We rose early the next morning, tossing our gear loosely into suitcases and duffle bags before loading the rental car up for the 600-kilometer road trip from Barcelona to Madrid. We were headed to see longtime friend and Oil Hunter Founder Feisal Budderman. At a time when most Spanish kids were still mixing tobacco with their weed, these guys were making diamonds and sauce.
I split a Swisher down the middle with my thumbs, letting the tobacco fly out the window as we pulled onto the freeway. Brian frowned. “Are you sure we should be smoking in the car?” he asked nervously, his head on a swivel. “Relaxe, amigo!” I responded. “We are turistas Americanos—what’s the worst that could happen?” As intended, my response did more to distress than to reassure, and I chuckled while puffing the finger-thick blunt to life before passing it to Jessica in the back seat.
Despite my assurances, we were headed into enemy territory. While Barcelona’s views towards cannabis are very liberal, the tale of the two cities has always been one of stark juxtaposition. The five-and-a-half-hour drive through the Spanish countryside passed without incident, however. Rolling umber brown hillsides dotted in green dominated the scenery. Three times I saw the bullet train fly by us at nearly 300 kilometers per hour, lapping us again and again in its relentless trek back and forth between the two cities.
Pulling off the highway, our progress was stopped by a small automated toll booth. €32 euros later, we were in Madrid. I punched in the address we’d been given as a meeting spot and followed the directions through the twisting maze of narrow one-way roads. Navigating in Spain is never as simple as it appears; many areas require special permits available only to residents. Simply driving down the wrong street could result in a hefty fine.
We finally arrived at a nondescript building, identifiable only by the street numbers. This was a common tactic in Spain, as the clubs operated in a murky space at best. A smiling Feisal greeted us at the door. “Welcome! Welcome!” he declared in English he’d been polishing just for us.
Feisal had been quietly stacking up awards, and his oil was beginning to demand a premium in Spain—as much as €200 for a single gram of his cup winners in the Barcelona clubs. Everywhere we went, people treated him like a rock star. He was the real deal in Spain, and we recognized the ambition in each other right away, becoming fast friends in the years since our meeting.
Brushing past the check-in area, we followed him up the stairs to the second-story VIP lounge. A few dozen Spanish kids were spread around the club playing Fortnite, shooting pool or rolling up at the mini lounges which dotted the floorplan.
I watched heads snap around as Feisal lit up a dab torch, cranking the flame to full blast. Unlike Barcelona, where anyone who knew the location of a club like Terp Army could pay and become a member, here in Madrid you had to be vetted in by another member. No social media, no signage. Even the owner, for the purposes of this article, wished to have no name.
We spent the next several hours sampling the local hash and exchanging war stories in bad Spanish and broken English. “Come!” gestured Feisal. “Best seafood in Madrid!” he exclaimed, emphasizing the “i” in Madrid in a way locals often do when speaking with excitement. If there was one thing I’d learned about Feisal over the years, it was that the man knew how to eat. We jumped into the cab behind him, eager for another trip down the rabbit hole.
The taxi stopped at Umiko, a Japanese fusion restaurant located in the heart of Madrid. “The best seafood in Spain comes from a Japanese restaurant?” I asked, unable to hide my surprise. Feisal smiled. “Trust me, bro,” he said with a wink. “We smoke a little bit, then we eat. Trust me, you will see,” he promised, beckoning us a few yards down to a gigantic set of double wooden doors.
Feisal produced a rolling paper, and I grimaced as he began to spread tobacco across it. “Better in public this way,” he explained, making a waving motion in front of his nose to indicate the smell may be a problem. I could see Brian squirming a bit. Searches in Spain required nothing more than suspicion, and coming out of a known cannabis club was often suspicious enough. Provisions in the law, however, required a warrant issued by a judge before a search of the undergarments, and many locals had taken to hiding their stash in their underwear.
Feisal produced a container of full-melt hash from his pocket and began sprinkling it lavishly over the tobacco until only a few strands were poking through. I took a deep pull from his creation; the harsh taste of tobacco, obscured by the smoothness of the hash, provided an instant head change.
