Posted on Monday, December 08, 2008

I can’t believe I agreed to this. There is just something so unbelievably grating about guided tours. The very structure of the idea goes against my very grain as a traveler. I detest the rigid tour guide whose job it is to punctuate the beautiful scenery with useless commentary. His monotone voice is creating an unfavourable soundtrack to my first visit to Cambodia. My experience is being jaded by a complete stranger dressed up as a faux Steve Irwin. His little khaki shorts and matching button up shirt is an ideal ensemble for any Indiana Jones premiere, but serve absolutely no purpose amidst this tropical backdrop. More importantly, what is this Englishman actually doing working as a tour guide in South East Asia? I imagine the answer has something to do with the abundance of opium and the ensuing passage of time lost in smoke filled huts.

“I think I want to abandon ship and swim across the river to safer shores” I say to my partner in crime. I turn my head to see his face and he is sweating profusely. He has wrapped his white singlet around his head and gives me a reassuring smile.

“Jules, relax! It’s only for an hour, and plus it’s free!”

What seemed like a good deal at the time has now eloped into the longest hour of my life. Spend three nights with us and you receive a free guided river tour. What they failed to mention was that your tour guide will forever taint your Cambodian experience and leave you with a long lasting distaste for double khaki.

“Alrighty you lot, here to our left we ave the small village of Khatoa. Made famous by it’s opium fields, this village is home to about three hundred people and we’ll be stopping off ere for a about thirty minutes while you lot have a geeze round alright?” Bingo. Looks like Indiana Irwin is in need of his next hit. We make our way to the front of the decrepit boat and I breathe a sigh of relief when my feet hit the muddy banks.

“Wow that was hectic! Annoying Englishman much?!”

He gives me that look that says “Jules, stop being so intolerant”. I don’t even know how he manages to convey that look of his. I do believe it has something to do with the angle of his blue-green eyes and the ever so suggestive grin that waits at the corners of his mouth. He has the kind of eyes that make me want to confess all my sins before him. It’s like he already knows my most intimate thoughts, but waits to see whether or not I decide to tell him anyway.

“I know, I’m sorry, but I just didn’t visualise this to be my authentic Cambodian experience. I feel like such a heinous tourist on this shot-gun tour”

I can tell that my attitude is starting to frustrate him ever so slightly. Circles of sweat have started to form on his forehead and I realise that the last thing he wants right now is to have to deal with his uber irritated and sarcastic girlfriend. He wipes the sweat away with the back of his hand and places both his hands on his hips.

“Ok, well let’s go exploring then, we have half an hour to kill so let’s wonder around this little village and find us an ‘authentic’ experience. What do ya reckon? Sound like a good plan?” He’s using his ‘sweet Danny’ voice. His non-confrontational Danny tone. It usually works a treat in calming me down but not in this instance. I am adamant that he is to blame for this predicament. Another fine example of why isn’t always the best option. I can feel my jaw clenching and my patience slipping away with the humidity. I do my best to swallow down the need to verbalise how this entire situation could have been avoided. “Ok Daniel, let’s do it”.

Ahead we see the other tourists making their way along the main track to the heart of the village. They walk in packs and are defined by their fisherman pants, Birkenstock sandals and their multitude of cotton wristbands that broadcast ‘transient pseudo backpacker’. In the distance I can see a Coca-Cola sign, the red and white beacon of the western world. I feel like I am visiting Asia’s version of the Gold Coast. I tell myself that it’s only for half an hour and that I’ll get over it eventually.

“So touristy hey? Don’t ya think? Don’t ya reckon it looks real trashy?”

Finally, he echoes my thoughts.

“Yeah man, it’s like the Goldy Vs Nimbin on an Asian acid trip. It disgusts me.”

“Ha fully, it’s like Cheeky Monkey’s meets Lord of the Rings.”

“Ha! It’s like Cocomanga’s meets Cambodia.”

There’s a pause.

“Yeah…that last one sucked, I got nothing” I say in resignation.

“Well, how about we go down this little track instead, it looks way more interesting and less haggard, and we can meet back up with the pack before we get back on the boat? Don’t ya reckon that’s a good idea?”

