Oh, You’ve Been To Amsterdam?

I Can Tell By The Way You Cough.


“I began, almost immediately, to fear the outside world. Not a rabid, all consuming paranoia. No. More a state of indoor contentedness. I’d nip out for milk and eggs. Might even take a contemplative stroll, should the hour find me in an agreeable mood. Never the less…a fear of stepping out of doors is not a fear one should necessarily possess. I was becoming a zombie. One of the west’s lost children. A willing prisoner in my own head, pulling on the bars like a caged animal. I wanted to run away and join the Legion, but couldn’t face killing anyone. Pot this good doesn’t make you want to shoot people, only heroin, or yourself.”


Amsterdam in the middle of spring. Tulips and Friesians on flat green pastures. Canals cut through the landscape like dark silk ribbons. Waterfowl slowly patrolling the reeds and rushes. Towns so perfectly manicured they made me suspicious.


Things got weird immediately. I’d taken a coach. We’d stopped just outside Amsterdam, and now a small Asian man was locked inside. He looked terrified. Tapping pathetically on the tinted windows. I stood back and laughed inwardly as his travel buddy desperately tried to pull the doors open. Bastard tendencies. Someone eventually let him out.


Another train and a very confusing bus ride later, I was deposited in (near) Noordwijk. It was dark and I’d bottled it. Exiting the bus far too early. Completely lost, I looked for the nearest glow in the sky and started moving towards it. Like one of the wise men. No frankincense, Gold or Mir though. No grand illusions of finding Jesus, although I’d heard there were mushrooms here that could facilitate it.


Eventually I found the town. A grand hotel, The Palace. Rooms illuminated in soft yellow, a blue neon sign above. It looked like somewhere a young boy might spend an enchanting summer with his eccentric uncle.


I stopped on a corner near the lighthouse to plot my next move. A cool wind was blowing off the sea. I knew I was close, I sensed it. A group of girls came past speaking English.


“Excuse me, do you know where the hostel is?” I politely enquired.


A nervous old lady appeared suddenly “We don’t need anything THANK YOU!” she hissed with the kind of condescending venom only a middle class woman with higher social aspirations can achieve.


Hang on a minute…before I could say something I’d regret, one of the girls said “The Flying Pig? It’s just down there”.


“Thanks” I said, before staring the old bitch in her dead shark eyes and muggling off down the road - a dark figure in a camouflage jacket, searching for better company, and a warm bed.


I awoke with a start around 11pm in an empty room at the top of a thin, creaking staircase. I could hear house music floating up from below. Am I in hell? I best do something drastic.


At the bar a dreadlocked Australian with a sharp face was serving a long line of souls who hovered like sand flies, unsure of where to land next.


“I and I came to change the mood” I proclaimed with a grin on my face.


“Thank god. Computer’s just there mate, go for it.”


“Nice one.”


I wanted to put the fear of God into these people, wake the town, so I went straight for the jugular. Full terror tactics.


‘Rebel MC, Tenor Fly, The Wickedest Sound’


A nod of approval from my antipodean brother and things were off to a good start.


The night took a number of sharp turns. Many of which I don’t really remember. I’d arrived late and as such had nothing to contribute except a warm vibe and a wide smile. I was immediately welcomed aboard.


“There’s plenty here” one girl said, handing me a bag of pills. “Take as much as you want, we’ll go and get more tomorrow.”


“Thanks”, I said as I popped one in my mouth, opening a can of beer at the same time. “I don’t understand the rules.”


The night surged on. Hours disappearing into the haze. At one point I found myself listening to a Dutch Seth Rogan, heavily sedated, ranting incoherently at a circle of enthralled vagabonds, hippies and college kids. The story, as far as I could interpret (he wasn’t making much sense) was about the time a gecko bit him on the end of his cock while he sat on a Thai toilet. Turns out the wee fella had fallen in and was simply trying to escape. As soon as our friend sat down, the gecko had grabbed desperately at the only vine dangling above those turbulent waters. I concluded that the thing we have in common with all creatures, is that we’ll do almost anything to save our own skin. I was heavily sedated myself.


“I fucking jump up man, this thing hanging off my cock. It was so fucked. I thought I lose my cock. When I calm down, I realise he only want to go out, so I put him there. He was ok I guess. It was a bad night for both of us.”


