Published: July 19th 2009July 19th 2009
This entry may seem somewhat less like travel writing than my usual and and will have no pictures, as I'm not sure whether writing about this should be considered travel blogging or just generally raising awareness of a certain experience which I've had more than once in my life, and had again on our last night in Slovakia, which we spent in the capital city, Bratislava. Short and to the point, we were mostly offended by how expensive the place was - when we're used to paying 2 euros for a beer and a red wine, going back and paying 11 euros for the same was not particularly welcoming, and we found ourselves waxing lyrical about how much we preferred Banská Bystrica pretty early on in the evening! I suggested that we need to get away from what was obviously the touristy area - the great thing about the rest of Slovakia was that there's just no such thing as "touristy areas" beyond ski resorts and places aimed at hardcore walkers and climbers. You don't get jumped up bars trying to sell you Slovakian beer at Dublin prices, except in Bratislava.
So we went to another bar down a side road, which was more normally priced, and while we were there Charlie spotted a lot of dressed up goths and metalheads walking down an alleyway going even further deep away from the star spangled streets of the historic centre. Intrigued, we followed them, and they led us to this absolutely awesome pub which was like Bratislava's answer to the Intrepid Fox in London, full of alternative types and playing (occasional) good songs we hadn't heard in a long time! We also finally managed to integrate with people here, we got chatting to a few people including an adorably hysterical girl with really cool dreadlocks and her tee-total friend who spoke perfect English and was telling us about her affinity for Brighton. This was really something I always hoped would happen while out travelling, as I love meeting travellers and tourists in the UK.
After this place kicked us out, we said goodbye to the people we met, who all wandered off except one guy, who we decided to ask if he knew anywhere else open. He simply pointed at the place next door, which was full of people who we'd seen in the previous pub, and was selling shots of hruškovice (like slivovice but from pears) at 75 cents each, so we and this guy drank a few of them. However, Charlie seemed to be getting far more badly affected than I was, despite the facts that we had drunk the same amount of alcohol, she should have been better than me as she'd mixed less, and we both know that I'm a lot more lightweight than she is. Eventually I caught this guy pulling her upstairs and I could tell she was not with it at all, so I took advantage of the language barrier and wordlessly swapped him my travel buddy for the remainder of my beer, and we got clear of the whole situation. About 5 minutes into walking back to the hostel, Charlie passed out on the floor and threw up, basically unable to move.
Luckily for me since I had no credit, a group of really helpful Slovak guys and girls had seen it happen and one of them called an ambulance. While we waited for it, the police also arrived to watch over the scene, and the group made snide remarks about "lightweight english people not knowing their limits" and bemusedly lolling at the fact that we'd come to Slovakia for our holidays. Finally the ambulance did come, and took us to the hospital, where I managed to get a few words out of Charlie and began to realise that someone, most likely this guy, had probably slipped ketamine in her drink. As expected, the doctor who checked her couldn't tell anything without lengthy tests other than that she was okay and just needed to rest and detox for a few days, however I've seen this happen to people twice before, and I know the kind of reactions she was giving me when I was talking to her pretty well as a result. It wasn't just drunkenness, it was ketamine talk.
Basically, ketamine is a recreational drug popular in the underground dance club scene at the moment which when taken by itself as it usually is, just makes people fall over and go completely insane for a bit. However when mixed with alcohol, it has exactly this effect - except with added complete memory loss and therefore makes you a target for getting drugged or raped and is used by people who try this. When Charlie finally opened her eyes in the hospital ward, filling me with relief and happiness after I had been sitting next to her biting my fingers and scribbling for the past 8 hours, I learned that the last thing she could remember was me buying our first drinks in that last bar we went to.
Let me get this straight. I am not saying "don't go to Slovakia" or "don't go to Bratislava". I am not saying "don't integrate with the locals while you're travelling in their country". I am not saying "don't go off the tourist tracks". On the contrary, if you want to have a good time travelling, you need to make sure you DO do exactly this and realise that this shit can happen to anyone anywhere, and that if it does happen to you, you're just in the wrong place at the wrong time. So this is not a propaganda piece about how badly we hate Slovakia because something bad happened to us there. We love Slovakia. We were both absolutely okay, both glad that Charlie was safe and out of the hospital, and both laughing about the whole experience and fantasizing about what we'd do to that guy if we ever saw him again shortly afterwards, as we retired to a restaurant for a huge feast of garlic bread and chips to push off our hangovers (and comedowns) and celebrate Charlie's speedy recovery.
I just wanted to say something about people spiking drinks with ketamine, because I have seen it before, in London at a club when it happened to another friend of mine a few years ago, and it's not nice. And of course, no one in the medical world wants to talk about the effects of ketamine, because they put it on the same par as drug abuse, which is absolutely absurd from a victim's perspective. Basically, be really, really careful about people putting shit in your drinks, and if this does happen to you, try and remain conscious enough to call an ambulance if there's no one with you. As far as I can tell, Ketamine is a strange drug in that it does not just wipe your entire mind blank unless you let it do so. So, please just have a slight bit of awareness about this when you're out, especially alone, so that if one shot of hruškovice ever does make you fall over vomiting, you can at least reach the right digits on your phone.
That said, this has been a really great holiday in all respects, and as we parted at Bratislava airport that evening, we were incredibly happy, still somewhat amused by our tests, and very glad at our acute abilities to live in the present moment when dealing with them. On that note, that's my only advice about travelling. Wherever you are, always just live in the present, and remember that the worst thing that can happen is if everything goes to plan.
Update, September 2012:
I have to add to this entry a recommendation to anyone who might be still reading it to avoid the Piccolo Pub on Obchodná street where this incident happened. My friends in Bratislava tend to identify the place as a neo-nazi haven whenever I tell them this story and tell me that going there was an error.