There’s a hidden treasure on Eden Island, a man-made resort tucked neatly into one of the Mahé bays in the archipelago of the Seychelles. It’s not one of gold or financial gain- in truth, the average man or woman would spend quite a bit of their own personal wealth to discover it. It’s not a prize that will bring power. But in a roundabout way it just might bring some youth or wisdom the seeker’s way. It’s a tiny bar, in a tiny shack on this tiny island. And it’s chock full of people who like rugby.
Eish! Bar is one of those places that seems incomprehensible in the United States (except maybe small towns in the midwest) in that it doesn’t have a website; just a Facebook page, and even that won’t tell you anything about it, really. The only other mention I can even find about the place in a quick Google search turns up a cursory mention in this article which is more about rugby, and tweet. And that’s if “Eish Bar” is specifically entered into Google. Otherwise this is a place with no digital signature on the web (’til now, I suppose), no signs posted or advertisements of its existence, and the entrance is facing away from any possible foot traffic. The only way to find this joint is by word-of-mouth, or happening upon the shack during a match and deciding to investigate a creepy-looking structure in the dark because screams that may well be murder intrigue you. (And if you’re one of the latter type, have you never seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre?!?!)
One of the guys also deployed at the site, Wally, was the latter (don’t ask me, he was a Harley nut and claimed to know Sonny Barger) and a gregarious soul, so when he found this place that was only open one or two nights a week he went exploring and came back to our villa with the coolest and most disgusting tale of initiation ritual I could imagine trying at the time.
If it’s your first visit to Eish! Bar, you have to shoot the boot.
The tale, as it is told, is that years ago a U.S. Navy ship came through the area and during shore leave a couple sailors found out about the island’s rugby club. A friendly match ensued, and to everyone’s amazement the Americans won. Generally speaking, we don’t even know what rugby is, much less play it, much less play it enough to beat a bunch South Africans. One of the sailors was actually quite rugby savvy and knew about shooting the boot, so when they won he pulled off his cleat, filled it with beer, and drank it in one long guzzle. They all became fast friends and the boot was presented to the club, where it continues to live on a trophy shelf by the door, unwashed, and as grimy and disgusting as you might imagine to greet newcomers.
I’ve already mentioned in the past that SeyBrew is a terrible beer. The “distinctly Seychellois” lager is done no great favors when poured into a stinky and decaying shoe, either. But amidst cheering South African accents and a warm reception, what can you do? You hold your nose and gulp it all down in one attempt, that’s what. And it’s easier to chug an entire beer in this manner than you might think, because the knowledge that stopping for a reprieve just means having to go back to it a second time encourages you to finish quickly.
I never knew that an entire beer could fit in a shoe, or that a shoe would be quite such a good vessel. As I saw this terrible dare being assimilated in front of me, I was really hoping the dirty and tattered looking thing might be full of holes, or that liquid would spill out and spare me from having to drink the entire thing. If anything, the newly fluid contents of the cleat seemed to soak into the sole and soft interior to revive past years of stale beer from previous dares, and drag along a new infusion of what I can only imagine was foot, sweat, and sock. Mmm… Tasty.
I wanted to hold my nose, but I didn’t know how well I’d be able to swallow then and the tongue and upper of this disgusting idea would be up against my face as I supped from the heel anyway. There was no getting my hand in there. And with thirty smiling, welcoming, expectant faces around me there was no backing out (or insulting them or acting milquetoast in front of them). I flashed back to the enthusiasm I felt earlier in the day to have this crazy story and was reminded once again of the phrase I utter all too often: It seemed like a good idea at the time. I held my breath, and I drank.
Because I’m a lousy story-teller, I’ve presented the narrative a little out of order here and already described the flavor. I won’t describe the texture, because I think it’s gross enough to mention simply that there was one. Use your imagination and you likely won’t be far off. But the cheers that erupted in that tiny shed almost eradicated any revulsion that I felt from this deed. Almost. The two fingers of Jameson on the rocks I sipped for the next hour did a lot more to cleanse my palate and ease my soul. Surely nobody had died from drinking that, had they?
Wally and I hung out there a bit longer as the South Africans drank more and the game (pardon me, match) went on. I demonstrated my knowledge of the game, which consisted of it being played with a ball and only being allowed to pass laterally or behind oneself. And I was pretty sure there was something called a scrum. Turns out, scoring is called a “try” in rugby, which sounds goofy until you defend the term “touchdown” for American football and have pointed out that our game rarely involves kicking the thing and is named somewhat ironically. I thought it was funny to see sponsors names actually painted onto the grass, rather than the digital overlays that seem to happen so often now in televised American sports coverage. It was the Cape Town Storm vs. New Zealand Hurricane and I didn’t have a clue what was going on. But when surrounded by South Africans, I figured cheering for Cape Town was a safe bet. The cheers and shouts drowned out anything the tiny TV we gathered around could have told us, but that wasn’t the point, really. It was the fellowship that people had gathered for.
All in all it was a pretty great night, spent with friendly people in high spirits. I’m not about to start advocating for the abandonment of basic hygiene, but I will say I was excited by the idea from the first time I heard about it. And there’s something key in that.
It seems like the older we get the more we say “no” or resign ourselves to opportunities. So few people I know have an adventurous spirit- I’d guess maybe five percent. So I tend to think that adventures and maybe even silly dares are, in themselves, the fountain of youth. Ponce de León’s most famous obsession isn’t a thing to be found, but a spirit to be fostered. And it doesn’t have to involve some hidden away island bar in the Indian Ocean. It could be something as simple as going hiking, trying Geocaching, or turning down an unfamiliar road. My point is simply this: be willing to abandon your comfort zone, just for a little while. Because that’s when discoveries are made and cool stories are gained to tell others. The power to make your life story more interesting is in your hands. Get out there.