This post features light drug use. If you are offended by the idea of a human being ingesting a small amount of plant and feeling a little woozy, here is your moment to recoil in horror, let out a ghastly wail of terror, slam your laptop shut and fling it out of the window.
My friend and I were staying in Byron Bay, at the Nomads hostel, and we’d spent a great first day there relaxing on the beach and getting embarrassingly smashed at Cheeky Monkey’s bar. The second day, we decided to head to Nimbin. We’d heard rumours of this small hippy village, a Mecca for ganja enthusiasts. I was excited to go and see for myself, giddy to try the infamous cookies which we had heard talk of back in Sydney. I was fresh out of uni at that point, and smoked weed fairly regularly. I don’t do it these days, because (it took me three years to learn this) it doesn’t really agree with me.
I suppose it just affects people in different ways. Some friends of mine love it, there is a whole culture devoted to it, entire genres of film and music. I thought I just hadn’t gotten used to it yet, and that if I kept smoking it, I’d eventually get to enjoy it, like when you first start drinking as a teen. Rather than being comfortably stoned, relaxed, calm, chilled, giggly, amicable, thoughtful and whatever else, I just couldn’t form thoughts for the next two hours after smoking. It was always funny for the first 30 minutes, then for the next hour and a half I used to just slump on the sofa watching TV, unable to really comprehend what I was watching, as I couldn’t remember the previous 3 seconds. So, I don’t really do it anymore. I’ll always have some if I’m offered, but I won’t go out of my way.
Back a couple of years ago, however, I was still fairly enamoured with the sticky green plant, and so we booked a day trip on a ‘Grasshopper’ bus that would whirl us out to Nimbin. We wandered down to the bus stop in the morning and waited with a few others. This rickety, brightly coloured school bus pulled up, driven by the most Australian looking man you’ve ever seen, complete with long bleached hair, sunglasses, deep brown leathery skin, a bloody shark tooth necklace, and board shorts. He had a little old dog that snoozed next to him while he drove. I can’t remember the driver’s name. Let’s just assume he was called Bruce. He probably was.
We jumped on the bus with the others and set off. What we didn’t realise until now, however, is that Australia is actually rather large. On a map, Nimbin looks to be the next town over from Byron. How naïve we were. Two and a half hours we drove, stopping to buy crates of beer on the way. My friend and I clinked bottles and drank with the other backpackers as the bus bounced and rattled its way through beautiful Australian countryside, all sun bleached shacks and impossibly vivid green forests. The whole time, the radio was blasting music over a knackered, scratchy speaker. Rolling Stones, Beatles, that sort of thing. The driver also played ‘Land Down Under’ about 15 times, and ‘Sounds of Then (This Is Australia)’ which we had never heard before but couldn’t get out of our heads for weeks after. Look it up. Listen to it. It’s crap. It will infect your ears, and you will hate yourself for singing it constantly.
Play this while you read the rest of the article, if you want. It will help you imagine.
We were passing some towering cliffs on our left when Bruce pulled over to speak to us. He warned us, casually, that although it has a reputation, marijuana is still illegal in Nimbin. He advised us if we were so inclined to buy the cookies, that it was down to us, but we had to be careful not to do it anywhere public, as Nimbin still has police. He also advised us to only eat one half of the cookies, then wait for 45 minutes before eating the other half. He said he’d seen plenty of big blokes down a handful of cookies at once, laugh it off, only to find themselves weeping an hour later as the universe collapses in on them and they forget how to think.
We arrived in Nimbin with the sun beating down, and we cruised down the main (and pretty much only) street, flanked by a mess of brightly coloured, hand painted buildings. It looks like someone tried to build an 1870’s cowboy town while tripping balls on shrooms. The buildings are hodge-podge, it’s like a patchwork town. Imagine what Glastonbury would look like if it didn’t flood every year and no one ever left. Our bus pulled up a little way past the centre of town and our driver told us to meet back there in a couple of hours.
We’d barely stepped off the coach before a little old woman wearing 48 different colours at once sidled up to us.
“Cookies?” she whispered.
“Er… yeah alright,” I replied.
I was never very good at talking to dealers. You kind of feel like you have to be cool and know weed slang. Problem is I don’t know any bloody weed slang. A henry is eighth of an ounce, or about 20 quid’s worth. There, that’s my entire cool weed slang exhausted. Luckily, this woman wasn’t some tracksuit clad gangster type with an eyebrow scar and a nervous twitch, she was a kindly old lady who could quite easily slip into my grandma’s knitting circle without raising an eyebrow.
She gestured for us to follow her into this ramshackle multi-coloured building with a sign outside saying ‘Museum’. She hobbled inside and we followed her from room to room as she half-heartedly pointed to various crooked paintings of brightly coloured murals and gloomy nudes. A posh looking couple were already in there, browsing. She gave me a picture to hold, and told me it was done by a man who lives nearby in a cave. Cool, I told her, but she wasn’t listening. She was waiting for the posh couple to leave.
Once they’d gone, she opened this little metal treasure chest and pulled out a big polythene bag. She asked us how many, and we went for 2 each. She took our money, and as we left she told us to be careful, as they were strong. We said bye and ducked out of the shack.
