Snow Leopords and Strange Tails

I was sitting in a tent with Mitsy and Urs, my newly acquired German friends, when I was to hear the devilish and strange tale the Spaniard had to tell. We were in Rumbak village; the snow leopard capital of the world. It was at this moment I met the Spaniard for the first time. He unzipped the entrance to the tent and stepped in. Covered in the remnants of a near white out that was upon us outside, his notice to remove all excess snow before entering the tent scored him points as an experienced traveler from the start. With purpose, He stripped the outer layers of his gear. As he seemed intent on taking his time, we returned to our conversation. Urs passed me a pipe laden with tobacco and opium. I took a long drag and exhaled slowly and with pleasure. The odor drifted over to the Spaniard, catching his attention.
I call him simply the Spaniard because I never came to know his name. I didn’t realize till the next morning, after reviewing the contents of his odd tale, he had never mentioned his name and no one had thought to ask. Looking back now it seems appropriate a name was never given.
He came and joined the small circle; myself, the Germans, and two sherpas. We were all quite sedated by the opium and were content to sit there in intermittent silence,punctuated by the occasional short tale or fits of laughter. The Spaniard made himself right at home, yet simultaneously kept his distance. He took the opium chillum when it was offered. Taking perhaps the longest hit I have ever seen. Blowing out the smoke for what seems like an eternity. His eyes immediately grew glassy and his lids became hooded.
“So, where are you coming from?” I asked. He mulled this question over and finally answered, “The Marakesh bad lands”. Home to the elusive and endangered Bengal tiger, this was an an intriguing answer. I had more questions but held off as he didn’t seem too keen on answering anymore. I can’t say he was rude about it, he was not. But he had the air of a man who had spent a great deal of time alone and who had seen some things worth seeing in any lifetime.
It was at this moment, when I had given up all hope of getting more than two words out of the strange man, when a wry smile came across his face. He looked at me, as if evaluating me, and after a moment said ” If you gentlemen like a good story, i have one for you” We were all ears. What followed was one of the wildest and close to insanity stories I have ever had the pleasure to hear.
I will recount, to the best of my abilities the story which then unfolded before us. Keep in mind I was smoking the strongest opium available and thus my memory may be somewhat muddled. It started innocently enough.
“I left Spain 6 and 1/2 years ago with the idea to conquer, or at the very least visit, all seven continents” He spoke with an unusual accent. The Spanish influence was clear, but given that I am an amateur linguist by trade, I could hear many other influences in his speech.
“It took me 6 years until I finally reached India. She is a beautiful and wild place. I felt much at home there. While I wanted to see the cities, the country side, and all the rest, it was only the tiger which truly drew me in.” Now it is important for the reader to understand that India, though they have killed off much of the tiger populations, still has some very remote and hard to access areas where the tiger still roams free and unfettered. When locals enter the tigers domain to hunt, they wear masks on the back of their heads with a face painted on it to fool the tiger because the big cat likes to strike from behind. Feared by locals and for good reason, yet revered, the tiger is king in his domain. It’s called the Sundabar province. As I said quite isolated and undeveloped. One of the few places left in the world where the tiger is not hunted down for skins or teeth. There are no rugs made from Sundabar tigers…
“I walked for days with my guide. We saw nothing. On the seventh day, my guide found fresh tiger tracks. We followed. I was armed with a seven inch bowie knife and a .32 caliber Luger, both would be ineffective against an angry tiger, though they gave me some sense of comfort. I was not there to hunt the tigers, you see, I wouldn’t dare hurt such a creature. It is against my religion” Though he never mentioned what religion he was.
“I was warned never to turn my back on the big cat. I heard many tales of the local’s encounters with the animal, some true, some now just legend. It is said, and it is true, that a swimming tiger can even take a man out of a boat and drag him to the shore. But certainly, the best story I was to hear involved to young brothers. Bonded by and in blood.” At this point the Spaniard looked around for the chillum and found it waiting on the table next to him, packed to the brim with tobacco and opium.
“These brothers are not men, you see. They are the kings of their domain. Sheeva and Zoran they are called, Bengals. The story goes they were cast out by their father at a young age, as they were a future threat to him. Faced with many hardships, they were drawn together. Though the tiger is a solitary hunter, these boys are ambush predators. They have developed their own hunting style and now rule their territory unchallenged, by man or beast.” Mitsy was looking at the Spaniard with a generally amused disregard. We both, as fellow travelers, have heard our fair share of tall tales. And I half expected another one at this moment. The Spaniard noticed Mitsy’s disbelief and laughed. He slowly reached up and started unbuttoning his shirt. We all exchanged glances. as he pulled down the shoulder of his shirt and exposed four deep parallel scars. It only took a moment to realize what it was, the claws of a tiger.
The four parallel scars ran deep in the skin, pink and still healing. He ran his right hand gently along the claw marks. We sat in silence, soaking in the brutal injury which had just been presented to us. I was the first to speak, “Is that what i Think it is?”. The Spaniard chuckled, “its not from a house cat, I can tell you that.” “We’re all ears if you feel like telling the tale” I said. He settled down into his chair, hit the opium pipe and cleared his throat. A far away look glossed over his eyes.
“Me and Makesh, my guide, we had just entered the Sundabar province a day earlier. I was there to see the elusive cat.” At this point he laughed “And see him I did. We had been walking for three days with no luck, then suddenly I saw the color drain from Makesh’s face.” “They are near” he said. “Who” I asked.”The brothers” he answered simply. “Whats wrong with that?” I said. ” These tracks are quite large and side by side, only one set of cats leaves these marks. And these are two tigers you do not want to encounter”. “I’d be lying if I said a chill didn’t run down my spine. Not only were the man eaters, they were remarkably intelligent and ruthless, as only nature and man can be.”
“We decided to make camp by the river for the night as dusk was settling in. After a quick dinner, we settled in for the night. The bad lands make many noises to keep a man awake at night. Birds, insets, the odd monkey. But nothing will drain the blood from your veins like the roar of a tiger, and we heard two separate calls in the distance. They were approaching us. They had found our scent…”

