Vagabond Tales: Full Moon Parties And Surfing A Monsoon

Heather Ellison

There are few larger rights of passage on the Southeast Asian backpacker circuit than the full moon party on the island of Koh Phangnan.

A tropical version of Ibiza on psychedelics, the pull of this legendary debauch is so strong that nary a backpacker within a 1000-mile radius has the chance of escaping its hedonistic spell.

From the highlands of Chiang Mai to the the back alleys of Bangkok, the week leading up to the night of the full moon becomes a spiral of buses, ferries, trains and tuk-tuks all headed for the sands of Haad Rin.

During the party, in the same way that the full moon acts upon the tides, so too will it elevate the young, the promiscuous, the inebriated and the curious to levels exceeding their monthly average.

Imagine 30,000 revelers with their toes in the sand, gyrating en masse to visiting DJ’s, executing brain cells with whiskey and Red Bull, and losing themselves in the glow of the moon. While liquor is guzzled and consumed by the bucket, most in attendance are drunk on freedom, and the intoxicating possibilities that accompany the unknown.

It’s a big, hot, beautiful mess, and it’s one which every traveler needs to experience at least once.

%Slideshow-777%Started in the 1980s by a handful of Western backpackers, the Koh Phangan Full Moon Party has gradually morphed into one of Asia’s largest parties. Drug use is common, despite the harsh penalties, and the party continues to well beyond sunrise.

For a better idea of the level of debauchery, take a look at some of the “party tips” on a website devoted to the party.

-Don’t bring your passport
-Don’t bring any valuables
-Don’t bring a bag, because you’ll get drunk and lose it
-Wear shoes to protect your feet against broken bottles
-Don’t eat anything offered by strangers
-If you actually plan to sleep, get accommodations far, far away from the party.

Or, for a more visual approach, step inside of the party with this video from lbwtravel.

Having just endured an all-night party on the neighboring island of Koh Tao, I was actually among the select few who decided to get some sleep. Not without staying out until 3 a.m., however, which was more than enough time to revel in the scene.

Body paint replaced clothing the further the night wore on, and fire-twirling locals illuminated the dark sky. Dreadlocks twirled in rhythm with the House tunes, and the sand became littered with eventual one-night stands.

Since I enjoy people watching as much as the actual party, I opted to squeeze in a few hours of sleep and return for the scene during sunrise. On the walk back to my bungalow far, far away, a light breeze began to rustle the trees and was punctuated by stronger gusts. A storm, it seemed, was brewing on the horizon.

Three hours of sleep, two ibuprofen and one bottle of water later, the orange light of the rising sun revealed a scene of social warfare. For every two bodies, which continued to gyrate, a fallen soldier lay collapsed on the sand. For every bucket, which continued to hold liquid, four others were discarded on the beach. The clouds thickened, the beat continued and a scrap of white linen, which was once someone’s pants flapped in the breeze as it dangled from a tree.

By 9 a.m. a few hundred remained; by 11 a.m., perhaps 30. Finally, by 3 p.m., as dozens of Thai workers cleaned up the detritus, the number of party-goers had dropped to one.

Heather Ellison

With trance music on the iPod and booze in the veins, the party continued on his own personal planet.

My attention meanwhile, had shifted from the party to what was suddenly brewing offshore. Mutterings of a monsoon had been percolating through the community, and the wind-driven waves had been increasing by the hour. By no means were they good waves, but they were big enough to ride.

As we mentioned in our article “6 Surf Destinations You’d Never Think Of,” Thailand can actually get decent surf during times of a passing monsoon. The problem, however, is finding a board, as none are offered on the small Thai island.

Gulping down a banana pancake and slurping on a fruit smoothie, that’s when I spotted it leaning against a house:

A haggard, blue, obviously used longboard, which had been hand-carried in by a backpacking Argentinian. With the sea salt on the breeze and a pounding in my head, I approached the fellow traveler about renting out his board.

As it turns out, he and his friends were on a 12-month tour of Thailand and had rented the beach house for an entire three months. Nursing a hangover from the previous night’s party – his third in a row – he loaned me the board completely free of charge.

With board in hand I jogged to the beach, my bare feet dodging the curbside debris. The wind intensified to the point of destruction, and plastic chairs were sent scurrying down the beach.

At the scene of the party, the lone dancer remained.

