work becomes so popular they don’t even need “the industry” anymore. In other cases, like the Dungeons and Dragons-inspired series Doraleous & Associates, their efforts remain criminally underrated. Is this a long-winded way for me to tell you to go check out Doraleous & Associates? Maybe. But really, go check it out. You can finish it in a day, and you won’t regret it.
After wrapping up at Tropicanna we headed back to the hotel to shower and change before the biggest night of our trip, the culmination party at Phandee.
Now I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what we were in for with this one. I had no idea what any of our reach was in this part of the world, and other than smoking weed with some Thai locals who happened to stop by the shop at that time, I didn’t have many expectations. I had seen a flyer a few days earlier, but honestly didn’t realize they really promoted it. I probably should have been better prepared, as this was a much bigger production than anticipated.
When we arrived it was booming. All the seats were filled to capacity with most of the walking space taken up by standing circle seshes. There was a DJ. Several, actually. It was wild to see as by this point it was clear that tourists were toking, but not how many locals were deep into the culture already… and we were fashionably late to our own event.
As soon as we got there people started asking for pictures, which I was not expecting whatsoever. If you know me you know I don’t love taking pictures to begin with, but we felt like celebrities in a city on the other side of the world—I wasn’t about to be that asshole, and I loved every second of it this time. People from across the country came out to bring us samples of their homegrown—one of which even made it into December’s Cop List, which is tough even for Cali cats. Friends from Europe came. One kid spent most of the day on the train just to hang with us. And everyone we’d visited on the trip was there to send us off. It was a really special night. We’re just some random guys who celebrate our addictions, and here we are in Asia doing what we love with dozens of new friends. Life’s a trip, man.
The Mythical Stick
I think I mentioned this earlier, but throughout our trip we asked just about every dealer we saw about Thai sticks. All of them told us they were just folklore at this point, and we’d probably never see them again. Since Thailand’s War on Drugs was so serious, for the longest time even an association to the culture could get you locked up forever, and in the underground there is a real “If you know you know” kinda thing. We had started to believe it was a fool’s errand by this point, but a Thai stick is as classic as Thai weed gets, so we couldn’t stop asking. Imagine our surprise when at this culmination party I’m introduced to an elderly man with a big gold mylar bag.
Now, this guy was beaming before we got there, but even at his age he worked out what was going on and who we were before we did him. Although his family had to basically coerce him into coming to meet us, as he has never done any public press before, his enthusiasm for life was contagious. You could see his light from a mile away. His name was Han Singh, and it turned out, he was the guy we’d spent all week looking for. Han was one of the last remaining members of the original Thai stick family, and he’d basically come out of hiding for the first time to meet us.
I can’t properly express how special those first moments with Han were. He was smiling so big and kept hugging us and thanking us for being interested in what his family had done. It was surreal. Here we were searching the other side of the world for this guy, and he found US and seemed even more excited than we were.
I didn’t even realize initially the mylar had a Thai stick in it. By the time I had the stick out of the bag and in my hand all of us were crying happy tears, it was really magical. And while yes, I was very, very intoxicated, I can’t remember the last time I felt joy like that. It was like Jimi and I just found our long-lost grandpa.
We sat and talked with Han for hours as Jimi broke down and rolled up blunt after blunt of the stick Han had brought us. This dude smoked every single one with us, and pounded beers the whole time. It was incredible. I don’t want to blow up too much of what we talked about as I don’t know what the statute of limitations is like in Thailand, but it’s safe to say that this guy had seen far more work than most could ever imagine, and there’s much more to Thai sticks than just brick wrapped around a stick. Like, for example, did you know that the different colors of the thread used to wrap around the outside used to mean something? Back in the day, certain colors meant the sticks were dipped in… other substances popular in that region. Meaning like an E pill, if someone’s experience with Thai sticks wasn’t a great one, or was more intense than expected, the idea that their smoke was laced isn’t a far cry. Before long it was late and we’d missed most of the party talking in the corner with Han. We said our goodbyes and he called it a night.
After the Party
After we wrapped at Phandee spirits were high, and although it was getting late and we were ripped we weren’t about to stop there. Some of our new friends, a group of Ukrainian women who recently fled their homes due to the war happening there, worked at a mega club nearby and said we had to check it out. Cue a few additional recreational substances and we were all game. It was called Space Plus, and to be frank, it was the most insane club experience I’ve ever had.
Where to even begin with this place? There were lasers everywhere, performers flailing around the room in costume, this like asian dubstep with an MC ad-libbing. There were at least eight jumbotrons complete with insane light rigs spread out above us across the room, and they were rising and falling with the music. They brought us to a table right in front of the stage to hang out with some people that turned out to be the headliners of the night. You could smoke cigarettes in the club, but you had to go out to the patio to smoke weed. Every walk of life you could imagine was represented at this place, and many of them were wearing gear that had words like ‘SEX’ or ‘DRUGS’ scrawled across them. Erin went to the bathroom and got forcibly massaged at the urinal. His back was cracked, mid-stream and all–-it was, like with many things in this country, insanely unexpected but weirdly thrilling. I imagine, I couldn’t stop laughing about that one enough to ask him.
I honestly had a great time at this place. Maybe it was the drugs, but we were all dancing to shit I would’ve listened to in college, and the people-watching was incredible. Eventually our table-mates took the stage, and one of those Chinese dragons with a bunch of people inside started going around the room. This is where that clip of someone pouring liquor from the stage into my mouth in High Rise’s doc came from. I don’t usually drink but what am I going to tell the guy on stage “None for me, thanks!” ? I’m at least incrementally more fun than that.
The craziest thing though was that this club wasn’t open that much longer after we arrived. We watched our new friends play a few more songs, and the lights just went on. It was extremely unexpected, as we were FUCKED by this point, and we had all sort of assumed we’d hang there all night. We had all taken a fair bit of uppers, and like, pretty recently, so we had hours more in us. Our hosts said they knew of a hip-hop bar nearby, so we headed there. About the same time I decided this was probably a good time to stop taking harder drugs for the night. I wanted to sleep before the sun came up.
After the Club
So we get to this new bar, and it’s packed, but there’s a table right by the door reserved for us. I should mention, Jimi hasn’t stopped breaking down the Thai stick and rolling blunts all night. It’s not slowing us down much, so as soon as we get there the table’s taken over and Jimi’s at work. I realize it’s almost 11 a.m. back home, time for the High Times weekly company Zoom call. I take it from the club, because it seemed like a great idea at the time. They probably didn’t notice.
This place was open for maybe two more hours, but by the time they were closing and we were headed back to the hotel I was spent, and ready to lay down. We decided to smoke a few more blunts out in front of the hotel first just for good measure. Jimi went live on Instagram because it was a more reasonable hour back home, and honestly I blame that for reigniting my spark, because as we’re all going through all the drugs we received that night I jokingly pull out a bunch of mushrooms like it’s a good idea to eat them right now. Jimi called my bluff, and scoffed down 2 grams at 4:30 in the morning. I can’t remember much besides laughing from there.