“I do Daniel, its brilliant”. I feel my senses come back to life again and that stirring feeling inside me returns. He takes my hand in his and we walk side by side down the track less traveled. Everything is so lush and green around us. There is a constant humming in the air of small insects going about their day. The wind is laced with the sweetness of sugarcane and coconuts, and my legs itch as grass seeds stick my skin.

“Alright Daniel, if you could hear one song right now, what would it be?”

“Ummmm, hmmm, let me think…hmmm, one song…ok, I would hear Incubus ‘Pardon Me’, I love how full that song is”.

He starts humming the melody as we walk in zigzags in and out of the banana trees.

“Ok, next question for you Daniel. If you could only eat one fruit for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

He lets go of my hand and walks behind me as the track narrows. He is silent for a long time. I decide to answer my own question. “I think I would have to choose the mango, as not only is it substantial, but it is so ridiculously delicious and flavorsome. Either that or maybe strawberries, equally as tasty and so cute and bite-sized. Actually, maybe pineapples, because they are so sweet and juicy, kinda like you”. I wait for him to giggle or to at least propose a rebuttal to my suggestions but I hear nothing. I turn around to face him and he has the weirdest look on his face. “What’s up man?” He is looking around him as if he has lost something. “What is it man?” I ask again. I see the beginnings of panic painted across his face.

“Fuck Jules, I can’t find my watch, I think I’ve lost it.” He pats down the pockets in his shorts and checks inside his backpack. Nothing.

“Hang on, I’ll check my bag” I say, and rifle through my belongings but find nothing.

“It’s cool man, it’s just a watch, it’s replaceable, just buy a new one, and fuck it, we are on holidays so we don’t need to know what time it is anyway. The universe must want you to be timeless for a while, roll with it baby!”

He is suitably unimpressed with my response.

“Or even, we need a watch to see what time we need to back at the boat so we can get back to our room tonight”. Ok, point taken.

“Well, we can just estimate man. It’s not like they will leave without us. We’ve probably been walking now for about fifteen minutes so yeah, we should maybe start heading back about now”. I walk towards him with my arms outstretched. I give him a hug and tell him to chill the fuck out. I embrace him until I feel his body surrender to me, taking away all of his tension and frustration. We stand entwined as the waxy greenery envelops us.

“Lead the way D-Sal” I say whilst putting my backpack on. I look down at his feet as he walks in front of me. Those feet have served him well. They are the feet that have taken him all over the world and bought him back home again. They are the feet that twitch and itch for new sights and cramp at the thought of being tied down. They are the feet that lay next to mine in the middle of the night.

“Ok, so if we came from that general direction then we need to kinda go this way” he says as fallen branches crunch beneath our feet.

His voice sounds mildly puzzled but I choose not to question it. He stops abruptly and his bag crashes into my chest. “Thanks idiot, I didn’t need those breasts anyway”. I swear he doesn’t even hear me or register that he just body slammed me.

“Fuck Jules! I have no idea where we are, I can’t make out the track anymore, where the fuck are we?”

He is becoming flighty and it’s scaring the hell out of me. I ignore the alarm bell going off in my mind. There is just no fucking way we could possibly be lost. I don’t want to even entertain the thought.

“It’s cool man, we’ll find our way back, let me see, so if we came roughly from that area, then we should just scope around here for the track and follow it all the way back, easy”.

My voice is not my own, I am immediately suspicious and sense myself going into auto-pilot mode. This only happens at crucial times. All my emotions shut down and I am able to function on the most pragmatic level. I have switched into this mode only a few times in my life; two particular car accidents come to mind and one circumstance involving of a badly broken heart. I presume it has something to do with human conditioning and the primordial instincts of flight or fight. Whatever it is though, I am grateful it has its place within me.

“Jules, I’m not trying to psyche you out or anything, but I really do think we are lost babe”.

I can tell he is one step away from full fledged panic.

“Alright, how about you stay here, and I will walk over there and see if I can find the track? Just stay here, I’ll make sure I won’t go out of sight, I just want to get my bearings ok?”

I can tell that he wants me to be the one who stays put, while he goes off to seek out the track.