(just the beginning, much more to come.)

The Absynthe Bar and a Rude Awakening

The Spaniard and I walked slowly down Dammenstrasse, passing the once grand now tourist trap, Bull Dog Cafe. A few ludicrously high Americans stood outside, laughing like madmen at nothing at all. We had a destination in mind, though the spliff recently smoked had slowed our progress considerably. We finally stumbled upon our objective; gain access to the legendary Absinthe Bar. Over 100 years old and a former favorite of Hemingway and Van Gogh, the bar was intriguing to say the least. It was near 3am, just the right time of night for a little ‘death in the afternoon’.
We were only in Amsterdam for a mad dash of 24 sleepless hours, on our way to Germany for a week of intense and quite dangerous off-piste sonwboarding. The coffee shops and Conscious Dreams had already been visited and the supplies had been purchased. As we approached, I noticed two well dressed euro trash men with two equally trashy though quite attractive woman on their arms, being turned away by a bouncer roughly the size of a Silverback gorilla on HGH. My companion and I were dressed in our travel gear, casual and comfortable. Certainly not club wear. We walked up to the top of the stairs which lead down into the mecca of Absinthe. The bouncer slowly looked me up and down, then the Spaniard as well. “Where are you two from?” he asked without the slightest bit of interest. “Brooklyn” I answered. And, to my genuine surprise, he motioned us inside. We descended the stair case and entered a smoke filled room, framed on all sides by ascending levels covered in oriental carpeting with beds and sofas adorning the each. Hookas placed strategically around the room were being smoked at leisure.
We approached the bar and perused the menu. If I’m being honest, I don’t know much about Absinthe other than the basics. Astronomical alcohol content and the mildly hallucinogenic wormwood. I figured “fuck it”, and asked the bartender for the strongest stuff he had. He obliged. A fit to order spoon is placed over an empty glass, three sugar cubes are placed on the spoon. The powerful elixir is poured over the cubes into the glass. The cubes are then lit on fire. The flame dances, blue and white, melting and caramelizing the sugar into the waiting glass. The once green liquid turns a milky white. I look to the Spaniard and we clink glasses. Down the hatch…
(An unknown number of hours later) I lifted up my head slowly, up from my arms crossed over my knees. The Dutch sun offending all my weakened senses. Where was I? Who was I? I couldn’t remember where I was, let alone what country I was in. Slowly, ever so slowly, I realized I was in Amsterdam. Yes, of course. But why was I sleeping on the street and where was my Gonzo companion. I looked around, he was no where to be found. My jacket was gone, as was my shirt for that matter. I was sitting there, in my undershirt, looking quite the part of just another homeless youth; lost to the streets of Amsterdam.
Worse, I quickly realized my wallet was missing in action as well. That means no cash, no ID, and no credit. To my great relief I had left my passport, a traveler’s bible, in the hotel room. Suddenly, a FLASH of dancing blue flames and tall blonde women scorning my increasingly incoherent advances. Milky white poison and the laughter of the insane. One night in the Absinthe bar had taken almost everything I had. Surprisingly, I felt little in the hangover department. But I quickly realized, upon trying to stand, that it was because I was still drunk. Another FLASH; the Spaniard and I in the bathroom stall with some