When I got back to my room I fell asleep trying to jot down whatever I could remember.
I don’t know what time it was when I finally got out of bed, but it was too early. I didn’t even look at the clock, I just assumed I was already late so I got dressed, threw some water on my face, and headed down to find something to eat. Unfortunately that didn’t work out too well as breakfast was over, so we smoked a few blunts before heading to the pool.
I was up there in the sun for maybe 20 minutes before I couldn’t handle it anymore. I went back to bed.
At around 5 p.m. I tried waking up again. This time I could feel my legs, and the room wasn’t spinning quite as bad. I called the crew to see where everyone was, as I was for sure the only one still at the hotel now that the sun was setting. The High Rise gang had gone to get another round of massages, and Jimi was back over at Phandee, smoking and watching the World Cup. I called a cab that canceled at least three times but eventually I made it over to hang with Jim until the guys were ready.
After the crew had finished their massages we set out on our last dispensary tour.
The Final Countdown
The first stop was the Zaza dispensary, which it goes without saying (but I will anyway) was our favorite shop name. This one was a bit more mobile and lowkey than the others we’d seen, operating out of what could have been an info kiosk. Only instead of local information (which honestly, they did provide too) these guys were serving heat.
We learned that this shop was operated by Guy Gee Gee, a notable rapper in Thailand, and his long-time friends. One of them was actually their plug back in the traditional market days who they became close with. These kids have been seeking out the best weed they could find for years, so it was no surprise their selection looked closest to the wares you’d find back home in California. It’s worth noting that in Thailand there’s no possession or sales limit yet, so these guys could sell us up to a pound if we wanted. Sure it cost $10,000 USD over there right now, but they had it if we needed it. We chopped it up with them for a while, got some good footage for High Rise’s archive, and drank some incredible mixed orange juice (different types of oranges, no alcohol) from the cart next door before heading out to find dinner.
This turned out to be a challenge once again, as it seems like that part of town shuts down with the setting sun, but our next stop was Khao San Road, which is the spot I’m probably most familiar with in Bangkok so I was more than geeked to get back out there. I don’t know if we even ended up eating, but before long we were in the van heading to our final dispensary, Green Head, which was located at one end of the Khao San night markets.
Khao San Road
Now Khao San is a major party street in Bangkok. There are countless vendors slinging everything from vape pens to alligator meat, and the shops behind most of the vendors have more expansive collections of each pop up. It’s also where they do a lot of recruiting for the ping pong shows, which anyone who hears you’re going to Thailand asks about. Everyone is consuming various substances, and a ton of bars all facing each other are using their sound systems to try and out-party their neighbors. It’s a real trip, and it’s loud. But the place had changed pretty drastically since I’d last seen it. Where there used to be pharmacies there were now dispensaries, and it seemed like they’d cleaned up a lot of the more predatory type vendors. It also seemed smaller, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
We pull up to Green Head, which is facing all the action, but just off the actual strip, and meet with their owner. He explains how they’ve been cultivating for years for the Thai government, and while they used to just take all their buds and disappear them, it has now afforded them privileges like selling concentrate and edibles, which is still banned to most establishments in the country unless they’re specifically considered a medical provider. He also tells us that while this shop is great, he’s got something else to show us, and leads us out onto Khao San.
A couple hundred feet into the madness we get to the glowing green ‘Plantopia’ sign. Seeming like a hidden cannabis oasis, Plantopia opens down this bricked incline into a village of weed shops. I mentioned Nana in the last piece—well this was the Nana of weed. An entire strip mall dedicated almost entirely to cannabis and cannabis consumption—though there was a snack shop and a jewelry dealer in there, which I imagine were likely remnants of the center’s last life. Our new friend also had a shop in here, and this is where we conducted the majority of our interview in proper fashion—while consuming. I have mentioned a few times throughout this adventure how the Thai don’t seem to mind having direct competitors right next door, and that was especially true here, as just in the 30 minutes we hung out there I saw several groups shop at multiple stores before ultimately seshing together in the half-outside lounge area.
I should mention, we learned within that conversation that it only costs about $10-30K USD to set up a shop out there. That means with the right packs you could make that back the first day with what Zaza told us they were charging, especially if you sold a few P’s.
After spending some time in what I consider the best weed destination I’ve seen to date, we ventured further out onto the party street. It was incredibly loud, but they have incredible bootlegs and oddities for sale there, so we spent some time going booth to booth. I was surprised to see how many nicotine vape vendors there were, but they’re illegal in stores there so it’s not that weird if you think about it. The traditional market being traditional. After exploring some of the bar-filled alleys that protrude from the main road, we each got some harem pants and made our way back to the hotel. No ping pong show for us this time, but if you’re curious about what goes down at that sort of thing I’d encourage checking out High Rise’s podcast…
Day 7 (Mostly Airport)
Our final day was an early one, as we had to head to the airport around noon. We were due back in California for some events in NorCal, and we’d extended as far as we could without being late. In fact, we were due to arrive about an hour before the first event started.
Naturally I used the late departure time to sleep in. I skipped breakfast and although getting downstairs early enough to get a few blunts in, I probably could’ve used the nourishment. I ate a Klonopin instead. We didn’t realize until later we didn’t need to get to the airport so early in Thailand.
You see, once we arrived and went to check in for our flight, we were surprised (and frankly worried) to find no one working at the desk for China Air. No one showed up for another hour after we arrived, but fortunately a line was forming behind us so we weren’t alone. I will admit though I was chain-smoking, freaking out that the airline went out of business overnight or something. I decided it was probably a good idea to eat another Klonopin.
While we waited I did some writing. That’s where I started this piece actually, though it’s admittedly gotten away from me at this point. But it was at this moment that I realized that here we were in Thailand, afternoon on a Friday, getting ready for a nearly 20-hour flight that would take us to a party ALSO on Friday in San Francisco. I got tripped up in the time paradox for a solid 10 minutes.
After we got through security and customs we ventured around the actually incredible mall they call an airport. It was massive, and filled with art, and I was feeling good at this point. I remember eating some Korean fried chicken, and apparently I thought it was a good idea to buy scarves. To be fair they were nice, but it was SUPER hot over there. Like I said, I was feeling good. I remember getting on the first plane, but not really the layover in Taiwan.
Somehow when we landed back in California my phone said it was only two hours later. It was indeed still Friday, and we weren’t off the clock yet. We grabbed our bags, and headed immediately to Chronic Culture for a different adventure…
In case it hasn’t become abundantly clear by now, I think everyone should drop what they’re doing and go to Thailand immediately. While I would’ve probably told you the same thing if you asked me a few years ago, now that they’ve got accessible weed over there it’s a whole different—more fun and less scary—ball game. I don’t say that because Thailand was scary before, but their prohibition certainly was.
