Trippin'

Trippin' is a collection of travel stories written by a young Australian writer. They talk of the humor of living a life on the fringe, the frustration of being down and out, and the stories of all the people he met along the way. The journey speaks to anybody who has experienced life on the road, or shares a thirst for the freedom that comes with spontaniety and transient living.

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10. Cooking poachies for bacon

 

Occurred - August 2011, Seville (Spain).

I have usually been of the moral belief that one does not need money to enjoy life. The previous 8 months had taught both Jake and I that life was far more interesting if you lived solely off the dollars in your pocket. It may not have been as glamorous as drinking cocktails on a palm tree filled beach in Hawaii, but it did force us into situations of befriending pregnant teenagers, farmers guilty of adultery, modern day dictators, drug dealing Indonesians and Spanish bull breeders. Living the sweet life all around the world had enabled us to experience total freedom – and the possibility of getting cocktails on Hawaii beaches if you were capable of charming anyone for a price.

But that is not to say that there aren't particular moments in life where a little capitalism goes down smooth. If you are borderline destitute and don't want to face reality, the need or desire for money can hit you hard. The spark may start from simply wanting a cup of coffee, but as society has told us that can soon escalate. In order words, there comes a time when you must use your mind to its full potential and find a way to make serious bank in order to survive.

For Jake and I this moment came in the European summer of 2011. I was flying under the radar at a hostel that Jake was working at in Seville, staying for free either on the floor of the staff room or taking beds in random areas of the hostel when they weren't occupied. I don't understand why I wasn't fussed about the whole ordeal - I wouldn't of had the balls one year before. Luckily Jake had no problem with signing me in each morning under various alias's like 'Rex Timson' and 'Wesley Pipes' (the name of a friends bong). Somehow the manager just knew my face and assumed that I was paying, thus failing to take any notice to a man with a fake name who would never pay his rent. I couldn't help but be amused by the whole ordeal though, purely because Jake and I had only been reunited for 2 weeks and we had already been re-programmed to act in the exact same way with each other as we had always done.

But my illegal ways couldn't go on forever. I had two options at this point. The first involved moving to Malaga to work on a farm that I had already been in contact with, and the second basically just involved manning up and finding a way to pay my rent. In realistic terms this shouldn't have really been much of an issue. Every other traveller or plain human being that I have come across usually understands the notion of paying for accommodation, but somehow I had either missed the meeting or was just plain unrealistic.

It was a sad reality that my free loading days were over, but after all Jake was liable for anything that happened, and due to his bank balance being lower than your average squatter I was forced to think of a way that I could begin paying for my stay. But fortunately for me I wasn't alone in hatching a plan. Jake wanted me there as much as any other best mate, so we put our heads together and changed our moral values from a 'money is nothing' attitude to a 'let's make serious bank' attitude.

The manager of the hostel told me that I could stay for free if I did something that would benefit himself and his business. Luckily Jake and I had already hatched a majestic idea when I was given this proposal, so we propositioned him about it. We told him that we wanted to start a breakfast business as alternate meal for those in the hostel that didn't want to eat a shitty breakfast of mediocre cereal and toast. Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration really. The breakfast was amazing, and for €11 for a dorm room per night with the breakfast included it was probably the best service anywhere in Europe. But we both still believed that people always wanted more for their money.

The hostel that we were living in was advertised as a palace, and the tourists who frequented the place were usually quite rich and craved their creature comforts. They were the type of people who travelled Europe by a bus the size of a share house, meeting people from the same country as themselves and nobody even remotely different. They spent their mornings hungover and their nights on the piss with a hair of the dog attitude. Their idea of a European holiday revolved around drinking excessively in bars and clubs that looked identical to the ones in their home country, pulling birds or blokes (depending on their gender or whichever way they swung) and taking loads of paralytic photos to remember that they had saved and spent $20,000 in 2 months and had nothing substantial to show for it.

But this played in our favour. We knew that these people craved a taste of home, and as far as we were concerned Eggs Benedict was the best meal that money could buy. Jake and I were essentially raised on the shit, having spent countless afternoons cooking it up for dozens of people in Australia. Not only that, but when I was 14 I had a job in a local cafe in my hometown that hired under-age workers who were keen for cash. Besides having to wash the dishes every shift, I would usually try and sneak into the kitchen to learn the secrets of their hollandaise recipe. Everybody in town would frequent the place every weekend purely for the experience of plowing 2 poachies drowned in a delicious holly sauce. Once I discovered the recipe I obviously spread the word to all of my friends, with Jake being one of the first to carry on the tradition. Since then the breakfast has always been a pivotal pillar in our friendship. We would cook it after nights out, after breakups, or even just at 4am in the morning for no logical reason whatsoever. Whatever the situation, you could be sure that Eggs Benedict would solve it.

