The Tropical Snafu

Travel romance fiction by Adam J. Cheshier

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Someone once said that life is a daring adventure or nothing at all — I don’t know who said it, I don’t read as often as I should and I’m certainly no history buff — but I suppose that feeling is what led me to Indonesia.

After I was banned from Europe — and that’s a whole different story all on its own, not one I intend to tell on the first page of this story because I’ve simply told the story infinitely too many times — I felt my clock ticking like I had one thousand breaths left until my entire existence became utterly average.

I couldn’t stomach the thought. I hated myself in those months and being broke was better than money without a story worth telling. I decided to get back to Europe. After all, it’s where all my favorite people were who I missed dearly. Besides, I was banned for a crime I didn’t even commit. Kidding — there were no crimes involved in my banishment and we will leave it at that.

So, without really thinking — and most of my moves were uncalculated anyway — I ended up in Croatia at a small airport in the city of Pula.

Unfortunately, Pula didn’t want me.

Now, that’s not entirely true. I met some fine immigration officers at the airport who were my age and just as interested in my well-being as I was. However, as is most things in the world, there is always a higher control. Politics dictated I wasn’t allowed to enter Croatia even with it not being on the list of countries I could not enter.

The guys treated me well as I sat in the airport jail cell for a week. I asked ’em if they had ever held someone in the makeshift cell for so long. He responded by telling me in his twenty years at the airport, he had never seen a detainee for a stay of longer than three hours. And I hold that record proudly.

They’re pretty cool cats at the airport in Pula. They brought me home-cooked meals and let me walk the cafeteria occasionally. We’d sit back on the bench outside and watch planes come and go with cigarettes hanging out our mouths. Bystanders would hardly be able to tell who the detained one was if it hadn’t been for their uniforms and the fact that they had to follow me to the urinal and watch me piss. Matter of fact, I’d call a few of them friends, still. But I shouldn’t tell everyone that — most girls like the bad boy story when I tell it to them that way.

The week of free food and accommodation was a perk, but jail is no place for me. I didn’t intend on returning although I may have fallen in love with a flight attendant who would come over to our bench and flirt with the officers and me all at once each night.

I booked a flight to Thailand at the ticket counter at the same time I was serving my ‘sentence’. I couldn’t reach my friends in Europe. I was done with Europe by now. I didn’t want to be in a place that didn’t want me, anyway. Asia was calling and I knew I could recruit a few of my European friends to come with me. They are just as footloose and anxious to see the world as I.

So, with just a 40L backpack (packed half full with sweatshirts and a pair of jeans for the European winter), I boarded my plane to the tropical climates of Southeast Asia. A red-eye flight to Bangkok.

As I watched Pula get smaller and smaller, gliding over its knock-off Coliseum and the beautiful Adriatic coast, I laughed at myself — ’cause what else do you do when you get stuck in the airport like Tom Hanks in the movie Terminal for a week?

By the time I was on the bus from the Suvarnabhumi Airport to the city in Bangkok, I swore I was already falling in love for the second time.

There was a girl in the row of seats in front of me and she was wearing some sleek orange sundress you’d only see tourists wearing in the tropics. Her skin was a perfect shade of bronze and her hair short in the way I like it. I wondered where she was from — maybe Spain or was she local? I never did see her face. Could have been Latina for all I know. She had her face pressed against the window like she was traveling for the first time and in awe of it all.

I heard a group of girls sitting across the aisle quietly making fun of her black, bulky shoes but she didn’t hear them or wasn’t phased. The girl was stuck with glue in amazement of the first sights of Bangkok. And I don’t blame her, honestly, Bangkok is a hell of a place — even I had the jitters of a new place and it had been a while since I got those. I was in Asia for the first time.

As my daydream romanticized, we had reached the city and she was leaving the bus at the same stop I was. I could’ve talked to her, but didn’t. Instead, I was immediately drawn to the sidewalk smoothie table ran by a girl who couldn’t have been out of middle school yet — the sign taped to the table “30 Baht”, or, about 80 cents in American currency.

I sipped the fresh strawberry freeze slowly and made my way down a street with a lot of foot traffic. I called a friend coincidentally in Bangkok at the time, Margaux, whom I knew from Kansas. She and I had a kinda on-again, off-again flame in high school but I was curious to see her after nearly a decade. She answered with excitement as I always remembered her.

