Chuck Aranal the semi professional body boarder was a definite type. The type who you just know will never get into trouble, indestructible. A man who could stroll through a battle field with bullets flying left, right and centre, mines under foot exploding, bombs falling from the sky and he would emerge from the conflict unscathed and a hero. And naturally such a gift was given to an irritatingly shallow man who could do nothing except boast. We met Chuck in Pablo Escobar`s hometown in Columbia, Medellin. He was a tall golden boy with dark curly auburn hair and square-jawed good looks from Newcastle in Australia. He was travelling with a spotty mop haired sidekick surfer dude who also hailed from Newcastle. Chuck was a non-stop talker and his sole topic was of course himself. At any pause in the conversation he would look to take centre stage, which funnily enough as he got more stoned, he found harder to do. It was our first night in the city. We were staying in the Casa Kiwi Hostel. I had scored my usual box of cheap red wine and was sitting around the communal table in the back garden guzzling plonk and smoking tabs trying to get a bit of distance. My dear wife was hustling in the kitchen to concoct a nourishing slop for our evening meal. I had just met Danny from Huddersfield and we were enjoying a good natter about footie and drugs, as you do. Chuck and his mate sat down at the table and started making friendly noises so I found him a glass and poured him a helping of box wine. This started his first big ‘me’ conversation about how he used to work in a ‘bottle shop’ and how it was his job to pick the wines. He bizarrely enough liked my cheap plonk and began a tedious monologue about his ‘bottle shop’ days. It was hard to tell what his job description actually was. Perhaps he was a manager or perhaps he was a box shifter, but boy could he rabbit on. I could see total boredom enveloping Danny like a cloud. Luckily, the conversation moved on. It turned out that Chuck was waiting on a guy who worked in the hostel to score some weed for him. Chuck`s mate bought up the possibility that the local in question looked pretty rough and beaten up and he might be conning them. Chuck thought otherwise – of course the bloke would come through, after all this was Chuck Aranal we were talking about. Danny was visible heartened by the escape from the ‘bottle shop’ reminisces and just to make sure that subject was truly dead and buried he started upon the pertinent topic of drugs. This sent Chuck into overdrive. Man had they snorted a lot of coke in Columbia. Death defying amounts. One evening they picked up an ‘8 ball’ (I forget how many grammes that is). Not only did they do it in one night, but they tried to do it in one line each! Chuck gleefully described how his silent spotty partner in crime had only got through half his mega line when snotty white stuff started oozing from his nostril. That led on to the astonishing claim that in the six weeks that they had been travelling from Mexico to Columbia they had only had six days when they didn`t ‘party’. I made a quick calculation that`s one day a week or 2 days a month of sobriety. And then just on cue the dodgy geezer appeared and gave Chuck the nod and they both vanished to make a deal. It was good timing for my wife had also finished cooking so we sat down to our pasta slop with bread and wine.
After dinner Chuck reappeared with the smug grin of a man in possession of gear. He showed me a bag with about an eighth in and told me how wickedly strong it was and how reasonably priced it was. His only problem was that he didn`t have any papers to roll with. Me being me had a ready supply for just such a contingency; so off I went to rummage in my pack. We reconvened on the decking at the front of the hostel with my wife and Danny in tow. As Chuck clumsily got a number together he told us of some of his plans. They were heading south. They were keen to find surf. First up were the breaks in Peru, then Chile, Argentina and finally Brazil. Astonishingly enough Chuck thought they might have to miss out Machu Picchu for lack of time. This struck me as being profoundly bigoted and not a tad Australian. And then Chuck said the oddest thing. They planned to fly to Las Vegas for two weeks and then fly back to Brazil to continue their surf tour
Danny: Las Vegas?
Chuck: Yeah my dad`s paying for me and my mate to meet him in Las Vegas.
Chuck: Because I`m going away for two years and he won`t get to see me.
Danny: Where you going, mate?
It was obvious to me and my wife that Danny was taking the piss. However, the moment passed as the much anticipated joint was finally ready, a badly made one skin. It only made it around the circle once but my couple of tokes hit the spot. Chuck apologized for this sign of imperfection and then made the incredible assertion that everybody in Australia only smoked weed from a bong.
Chuck to me: You ever heard of the Darién pipe in Mexico?
Me: No. Oil pipe? Chuck: Surf pipe, dude. You could fit a bus in that pipe.
Me: Whoa. Chuck: Some of the waves were the size of the one, no two, no third story of this building.