Feisal was rolling a second spliff and passed it around when I felt a tug. “Police!” Jessica exclaimed in a hushed tone. My head jerked around to catch three Spanish police officers in full uniform, 30 yards out, strolling boldly towards us down the middle of the one-way lane. My heart jumped in my throat as I turned to Feisal, who had not heard Jessica’s warning and was still puffing away in idle conversation with Brian. “Polícia!” I all but shouted. We were trapped. A phalanx of abutted buildings ran the length of the narrow lane on both sides, offering no escape but to turn and run further down the corridor. Our smoke had been trapped in a similar fashion and was settled in the still air in front of us.
Feisal stiffened at my warning, dropping the spliff behind him and taking a step back to cover it with his foot, his complexion turning pale as we waited for the cops to be upon us. I pulled out my phone. “Selfie!” I exclaimed loudly in my clearest English, doing my best to imitate the excited energy of a 13-year-old girl. Following my lead, the group struck a pose and I extended my arm out, snapping a barrage of pictures as the three cops passed. “Danger, bro,” a smiling Feisal whispered as they moved out of range. As promised, the food at Umiko was unsurpassed; we soon found ourselves in the middle of a 13-course masterpiece prepared and plated by chef Pablo from his tableside station. Our mixed crews ate and drank late into the night.
Rising with the sun the next morning, we collected our rental car and shot across town to the Dr. Feis Grow Shop for a quick sesh before loading up in Feisal’s Audi RS 3. The rebuilt engine was putting out 450 horsepower on the dyno. I saw what the local police were driving, and they weren’t catching this. Akin to the rum runner cars of old, she was built to go fast. A €3,000 radar system ensured there would be no run-ins with police.
At speeds that rivaled the bullet train, we turned the hour-long trip to the castle city of Toledo into a brisk 30-minute drive. Encircled by massive stone walls, Toledo was declared a World Heritage site in 1986, and it was easy to see why. Known as Spain’s “Imperial City,” it now serves as a living time capsule, home to some 83,000 Spaniards who reside inside the ancient buildings, some of which date back to as early as 50 BCE.The city was famous for their production of edged weapons, and we spent the day smoking hash-covered spliffs, sampling the local sangria and shopping for bladed souvenirs in the town’s many steel shops.
As day turned into dusk we returned to Madrid, bidding farewell to Feisal before ditching the rental car at the airport and heading for the local train station. I’d spent some time living in Chicago and was no stranger to the train, but this was something more akin to an airport than a train station. Securing our tickets for the evening bullet to Barcelona, we headed off for the demarcation point.
Rounding the corner, my heart dropped; we were caught in the flow of traffic shuffling directly towards a small security team manning an X-ray machine. My eyes quickly scanned for a trash can, but found none. Partially unzipping my suitcase, I fished for our stash with one hand. We were a few feet from security now and beginning to lose the cover of the crowd ahead of us. Finally, my fingers closed on the small bag and I shoved it quickly into my jacket pocket as our turn came up. The woman operating the machine looked around from her chair, examining me as I hefted the heavy bags one by one.
“Jackets, too!” she said sternly, pointing to me. I groaned inside. “Yes, ma’am.” I took the jacket off, laying it over my arm as I loaded the last of the bags. Something on the screen caught her eye and she turned away from me, motioning for the guards. This was my moment. Sidestepping the machine, I placed my jacket on the exit conveyor, collecting it with the first of our bags. “Sir!” My heart jumped for the third time in as many minutes. Turning, I faced the largest of the guards, who was now standing behind the woman at the X-ray machine, beckoning for me to return. This was it, I thought. What a story it would make, written from my Spanish jail cell.
The guard seemed puzzled: “You seem to have a large knife in your luggage, sir?” In my hurry to secure our meds, I’d neglected the oversized espadafrom the steel shop in Toledo, its 12-inch blade now emblazoned clearly on the security monitor.
A quick check of our receipts and I was cleared to go. Jessica shook her head as I fell in behind her and Brian. “Cutting it a little close?” she asked. “Viva la Spain!” I replied, raising the bottle of vodka we’d picked up for the train ride. “Viva la Spain,” she echoed, her tone sarcastic but relieved.