“You what!” she exclaimed, “You’re in Bangkok right now?”

I didn’t say much before she was on the back of a taxi scooter meeting me at some lunch spot she swore would make me shit my pants of spicy Thai food for the next three days. We caught up like it had been eight minutes rather than eight years since the last time we spoke.

By the time we were leaving, the sun was falling and she dragged me to Wat Arun for a cheapskate version of a river cruise. The boat ride from one side of the river to the other cost approximately four cents each way and was a great spot for photos at sunset. Margaux was a photog with a mean eye for a great shot. She’d crouch down in position seemingly shooting through the legs of other boat passengers, but I’m sure she got her shot.

“So, how long you around for?” she asked me, the sun and its burnt-ember orange silhouetting the grand temple from across the river.

“Don’t know. S’pose I’ll stick around long enough to find myself a Thai sugar mama, at least.”

“No girlfriend?” she asked. I shrugged.

“What about you? Found a Thai boy to hold you down these past four months?” I asked.

“Nah. I have a boy back home, though,” she said. “We started dating a few months before I came abroad.”

“Is he gonna come visit you?” I asked.

“He’s not much of a wild heart. He’s a real homebody,” she said.

“Ah, one of those.”

“S’alright, though. I need somebody to keep me at bay once I get this itch for foreign places out of my system” she said.

“Think it just disappears?” I asked rhetorically.

“Maybe you’re right — Wow! Look at that!” she pointed to a layered magenta sky and luminescent canary lights which brought the spiral temple to three-dimensional life.

The night went on and Margaux took me out to Koh San Road which a thousand words could not explain but two words would suffice; senselessly bizarre. The road which is famous in Southeast Asia for being a drunken farce is one of the looniest places, I imagine, on Earth.

Margaux took me home with her that night and we fooled around in her bed until we both felt guilty. I don’t mean to be messin’ with any relationships but I’m bad at boozing and Margaux, too. I went home the next morning — to a new home — a hotel in the center of Koh San Road where I stayed for about a month. Margaux and I continued our games that month and she showed me around the city where she was finishing her degree. She introduced me to a few more friends, Calvin and Rhett, who weren’t as bad as a majority of people back home, but I needed to move on after a while.

I called up a few of my European friends and talked them into spending a few weeks in Asia. I fully intended to convince them to stay and they probably knew.

Two weeks later, Mia and Alexandria arrived on the overnight from Paris.

We met at the train station, sharing an overexaggerated group hug because I wasn’t spending any more time in Bangkok. We were on the train within a matter of seconds after meeting. My heart raced wild like I was in the middle of combat with bullets whizzing by my head. New adventures and endless prospects, I loved it.

It had been a year and a half since I saw Mia and Alexandria. Mia and I lived together with another guy which I’m sure you will hear about later in this book, and Alexandria was always hanging around the flat, too. Alexandriaaine had blonde hair now which was different than the brunette hair I last saw. Mia had chopped her hair off at the shoulders. I liked their new looks.

We grabbed seats, the only seats available and we weren’t exactly within earshot of each other, at least not using a conversational tone. We tried to continue our conversation — something stupid about roller coasters of all things — but shouting over the noise of the train and people around us was too much so we put our headphones in until some seats near each other opened up.

Sometime in the next few hours, Alexandria saw a few seats open up after one of the millionth stops on our way to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. We jumped seats and, boy, was I surprised to hear where their lives took them after I left Europe.

Mia was working as a luxury apartment realtor in the City of Lights and Alexandria was working backstage at festivals all over France. Two pretty fine gigs if you ask me but they were ready for a vacation and didn’t know they’d be making a move to Asia soon after.

We arrived in Chiang Mai and raced our way down 700-some-odd switchbacks into a small valley village named Pai which I’d heard whispers about in Bangkok. We spent nearly two weeks in this hippy village in natural asanas on our mats, doing trippy hallucinogens, and catching up for old time’s sake. Things had hardly skipped a beat since Europe and I think that’s all any of us needed to figure out before they were convinced what needed to happen — I didn’t even need to ask.