newly acquired “Nigerian Gold”. But even the strongest of cocaine couldn’t stop the blackout which had led me to seek a concrete bed. I slowly stood up, using a lamp post as my crutch. I was directly across the street from the devilish Absinth Bar. At least I hadn’t gone far. Having visited Amsterdam many times before, I knew where I was in relation to my hotel, yet my brain couldn’t decide whether to turn left or right. I was lost in a way that had nothing to do with direction. Again, my thoughts turned to my missing friend. Where was the Spaniard and why had he left me to the wolves? But self preservation comes first. He was no rookie in this game and the hotel was my best bet for finding him.
I began to walk towards the hotel with the early morning sun nearly blinding me. I searched my pockets as I walked and found a folded piece of paper containing the remnants of the cocaine we had mysteriously purchased the night before. A quick duck into a pastry shops bathroom to get right and I was on my way again. The hotel rose up before me. It had been, at one time, an elegant and expensive establishment. But had fallen into disrepair and was now a mere 50 Euros a night. I had no key and the attendant behind the counter looked at my ragged appearance with mistrust as I asked for a replacement key. At length, I convinced him I was who I claimed to be and I headed up to the room. I opened the door slowly, hoping to find my friend asleep on the bed. He was no where to be found. This is trouble, I thought. I sat on the bed and contemplated my next move. Should I call the police? The hospital? It was mid thought that I began to feel quite ill. The Absinth was wearing off and a hangover the likes of which I had never known was descending upon me. I made a bee line for the bathroom and commenced to get sick in a manner I thought reserved for the victims of arsenic poisoning. After my stomach had ejected the remaining contents of the night prior I sat on the toilet and hung my head, wallowing in the colossal manner we had managed to fuck this one up. It was then I heard a faint sound. Like the whimper of a child. At first I thought it was in my head. Then I heard it again, slightly louder. Quite alarmed, I pulled back the shower curtain to find my friend laying in the bathtub, half naked, and entirely unwell. This was simultaneously a relieving and troubling development as I could see he was in far worse shape than myself. At least I was conscious… I called his name a few times with no response. The last thing we needed was a visit to a Dutch hospital. He was breathing, so that was a start. With no other option I turned the shower on full blast, the icy water pouring down upon him. This, to my great relief, had the desired effect. He awoke with a start. Blood red eyes full of confusion and anger greeted me. “Whats the…what…stop the…stop it”. I turned the water off and returned to my seat on the toilet. After muttering these few words he promptly vomited all over himself and passed out again. I turned the water back on. He woke again and ever so slowly began to sit up. He hung his head as I had two hours prior and let out a long and tortured sigh. “What happened?” he asked with a hoarse voice. Each word seemed a monumental effort as I’m sure it was. “We’re still in Amsterdam. Your in a bathtub.” I said. “I see that. What I want to know is why?” I thought long and hard about his question and I could only offer one answer, “Absinth, my friend. Absinth”

The remainder of this tale will be told in the third person perspective, so that the reader may learn exactly what transpired on this crazy night. More to come