Noise and fury and passion and panic resonated in my head. The fervour with which he recounted the horrifying episode was good enough for me. I was a believer. One of the chosen ones. In that moment, I would have followed him anywhere. I was on board, riding the wave.


The effect of high-grade marijuana on the unprepared psyche of the individual is both a wonderful and horrendous thing to behold. We were in the middle of an impromptu sing-along when the calm of the smoking room was shattered.


An American college kid burst in, looking fresh, in fresh cut jeans, and a freshly ironed shirt. My first thought was, where did he find an iron? Either way, the second he opened his mouth he’d overstayed his welcome.


“OK!” he proclaimed to the now silent room. “Who wants to sell us some weed?!”


Chuckles. Much shaking of heads.


“Yeah. We’re in Amsterdam, we wanna buy weed bruh!”


“I don’t think anyone has any” said a girl, before taking a long drag on a long joint.


“Well, who wants to get us high?”


No one spoke or moved. We just stared. He searched the eyes of the stunned crowd, then left as abruptly as he’d arrived.


“Fffffaark” someone said, as we resumed the regular program. “That was too much.”


Correct. There's a way you go about these things. An unspoken etiquette. Our dear friends were clearly unaware of it. 

In the early hours I sat on the couch watching some guys play pool. All of a sudden a shadow dropped into the seat next to me. A Serb. He looked like a villain from a Steven Seagal flick. Highlander. A documentary filmed in real time. Pony tail, black mesh shirt, loose Levi’s, and a full length black leather trench coat…


One can only imagine the scenes Dutch citizens are forced to endure on a daily basis. He started recounting the story of his mushroom trip.


“You just drift in and out of conscious thought” he said. “Then you snap back to reality and think, how the fuck did I get here? Why is there so much noise?”


I quizzed him further.


“At one point today, ok, I came back to earth to find myself standing, with my three friends, in the middle of a bridge. Two long lines of cars and scooters and bicycles were tooting their horns at us. I have no idea what we had been doing, or how long we’d been doing it, but tomorrow I will go and find the CCTV footage. What a trip man.”


Surprisingly, the vast majority of conversations in Amsterdam seem to centre around weed, and the inhaling thereof. Haze, implements, tippies, papers, famous gardeners, newly developed strains. I found it hard to keep up. It’s part of the culture now, and many Dutch folk revel in it. Maybe because they do love it. Maybe because it’s all they’ve got. There are no hills. Only a truly twisted individual could realistically spend their entire lives here.


I was beginning to see sense. Everything was becoming clear.


Although it may have been that the sun was up.




A few hours later, coming down from whatever the gypsy woman had prescribed me, I wandered along the empty windswept beach. Only the hardiest souls were out. Summer. Most people seemed to have taken cover behind the sea wall. Sand stung my eyes, and my stomach made strange, unholy noises. Beelzebub. The Exorcist. “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell, Karras, you faithless slime.” That sort of thing. Pure nastiness.


I decided to do something about it and headed to the store to get some food, drinks and other assorted supplies.


I don’t know if you’ve ever been into a Dutch supermarket. Bright lights and colours and cheese. All in neat rows. Very clean. Very ordered. Very much a place where someone high on mushrooms should not be (or should, depending on how you look at it).


Nevertheless, someone high on mushrooms is precisely what I found in an aisle near the cold meats section. A young guy I recognised from the hostel. He stood, mouth open, transfixed by the vast array of colourful cereal boxes.


“All good mate?”


He turned slowly, eyes wide with fear and confusion.


“I’m so high.”


“Let’s get you out of here then eh.”




I shepherded him towards the exit, paid for his groceries – an eclectic mish mash of the stores most colourful products, including many with animal faces on the box and or wrapping – and guided him back down the quaint little main street to the green zone. He didn’t say a word on the way back and I wondered if he thought I was his mum. Not angry, but very, very disappointed. I wasn’t. I just couldn’t leave him out there. Not with the Serb fresh in my memory.


The next evening was much the same. With the welcome addition of a local. Well. An Englishman in a wheelchair with an oxygen system attached, but local enough. He’d been living there for 20 years and came most nights to chat with the myriad of vacant travellers who flitted in and out of the dense smog. He took a shine to me straight away. The feeling was mutual.