Now that Thailand’s legal, its industry feels similar to how Oklahoma felt when it went online. Or like New York does now. People are EXCITED, and while most of the world is currently seeing record-low prices per pound, the getting is still GREAT out there. I don’t think the rates will be sustainable given how cheap basically everything else is, but I imagine, like Vegas, there will be a tourist market, and a locals-only one. Being the Vegas/Amsterdam of Asia seems to be what they’re going for.
Now, I do want to clarify that like New York, it’s very clear that Thailand is excited about this industry and the economic benefits it can provide their community, but I wouldn’t be so fast to think that there’s a quick buck outsiders can make. Though I’m sure the import business will be solid for a while, I didn’t need to spend more than a day there to see how much Thai-original meant to this community. They’re actively hunting for their original landraces from seed around the world, and are championing their own players, rather than international elite. I’m sure there will be international brands entering the scene—as Cookies already has—but I imagine what will really pop off out there will be born there. I could be wrong though, it’s happened before!
Also, and in case I didn’t make this clear enough in the piece, Thailand is GORGEOUS. While we didn’t leave Bangkok this trip, the larger country offers everything from mountain to beach adventures, and the wildlife is incredible. For example, we didn’t see any elephants or monkeys this time, but that was one of my favorite parts last time. Seeing them in the wild and not a zoo is not an opportunity you’re afforded back home. I would also recommend going to Chiang Mai, Pai, and Koh Chang if you go—all places I’ve been that offer very different perspectives of life in Thailand, and spots I thoroughly enjoyed. I look forward to going back soon to see how much better they have all gotten with our favorite girl in tow!
If you want to check out High Rise’s documentary, visit here. It’s age restricted so it won’t let us embed.
Can you travel with cannabis in the United States of America? While states like Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington may have legalized it, cannabis is still federally prohibited. So cannabis may be legal in some states. But it is still a controlled substance, according to Washington D.C. (Even though the residents living in the District of Columbia voted to […]
Alright, now that the lovey holiday’s over & I’m not ruining anyone’s relationship, let’s get into the weird. I’m treading lightly here, but this is the best shot I can take at explaining the vibrant subcultures of a foreign world while still respecting our domestic political-correctness. Please don’t cancel me.
I’ll admit up front, I don’t know if it’s Nana or the NaNa, but what I can tell you is this is basically Bangkok’s strip club strip mall, and it’s otherworldly. That’s not meant as praise. Going several stories up with dozens of small blacked-out storefronts facing you from the moment you walk in, when they say there’s something and someone in this world for everyone, this place really makes you believe it.
Being completely honest the first floor is a bit hard to hang out on, but dead center in the middle of all the clubs is this beer garden with a smoking section, and anything goes at Nana, so after trekking to three different clubs trying to get high, we beelined straight there and lit up.
Now, I am not trying to be a pig when I say that the ground-floor of this place is the bottom of the barrel of the universe, but I should probably take a step back and explain a bit more about Thai sex culture before I explain just how uncomfortable it can get.
The Local Sex Culture
You see, I mentioned in the last piece about some expats I’d seen over there, which I didn’t explain at the time but expat is short hand for expatriate, or foreigners who move from their home for a more… interesting life. Many of them go to become what’s affectionately known as ‘sex-pats’, or foreigners who came to Bangkok, and likely Thailand at large, to participate in the extremely in-your-face sex culture that exists there. You might have heard of the Ping Pong shows. We’ll get there, but this is big business. It’s sex tourism. They’re not unique to Thailand, but there are a lot here. Probably because Bangkok at least is like the red light district of Amsterdam, but everywhere.
You don’t need all the specifics, but for now you’ve got to know about Kathoey, historically known as Ladyboys. I get that that’s offensive domestically – I didn’t make it up. In America we’d consider these people Trans, but the big difference here is that these people mostly transition specifically for sex work. It’s a borderline career. They’re not shy about it, and it’s just part of life there. The adventurous go looking for them, but more often those not looking end up finding them, as they’ve all had tons of work done and are virtually indistinguishable. Except for downstairs. It’s a fetish. So, of course Nana caters to that fix, among all the others, and there are Kathoey bars intermixed with regular strip clubs, and they’re not clearly labeled.
Back To The Show
Now, the ground floor of Nana is where the people that you’d be surprised anyone was paying hang out. It’s where they keep the crew for the people that are too drunk to make it up the steps to a more premium show. They’ve got someone down there who will take literally however much you have, for whatever you want, and they’re extremely forward about it. This goes for the women as well as the Kathoey. It attracts not only certain talent, but a certain clientele. As you go higher into this towering strip mall the talent gets more and more high class, and the tabs get more and more expensive, as you’d expect. And they’ve got all the bases covered, from leather clubs to those that want to see strippers initially dressed as their favorite World Cup team.
But the smoking section is on the ground floor, and you really can’t consume fast enough to get away from the downstairs action. You don’t want to look at the people grabbing your private parts and offering you satisfaction. If someone were making a real TV show out of this, imagine American Ninja Warrior but with ‘girls’ instead of obstacles and instead of running the course you’re just trying to get somewhere to put some smoke in your lungs in peace. After running the gauntlet and housing a few blunts, the appeal of the venue had worn off, and somewhere around 2:00 AM we headed back home.
At this point I’ve completely lost track of time. It doesn’t feel like only the fourth day. This basically feels like home now. If we didn’t have plans now immediately following our return I would stay longer. I am already thinking about the next trip. I roll up, and head to meet the guys.
Downstairs we smoke in our usual spot at the hotel, which I’m not sure if I mentioned yet was inside their Zen Garden, next to the super bougie Omakase. It’s surrounded by glass and anyone passing can see us smoking gorilla fingers, and no one the entire trip asked us to stop smoking here. It was a great way to soak up the morning and start the day. After getting properly baked we headed next door to another giant mall, but this one was a Duty Free one, which as I’m sure you know from traveling internationally means ‘no taxes’. Turns out this spot was still too expensive for us, as every store in there was over the top fancy. That means Balenciaga and Louie in my world. Not for me. We quickly walked through, exchanged some money, and headed to our first scheduled stop of the day.
From Warehouses to Dispensaries
It tickles me that after walking around the luxury mall, our next meeting was basically in the Thai suburbs. The juxtaposition of this country is always funny to me. We go to the warehouse where Oliver runs his business to hear more about his operation and stock up on flower. Everything they had brought for us had been long smoked at this point, but Oliver took the warehouse term literally, so we were in good hands. To our surprise they had skateboards in there too, and Derek did some tricks in Birkenstocks, which makes it infinitely more impressive in my eyes – not that I can do any of them in any shoes. We got some coffee and some lunch and headed for our first dispensary of the day, Dr. Dope.
