Recently, I posted my tale about an at-gun-point experience I suffered while traveling in Croatia back in 2002. Continuing with the same theme of the potential dangers of the open road, all of my recollections prompted by the unforgettable Charles Kuralt having once said, “If the traveler expects the highway to be safe and well-graded, he may as well stay home,” I share the following with you.
Another notable close encounter of the traveler’s kind came on the beaches of Langkawi Island in Malaysia a handful of years back, a locale that should have only begotten cherished memories of languorous loafing, languid lounging, and, if lucky enough, lascivious lovemaking under a lazy palm. You might eagerly assume my run in was with a ravenous shark’s jaws, but, sorry, it wasn’t that treacherous. Nature wasn’t involved here. Or was it?
If hormones fall into the category of the natural world, then it was, indeed, a natural nuisance that caused my travels to go awry. The upshot: My bête noire on one, otherwise lovely, promisingly romantic evening was an overly inebriated, horny Rastafarian beach bum.
Earlier that day, throughout the course of the morning, while on a half-day boat tour with a local agency—which I’d arranged through my twelve-bucks-a-night guesthouse, I continued to see two intriguingly attractive foreign backpackers at each stop we visited. Their tour, one from a competing agency, to my fortune, stopped at the same locales that my company had scheduled. Their itinerary was seemingly the same, yet it wasn’t that they were following me, which I’d somehow fantasized at one point.
At first, I simply tried to at least make eye contact with them, which I believe we did briefly exchange while visiting a paradisiacal, secluded cove on another islet, and then at a later stop, we uttered ephemeral hellos as we passed by, each of us surrounded by a band of other travelers that herded us away like cattle from the promise of instant chemistry, at least as I lustfully imagined it would have been.
While visiting The Lake of the Pregnant Maiden around midday, however, the itinerary permitted a chance to talk, finally. On this stop, each group had an hour or so to kill, so many of us idly passed the time by cautiously and curiously dipping our feet in the cordoned-off-from-the-rest-of-the-lake submerged enclosure filled with a type of fish that was fond of nibbling calluses, ingrown toenails, and other unsightly growths from our feet, and we were allowed to swim from the docks, as well, an enjoyable respite from the heat of the island’s sweltering microclimate.
Though I must have appeared interested only in sunbathing and swimming—as a way to nonchalantly play hard to get, my peripheral vision incessantly tried to catch glimpses of the two ladies, whom I’d overheard speaking Italian at one point. Alone with my thoughts, my imagination ran wild with images of them coming over, topless, to seductively spread suntan lotion around my torso and along my thighs, imaginings akin to one of those highly erotic but lacking-in-plot and unlikely-to-happen skin flicks.
“How could I approach them?” I wondered. I was never an expert in making someone’s acquaintance, so I pondered too much and for too long what my next step would be.
In my mind, I rehearsed, “Non parlo Italiano. Sono stupido Americano,” and some other silly pick up lines in my ever-so-basic Italian. Lo and behold, for I asked them to take a photo of me—the most insultingly simplistic and pitiable approach I could have chosen, we eventually spoke—without any of the rehearsed come ons coming to mind, and with one of them—the one that I was surely more attracted to, I made plans to meet later that evening, after ten minutes of flirtatious conversation.
Getting the name of their guesthouse as we departed ways, I was already eager to meet once more. Hoping that such an encounter later that evening would entail an energetic removal of garments as we fell to the soft sand, with the tide lapping at our legs, I (attempted to) suavely bid them farewell with my best dramatically “rolled-r” arrividerci. Channeling my great-great-grandparents, who had come from Italy to America a century ago, didn’t seem to help my pronunciation.
A few champing-at-the-bit-filled hours later, after showering up and then lounging in the garden of my guesthouse to soak in the last of the late afternoon rays, I met la bella donna and her friend, whose name I’ve since forgotten (who am I kidding; I don’t think I ever learned it, my focus being only on my aforementioned fantasies), and we strolled along lazily to a restaurant that had enough patrons within to give the impression that it was a worthwhile establishment.
