In 1999, award-winning Magnum photographer Eli Reed set off to document spring break in Daytona Beach, Florida. Having watched the white kids getting hysterically drunk and “trying to crawl up inside the backside of uncaring contestants” in wet t-shirt competitions, he moved on to the black spring breakers who were doing much better things, like driving around with albino pythons and stuff. Here are some previously unseen moments from his series.
Facedown in Chitral: Where Pakistani Muslims Go to Secretly Party
Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” is a 19th-century tale of empire, madness, and idolatry centered around two roguish British soldiers who take a perilous journey into Kafiristan, a hostile mountain region populated by pagans who kill and rob anyone foolish enough to set foot in their domain. Kafiristan took its name from the Arabic word kafir, which translates as “nonbeliever” or “infidel.” The region stretches across portions of what is today Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s not a nice place to live, but, as I discovered, it is a great place to party.
For nearly 70 years, up until 1896, the emir of Afghanistan offered bribes to the people of Kafiristan to discourage them from robbing outsiders and slinging their bodies off of mountains. The Kafirs took the money but refused to give up their marauding ways. Abdur Rahman Khan, nicknamed “The Iron Emir,” grew so incensed by this flagrant disrespect of his power that he sent troops into the Afghan-controlled portion of Kafiristan to discipline the local population. Kafirs were rounded up and given a stark choice: Islam or death. Naturally, most chose Islam, and the Afghan side of Kafiristan was soon known by the euphemism Nuristan, or “land of light.” These forced conversions and the change of moniker, however, did little to alter the nature of its people. In his 1958 book A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, Eric Newby cataloged some common phrases in the Nuristani language at that time: “I saw a corpse in a field this morning”; “I have nine fingers; you have ten”; and “I have an intention to kill you.”
In the end, the Iron Emir was only sucessful in converting the population on the Afghan side. Across the Hindu Kush mountains, in Pakistan, a raucous pagan animism persisted. Today the descendents of these pagans live in what are known as the Kalash valleys: Bumboret, Birir, and Rumbur. They are the last animist tribe of Central Asia—a nature-worshipping island in a sea of Islam spreading out in all directions.
The Kalash people spurn Islamic law by drinking, taking drugs, and partying. For decades, pleasure-seeking Muslims have ventured to these valleys to get drunk on Kalash wine (which tastes like sherry) and the local moonshine known as tara (which tastes like schnapps). The drug of choice is opium brought in from Afghanistan or, more commonly, nazar, an opiate-based chewing tobacco, which oftentimes makes users sick and dizzy. Just like American kids who travel to Florida or Vegas to blow off some steam, devout Pakistanis periodically head up into the mountains for a taste of the debauched pagan life.
Vang Vieng is a small town of 25,000 nestled in the jungles of northwestern Laos, on the banks of the Nam Song River. It’s home to caves, lagoons, and lush green hills—a landscape that up until recently had me believing that Laos, my mother’s native land, was mostly free from crass Western concepts like “partying.”
Since the early 2000s, however, the bucolic hamlet has become a destination for drunk Europeans backpacking through Southeast Asia. And today Vang Vieng is near the top of the list of tourist destinations in Laos. It has provided a much-needed boost to the nation’s tourism industry, but in the process altered itself to cater to out-of-towners.
The town’s main street, for instance, is full of bars screening reruns of Friends and Family Guy. Bars offer whiskey-taurine cocktails served in beach buckets. It’s also easy to score opium, magic mushrooms, methamphetamines, and other substances that could get you thrown into a Laotian prison. There are also a handful of underground clubs run by Vietnamese gangs. Curiously, when my sister Florence went to visit Vang Vieng for the first time in 2005, after she returned she told me there were no police in sight. “At any time,” she said, “tourists can buy hard drugs freely, although it’s recommended to avoid heroin or cocaine.” The restaurants sell cannabis and opium at 80,000 kip per gram (about $10), as well as tourist-oriented foods like pasta or pancakes “even if Laotians don’t know how to cook them.”
We Interviewed Spring Break Historian Joe Francis, Creator of Girls Gone Wild
Joe Francis is the 39-year-old guy responsible for those Girls Gone Wild videos, which means he basically invented modern-day spring break. If you’ve ever had a good time in a sunny locale between the months of March and June, chances are Joe was directly responsible for it. I called him to get the inside scoop on girls showing their boobs on the beach, what it’s like to hang with A.C. Slater, and all the objects he’s witnessed being slid into ladies’ vaginal cavities. But most importantly I wanted to thank him, which I forgot to do because I was so excited, so I’ll do it now: Thank you, Joe Francis, for touching so many bright young minds and making the world a better place.
VICE: You went on your first spring break while you were in college, right? Joe Francis: Yeah, and it was quite an experience.
Where did you go? Mexico. I saw a lot of things that I’ve incorporated into the Girls Gone Wild brand in the last 16 years. Spring break is an excuse for people to lower their inhibitions. It provides a great reason to do lots of things that you really want to do but wouldn’t ordinarily. It provides people a justification, specifically women, to go back home and be like, “Eh, it was spring break.” It’s like a way to wash everything away, from a moral standpoint.
Do some of the women you film for Girls Gone Wild later regret it? You know, not as many as you would think. It’s really counterintuitive. It’s like, if you do something, it’s your choice. If you’re doing Girls Gone Wild, you know what you’re getting into. We have a remorse policy, and we’ve always had that.
What’s a remorse policy? It gives the girl who’s been filmed the opportunity to call any time after or before it’s released, even if she’s signed a release, and be taken out of the video.
Oh, that’s good. Yeah! There’s a 1-800 number on the website. It’s a very easy thing to do, and out of the hundred-plus thousand girls who have been shot, very few have used it.
Can you narrow that down to a percentage? Way under 1 percent have ever requested to be removed.
Will you be celebrating spring break this year? I will be attending. This year will be my 21st spring break.
Are you going to be having some kind of anniversary party? Actually, I’m going with my friend Lance Bass. We’re going to Mexico.