We chatted for hours. Sampling all manner of local and imported strains. AK-47, Blue Dream, Pink Kush, Purple Kush, Northern Lights, Purple Urkle, Lodi Dodi, White Widow, Acapulco Gold, Amnesia, Chocolope, Green Crack, Sour Diesel, Lemon Haze, Super Lemon Haze, G13, Blueberry, Obama, Sunset Sherbet, Maui Wowie, Nepalese Cream, Lebanese, Mexican, Afghani, Moroccan. (Cleary I didn’t try all of these in one go. That’d be fucked.)


At one point the talk turned to the wind. Coming from Wellington, New Zealand, I like to think I’m a bit of an authority on the subject. Walking, body bent at an acute angle, from lamp post to lamp post, isn’t uncommon in those parts. But the wind in this particular place, on this particular day, was fierce.


“I’ve got a little ramp that goes up to my place. I was backing out on my way here when a gust blew me over the side.”




“There I was. Laying on the ground with this bloody thing on top of me. Rekn I was there for a good 20 minutes before the neighbours came out and got me right.”


“Are you ok?”


“I’m here aren’t I?”


 You probably shouldn’t be, I thought to myself.


“That you are my friend.”


And the night continued.




Rainbow cakes. Hilariously dangerous. I’d brought two from Abraxas, a mystical middle eastern joint. Elegantly carved wood, lovely tile patterns, and floor cushions. I ate one on the spot, saved one for later, and headed off to explore Vondelpark. After wandering for a bit I found a seat and pulled out a cigarette.


That’s when it hit. Came on fast. 0-100 in 3.8 seconds. The Pagani Zonda C12 S 7.3 of edibles. Fuck moiiiii. I thought as my world distorted and shifted. I took too much. How long does this shit last? Recommended dose half a muffin now, the other half when deemed safe. Fuck.


I wandered through the park, following a family of ducks. There were 8 of them. Mum, Dad and the kids. There was a point to it, I knew that much. They were headed somewhere magical, and I’d been invited along for the ride. I followed at a safe distance as they crossed the sprawling lawns, foraged in the leaf litter, forded streams and floated on ponds. 2 hours later they disappeared into dense undergrowth and the show was over. My friends had gone.


I bid them farewell and headed back to the hostel. My vision pulsating. Hands tingling. Smile widening.


A party was in full swing. What was the time? The sun was still up so it was early enough for a nap. I was contemplating this when a young woman sat down next to me and started talking. Her rubenesque lips working like a belt fed machine gun, spitting nouns and verbs and sentences at me in low euphonious tones. I couldn’t understand a word she was saying.


The room swirled around us. Music, laughter and the clinking of glass. My elbow found a wet patch on the table and bathed for a while in the sticky substance until my nerves caught up and ‘wet elbow move now’ registered in my brain.


She was still talking. Had I said anything? If so, what? Good god. Time to go.


“I have a…..thing….in the….”


And with that, I stood up and left. I needed liquor to counteract the herbal essence.


I found her later and apologised. She didn’t remember meeting me. I’m still not sure if it ever even happened.




Three days had turned into two weeks. It was time to go. Beat a hasty retreat. I was becoming one of the voodoo children. Purple haze, all in my brain. So, one morning I slipped out the door and disappeared.


I made it to Amsterdam Centraal Station, with its beautiful palace-like, Gothic/Renaissance Revival façade, twin turrets, ornamental details and reliefs. A grand, opulent building. A complex reminder of simpler times. Times when people were less focussed on their screens, and more focussed on the fact that this building was designed by Pierre Cuypers - the same man responsible for the Rijksmuseum, home to Ruisdael, Vermeer, and Rembrandt.


Either way, it was a pleasant station. And after admiring it for a spell, I booked a one way ticket on the fast train to Cologne, then settled in under the cast iron platform roof to wait.


At one point I decided to document something and reached into my bag, fumbling for my notebook.


“What the…”


I pulled out a magic muffin. Deciding that I couldn’t possibly take it with me, I did the only thing one could, or should possibly do in a situation like that. I ate it.


An hour or so later I caught a glimpse of myself in the trains giant perspex window. A tall, dishevelled figure in multi-coloured tartan pants, a green army shirt and dark sunglasses. Face and arms adorned with henna mandalas and neon paint. High as a motherfucking kite. Sprawled out in the first class cabin. Heading towards the German border at 300kmph.


What a trip, man.