Dr. Dope’s shop is admittedly dope. It’s next to this underground music venue, which while having always had a bar, built this new addition on a technically separate footprint next door planning for future legislation. With a live keyboardist, who was possibly just there because we were visiting – all the guys were dressed what I imagine is far nicer than what they normally wear – and we had a mini party in their shop for the next two hours or so. I don’t know how else to describe it other than that, as as soon as we got there they started dolling out chronic, we started rolling up, and everyone was smoking and eating merrily. Up front they have a shop, but behind the curtain there’s a little bar area that they’re going to have to shut down for the time being because of the changing laws. This spot had the best weed we’d seen in the country so far, and as Jimi states in the documentary it really lifted the bar for what seemed possible for the country. Their keyboardist could hit a blunt without missing a beat, and their flower was actually Cop List worthy; it was excellent.
A Taste of Home Abroad
After a brief visit to the skatepark next door, we headed to our final stop for the night, Oliver’s shop, Phandee. Out of all the spots we visited I’m not being nepotistic when I say Oliver’s is my favorite. With this transparent film wrapping around the property, minorly obfuscating what’s happening behind the glass, Phandee is more of a destination than just a shop. You see, while they are a dispensary, they also have a bar, and a restaurant on the property. Each shop is surrounding a common area with a large projection screen on one side, with scattered tables and chairs available for anyone to hang and eat at. I imagine this is how more shops will eventually be set up – as a sort of adult community center where everyone can imbibe in their own way. I know people are building places like this in L.A., but it only took Oliver two weeks to build after the laws changed.
We got some pizza before heading back to the hotel from a spot called Soho pizza, and it was admittedly closer to a New York slice than expected. We got a second pie, housed it, then headed to bed.
It’s crazy to think that Erin didn’t get here until this point, but on the fifth day we woke up early to head to the airport to finally pick up the last of our crew. Oliver of course knew the security at the airport and they let us into the restricted area to wait for E to get through customs. We hadn’t really had breakfast, so when we pulled in we jumped inside to find some eats.
International airports are always interesting, but it’s not often that you’re there just hanging for a while waiting for your friend. At least it’s not for me. So while we waited Jimi tried to find a 7-11, and I went for the food court outside security. Or so I thought. I go one way down this escalator behind these gates, and they go another. After a loop around what turned out to be a food court filled with things I would never eat, I tried to buy a juice. Turns out I needed special tickets, so after waiting in that line I had to wait in another to buy those, to wait for my drink again. When I finally got it I was like ‘I gotta tell the guys how these people wouldn’t take money!’ – I don’t know why, I was high and amused.
“Where Are You?!”
I walk back up to where we were, right past the gates with no problem, and start looking for the gang. This airport didn’t seem big when we walked in, but it’s now feeling huge. It’s thin but tall, and I’d walked back and forth from where I thought they’d be. I call Derek and find out they’re somehow stuck on the wrong side of security, and they’re not letting them back across without their passports. We don’t even have them in the car. Fuck.
So as they’re brainstorming ways to get back across security, I’m looking for Oliver while on the phone with them like ‘just walk past the security people I just did it for my fruit punch’, but somehow it’s not working. They try three different gates to no avail. I’m debating just joining them in no-man’s-land since I’m by myself over here, but someone’s gotta wait for Erin. We eventually meet near where we think he’s going to exit on opposite sides of the security barrier. I wish I understood how we got here.
Anyway, eventually they got back over after Oliver called his security friend to come help us, and maybe this isn’t as funny to everyone else as it is to me, but I’m still scratching my head over this one. Erin made it through customs and finally, we were all together, on the other side of the world.
To give him the full experience we pulled out a blunt I believe Josh had rolled and smoked it in the airport’s smoking section.
The Gang’s All Here
To keep the true spirit of the Thailand experience going even further, we went right on with our day and didn’t let Erin drop his bags at the hotel until after the day’s activities. While there wasn’t another MJ Biz style convention to treat him to, our next stop for the day was probably as close to a corporate pop-in we made this trip, over to Speedy Access.
Now, I don’t mean to call them corporate as if it’s a dig, because it’s not. These guys are just the most set-up looking establishment we saw from a business perspective – we saw their whole factory, not just their consumer facing business. And Speedy’s team has been growing for years. Originally growing strawberries hydroponically, which it turns out are quite the delicacy out there (with boxes of 8-12 going for 50 Euro or more), since legalization kicked in they’re moving a lot of their canopy into cannabis production. That’s not to say that strawberries haven’t been good business for them. It was, and effective. So effective in fact that they managed to shrink the grow-cycle of a typical strawberry in half, producing delicious fruits in only two months. They aim to do the same with cannabis due to the high costs of energy out there, and of course the ability to squeeze more harvests into a year. But with the insane heat and humidity in Thailand, an expedited cycle would also minimize a lot of the potential dangers of growing in this climate as well. We’ll see if they’re able to pull it off, but based on the technology and understanding we saw from Speedy’s team I look forward to seeing the fruits of their labor.
Our next stop was another highlight of our journey, Tropicanna. This was an on-camera interview that I handled for a change (Jimi was there, but for the most part I’d let him run these so far, so I figured it was my turn to pick up the slack) and honestly it turned out to be a great conversation. You can see clips from it in High Rise’s documentary, but what made it special was that it became more of a cultural conversation, as opposed to just a legal one. You see, Tropicanna was founded by a half-Thai, half-Italian couple that understand not only the culture they’re operating in, but the aspirational one they’d like to inspire with. On top of having an excellent selection of chronic, they had a cool lounge that they use as a co-working space until they can get a license to make it a consumption lounge. This is where we had our chat, and although we couldn’t actually smoke inside, the vibes are already built in there.
More Familiar Flavors
Now, we were hungry before we arrived, so after the interview we were all starting to border into hangry territory. Just as we were about to head out, our friends at Tropicanna let us know they prepared lunch for us. As I’m not a super adventurous eater I’m always a bit nervous when people tell me they’ve chosen my meal for me, so imagine my surprise when they pull out several incredibly delicious-looking-and-smelling lasagnas. The best part? They tasted even better. They also had rice and curry and some local delicacies for us to enjoy, but I honestly can’t put into words just how much I enjoyed this lasagna. I ate close to an entire tray by myself, so let that be a testament to the quality there. I know I was hungry, but I wasn’t expecting to be fully satisfied like that.
I also have to mention that they had First Smoke of the Day playing on their TVs when we got there. It was very unexpected and particularly exciting, as it was the week before my episode dropped and here we are on the other side of the world and they’re watching my homies… it seemed kismet.
*With that, another 2,500 words are locked in the book, so I’ll wrap up Part 3. Our grand finale is just around the corner, and details not only my recollections of the scene out there, but our wildest nights on the trip. See you next time!*
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve returned to the states now, and while the details are blurring, they were never all that clear in the first place. In that spirit I’m going to run the rest of this chronologically, utilizing the handwritten notes I scribed along the way. The last part ended with our first night, and focused mainly on my excitement about being in Thailand… here’s where we start to dig in.
