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Drinking black Label scotch in Sri LankaSome names and circumstances have been changed to protect my ass.

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Not too many things get your heart beating like downing a half a bottle of Black Label whiskey and being hugged by a killer

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In the bathroom I called my friend who worked for the Sri Lankan government. It was 3 am and yet somehow he answered. “Where are you?”

“Have you ever heard of (name to remain anonymous)?”

“Of course I have. Where are you?”

“I’m in his suite at the (fancy hotel to remain anonymous).”

“What? Get the fuck out of there! I’m coming to get you.”

Whiskey does strange things to people, and after downing a half a bottle the world seemed like a gentle, gummy bear filled place. A night out, or rather in, with a group of gangsters sounded like a great idea. I hung up on my friend with assurances I was OK and headed back to finish the rest of the bottle.

Clubbing in Sri Lanka During the War

I have always had a problem with curiosity, and the chance to drink with a group of gangsters just couldn’t be passed up. I was worldly; I could take care of myself. Who knew the evening would end with me worrying for my life. Well, probably a sober me would have known that. But Whiskey Todd went with the flow and didn’t let anything stand in the way of a good time. After club hopping amongst Colombo’s hip, sweaty, young and extremely wealthy with the gangster’s nephew for the evening, I was ready to head anywhere.

Truth is that I had no idea who I was out with that night. He was a friend of a friend and needed a drinking buddy for the evening. With my wife away for the week on business I stepped up. Nothing good happens when wives are away.

At that time Sri Lanka was still embroiled in its 20 year civil war. The Tamil tigers had control of over a third of the country, and the tropical city of Colombo was packed, corner after corner, with checkpoints. Young soldiers with automatic weapons stopped everyone who approached, hoping one of the frequent bombings didn’t occur at their checkpoint.

We left our last club for the evening with the nephew asking me to join him. “My uncle’s in town and I need to say hello. It’ll just take a few minutes.”

As we approached a check point in his large black Mercedes-Benz ML5500 SUV a soldier waved us over. We were both drunk. “Should I run it? I’m drunk and have an arrest warrant in Slave Island.”

“No, stop.” I was lucky I got it out in time. I was starting to get my first hints of whom I was with. Yes, like I said, a half a bottle of whiskey dulls the brain a bit. “They only care about bombs, and as soldiers they won’t call up your info.” Thankfully he stopped and a few minutes later we were on our way across town.

Into a Gangster’s Room

“Listen, I have a confession. My uncle is a big deal, and not exactly on the right side of the law. Just keep your cool and you’ll be ok.”

I followed him into the enormous roof top suite and into a world one assumes only exists in movies and cheesy crime novels. The Boss, his Lieutenant and the Muscle sat around a coffee table drinking Black Label. South Asians love their Johnny Walker Black Label. The bedroom door was open and a passed out Ukrainian hooker lay sprawled across the bed. (Please don’t read into the fact that I called her a hooker. I’m sure she was a perfectly nice person).

Everyone except for the Muscle was smart and handsome. I sat in the free spot next to the Muscle, who could only be described at thick and slow. I kept quite as the family reunion took its course. Inquires into business, questions about family, affectionate offers. Next it was my turn.

“Do you want a hooker? I can have her call a friend.” The Boss nodded toward the bedroom.

I declined politely.

“Don’t like Russians huh? How about an Asian?

I explained that I was married.

“We can hit the Casino and I’ll get you a Chinese hooker.”

I convinced him I only needed the whiskey.

The Love of a Killer

Suddenly, the Muscle next to me shot straight up and lunged at me, giving me the strongest hug I’ve ever experienced in my life. That is if a hug and being squeezed to death were the same things. The boss jumped and everyone tensed.

“It’s OK.” I gave the Muscle a hug back. “I like you too.”

“Let him go” the Boss said quietly but forcefully.

“It’s OK,” I repeated. Was I trying to convince them or myself? The Muscle squeezed tighter, not wanting to let go. The boss stepped forward and looked the muscle in the eyes. He finally released me, sinking back into the couch in a drunken haze.

“He’s too drunk, and he killed someone the other day.”

Oh…I just realized where the fuck I was and it was time to leave. I sat through offers of being taken to the north to meet the rebel leader, offers of drugs, offers of guns, and more offers of hookers. After what I assumed was a polite amount of time, given the circumstances, I made my way to the door promising to meet them again when they returned to Sri Lanka from their homes in England.