Heather Ellison

Paddling out into the wind-driven slop, the hopes for waves were novelty at best. With gusts approaching 40 mph and onshore winds crumbling the surf, I largely questioned the point of the endeavor.

That was, until, I caught the first wave. And the next, then the next, and the next after that. Ugly, short, onshore, and mushy, it revitalized a feeling, which had been shelved for too long.

Yes, I was surfing in the middle of a Thai monsoon, on a stretch of beach covered in beer bottles and backpackers, but even in this outpost on the other side of the world, there was a sense of familiarity, which made it feel just like home.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

Vagabond Tales: Kayaking With Thieving, Soda Drinking, Bloodthirsty Monkeys

monkey beach, koh phi phi, monkey beach thailand
Heather Ellison

Most people who think monkeys are cute have more than likely never met a real monkey.

Although they might be cute on television, as anyone who has actually met a monkey will tell you, their cuteness is simply a disguise for their evil.

Yes, I’ll say it again: monkeys are evil.

They have stolen my lunch while hiking in Costa Rica, and broken into my backpack in the streets of Kathmandu. They have danced on my roof all night in Bolivia, and an orangutan managed to steal this man’s shirt off his back. In Peru, one even crawled into my sleeping bag, even though I was already sleeping in it.

Nevertheless, even once you realize they’re mischievous little thieves, it’s hard to not be drawn to them. There’s just something about their pudgy face and long, dexterous tail that makes them too hard to pass by.

Which is why I found myself – despite all past encounters with the cheeky little devils – kayaking the waters of a Thai island with the specific intent of sharing a beach with monkeys.

%Slideshow-702%On the island of Koh Phi Phi, “Monkey Beach” is only a 30-minute kayak paddle from the developed shoreline of Ao Lo Dalam, a crescent of white sand where budget backpackers binge on buckets and snowbirding Swedes slather on sunscreen.

For a fistful of baht that amounts to about $5, you can rent a kayak from a makeshift activities stand and paddle your way towards the primate-filled cove.

It was at one such stand where we received the first warning.

“You bring kayak back in two hours,” advised our smiling, black-haired rental agent, his skin tanned to the point that it meshed with his black shorts.

“And watch out for monkey. They steal your food.”

Thirty minutes, one bottle of water and two dozen photos later, the white sand of Monkey Beach crunched beneath the kayak as I slid the vessel onto shore. We hadn’t even opted to bring food, since past encounters taught me it was nothing but trouble, and instead nursed our waters in the mid-winter heat.

On shore, spindly green vines dripped down from the jungle and turquoise water lapped at the coast. No monkeys could be seen scuttling about the shoreline, but the telltale hum of a long-tail boat told me things would soon change.

As if on cue, the moment the long-tail boat rounded the corner and pulled its bow up onto the sand, the trees came alive with the rustle of mischief. Despite their inhabiting an undeveloped beach, these monkeys encounter over a hundred visitors a day, and they’ve come to learn these visitors mean food.

With my kayak tucked into a protected corner of beach, and not a loose item or scrap of food laying anywhere about it, I was more than happy to sit back and watch the thieving carnage unfold.

Humans, they say, have the most developed brain of any animal and it’s one thing which separates us from monkeys. That argument could be a tough sell, however, to anyone watching the scene on “Monkey Beach.” Spilling off of tour boats, visitors will try to photograph the monkeys, they will chase the monkeys and perhaps even try to pet them.

A lobster-skinned British man thought it might be fun to feed one a banana. Not only was the plantain aggressively swiped from his hand, but as he sat stunned at the speed with which the food had been swiped, another monkey had made off with his camera.

One monkey stole an orange soda and drank it in front of the crying child who was suddenly without an orange soda.
monkey drinking soda, monkey thailand

Nevertheless, most people were still wrapped beneath the spell that everything monkeys do is cute.

As in, “Look Honey, the monkey decided to play with our camera and is now chewing on the memory card that has every photo from our trip on it. Isn’t that adorable!

Things turned a bit more dire, however, when one of the four-legged hoodlums stealthily snuck up on a woman still seated in her kayak. With the bow of her boat facing out towards the water, she casually appeared to be enraptured by the tropical panorama.

Even though common wisdom says you should “never turn your back on the ocean,” there should be an addendum to include “unless the beach behind you is covered in monkeys.”

As this poor woman kept to herself and enjoyed her moment of peace, this stealth monkey gradually snuck up behind her and playfully pounced on her back. The ensuing scream, which shot across the jungle, was so piercing and high-pitched it was probably heard by dogs in Malaysia. Unfazed, the monkey then climbed atop the woman’s head, opting to play with her curly black hair.