Our second day in the country began with a bang. A series of them actually. Let me paint the picture real quick:
It’s 11 am but the room is still dark thanks to effective blackout blinds. You are surrounded by snacks and empty drink bottles scavenged from the night before. It sounds like an elephant is trying to get into the room. You hear shouting and thumps on the door as you awaken from your stupor.
*Remember, I had just time traveled, and thus hadn’t seen a bed in days. We smoked dozens of blunts after landing, and were on our feet for like a 10 hr day. I was OUT out, and I assumed the rest of the party would be as well.*
Turns out everything was fine, the guys just thought I was dead because I hadn’t woken up yet. [Honestly, how did you? Y’all just did the same journey I did – Jimi’s zeal never ceases to amaze me.] They’ve already eaten, and are ready to explore. All I could think about was needing a smoke, but I wasn’t there yet. I told them I’d come find them in a few hours. I tucked back in.
An hour or two later (or longer, who knows) I finally got my shit together and joined the herd. I met them at the largest outdoor weekend market in the city – I don’t remember the name, but it doesn’t matter. It was a zoo. Like most markets in Thailand, they have some things you need and absolutely everything you don’t. From hilariously bootlegged high-fashion staples to original designs deifying pop culture icons, to “gold” and other precious jewelry, to cell phone cases, to some actually incredible vintage home goods from American brands, it’s all in there. Right across the street was a mall that had more of this that’s open all the time. There was another on the other side. I guess the weekend markets have better wares, but I couldn’t tell the difference. The only thing that felt special about this one was it had a mix of shops every step you took, whereas in the malls for some reason they section the types of shops off. It’s weirder than it sounds – let’s say you’re looking for a cell phone. There will be a village of cell phone shops all right next to each other. They’re all selling almost exactly the same thing, and they all look almost identical. They’ve all got guys out front trying to persuade you to come in. I have no idea how they all stay in business. And it’s like that for everything. The electronics are in one section, the jewelry in another, the clothes in another – each with dozens of competitors lining the walls around them. It made no sense to me then and still doesn’t.
I was glad to see once I met up with everyone that the consensus was clear: we needed more weed. I always hate to be that guy, so I was glad to be traveling with other addicts. I know I’m going to get shit for that but hey, I’m calling the spades. Regardless, we’re the *fun* kind of drug addict, so piss off. I’m just celebrating the fact that I wasn’t the only one itching.
We scoured this god damned market for weed. People kept telling us (though we’re not entirely sure if they ever understood or cared what we were actually asking for) different directions for a supposed pop up dispensary in the market that we never managed to find, and while one or two vendors did have jars with some more earthy looking buds, we kept looking for something more… acceptable.
So, over to the nicer mall across the street. For some reason our hosts thought that would be a better place to score than the shanty market, and while we didn’t find a vendor there either, we did find a friend who had some on him to smoke with us. We went to this nice little rooftop coffee shop and smoked a few bones overlooking the city while a man played funny songs on his keyboard from the street below.
Adventures on the River
After this it was time for a boat tour. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know Bangkok had a river, but if you’re reading this and thinking that you want to book a trip, make this the top of your must do’s. It is absolutely surreal to see the city from this perspective. You see, Bangkok has EVERYTHING, and there are skyscrapers everywhere. But there are also slums everywhere. Often right next door. So to take in the city from the water is amazing because you can more clearly see just how many influences built this city, and how close everything is to its neighbor, while being entirely different – both aesthetically but also more generally, culturally. There’d be a futuristic looking skyscraper, and then an ancient temple right next to it. Or Louis Vuitton stores next to for-real slums. And you could see the influence from all of the other Asian countries making their mark here. It was such a wild change from what we’d just experienced in the market.
I should probably take this time to introduce our hosts. I mentioned in the first part that this trip was planned by Bangkok Urban Green, but I didn’t tell you much about who they were. This group is a newly formed collaboration between both American and Thai operators that is generally looking to help proliferate the fledgling industry. The group includes Americans Judah, and Ron (of Kingston Royal), and Thai native Oliver, the proprietor of the dispensary Phandee in Bangkok, among other operations. Along with us on the trip was JT, one of Judah’s partners from back in the states, and a slew of Oliver’s friends and employees. Oliver’s gang met us at the dock with a bunch more weed and a homemade mason jar bong to take on the river.
Our first stop on this boat tour was an incredible Buddhist temple. Very little information about this place was provided in English and you could tell by how quiet and respectful everyone else visiting was that this was a special site. We did our best to be polite and not be THOSE Americans, but we got some incredible footage and had a good deal of fun. I will say we didn’t smoke at the temple though, which is I think saying something favorable about us, despite that being the bare minimum for most everyone else.
After the temple we got back on the boat, and after a quick detour jumping onto another boat to take some pictures for our gracious hosts, we started the journey back up river to find dinner. Along the way though one of the super malls on the water seemed to be having an event. We pulled our boat in closer and soon realized there was a full-fledged Muay Thai fight about to go down. We were hyped. It took us about 5 minutes of watching from a distance after the fight had started before we realized it was kids that were fighting each other. Not teenagers, children. I still don’t know how to feel about it but I will say they made it a hell of a show, and it was very well attended.
Next we headed to a Chinese village to find a dumpling spot that our host Oliver said was incredible. Unfortunately this was Sunday night and it was already late so after stumbling around this very dark and spooky village we found the restaurant was closed, so we just smoked some blunts about it and went back to the boat. Solid detour if I’m honest – it at times felt both like we were explorers, and about to get murdered. We ended up getting dumplings anyway. Soup dumplings in fact, and they were delightful.
After dinner, and because our hosts were now keenly aware that the jet lag was hitting us, we headed to get traditional Thai massages. In case you don’t know, in Thailand you can get a massage anywhere (remember I said this), and they’re CHEAP. Although usually much more intense and painful than the one we got, the two hour experience cost about $22 USD. They put all of us in a room together on beds about a foot and a half apart. As my masseuse started working on me I briefly considered staying an extra night in Thailand and just getting an 8 hour massage as that would cost about the same as a hotel room. It didn’t take long before I fell asleep.
I don’t know how many of the others fell asleep, but I know Jim did, and he snored. We were all in such a state at the end that the last masseuse leaving the room turned back before exiting and giggled at the sight of us. It was both humiliating and hilarious.
When we got back to our hotel it turned out there was a wedding happening. We would quickly learn that our hotel was the hot spot for upscale events in town. While it didn’t affect our stay in the slightest, it did just so happen that Oliver knew the wedding party. As such, we crashed this very fancy wedding in tank tops and shorts, and the groom for some reason bowed to us as if we weren’t completely out of our gourds. Soon after I was approached by a woman in a pantsuit who asked me where I was staying tonight. When I told her here in the hotel she told me ‘her room’. It took a solid three minutes for me to understand she was saying she owned the place. I quickly thanked her for the existence of her wonderful establishment and escaped before I could find out if there was an additional meaning there.
