Two stories that inspire how to get what you want when the odds are stacked against you.
"I Come Bearing Gifts"
By Beau Flemister
I often travel with a pack of cigarettes. I don’t smoke. Not at all, but you’d be surprised when a gruff-looking customs agent that looks a little on-edge is only testy because he just needs a smoke. Call it bribery, call it a gift, call it baksheesh or just another type of bartering, but a small peace offering goes a long way in the middle of noweheresville.
This is something I learned when I lost my passport in Pakistan. I blame Fed-ex, actually. But long story short, I used a Fed-ex courier office in Lahore to take care of mailing my passport to the Indian Embassy in order to obtain a visa back into the country. Fed-ex told me to come back in one week, which I did, and no passport in sight. They’re still taking care of it, they told me. So after going to the Indian Embassy (twice) to find the passport (with no luck), another week of smothering 42 degree Celsius heat (that’s 108 degrees Fahrenheit), and one too many hours in the city’s only Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (for the A.C.) I marched back into the Fed-ex with a pack in my pocket to get to the bottom of it. Where’s the manager, I ask, and then I was taken to a backroom where I was told they don’t have my passport. I offer him a cigarette and tell him the Indian Embassy doesn’t either. He takes my cig, lights ups and I watch his demeanor lighten. He makes a few calls: they’ve had it the whole time since it returned from the embassy. The envelope was just mis-numbered.
Clearly, a small gift doesn’t have to come in the form of a cancer stick. Get to know your audience. I often bring airlines’ flight crew a couple bags of premium trail mix from Trader Joes on a long haul. Their answer to that? Usually free liquor, food, entertainment and even a bump into First Class if all the seats aren’t taken. I met a UN officer in Sri Lanka one time that I’d heard surfed, brought him an extra leash of mine and the guy took me to secret spots he only had access to. There are no surf shops in Cuba, so extra wax, sunscreen and any other unavailable goods are also great ice-breakers. Things like that, but even at the most basic level: bringing a genuine smile along with you can smooth out some rough edges often.
Oh, and what the f--k was I doing in Pakistan? That’s a story for another time…
"The Forgotten Archipelago"
By Nate Zoller
On the way home we stop at the Victory bar, a local watering hole where Prince William once drank until 3am. We walk in to see British flags lining the ceiling and the weekly dart tournament in full swing. All the best players from the various pubs converge here every Monday for battle. It appears that bar sports (darts, pool, and drinking) are the biggest activities here. Leaning against the bar next to us was the local radio DJ, Nick, who stands out with long hair, tight jeans and a leather jacket. “We have fuck-all trees, and they all have a bad combover from the wind.” Looking around the bar we notice everyone is drinking cans of Budweiser. “Why is everyone drinking Bud?” asks Dylan. “A can of Coke is more expensive than a can of beer. Because import tax is so high, there is not much tax on alcohol,” laughs Nick. Turns out it’s less than a dollar a can and the beer out of the tap was flat and room temperature. The vibe in the pub feels like a house party because everyone has known each other since childhood. The ratio is 5 women to 50 men.
Ben had been in communication with a guy named Chris Poole that supposedly owned his own island with his dad just off the coast. When asking people at the local pub about Chris one guy chirps, “Chris Poole? He doesn’t even have a boat!” From the way that these guys regarded Chris, I had a feeling he was more like us than like them. He’s not the status quo. He’s an outlier. Maybe that’s why he bought an island with 4,600 sheep and eight miles of raw coastline. When asking Chris what kind of compensation he wanted in exchange for guiding us to his island he responded, “Bring a couple slabs (24 pack) of Bud and a drum of oil and we're all set. Fuel for the fire and fuel for the men.” In the six years that he has owned the island he has never brought guests outside of family, especially not a group of surfers from California. As we pack up the RIB boat with our food and beer at the makeshift harbor off to the side of the British Navy base, we prod Chris again about compensation. “The only thing I ask when you leave off into the world, is just to remember us.” His currency is the experience and that hits home. Chris brings along his dad, Big Steve, a sheep farmer who has a total of three teeth, and his brother-in-law Stevie, who has his own boat and constantly has a lolly-pop in his mouth and enthusiasm on par with Parker when he sees a good wave.
We'd found pretty much nothing anywhere on the Internet about Lively Island. All we know is that it sits right in the swell path. A half-hour boat ride through inlets and past small islands takes us there and it’s dark and creepy when we arrive around 4pm. The ocean is calm in the inlet, and you can see the bottom it’s so clear. Sheep skulls line the shore. The four dogs jump out of the RIB, grab a bone and chase each other rabidly around the farm house. “All I see is shotgun shells, shit and bones. This is fucked up,”notes Parker as we take the gear from the boat to the house. We walk into the old 19th century farm house and it’s full of smoke from the freshly lit wood furnace. The inside of the house feels oddly Russian with a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-vibe.
"All I see is shotgun shells, shit and bones. This is f--ked up,' notes Parker as we take the gear from the boat to the house."