The screams continued, and while the monkey eventually bounded back into the jungle, by the time it was finished colonizing her cranium he had left bloody red scratches on the woman’s back and neck. Rabies can be a serious business when it comes to monkeys in Asia, and luckily, it appeared, the woman would be going home with scratches instead of bites.

A horseshoe of onlookers gathered around the woman, and a dry-witted Aussie was the first to chime in.

“Bloodthirsty little buggers aren’t they?”

A trickle of nervous laughter went about the crowd, and while the woman would be fine after her oceanfront mauling, it was a reminder that wildlife needs to be respected, even if it’s in a cheeky place with a name like “Monkey Beach.”

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

Vagabond Tales: The Thin Line Between Backpacker And Homeless

Kyle Ellison, Gadling

Long-term backpackers can be a competitive bunch.

In case you’ve never spent time in the common room of a youth hostel, either nursing a hangover, mingling with strangers, or ogling at the opposite sex, the conversation always starts with a simple and genuine phrase:

Where are you from?

Once initial pleasantries have been exchanged and conversation materials run thin, the discussion naturally turns to where you’re going, where they’re going, and where you both have been.

Get ready, because the competition is set to begin.

Although it starts gradually, what was once an interest in your fellow traveler slowly turns into a comparison. “Oh, you hiked that trail. Cool. I hiked this trail.” “You spent two weeks in Bolivia, cool, I spent five.” “You’re 16 months into a two-year trip? Damn.”

And so on.

Then, of course, there are the country counters, where the entire purpose of setting out on the road is to increase your own personal number (as evidenced by this recent article on insanely competitive travel).

The “how many countries have you been to?” bomb inevitably gets dropped as conversation progresses, and it’s much like that moment with your new love interest when you raise the sensitive topic of their number. It’s in the back of both of your minds, and it’s finally just laid on the table.

As is to be expected, exaggeration is common.

At the end of the day, however, the largest competition on the budget backpacker circuit revolves around one thing: money. Namely, how much, or how little, are you managing to spend?

How far are you stretching your budget?If you saved $10,000 for your extended trip, do you travel for two weeks at $5,000/week, 10 months at $1,000/month or ten years for $3/day, fortifying your trip along the way with some under-the-table cash jobs, extended sessions of hitchhiking and sourcing your meals from the leftovers of strangers?

Amongst “travelers,” there is an unspoken credo that your traveler legitimacy is inversely proportional to your daily budget and level of comfort. How so? Let’s take a look at this purely hypothetical, yet all too true chart regarding the way your traveler status is determined by something as simple as where you’re sleeping.

All-inclusive resort = Fraud
Hotel = Tourist
Private hostel room = Upper-class backpacker
Hostel dorm room = Middle-class backpacker
Cleaning dishes at the hostel in exchange for a bed = Lower-class backpacker
Tent = Camper
Train station/Overnight Train = Resourceful
Build your own shelter/sleep in a sewer/smuggle self aboard a Thai fishing boat = Legend

All half-hearted joking aside, either way, amongst competitive, long-term backpackers, he who travels longest and visits the greatest number of countries in the most frugal of ways possible, as recognized by the unwritten constitution of budget backpacking law, ultimately is deemed the winner of a non-existent competition. I know because I once felt like that, and it can easily render you homeless.

I was 22 years old, with $7,000 saved, a fancy degree in one hand and a copy of Rolf Potts’ “Vagabonding” in the other (which despite my tone is a tremendous read).

My timeline: two years. On seven grand. Not a problem.

Kyle Ellison, Gadling

After three months of living in a van in New Zealand and surviving on canned beans and corn, I found myself in a fetid hostel in the inner city of Melbourne, Australia. My money was nearly gone, I couldn’t legally work and the $20/night bed was simply too pricy.

If I could just cut a few of my expenses,” I thought, “I could continue this loathsome existence for maybe a couple of weeks longer.” I checked out of the hostel, grabbed my backpack and ukulele, and spent that night in the train station.

The following day involved half-priced, day-old baked goods, using free Internet in the public library, and playing ukulele on the banks of the Yarra River. I made $10, I spent it on pizza and spent another night in the train station.