I got back to my room to find candy and a quote from Steve Jobs waiting by my bed. Thailand is cool, man.
I think the first thing I said to Jimi when I saw him that morning was ‘Should we stay longer?’ We hadn’t even gotten into the real weed journeys yet, and despite the jet lag I was feeling grade A, and ready to dig deeper. Although we couldn’t extend long because we had to be back for Emerald Cup’s Harvest Ball the following weekend, we agreed to stay an extra night en route to our first dispensary of the tour: Best Budz Bangkok.
Best Budz was the closest thing we saw to what I expected a Thai dispensary to look like before arriving. Complete with a bong made out of bamboo hanging across the wall, this spot felt like the Tiki bar of weed shops. The crew that runs it were super excited about the products they could offer and the wares they carried, and honestly, so were we. All of the products they had on display were actually what they were labeled to be – which was the first time we’d seen this in this country, having mostly dealt with delivered and street vendors so far. They even had a Rainbow Sherbert on display that I think the OG’s back home would be proud of. In fact, Jimi and I believe they had gotten the real thing during the highly-coveted clone drop last year, and gave it the proper care it deserved in its new home. While I’ll admit most Thai-grown is still significantly lower quality than what we get in California, these guys gave me real hope for the dispensary scene out there.
We bounced around to a few more shops that basically tried to custy us, but we bought at least a little something at every real shop we went to. It’s worth noting that Best Budz did not do that to us – in fact, they comp’d us all, and they were actually fun to hang out with and talk to. The first stop of the day turned out to be the best, in my opinion.
It’s also worth pointing out that most of these shops had a pretty heavy merchandise presence, almost feeling sometimes like a dispensary and a headshop combined. You expect there to be some items to help you use your newly acquired fix of course, but this usually seemed more sectional – the way we’d normally see pre-rolls next to flower, which is next to concentrate, which are next to edibles.
In dwelling on the different GRAV and Puffco products available abroad in one of our last stops of the day it occurred to me that many of these shops only had 5 or 6 actual THC products available, so this was likely more about filling-out the floorplan. The most unique example of this I saw on this day was a walk-through flower room at the front of one of the shops, directly facing the street. These were pretty small plants, and likely mostly about display, but even here you don’t often get to see living plants in the retail environment, unless someone’s selling clones. And it’s a cool, easy way to communicate to the world that you’re pushing dank.
After hitting another mall, this one even more expansive, where each floor was dedicated to a particular ware – I didn’t bother to look at how big the building was – we sat down for what was my favorite meal of the trip. A wood-fired Korean BBQ spot. These guys treated us like we were children and cooked for us – which was helpful if I’m being honest because we were really, really high – and for the first time since arriving in Thailand I felt full. I wish I wrote down the name of this spot, because I would love to tell you to visit them, but alas, I was stoned.
Dipping Our Toes Into Nightlife
We stopped at our hotel to change, and gobble up the new candy they had left in our rooms for us. Although not everyone was feeling the rage, a few of us then went to the coolest bar-type spot we hit that week, Smalls.
This entire multi-story establishment was like a maze. Or a half-completed puzzle. There were multiple ways to get up to the rooftop where we hung out for awhile, each of which felt like you were climbing an Escher painting, but although our hosts supposedly normally could, it was a bit busy that night and they told us we couldn’t smoke there. Cigarettes were fine though. It was a bit surreal, but they let us roll up at our table while we finished our drinks after we profusely promised we wouldn’t light it there. I eavesdropped on some expat crypto bros analyzing the FTX collapse, and the opportunities it presented. Even in Thailand you can’t escape someone pitching their next NFT project. We bounced from there to light up, and hit two more clubs that we thought were going to be cool.
I should clarify here that I used to work in nightlife in New York, and I’ve grown a bit jaded to club life. This admittedly sounds pretentious, but I’m not going to pay a cover charge to get into your bar to pay you for drinks, or weed. I don’t care about your dress code. I’m coming to spend money with you, you should make it as easy as possible for me to do that. Doesn’t feel like asking too much.
Anyway, at both of these next two clubs my east coast came out a bit. The first place didn’t like Josh’s sneakers, and wanted $10 USD to give him something else to wear. Fuck that, it’s an off night, and only weed is that expensive in this country. I wouldn’t let him pay it, though I should note he was happy to. The next spot wouldn’t let us bring in outside weed, which we had a lot of.
So, we headed for Nana, which we knew would be happy to let us consume, and take our money as we were.
*Those of you that have been to Bangkok likely know where we were headed. Those that haven’t will have to wait until Part 3 to find out. I’m doing my best to properly explain the experience without risking cancellation, so bear with me. Hope you’re warmed up.*
“Do not go there!” Valentina, a 27-year-old designer living in Medellín, yelled when I told her that I planned on visiting the Casa Museo Pablo Escobar, a museum dedicated to the Colombian drug lord.
A quick Google search made me change my mind. The entrance fee to the museum is $30 – a hefty sum in a country where a full meal will typically cost you less than $5, and most of the museums are donation-based or free-of-charge. On top of that, online reviews were making the place out to be a rip-off, a collection of meaningless personal possessions, shoddy reproductions, and revisionist history.
But that was not why Valentina told me not to go. A native Colombian, she felt it was disrespectful for tourists like me to go and waste their time, energy, and money on an individual who callously killed and intimidated so many of her countrymen.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what tourists are doing. For many – although certainly not all – it’s one of their primary reasons for coming to Medellín in the first place. Colombia has been attracting travelers with a perverse admiration for Pablo Escobar for decades, but the number of narco-tourists increased drastically following the release of Netflix’s Narcos, which has turned the kingpin from a fading memory into an alive-and-well pop culture icon.
While the Netflix serieshas boosted Colombia’s tourism industry and by extension the Colombian economy as a whole, Colombians are – understandably – upset that one of the most hated characters in their history books has now become the country’s de facto international ambassador.
“To many of us, Pablo is our Hitler,” one person from Medellín told me. “To a few he was a hero, but mostly he brought a lot of evil to our city, and we will probably never get rid of the stigma, just like the Germans will never get rid of their history. I really despise people who buy or sell Pablo T-shirts, mugs, etc. It’s like me going to Berlin to sell T-shirts of Hitler. I’d get arrested before I sold the first one.”
“I have an uncle who I never met who died in one of his famous bombings,” another added. “I completely despise any reference towards that man.”