My friend and I wandered down a country lane and ate half each of the first cookie, a bit nervous and a bit excited. As we walked back into town, we passed an old guy with the biggest joint you’ve ever seen. It was like a pineapple. He said hello and we got talking. I asked him for a photo with him, and he said to follow him instead. (Why am I always following weird people to weird places? Why can’t I say no?) We went out of sight of the street (assumed we were about to be murdered again, as usual) and he pulled out a bag of ganja the size of a family pack of Doritos. He handed me it with reverence, and my friend took a photo of me grinning like a buffoon.
After, we got some food then explored a frankly nightmarish ‘museum’, which looked like the inside of Tim Burton’s head. It was a winding trail through four or five differently decorated rooms, all dusty and packed to the rafters with bizarre brik-a-brak, creepy dolls, rusty sign posts, tangled fairy lights, faded newspapers, empty brown beer bottles, a car sawn in half, clumsily assembled trash monsters, and just about everything you can imagine not wanting to see while you wait for a ganja cookie to kick in. We didn’t hang about.
On the coach back, we carried on drinking, and eventually stopped at a beautiful viewpoint for a barbecue. The sun was still high, and we all made friends and chatted over our cool beers while we prepared food and ate. Strange, massive Australian birds were hopping around us as we ate. We were on a small hill overlooking the roof of a huge forest. I love the fact that in Australia they have permanent buildings which are solely for people seeking to barbecue.
We sat around and asked each other if the cookies had kicked in yet. A couple of guys started laughing non-stop, and said theirs were working. Meh. It hadn’t been long enough, I didn’t believe it. I had another half about an hour after the first, now getting impatient. We packed up our things and I helped Bruce wash up. He was a surf instructor. He used to be pro, and he had some wicked stories.
We drove on to one last spot, a waterfall that Bruce wanted to show us. We were bouncing along a bumpy dirt track, winding through tall trees in a cool, shaded forest. I was pretty sleepy, staring out of the window in a daze. In the corner of my eye, I glanced a flash of a man a little way back in the woods pushing a wheelie bin. That’s odd, I thought. What’s in the bin? I looked again and both man and bin were bloody tree stumps. Right, I told myself, I think it’s kicking in now.
As the trees zipped past in a dark brown blur, I kept thinking I saw weird things. I wasn’t hallucinating, just mistaking things for other things. Another tree stump at first glance was a small squatting man. Bloody hell. My friend and I looked at each other and instantly started laughing; we both shared the same expression of disbelief. They sneak up on you, those cookies. It was about 2 hours after we’d eaten the first half.
When we arrived at the waterfall, we climbed off the bus and bobbed along the forest path through the trees, not saying much. I was trying to work out how stoned I was, testing it out by looking at things and seeing if they looked weird. Stoned logic, I dunno. We reached the waterfall. We were at the very top of it, the stream soaring over the cliff edge to our right and disappearing into mist thousands of feet below. The drop was astonishing. From the viewing platform, we could look out onto an enormous sweeping valley, choked with trees and greenery. All this would be a lot to take in for a sober person. For me, growing ever more baked by the second, it was almost too much. I looked down at the dizzying fall below and my legs went weak. I kept thinking I was slipping off, despite there being a 5 foot railing all the way around. Do drugs, kids!
We hobbled back onto the bus, knock kneed, and started the ride home – now much quieter. A few people fell asleep. I sat awake, staring at everything, chuckling quietly to myself over how funny it was that I couldn’t string two thoughts together, and listening to ‘Land Down Under’ a thousand times.
The bus dropped us back in Byron, by which point I was completely out of it and couldn’t perform the most basic of tasks without forgetting how and giggling. My friend was more with it, and guided me to check in at our new hostel, the Arts Factory, an achingly bohemian cluster of wigwams and tents and all sorts of cool people with dreadlocks and tattoos. I slumped against the check-in desk while my friend sorted the paperwork. I felt very paranoid that we wouldn’t be allowed to stay if the receptionist knew I was stoned (despite the fact the place reeked of weed and was in the centre of Byron), and so tried very, very hard to look normal and keep a straight face.
Thing is, when you try to act normal when stoned, you realise you haven’t a clue what normal is.
‘Am I standing right? How do people stand? Should I just let my hands hang by my sides? No, that’s weird Dan, nobody does that! Okay, I’ll just put one hand on my waist. Oh god, I look like I’ve broken my hip. Okay, lean on the counter and smile politely. How do you smile? Should I show my teeth? No, you look like you’re baring your teeth at her! Smile with your eyes, Dan. No, now you’re just squinting, you dick. Come on, she’s looking at you. Purse your lips and smile. Shit, no, you’re leering. How do I stop leering?!’
This eternal battle raged while I shakily signed the papers and paid on my card. My repeated failures to act like a normal human being were obviously hilarious to my own cloudy mind, and so I just stood, swaying, testing out different expressions, giggling like a twat. We booked into a giant wigwam with a giant chiminea thing in the middle, and immediately passed out for a couple of hours after lying on the bed.
Nimbin was fun. My advice if you’re doing an Australian road trip: stock up on those cookies.
Oh, and here’s that shit song that will get stuck in your head forever and ever until you die. Enjoy.