The following day was much of the same, and my two-year trip around the world began to take on an element of survival. I made another $12 playing music by the river, and I decided I needed to accelerate my earnings. I walked in the door of the city casino, doubled my money playing roulette, and with $25 graciously in hand I smiled at the idea of a shower and a bed.

That was, of course, until I saw a table that hadn’t hit red in the previous 14 turns. Despite having studied probability in school, the nice, round $50 I would walk out with when it surely hit red was simply too much to pass up. When the tiny white ball clinked into a black space for the 15th time in a row, so too did my immediate reality descend into a very dark place.

I was no longer traveling, I realized. I was homeless. I was not a frugal, resourceful, earn-your-badge-of-honor traveler by shaving expenses to extend your trip. I was a smelly, unkempt, ukulele-playing, college-educated, homeless immigrant who trolled the public library by day and inhabited the train station by night. I was no longer punch-drunk on seeing the world. I was hungry, tired and largely miserable.

To add fuel to the fire that fellow Gadling writer Pam Mandel so eloquently raised, I didn’t start a Kickstarter campaign and ask strangers to bail me out. I bought an airplane ticket back home on my credit card, got a job and I dug myself out of the hole.

I decided to move in with a girl I’d left at home. Today that woman is now my wife, and we travel together to this day.

Since that time I’ve continued to travel for the better part of seven years, taking time every now and then to hunker back down and work. I learned that your global backpacking excursion doesn’t have to be a one-off affair, and it’s not as if when the money runs out you’re destined for a life of non-travel. Purists might claim that I gave up too soon. I like to think I reset.

Granted, there is definitely a difference between being “houseless” and “homeless,” and thousands of travelers successfully find ways to stay on the road for extended periods of time. This man walked around the globe for 11 years. This man gave up money.

The distinction, I suppose, comes in accepting the reality of your situation instead of the romanticized version. If you’re eating out of dumpsters, sleeping in the park and patting yourself on the back for being the world’s most resourceful traveler, you might want take a step back for a moment and look at the bigger picture.

Consider it a word of caution to potential long-term travelers. Trying to win the traveler game might earn you a few badges of respect, but employing the strategy of extreme cost-shaving will only take you so far.

For me it was the Melbourne train station. A ukulele, an empty stomach and a call to head back home.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

Vagabond Tales: Where Is The Roof Of North America?

For some reason, every continent seems to have a roof.

Bolivia is known as “the roof of South America” for its high, empty and multi-colored altiplano that has an average elevation of 12,300 feet.

Mt. Kilimanjaro has been called “the roof of Africa” for its glacial, 19,340-foot summit that presides over the equatorial plains.

The Tibetan plateau, meanwhile, is such an expanse of high altitude emptiness it’s not only regarded as the roof of Asia, but it’s gained the lofty title as “the roof of the World.”

So if South America, Africa and Asia all get a roof, can North America have one too? Moreover, if North America were to have a roof, where exactly would it be?

Basic statistics point to Mt. McKinley, the 20,320-foot pinnacle that stoically dominates the center of Alaska. Since McKinley is the highest point in the North American continent, it seems it would only make sense. As with California’s Mt. Whitney, however, (which at 14,505 feet is the highest point in the continental United States), the promontory is too much of a lone pinnacle to ever be considered a proper roof (thereby throwing the Kilimanjaro title out the window as well, I suppose).

Would it be the Great Basin of Nevada, a seemingly lifeless expanse of rock and sand that hovers silently around 7,000 feet? Would it be the spine of the Colorado Rockies that somehow manage to cram 53 different mountains of 14,000 feet into an area the size of Maine? Or would it be the Yukon Territory and the St. Elias Mountain Range – places, which contain the 18 highest peaks in Canada, 12 of which are higher than anywhere found in the Lower 48?

While all could be considered as viable options (I suppose the Great Basin is a stretch), I’m going to propose an alternative, which has not yet been mentioned, but could make a strong case for keeping the title in a trophy case on its windswept, high-altitude plateau.That place – that Roof of North America – would be right on the border of Montana and Wyoming along a stretch of road known as the Beartooth Highway. Snaking its way from Cooke City, Montana, to Red Lodge, Montana, this 69-mile stretch of road tops out at 10,947 feet and is so high, so remote and so gloriously empty that the famous Charles Kuralt once referred to this juncture of heaven and Earth as “the most beautiful drive in America.”

What’s more, the locals – what few of them there are – aren’t fazed by the fact that it snows in the middle of August, as it did when I was last there.