Danny: No way.
Chuck: No kidding. We were in a hotel 500 metres away from the beach and even from that distance the waves looked huge. There`s a picture I took with my camera. I can go and get my camera and show you.
Danny: That`s alright. Chuck: There`s a dude in the picture and he`s tiny in comparison to the wave. I thought it politic to move the conversation on; after all we wanted Chuck to make another of his shoddy single skin efforts.
Me: And after you get back from Las Vegas to Brazil and do some surfing, you`re going back to Oz, right?
Chuck: No we`re going to Sweden for a year. We`ve got Swedish working holiday visas.
Side tick: Swedish work visas are cheaper than UK ones.
Chuck: And Sweden is full of hot chicks; there`s snowboarding and my mate got some kind of council job in Sweden and he makes loads of coin.
Me: What`s he do?
Before Chuck could answer Danny butted in with the obvious.
Danny: He`s a councilor.
Chuck smiled and didn`t take offence. Instead he set to work on joint number two. And while he clumsily worked on that he continued to expand on their plans.
Chuck: And after Sweden we go to Canada.
Danny: How long do you think all that will take?
Chuck: About two years.
Chuck: I figure if you`re gonna take time out when you`re 21 you might as well do it in style.
At that point Chuck complained about joints and started off on an eulogy about bongs and his perfect set up in his garage (presumably his parent`s garage) with sofas and the world`s biggest and most perfect water pipe. As the lumpy joint made the round we giggled at the thought of a bong the size of a Japanese car. The Colombian gear was impressive, stronger than the standard Paraguayan fare we had been used to smoking throughout South America. We chatted about this and this spurred Chuck on to make the announcement he was heading out to buy a bong. I checked my watch. It was eleven o`clock. I told him that seemed unlikely at this time and besides how wise was it to walk the streets of a Colombian city late at night.?Chuck manfully pushed aside these reservations and told us that he had spotted a man selling bongs on the street in a nearby square and besides he could do with a Big Mac. His spotty wingman also fancied a burger. And so stubbing out the joint the two Australian heroes departed to score a bong. Danny and I thought their mission absurd but I conceded that it was most evident to me that Chuck was indestructible and he might well prove us wrong and re-appear with his much vaunted bong. Indeed we both wanted him to return and continue to share his stash.
It was over an hour before Chuck and his mate returned. They hadn`t managed to buy a bong. Instead they had got a taxi to a McDonalds to indulge in globalised burger sins. He promised to join us in a bit but first he wanted to hang with some other travelers and let them bask in the glow of his perfection. So Danny and I got a beer from reception and shot the breeze. It was a beautiful warm night without mosquitoes. Chuck emerged from the dorm thirty minutes later with three big blunts. He sparked up the first and hit over-drive.
Chuck: I am a semi-professional body boarder. I`ve made money in body boarding competitions and been sponsored and shit. This one time in Mexico I entered a body board competition. Cost me a few bucks. And guess what?
Me: What? Chuck: I won it! I busted out some great moves and won it.
Danny: What was the prize?
Chuck: It was a new shinny scooter all chrome. It was cool. I drove it around Mexico for a week then sold it for a thousand bucks.
The joint was really pokey and I was fading in and out of reality as Chuck was giving us the good news. My wife had had enough and went to bed. I stayed for the next one. By this point Chuck was slowing down and Danny and I were struggling to form sentences. Stoned silence is not a bad thing to my way of thinking, but to Chuck it was producing existential discomfort. He wanted a captive audience. He squirmed on his seat as he tried to prolong the stories of his exploits. It was too much for me. I went to bed and stared into the dark listening to the multiple conversations going on in my head before blissfully passing out.
The next morning Chuck sold me the remains of his gear before heading out in search of waves. My wife and I had an awesome day in the city. We went to the botanical gardens and the Fernando Botero museum; cultural stuff of no interest to Chuck. Thinking back to the previous night I realized how convoluted Chuck`s proposed journey was: Brazil, Las Vegas, Sweden and Canada and yet no Asia or Africa. His exposition was full of half baked assumptions about hot chicks and loads of money and his idiom was so full of ‘dudes’ and surf jargon that it left me pondering how does Chuck manage to be so perfect and untouchable and yet so superficial and self-centred? It struck me that shallowness can be perfected and can produce something wonderful that deserves some type of admiration. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “Ignorance is like a delicate fruit; touch it, and the bloom is gone.”