At this particular moment within our travels the idea returned to us like some sort of blessing from above. We had a sense of nostalgia towards the meal, reminiscing about all the moments that we had shared with it. It was like the third member of an unbreakable tripod friendship, and we knew that it held the answer to that important question. We knew that it could make a difference.

After a short and sharp conversation with each other we agreed that our business would involve selling Eggs Benedict to hungover tourists every morning at the hostel. We would charge €3 (which was actually quite cheap and would hopefully attract everyone in the hostel who was finding it difficult to adapt to unusual foreign food at triple the price.) Usually this price would seem ludicrous to a backpacker strapped for cash, but not in this hostel. The manager thought it was a great idea, so we stocked up on copious amounts of eggs and calculated rough figures of intake and out-take. I couldn't believe that the day had finally arrived where we could say that we were making eggs for a living.

After having that short moment of euphoria that one experiences after conjuring up something of this calibre we quickly got the business up and running. The night prior Jake and I felt like we were kings among men, chanting about how much profit we could actually make. We had another small idea at the time that involved us undertaking some hitch-hiking around Europe, and estimated that our winnings would buy us €100 worth of food and €50 worth of hash for the journey. We were set, but still obviously baffled at how we had actually thought up of such an awesome business venture that was operating illegally within the confines of another business. And if that wasn't enough the manager had absolutely no problems with it. He didn't even ask for a cut of the takings in the end. Somehow we had managed to dodge all of the legal tape without even trying.

We spent the next day spreading the word. Jake and his Polish love interest told everyone as they checked into reception. Well, it wasn't so much of a telling as it was of an indoctrination. I can't help but imagine that they were down there calmly hypnotising tourists to buy our breakfast with statements like 'it will make all of your wildest dreams come true'; 'you will look more attractive to the opposite sex'; 'you will succeed in everything that you do'. But as if this wasn't enough we even designed a small advertisement that we printed off and stuck around the hostel. It looked something like this:

We liked to think that the picture was representative of the service that we were providing, but that's probably a stretch of the truth. Nonetheless, we did think that the flyer summed up everything we wanted to express. The price was clearly indicated with an unwarranted amount of exclamation points, 'eggs ben' was supplemented with Spanish exclamation marks for authenticity, and our cheeky attitude may or may not have impressed the consumer (even if nobody could understand the expressions). In any case a small amount of people were actually impressed with our efforts, claiming that they would contribute to a cause they knew nothing about.

After composing the advertisements we hit the supermarket to price up ingredients. Like any other business we obviously needed a loan to get it off the ground, so we lent €10 off a friend and strutted the isles, hoping to increase it by 10 fold or more in a few days. Our major investments included butter, eggs, jamon and tomatoes. We also needed vinegar, but because this was Spain and most staple items were ridiculously cheap we never included it into the price.

Probably the only ball breaker was the price of butter. Unfortunately (because we were a business) we needed about 1kg of it each morning for the hollandaise. This would've been fine, except for the fact that butter (and eggs for that matter) are expensive in every single country besides Australia. Had we been in our homeland we would've been rolling in the stuff.

So with the first shopping stint completed, we calculated that the ingredients had cost us around €8 - €3 for butter, €3 for eggs, €1 for tomatoes and €1 for jamon (we skimped on basically everything and risked it all to ensure that our holly was up to scratch). This was as cheap as we could find and as cheap as we could physically go. Making the budget cuts reminded me of what it would be like for every over business owner, aside from the fact that their cuts usually involve somebody losing their full-time employment rather than just receiving sub-par ham. 

We rose extremely early the next day, marking probably the first moment either of us have ever been self-motivated to work. We hit the hostel kitchen and blasted Arctic Monkeys, deterring away all the Kenyan maids that were meant to clean it when everybody was sleeping. We were in a rocking mood, knowing that once we began selling a few portions everything would start to fire up. And to make matters even better we didn't have to take into consideration half of the factors that prevent a business from booming. We didn't have to pay staff members, we didn't have to pay rent or bills, we didn't have to pay for kitchen equipment, and we definitely didn't have to pay for bread. As far as we were concerned, we were going make a killing.

A couple of hours soon passed by, with no one even rising out of bed, let alone wanting to buy our eggs. We started to feel as if all our planning and promoting may have been outweighed by the fact that nobody really wanted to pay anything for breakfast. Perhaps the tourists were actually satisfied with their free breakfast and saw no point in purchasing another, especially from 2 long haired dudes in wife beaters.