When I asked the woman working the counter at the “Top of the World Store,” elevation 9,400 feet, about if they had really just gotten snow the evening before (as I had seen on the regional weather forecast), she looked at me as if I had just asked if Hawaii had recently been sunny.

“Yeah,” she drawled in an I haven’t-seen-a-customer-in-two-hours-and-now-I-have-to-deal-with-you sort of apathy. “We get a lot of that up here. Don’t even notice any more.”

In fact, the Beartooth Highway gets so much snow that the road itself is only open for a few months out of the year. According to the official website for the Beartooth Highway (real roads have websites), opening day for 2013 is slated for June 14.

What makes this remote plateau the roof of North America, however, is the dramatic ascent that is required to reach the summit. This, and the way in which the Beartooth Pass has a way of making you feel small.

When many people stand on the summit of mountains, there is an instinct to unleash a guttural scream as an auditory manifestation of your accomplishment. And why not? You’ve climbed a mountain, and you are on top of the world.

As Ray Smith, one of the legendary characters of Kerouac’s novel “Dharma Bums” claims to his climbing partner, Japhy Ryder, upon summiting a mountain in the Sierras, “Dammit, that yodel of triumph of yours was the most beautiful thing I ever heard in my life.”

On the upper reaches of the Beartooth’s, however, you are not struck by the urge to scream. If anything, total silence is the communicative method of choice.

Whether you begin the drive in Red Lodge, Montana, or on the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park, the road keeps climbing higher, and higher, and higher yet still, until you have climbed so far into Montana’s famous Big Sky that you swear you’ll find the Hubble Telescope orbiting just around the next bend.

The road makes its way past alpine lakes and forested groves, which cling to what little oxygen is left at these heights. Slowly the tree line fades away behind you, but yet the road climbs higher still like an asphalt serpent reaching out for the clouds. The rocky terrain begins to look somewhere between Hobbitton and the surface of the Moon, and 20 peaks surround you, which all stretch to over 12,000 feet.

In the far distance, Granite Peak – the highest peak in Montana at 12,799 feet – stands lonely, cold, isolated and challenging. Even though there are eight states with mountains that are higher, Granite Peak remained unclimbed until 1923, thereby making it the last “highest mountain” to be conquered in any state.

Considering that most geologists place the age of the Beartooth Mountains at an astounding two billions years old, the 90 years that have passed since man conquered that summit barely even register on the historical time log. If two billion years were to be the height of Granite Peak, then the time in which man has known the view from the top equates to .25 percent of one millimeter – smaller in height than the depth of a snowflake falling in the middle of August.

To once again quote Ray Smith, Kerouac’s protagonist who just set up camp in the upper reaches of the mountains: “the rocks, they were just solid rock covered with atoms of dust accumulated there since the beginningless time. In fact, I was afraid of those jagged monstrosities all around and over heads. They’re so silent.”

This is why the Beartooth Pass gets my vote for the “Roof of North America.” Not because of the scream you’ll let out when you’ve finally reached the top, but the overwhelming silence that comes with not knowing what you’re supposed to do when you get there.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the Vagabond Tales over here.

[Photo Credits by Heather Ellison and Shiny Things on Flickr]

Vagabond Tales: Fear And Loathing In San Felipe

The strip clubs in San Felipe, Mexico, aren’t open on Tuesdays.

For most travelers to Baja, this isn’t overly concerning. After all, with all of the surfing, fishing, diving and fish taco eating that can easily consumer your entire day, the fact that strip clubs are closed for one day of the week shouldn’t be a point of concern.

If, however, you’ve descended upon San Felipe after three days of camping in the desert with a reclusive, one-legged hermit (a story for a different time), and it happens to be a bachelor party, the fact that it’s a Tuesday suddenly becomes an issue.

This, however, is not a tale about strip clubs or hermits. It’s a tale about safety, and how the road to bad decisions can be a very gradual slope.

As I’ve mentioned before in the “2013 International Adventure Guide to Baja” and articles such as “I Traveled to Mexico and Came Back Alive“, the only way you’re going to get in trouble as a visitor to Baja is if you do something stupid like engage in drug deals in a back alley of a border town with unsavory characters in the middle of the night.

This isn’t a Mexico thing, mind you; this is an everywhere thing. Whether you’re in Mexico or Chicago, back alleys at 2 a.m. are potential staging areas for the next morning’s headlines. When you hear a report that two tourists were stabbed or robbed, and then find out that it was in a back alley of a border town at 2 a.m., a small part of you thinks they had it coming.