Personally, I am tempted to hold Narcos partially responsible for creating or at the very least reinvigorating this reference for Escobar. In classic Hollywood fashion, Netflix made him thinner, handsomer and more charismatic than he was in real life. (They also cast a Brazilian actor instead of a Colombian one, but that is another story). On top of all this, the focus of the show is on his success, on his power. Viewers walk away from Narcos ruminating on how, at his peak, he was the 7th richest man in the world and controlled 80% of all cocaine. What they don’t realize is that, for the time that he was active, he pretty much held the whole country hostage through a campaign of domestic terrorism, blowing up apartment buildings and commercial airplanes just to kill a single person on his miles-long hitlist.
Instead of Casa Museo Pablo Escobar, Valentina urged me to visit Barrio 13. A huge slum erected on the hills overlooking Medellín, Barrio 13 used to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in all of South America, until the Colombian army swept in during the early 2000s. Things have improved since then – somewhat. It is still a total mess; there is no urban planning and no roads for cars, but instead of public executions, there’s music, graffiti, and – occasionally – those Red Bull BMX challenges you may have seen on YouTube. Most importantly, however, the residents seem to be earning a decent living off tourism.
While ordering an IPA I later learned contained copious amounts of THC, I asked the guy who had brought me there – a local called Jason – how the people of Barrio 13 felt about a show like Narcos. The answer: not good. If I wanted to “see the real Escobar,” Jason told me, I should check out a Colombian show called El Patron del Mal, or “The Boss of Evil.” It’s a Latin soap-opera, not a blockbuster, but once I ignored the overly dramatic plot and music, I could see what he was getting at. First and foremost, Escobar, who was played by a Colombian actor, looked the part – overweight and less attractive. Patron del Mal also struck me as more authentic in its representation of Colombia. The Medellín the characters lived in was the same Medellín as I saw when I looked out of the window of my little Airbnb – full of energy and color. They drank aguardiente and gorged on paísa, a typical Antioquian dish of rice, beans, avocado, ground beef and fried pork, served with hot arepas. Most importantly, however, the life of crime did not seem nearly as glamorous in this show as it did in Narcos. We see Escobar for what he really was – a crook without a conscience; it wasn’t his intelligence that allowed him to get as far as he did, but the fact that he was willing to do things that others wouldn’t have been able to live with.
Navigating the maze that’s Barrio 13 is hard enough when you’re sober, let alone when you’ve unintentionally gotten high off craft beer. Standing in line for the only outdoor escalator in the country, I began to notice how Colombian society dealt with the scars of narco-terrorism. Buildings that used to be painted with blood and bullet holes have since been covered up by gorgeous graffiti art that serves to remind people of anything other than drug-related violence. One of the barrio’s newest murals, Jason showed me, depicts Pachamama, an Andean goddess representing the Earth itself, and a much older and powerful symbol of Colombia’s cultural heritage than Escobar.
While I never went to Casa Museo Pablo Escobar, I did visit Hacienda Napoles, one of the many homes he acquired with his fortune. Located near the town of Puerto Triunfo, about halfway between Medellín and Bogotá, the Hacienda had originally included a modest swimming pool, a landing strip for small airplanes, and a zoo filled with animals purchased on the black market. After Escobar’s death, the estate itself fell into disarray. The villa was ransacked and eventually raised to the ground. The animals, left to their fate, died or – in the case of the hippos – escaped into the surrounding wetlands, where they flourished and became invasive species.
For years, the Colombian state fought to confiscate the land from Escobar’s relatives. When they succeeded, they turned the Hacienda Napoles into a theme park. At first, I thought that this was done in an attempt to cash in on narco-tourism trends. Fortunately, this was not the case. Upon falling into public hands, the Hacienda – like Barrio 13 – was transformed so as to remove all traces of its criminal past. To that end, the Hacienda Napoles of today is related to the Hacienda Napoles of Escobar in name only. The hilly terrain that had once served to hide the kingpin’s dealings from the outside world now features rollercoasters and swimming pools. The theme park’s theme is Africa, owing to the bigger and better zoo that has taken the place of the old one. Visitors – mostly Colombians holidaying in their own country – come to gawk at elephants, lions, tigers, flamingos, and a pair of absolutely monstrous boa constrictors. In contrast to Escobar’s own zoo, where zebras were ridden by his henchmen and ostriches handfed cigarettes, the Hacienda’s current animals live in spacious enclosures, enjoying a climate that – at least in terms of temperature – isn’t far off from their native savannahs.
The only reference to Pablo Escobar inside Hacienda Napoles is a small museum tucked away in the very back corner of the park. The museum, a partial reconstruction of the original villa, is dedicated to the victims of narco-terrorism. Inside you learn more about the history of the Hacienda, Escobar’s inevitable downfall, and the barbaric lengths that he went to trying to prevent that downfall. The white walls are covered with the portraits of politicians and police officers that he had killed, as well as pictures of blood-covered children being pulled out of the rubble of collapsed buildings.
What shocked me more than these images was that most of the visitors around me had just come out of the pool and were walking through the museum half-naked, dripping wet, drinking beers and eating slices of pizza. At the time their behavior and appearance couldn’t help but strike me as inappropriate, and even made me think that they were a bit hypocritical to complain about gringos smoking blunts on Escobar’s grave back in Medellín. Days later, I realized how wrong I was. Whereas I, a foreigner, had traveled to Puerto Triunfo specifically to see what had become of Escobar’s former home, the average Colombian – it appears – comes here to swim in the swimming pools, ride the rollercoasters, and look at the animals. To them, Pablo Escobar is not the main event of their trip, but just an afterthought. This, as far as I am concerned, is as good a sign as any that the country – after decades of suffering – is well on its way to break free from the drug lord’s tightening grip.
I just got back from spending 2 weeks (or 15 days if you want to sound even more well-traveled) going around the beautiful and perhaps under-appreciated island of Cuba. This exotic place – hosting every terrain you could ask for – is ideal for its wildlife, incredible beaches, trekking and perfect if you want to travel back to 50s America and see how cars used to look.
But Cuba doesn’t hide away from its complex history, one that has left them being one of the few self-proclaimed communist nations in the world. It is this that, undoubtedly, brings its positives and negatives. Along with other capitalist traits – such as super markets and McDonalds – Cuba also lacked a real drug culture, as a matter of fact, it was practically an anti-drug country.
Over the 2 weeks, despite wanting to, I avoided taking any substances whatsoever. Except Rum and cigars of course. Today I’m going to take you through my itinerary and give a description of why I believe I had this experience. A disclaimer as always, I am only one person, with my own solo experience, it might be different for other people. This was my journey.
Communism in Cuba
I would rather not get into a debate over whether communism is or is not a good political system. It always ends the same. One person says that communism sounds great in theory but simply can’t work in practice – they’ll give examples such as Stalin and Mao. The opposition will then reply with something like: “but these people weren’t true communists. They were dictators. Communism has never been given a fair trial”. In a sense, both opinions are right. In addition, it’s not as if capitalism is working either – with the amount of homelessness, unemployment and our eventual direction of climate disaster.