The sun was rising, and the nephew walked me out to catch a cab. Just a friendly tip to anyone who finds himself or herself in a similar situation: When you have made it out of a criminal suite alive, leave it there and don’t pick a fight.

I don’t know how it happened but between the suite and the road the nephew and I ended up in a screaming match. I spent the next week trying to smooth things over behind the scenes before my wife returned. It took 6 months before the nephew and I could be in the same room together, and I could stop worrying about suddenly disappearing.

Eventually things got worked out. But I learned a lot about choosing my drinking partners more carefully, especially during war time.

What is your craziest drinking story while traveling?

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28 Responses to “A Night with a Sri Lankan Gangster”

  1. AudreyNo Gravatar says:

    I would’ve jerked when ‘the Muscle’ threw himself for a hug! Glad you made it out alive and were able to smooth things over with your buddy. Doesn’t sound like the sort of crowd you want on your bad side…

  2. KatrinaNo Gravatar says:

    Daaayum, Todd! And here I thought you were all fluffy bunnies and baby blankets. Todd is One Bad Mutha–shutyomouth!

  3. Drunken misadventures are part of the nomad/expat experience. I think one of the worst stories I have involves blacking out for 5 hours and not being able to recall what I had done during that time in a dodgy area of Seoul.

  4. How fortunate that you had a contact in the Sri Lankan government. Dangerous adventures always make for great stories later, assuming you survive.

  5. Wow, if Johnny Walker used your story in a commerical, I think the “most interesting man in the world” torch just might have to be passed to you. Great read.

  6. eva hamoriNo Gravatar says:

    Amazing that you lived to tell the story! What did your wife say? It sounds like something my husband might have done accidentally when I’m away! You boys, I shake my head….

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. That’s quite a story! I don’t think any of my own stories could ever top that one. You just reaffirmed by belief that I need to heed my financial advisor’s suggestion to purchase a good, affordable travel insurance and life insurance policy in place before I take my trip abroad. However, I seriously doubt anything that movie-esque could happen on a two week visit to Paris – but I can dream.

  8. i don’t think anyone’s crazy drinking story could top that! glad you’re alive to tell it. that must have been wild. it must have been the johnny that got you two into a drinking match.

  9. Wow, pretty crazy man. My drunken stories ended in college. They are not exiting at all, just a bunch of guys stumbling around mostly. :(

  10. MariaNo Gravatar says:

    I got felt up by the cleaner at a guest house in Cambodia during daylight, in the dining room – but I was drinking coffee. I don’t believe anyone can top your Shir Lankan Gangster story. Seriously, when you say… “When you have made it out of a criminal suite alive, leave it there and don’t pick a fight.” What else is there to say?

    Great title and delivery on this one. Bravo!

  11. Buck InspireNo Gravatar says:

    Awesome story as usual. Way to keep your cool, even though you were a little tipsy. Did you tell this tale to your wife? Continued fun and stay out of trouble!

  12. Great story Todd. of course nothing like this could ever happen now that you’re a dad… or could it ;-)

  13. Wow – that is a crazy story!! Definitely crazier than any travel story I have, even the drunken ones. I will have to come up with my own and get back to you, I need to think of something good if it’s going to come even CLOSE to this one! ;)


    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Heidi, well just mix Black Label into your travels and I’m sure you’ll find something similar in the future :) Can’t wait to hear your story.

  14. LashNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Todd, great story! You managed to make it amusing, too… though I’m quite sure it wasn’t at the time. I had one tight situation in Cambodia something like that, which i’m very happy I got out of… and a very fun time with a Javanese Death Metal band, camping in the remote mountains of java. That was just fun, not scary… fun, fun out in the world! Lash

  15. JuliaNo Gravatar says:

    This is the craziest and most fascinating story I’ve read in a while! It is so random who you can meet on the road without even realising it. I’m glad that this story ended well (eventually) and you lived to tell the tale!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Glad you liked it Julia. It was certainly a gut wrenching morning when I woke up on my coach and wondered what the hell I did the night before ;)

  16. DavidNo Gravatar says:

    Awesome story, but you’re not telling us what is a polite amount of time given the circumstances. I think that is useful information for a traveler.

  17. Raf KissNo Gravatar says:

    Wow Todd, that must have been an unreal experience…

    The closest I got to getting myself killed, was not even after drinking. It was a normal day and I was on my way to Bangu, a “not so safe” bairro of Rio de Janeiro. Read more here:


  18. JeremyNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve definitely got some stories but, to be honest, I’m not sure I can beat that. Well done!

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