“We’ll take it in turns ok, I’ll go first, see what I can see, and then if I am unsuccessful, it’s your turn, ok?” There, a happy medium has been reached. He says absolutely nothing and his wordlessness makes me quietly uneasy.

As I walk away from him I make sure I am talking out loud the whole time so he can keep track of where I am. Surfboard shaped palm leaves slap me in the face as I negotiate my way through the tropical foliage. The midday sun is beaming down from above and my entire body is covered in a salty film. Little black bugs stick to my face and I am starting to regret the fact that I wore thongs. I look down at my legs and I am covered in the finest paper cuts from the dense under layer of plant life. The little red lines of broken skin aren’t enough to cause pain, but are deep enough to cause irritation and a general discomfort.

“OK DANNY! I AM JUST CHECKING OUT THIS LITTLE CLEARING, I’LL BE BACK IN A SEC OK?!” I scream out to him. He doesn’t answer but I know he can hear me. He must be morphing into full fledged panic mode by now.

I look around but nothing looks familiar to me. I am stuck in a maze of greenery and insect laden air. I am frustrated and thirsty. I bet this is karma for shooting my dagger eyes at the tour guide. Please get us home safely universe.

When I make my way back to Danny, he is sitting on top of his bag, looking defeated.

“Hey sunshine” I say as I wipe away the sweat from his forehead. He leans his head on my stomach and wraps his arms around my waist. He remains completely silent still. We stay together in this pocket of time, unmoving and mute, and wait for some kind of salvation or clue to fall from the canopy above.

“What happens if we really can’t find our way back Jules?” I feel his arms tighten around my waist.

“Whatever happens will happen man. The director obviously wants us to be lost together for a bit, possibly to add a dramatic twist to the plot of Danny & Jules. It could be worse; at least we have our health and each other. Besides, it’s not like we have anywhere we need to be”. Although that last part is true, it would be reassuring to actually know whether or not we would be spending the night in our two-star hotel.

Again, he says nothing. His silence is beginning to creep under my skin like a shiver.

“Talk to me Danny, don’t go all quiet, it does my head in man”.

“Sorry, I am just trying to work out a plan of what we can do. I think we are best to stay here. I don’t even know what direction we came from anymore. If we stay right where we are, we eliminate the risk of getting more lost, ya know what I mean?”

I don’t even really comprehend what he just said. All I keep thinking is that if there was one person I would prefer to be in this situation with, it would be him. Even in the worst case scenario, if we didn’t get found and we were to meet our tropical death, at least I would go to my grave laughing. At least the progression from being lost to dying would be filled with moments of absolute hilarity, would you rathers, and philosophical interpretations. I’m sure there are worse deaths to be endured.

We decide to stay put and to set up a makeshift camp under a leafy banana tree.

“Um, I don’t think we should sit there, aren’t banana trees a haven for snakes?”

“Jules, the only snake you have to worry about around here is the one in my shorts”.

I am disgusted at his response, but for some reason I can’t help but to smile. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was the fact that we could actually die out here that made me instantly horny. I walk over to where he is sitting and bend down to kiss him. He gives me a wry look. He feels it too. It makes no sense for us to be keen in a situation like this. He wraps his hand around my neck and pulls me closer to his face. All I can taste is the salty sweat of his skin. He pulls my body on top of his and I wrap my legs around his torso. His hands slip under my dress and grabs at the curve of my back. I can feel the heat grow between my legs as he pushes his hips into me. He lifts my dress over my head and kisses my breasts. One hand moves inside my undies and I moan as he makes contact with me. I take his face in my hands and swallow his mouth as I rock closer and closer to that place I want to get to so badly. He takes off his shorts and pulls me back on top of him. Words spill out from my mouth as he pushes deep inside me. Rivers of sweat run down our chests and my hair sticks to my face. Pins and needles fall from the sky and shower down around us. He pushes into me for the final time and I watch from a greater height as I make my way back down into my body.

From a distance the rickety boat drifts away from the muddy embankment. Cotton clad tourists sit side by side as a man dressed in double khaki lists useless facts about the Cambodian forest.

Meanwhile, beneath the cover of a banana tree, two lovers lay in a tangled heap as fallen leaves stick to their naked skin.

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