They left back to France with a promise to return after they could sub-lease their flats and sell enough things to have nothing to stick around France for. While there, I guess they had spread the news to our other friends in Europe, too. Soon, I got word Cyprien from Versaille and Sotiris from Patras in Greece were in on the plan to gang up in Bali with us. Two of my best pals like Mia and Alexandria. Klaudia from Poland was also on her way for at least a visit and Inesa from Rome and Nadia from Brussels were also toying with the idea of island life.

I was heading to Bali where everybody wanted to be and sweet friendship only added to the thirst. A reunion so sweet movies couldn’t even fathom — it was going to be a gang of friends all together on an island again, but this time we were moving from the Mediterranean to the Greater Sunda Islands in Indonesia and it was happening in a month’s time.

Life just doesn’t happen like it was happening when you’re 25. People don’t have time to go on pause for island life. We weren’t just taking a two-week vacation under palm trees — our lives were becoming an indefinite vacation right in front of our eyes.

By the time the news had broken and I got an idea of the abnormality of our upcoming reunion, there were still two weeks for me to explore on my own. I was in Da Nang on the coast of central Vietnam. Don’t ask me exactly how I ended up there — I suppose it was by way of a few trains, planes, and buses — but the journey leading there was a total bender. I hardly remember anything from those weeks — tons of thrills and rice wine which was a Southeast Asian specialty. There were nights with locals, nights with other travelers, nights spent on the beach under the moon, and nights in the big cities like Hanoi and Chiang Mai.

I do remember a particular night during that time. I was in North Vietnam out in Ha Long Bay in an up-and-coming tourist hotspot, the island of Cat Ba. Small little place with not a lot going on but they practically force-feed you free beer and laughing gas which all backpackers in Vietnam can relate to.

I met an English girl named Gemma who had pretty eyes but more than that a sophisticated, conscious mind. She was with a gang of new friends whom she met on her boat tour around the thousands of islands that afternoon. Gemma was the one who came over to my lonely ass at the bar and invited me over to their table.

It had become as easy as anything meeting people since I arrived in Asia — and not just any people — the best kind of people. People who looked out for each other even when not knowing a damn thing about each other. People who had a genuine interest in learning and not being an all-too-common asshole about things they didn’t understand.

Gemma and her crew were just like those kinds of people. Don’t ask me to recall their names — after all, I only knew them for three or four hours — Gemma for a little longer — but the night with them will stick with me for long after.

They were passing the microphone around the table, taking turns singing awful karaoke renditions of English classics which is a staple of nights out in Cat Ba. The microphone was passed around my way and I tried to give it away but Gemma wouldn’t let me.

“C’mon, we are all singing don’t be shy,” she said, “You can’t be worse than me!”

I battled with her and a few others for a moment but reluctantly took the microphone from her hands.

“What song is it?” I asked. Gemma told me to pick. I hesitated a minute, teetering between predictable Queen songs and a song to fit my Nineties grunge affinity. I must’ve taken too long, though, because before I knew it, she had chosen a song by ABBA that wasn’t Dancing Queen and that I’d never heard of before. I laughed because I knew I was in for embarrassment.

“Don’t worry, I’m singing with you. You are looking at the most die-hard of all hardcore ABBA fans,” she said with a teasing smile.

Before I knew it, the chorus had kicked in and Gemma was screaming at the top of her lungs, “Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight!” and I was doing my best to keep up. She kept laughing at my inability to follow a rhythm but not more than I was laughing at myself.

When the song ended, she looked for someone to give the microphone to with her other hand lightly pressed on my arm.

“Wait, wait, wait! You are giving it up already? We have one more song. . .” I said to her surprise.

“Oh, do we now?”

I put on CCR and the famous guitar riff everyone knows came on —

Someone told me long ago, there’s a calm before the storm — I know — it’s been coming for some time!” we shouted simultaneously in the microphone.

I pulled the mic away from us.

“Damn, I wanted to catch you off-guard,” I said.

“You can’t catch someone off-guard with Creedance, fool,” she said. I shrugged because she was right then returned the mic and used our loudest, ugliest singing voices —

I wanna know — have you ever seen the rain?” Now, the entire bar full of expats and western backpackers joined in and we sang our hearts out for that song. The beer was still free until the first keg tapped out and there wasn’t a particularly large crowd in the bar yet. It was still early but pints kept being poured.

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