Nonetheless, Cuba is a communist state – according to them. It is based on the ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which advocate for a classless society in which the means of production are collectively owned and controlled by the working class. In Cuba, this has been implemented through the nationalization of industries and land, as well as the implementation of a planned economy.
The government, led by the Communist Party and started by Fidel Castro after the revolution in 1959, makes decisions about economic and social policy. However, the implementation of communism in Cuba has been criticized for its lack of political and economic freedom, and for its failure to provide for the basic needs of its citizens. There have been protests against the government, which have been harshly dealt with by authorities. The New Yorker writes:
“Cubans across the island have become frustrated by their government’s inability to provide them with even such basic amenities as food and medicine”
Power cuts were a significant issue even for my brief 2 week travel. I also had interesting conversations with locals who sought after the capitalist state that many of the West live in. However, it’s easy to act like capitalism is a bright alternative, when in reality there is an energy crisis, huge amounts of unemployment and homelessness too. Perhaps a hybrid of both ideologies is the way forward.
Drug Laws in Cuba
Drug laws in Cuba are extremely strict. There are no signs of even the smallest of progressions, such as medical cannabis or cannabis tourist markets – like those of California or Amsterdam. Possession of drugs in Cuba is illegal and can result in severe punishment, including long prison sentences. The sale and distribution of drugs are also prohibited and carry even harsher penalties.
The Cuban government takes a hardline stance on drugs, viewing them as a threat to the country’s social and economic stability. Many government websites warn against purchasing illegal substances in Cuba for this reason. One of the more recent cases was a 20 year old woman from Florida who was imprisoned for smuggling a small amount of synthetic cannabis through airport control. Although, she suffered from learning disabilities and many believe she was set up.
Regardless, the Cuban authorities were not lenient. There also seems to be very little actual substances in Cuba, especially when you compare it with South America, Mexico and North America. As an island, they have been able to successfully maintain a strict drug policy. This doesn’t mean there aren’t drugs, it just means that they’re hard and risky to find. Plus, there’s a high chance that the substances themselves may be bad quality. Whilst I was out there, I met two Australian guys who had tried to purchase cocaine but were given something that was definitely not that substance. They wasted 50 dollars, felt nothing and ended up with horrible hangovers the day after.
2 Week Cuba Itinerary
My travels lasted 15 days, beginning and ending in Havana. It is quite a common route and ensured that I saw a variety of different landscapes. Although you could definitely spend months in Cuba and still not fully absorb all of the beauty of the country. In each place I had some sort of conversation with locals about drugs, and in each of these places I did not manage to get my hands on any substances. Here’s why.
Havana really is everything you expect it to be and more. It has the hecticness of any capital, mixed with the soul and sounds of salsa. Everywhere feels like it could burst into a Buena Vista Social Club song at any second. As you walk the streets, you’re greeted by almost everyone. They ask where you’re from, how you are or whether you want to go to a fictional cigar festival this evening. Whilst it isn’t many, there were still mentions of substances. A few offered cocaine and cannabis, but it was a deep whisper that was hardly audible. If they were to be caught, it would be instant jail time.
It was in Havana that I’d heard the Australians’ story and was put off from attempting to purchase anything there. They had also mentioned that the dealers did not allow them to try the substance before buying it either, evidently highlighting the bad quality of the drug. Whilst decent substances weren’t easy to find in the capital, rum at a low cost was basically coming out of the taps. Drinking glass after glass of pure rum in the Hemingway bar in Havana reminded me just how much of a drug alcohol is. Why did we ever need other substances anyway?
The next stop was Vinales. This is a small countryside town in the middle of nowhere. A great deal of cigar making happens here, with a large amount of tobacco farms. If I was travelling in any other country in the world, I would presume this kind of laid back lifestyle would breed cannabis dealers. However, yet again, drugs were not an option. After a day of cycling around the caves outside of Vinales and zip-lining over the mountains, we attended a Cuban street party. It was crazy. Locals danced salsa and drinked Mojitos, whilst us tourists only really knew how to do the latter with any grace or expertise. Although, we did try to salsa as best we could. Even here, with mountains of rum on offer and the smell of cigars in the air, there were no signs or whispers of any other substances. Pina Colada is all they seemed to need.
After a few days in Vinales we headed to the beaches of Playa Laga. This is also, historically, very close to where the Bay of Pigs battle took place during the Cold War. The beaches were incredible, with the sand as white as stone and the water translucent. Cuban music brushed through the palm trees with, as always, rum being poured as regularly and freely as the tide. Still no signs of any other substances. In fact, in Playa Laga, I would almost go as far to say that there were no illegal substances whatsoever. It just did not feel like the place. There’s barely any restaurants or bars, let alone dealers with excess drugs to sell. So yet again, I waited for the next stop. Although my passion for finding drugs was definitely diminishing, the soul of Cuba and the alcoholic drinks were enough for me.
Cienfeugos felt like a place that may have had substances within its streets. It felt like a mini version of Havana with a French twist. Although parts of it – such as the main boulevard – felt a bit like Los Angeles in a weird way. It was yet another odd Cuban city that I instantly fell in love with. Except for a group of boys trying to make me pay them 5 pesos to use their lighter, I wasn’t too keen on that. One night we found a small bar with a pool table but were unable to play due to a group of scary Cuban men occupying it.
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After a while, shyly and fearfully standing by the bar, I was the first of my friends to muster up the courage to speak to them. In the end, they were a very kind group of guys and let us play with them. Don’t trust first impressions. I asked the ringleader, so to speak, how hard it was to get ahold of drugs in Cuba. He told me, again in hush tones, that it certainly exists and is possible, but is too expensive for the quality. He said that dealers are few due to the risk and the actual amount of drugs on offer. It isn’t really a beneficial market for anyone – the buyer or the seller. Although he did say he had a guy that he could call if we wanted something. We weren’t too keen after that.
Our final stop before going back to Havana was Trinidad and this stunning city was definitely my favorite place. With cobbled streets, horses trotting about and incredible European style town houses, it felt like being inside Disney’s Encanto. One evening there was even a power cut – the stars were magnificent and all you could hear was the sound of music and the smell of cigars. In the last few days of my trip I had given up on finding drugs in Cuba. There really was no point in my eyes. The place had enough. Behind some difficulty in transportation and Wi-Fi, not the best food options and frequent power cuts, Cuba has an incredible zeitgeist. It really is unmatched by anything I’ve seen before and it highlights just how great a country it is to visit. Trinidad was a hard place to leave.
Whilst Cuba may not be the best place to visit for drug or food tourism, it has the greatest soul of any country I’ve been to. You can walk the sun-lit streets, drink quality cheap rum and let the cities take your breath away by themselves. You honestly don’t need drugs. Even if you feel like you do, you’ll find it too hard to find them to have any other option but to exist without. Either way, travelling Cuba for 15 days was an amazing experience, and felt like a high in itself.
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