Some travel off the beaten path. I prefer to stumble on it, in the literal sense. Put another way, TPOL enjoys a drink. Here are 7 adventures where the local libation influenced my behavior. Whether this makes me an Ugly American is not up for debate as only my bartender can judge me.
This post is not for the sensitive. Reader discretion is advised.
Note the first two adventures are taken from my book, Everyone’s Advice Is Wrong . . . Including Mine.
1. Carnaval in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Nothing is more emblematic of embellishment than the Carnaval celebration in Brazil. Carnaval is a festival that takes place every year to mark the beginning of Lent. To commemorate the transition from excess to abstinence, the country hosts street parades, exclusive balls, and round-the-clock beach parties. The climax of the splurge is the Carnaval Samba Parade held in Rio de Janeiro, a competition where rival samba schools vie for the title of best school by designing their own costumes, decorating elaborate floats, and perfecting their dance choreography as part of an overall theme. It’s fair to say that it is slightly more risqué than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Ninety thousand people watch the event live at the Sambódromo, while hundreds of thousands throughout multiple countries tune in from home. Celebrities from around the world pay top dollar for luxury suites to partake in the revelry. In fact, in 2011, three-time Super Bowl winner and fellow Michigan alum Tom Brady sat front row in a VIP box and, by all accounts, had a fantastic time.
Before going to Rio, my best friend, Michael Jeries, (hereon referred to as Mikey) and I researched parade ticket prices hoping to find great seats. To my amazement, I discovered that instead of just watching the parade, tourists can actually be in it! By corresponding with a local samba school in Rio via e-mail, writing in both Spanish and English, hoping the combination would magically translate into Portuguese, I somehow arranged for a courier to drop off the costumes at our hotel the day of the parade.
Our school’s theme was global warming, and the costumes we purchased were supposed to be Eskimos. What we received was some over-the-top outfit consisting of a skintight white gown with requisite pieces of flair along with a bunch of silver balls and feathers coming out of the head dress. Unable to make sense of the costume, we questioned if what we had purchased was authentic. Reminded of the saying “When in Rio…” Mikey and I put on our dresses and headed to the Sambódromo, hoping that we were not victims of an elaborate prank. Somehow we located our school and breathed a huge sigh of relief when we came across other participants also cloaked in this odd interpretation of Eskimo garb.
A few caipirinhas and a couple Skol beers later, we mustered the courage to dance in the middle of the Sambódromo, doing our best imitation of the samba while trying not to cost our school, Portela, the title. We also, más o menos, sang along to our school’s theme song, “Oh so agua so ao…so Portela!” Our school finished a respectable third, undoubtedly a result of our efforts.
Carnaval was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and being in the parade, without question, was the coolest thing I have ever done.
2. Ziplining in Vang Vieng, Laos
So there we were, floating down a river in Vang Vieng, Laos. The journey was not a peaceful, holistic experience where man becomes one with nature. Quite the opposite, the ride began at the heart of the Nam Song River with bar after bar on both sides of the waterway. We could hardly go more than ten feet on our innertubes without a bartender reeling us in like fish on a hook. Throughout the pub crawl float, we were offered shot after shot of Lao Lao whisky, buckets of Red Bull vodka, and all the Beerlao we could drink. Combined with zip lines, the discography of MGMT blaring through the speakers, a plethora of herbal supplements, the usual assembly of miscreants, and you had all the makings for a disastrously great time.
Hours later, having successfully withstood the gauntlet of grimy bars and death slides with suspect safety records, we found a moment to catch our breath. The rest was short-lived, as a brief loss of focus had cost Brent his Detroit Pistons T-shirt and $200 pair of Armani sunglasses to the mighty Nam Song. At this point, we were two idiot tourists drifting down a river in Southeast Asia completely isolated from the rest of the world, in no state of mind to comprehend when and where we were supposed to exit the river. Finally, due to the chilly weather and more likely due to exhausting our stockpile of beer, we disembarked at some random egress. Laughing hysterically as some Laotian carted us home, we reflected on our reckless attitude for undertaking and surviving the backpacker’s baptism. The next day, a little wiser, albeit a little slower, we were back at it again, now wearing imitation sunglasses and locally crafted attire.
3. Karaoke in Tokyo, Japan
Head to Shibuya for some proper karaoke. Before going to Japan in 2006, I thought that karaoke was a public event done in the presence of strangers. The karaoke rooms in Japan are private where patrons can enjoy pitchers of beer and sing a variety of songs without having to wait for a stranger to finish his 12 minute interpretation of Meatloaf’s I’d Do Anything for Love. While you don’t have to worry about the public judging your talent, you still have to be mindful of the computer that gives you a score based on accuracy.
TPOL received a perfect score for his performance of R. Kelly Step in the Name of Love.
4. Terrorist Threat in Bali, Indonesia
In 2009, I was in Bali for New Years when I received a message from my friend that the State Department had issued a terrorist warning for Bali. Americans were advised to avoid large gatherings and remain extra vigil. There have been terrorist attacks on Bali in the past so this was not an idle threat. Since it was New Years’ Eve, my friend and I decided that the best course of action was to book a table at the busiest nightclub in Double Six Beach and arm ourselves with vodka Red Bull. The night proceeded without incident unless you include our unruly behavior.
5. Shaq-tin’ a Fool in Maldives
I’ve written many posts about the overrated Conrad Maldives and the pursuit of the bungalow. Even though the Maldives is beautiful, paradise can get boring. Alcohol is required to break the monotony and turn a snooze honeymoon destination into a classic rager. Unfortunately, guests aren’t allowed to bring alcohol to the Maldives. Instead, Hilton Gold and Diamond guests have to wait for the 4-6PM daily free happy hour when the blitzkrieg to the bar commences or breakfast, where the sparkling wine pairs perfectly with what may be the only meal of the day.
Starving guests from food and alcohol inevitably leads to questionable behavior after it is consumed. This includes diving off of the bridge where the stingray reside and leaping off of a boat into the warm Indian Ocean, against the counsel of the hotel employees, into shark infested waters.
6. Wine Tour in Mendoza, Argentina
TPOL doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle. In Bagan, Myanmar that was a problem as I tried to get from one temple to the next without being run over by horses, buses, and electronic bikes. In Mendoza, it was an ever bigger problem since the only way to get the prize of delicious Malbec was to pedal from one vineyard to the next. (see my attempt to do so here) Without the assistance of alcohol, I don’t think that I would have been motivated to brave the busy streets and consequently would have missed out on one of the best day trips.
7. Junkanoo Parade in Nassau, Bahamas
What’s a parade unless TPOL is in it? I was in the Bahamas for New Years after messing up the visa for what was supposed to be a NYE trip to Brazil. Although this trip was pretty boring, the New Years Eve Junkanoo parade was not. The floats, the live music, and the atmosphere made for an incredible New Years experience. Even though there were thousands of people at the parade, it felt like everyone was a friend or family member. As a result, we didn’t feel there was anything wrong with taking part as we had done in Rio.
Drinking and traveling go hand in hand like Vodka & soda. With a ten-day trip to Tahiti planned in the near future with stops in Dubai, Shanghai, and Auckland, TPOL will certainly have more opportunities to add to this list and offend the weak at heart with his antics.