Just like no one plans on an accident, however, you don’t always plan on ending up in a back alley of a border town-sometimes it just happens. While you would never jump from Point A (land of good decisions) directly to Point D (land of horrendous decisions), sometimes the smaller jumps from A to B and B to C put you in striking range of Point D, the slippery slope of how you got there blurred by the casual descent.

Throw in a Mexican army general and a moonlighting prostitute, and you’ve created a mezcal-flavored cocktail for disaster.With regards to the San Felipe situation, one thing you should never do in a border town is publicly complain. (For the record, San Felipe is not officially classified as a border town. It’s actually two and half hours south of the border on the Sea of Cortez, but as a popular weekend destination it can come with its share of tourist town perils).

The problem with complaining in a budget international tourist town is there is a buck to be made in “solving the problem”. If you’re piecing the breadcrumbs together, when someone offers to “solve the problem” of a closed strip club it can only lead to bad places.

Which, as it turns out, is exactly how we met Emilio.

Casually seated on a motorcycle whose best miles were clearly behind it, Emilio told us he could help with our apparent dilemma.

“You need girls?” he asked, the words rolling off his mustachioed upper lip with the class of a human trafficker.

Despite the fact that half of our troupe soberly recoiled at the offer, two of our them, presumably spurred on by breakfast beers which are a staple of Mexican bachelor parties, decided to run with the offer to see how it would play out.

After a cryptic conversation which contained far too much dirty laughter, it was determined we would meet Emilio at 8 p.m. that evening at a bar that tourists don’t normally frequent. He asked for a deposit. We declined. Shockingly, he never showed.

Having been stood up by Emilio, I slid some crumpled pesos across a bar of even worse shape and ordered a round of Tecate’s for the table. In the dingy atmosphere of the poorly-lit cantina there was an aura of two parts disappointment and three parts relief. We never had any real plans about what we would actually do with Emilio and whoever walked through the door with him, and his failure to appear at the agreed upon destination was probably for the best.

The problem, however, is that seven American men in a seedy local establishment can draw a fair bit of attention. In our case, that attention happened to manifest itself in the form of a 250 lb. Mexican army general named Miguel who was in town on leave before returning back to active service. Or so he said.

Miguel joined our table, and by the time the sticky plastic square on legs could fit no more empty cans, shot glasses, or broken dreams, three things had become hazily apparent: Miguel “had our back”, he was taking us to another bar, and he’d made a call about some “girls”.

Following Miguel into the dark recesses of San Felipe, three wrong turns and numerous back alleyways led to a place no visitor should ever go. This place had no music. This place had no windows. This place was not the place to be. Ever. Luckily, we were cruising with a Mexican army general, so we would be fine. Right?

Settling uncomfortably into the den of sorrows, matters only became compounded when a shy and husky twenty-something female entered the den and sat at our table. This was curious, of course, because no one knew this woman, nor did she seem to have any plans of engaging in conversation.

Apparently the only one who knew what was happening was Miguel, and he couldn’t have been more pleased at the situation he had arranged.

It was then that we realized that there in that cartel-controlled (not a fact), disease-infested (potentially a fact), parlor of illicit underworld, a Mexican army general had made some phone calls and actually ordered us a prostitute (unfortunately, fact).

This, it should go without saying, is not where you want to find yourself.

With the next round of beers also came the terms: There was a motel across the street. The room would be $20. The remaining price was to be negotiable upon services. After an awkward and tequila-induced back and forth of potential costs, it was collectively determined that we had to get the hell out of Dodge.

One by one we made our escape, the fear of letting down Miguel blending with the fear of being shanked with a rusty fork the moment we stepped outside. The last we saw of our female companion she was sitting at a bus stop with a forlorn sense of failure. She had left when she realized the night was going nowhere, and my heart goes out to that girl at the bus stop wherever she might be today.

Thankfully, all seven of us would wake up in the tent-less, sandy campground we had opted to call home for the night. In an evening that could have gone any number of disastrous directions, the only direction we wanted to go was home.

Five hours and two taco shops later, we would cross the border into San Diego definitively worse for the wear but happy we weren’t a headline.

Besides, we had other problems to worry about now, like how to pay for the $8,000 in damages we had caused to the rental cars.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

[Photo Credits: Kyle Ellison]