But we couldn't remain pessimistic. We kept our spirits high, with Jake pouring the vinegar into the pan and myself shaking my head to the music and cutting up tomatoes. Even if nobody decided to buy anything, we were both still stoked at how loose our kitchen would be run if we actually owned an actual cafe.

But about 30 minutes later we actually received our first customers. Two Aussie tourists came stumbling into the kitchen, looking more ghastly than the Grim Reaper himself.

'Ohhhhhhh mate,' the dude said. 'I've been cravin' these all night since I heard of 'em. Ain't that right Loz?'

'Yeah for sure mate,' Loz replied. 'I can't believe we're in fucking Spain and they have eggs ben. Fucking stoked hey.'

'So, youse guys want eggs or?' I replied bluntly.

'Yes please, mate, yes please,' the dude replied.

You could almost see the look of sheer happiness in the dudes eyes when he finally realised that he was going get the eggs. But with all of that aside, it was actually more interesting to see our thoughts about these tourists play out in reality. After all, we could've stipulate all you like, but to actually witness people stumbling into the kitchen and craving our breakfast was amazing.

Jake and I made the eggs in 2 minutes flat, pocketing the €6 euro faster than a bum finding a coin on the side-walk. We were so stoked at this point because (1) in 2 minutes we were already close to making back our original expenditure, and (2) we knew that we wouldn't need to buy even close to half the ingredients for the next day as we bought this particular day. Even if we made another 5 more breakfasts we would still only need to buy butter and a few tomatoes. This was a pivotal factor in giving us a chance at making serious bank - as our profits were increasing our expenditure was decreasing. We were truly capitalists in the making.

At 1pm, after working 4 hours in the kitchen, we had made a profit of €40. This matched any wage that one would receive in Europe, but with Jake working on reception for the majority of this time (one of his three jobs at this stage), we hadn't even reached our true egg making potential. But after all we only needed to pay my rent, so with €40 - €11 - €10 for the next days ingredient we were left with a profit of €19. We were both ecstatic, leaving all of our dirty dishes in the kitchen and legging it to the Chino's on the corner to buy 3 bottles of Tinto de Verano for the nights frivolities.

By the second day word was getting out about the quality of our eggs, with our 1 day sterling reputation bringing in the likes of our manager and all of the walking tour guides. We became known as 'those two Australian guys with long hair who have an eggs business in Spain'. Fitting, really, but never a nickname that I expected to have in my current life.

We began buying everything in bulk from that second day onwards. Our eggs business had boomed to the equivalent of a cafe that had been running for 10 years. There was no time to muck around, because as far as we were concerned we had found the key to all of our problems. Instead of buying a 6 pack of caged eggs we began to buy a 20 pack of caged eggs. I hid them all in the personal drawers we were given in the staff dorm. Tommies were purchased in the kilos, and we even managed to find 1kg tubs of butter in the El Corte Ingles.

But as fate would have it, our success rapidly started to diminish after the second day. We didn't realise it at the time, but bigger and more influential factors were at play in the world of business - like girls, getting drunk and sleeping. By the 4 day mark everything was beginning to crumble. Despite the previous 2 days being mildly successful, we began making budget cuts in a true capitalist fashion. We cut out the hollandaise, purely based on its price. We realised that it was too much work trying to whisk the mixture with a fork, and plus, butter was far too expensive. Although we traded it with an adequate substitution (mushrooms), it still wasn't enough. Our customers wanted more, and before we knew it we began losing business.

By the fifth day our business was officially non-existent. The manager had decided to pay us a visit at 8am (the time that our service supposedly started every morning) to find us balls deep in our duvets, sleeping off a heavy night on the town. As a result, and intensified by the fact that he was a douche, he decided to take down all of our signs.

But in a last ditch attempt we rose at 11 and attempted to make a little more bank before our business completely went up in flames. But it was useless. With a new record low of 1 sale (to our Italian work colleague) and all of our profits being spent on alcohol. We had officially failed. It was truly an example of easy come, easy go.

However depressing as the future of our business turned out to be, there was still a positive outcome. We eventually realised that the manager of the hostel was still oblivious as to who was paying rent and who wasn't, so after 3 days of paying I decided to give up – again. But this wasn't all based on luck. I realised even later that the receptionist had actually pulled a couple of strings in order to create the illusion that I was paying. It's funny what young travellers our capable of when they are working for somebody they don't respect. 

But I still wouldn't say that it was all a failure. For that week - well, 5 days - we were die hard capitalists, throwing all of our morals out the window for the majestic taste of success. Although it didn't turn out exactly as we planned, at least we can both say that we were finally able use our poachie making skills to earn cash - even if it was entirely illegal and heinously unprofessional.

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