Though Rita, her name was, and her companion didn’t speak English very well—and my Italian was limited to a BBC-language-CD beginner level (with some survival Spanish skills to help with the cognates), we were able to navigate through enough of a dinner conversation to prompt my interest in her to grow, so to speak, so there was not only a physical attraction, which I’d experienced earlier in the day when I saw her in a bikini, but there was also a more cerebral one—as far as is permitted through a semi-limited, error-filled language exchange.
Admittedly, because I’d, theretofore, spent my first five months of living in a rural town of 10,000 folks in northern Japan without a date, I was eager to become acquainted with Rita as much as possible. However, three is a crowd, as you well know; thus, there was an underlying sense that I wanted to get to know her more without the third wheel tagging along on our after-dinner excursion, however pleasant a woman her travel partner was.
After dining, that desire came, thankfully, to fruition, for her friend suddenly admitted to being tired, with one of those melodramatic prolonged yawns and a requisite stretching of her arms extended outwardly. At the drop of a hat, said companion took off for their rented waterfront bungalow, somewhere around 9p.m. Her hasty departure, initiated by an Italian exchange between them—which was, from what I could decipher, along the lines of “tell me later if this Italian-American dweeb has chest and back hair like a real Italian,” gave Rita and I a chance to chat more intimately, and we opted to do so at a sleepy reggae bar a stone’s throw from their beach hut.
Over candlelight, beneath the thatched, palm frond roof, sand beneath our bare feet, we talked of this and that, in both broken English and my even-more-shattered Italian. She was a keen traveler, which, alone, practically hypnotized me from the start, and she had some entertaining tales to share. A compassionate soul she also seemed to be, for it sounded as if she’d done some volunteering overseas—even though in Italian she also appeared to say something about how she hated dealing with hair-clogged kitchen sinks or how she despised clipping her toenails because the clippings landed in her salad—or at least it sounded like that to my much confused, linguistically challenged ear for Italian.
Superficially, admittedly, I was fascinated by her Italian-tainted accent while speaking in English—and by her golden skin tones; however, there seemed to be a stronger, perhaps spiritual, connection as well.
To say I was hoping for a little romance that night is an understatement. My tongue lolling out and a pool of saliva collecting between my elbows on the bamboo table may have given her a not-so-subtle hint.
However, our nascent, yet rapid bonding was unexpectedly broken, for out of the blue came a drunken, shirtless fellow with wannabe dreadlocks, dressed only in a tattered pair of stained shorts which nearly fell from his hips, a bottle of Red Stripe brew in his hand. To see this bronzed hipster cozily leaning over her shoulder, caressing the nape of her neck as he did, whispering sweet nothings in her ear—without even emitting an “excuse me for c_ _kblocking, dude,” was disheartening, to say the least. That she whispered back just as softly made me feel like I was now the third wheel. What comes around, goes around, eh? Just my luck.
That the tranquility of our evening was broken at that moment was surely disappointing—and my hormones had already gone home to take a cold shower, but after a few minutes he left, having divulged what he needed to say, discreetly, in her ear, perhaps even softly licking her earlobe as he finished attempting to woo her (okay, maybe that last intimate gesture didn’t happen, but my hastily growing doubt about the situation at least led me to think it did).
Because the Italian gals had already been on the island for a week or so (and they were, indeed, leaving the next day), I assumed that at some point they’d familiarized themselves with this bloke, so I didn’t want to press her with too many questions. It wasn’t my right. I’d only been there, myself, for two days—and I’d, of course, only known them a short bit. What was her business was her business. Because I’d once had a few romantic partners over the course of a mere three days on the same backpacking trip in Europe, I chalked it up to one of the freedoms of the road.
However, because I may have appeared ready to pay the bill and bid her adieu (was that a tear forming on my lower eyelid—or just another bead of sweat, she must have pondered), she then explained that he had only wanted to know where her roommate was, for they had, indeed, spent time with him a few nights ago, smoking and partying together at a beach gathering. That he was smitten with her roomie became clear, but Rita also detailed how they had tried to blow him off the night before when he became too aggressive for the other gal’s liking. Having had a bit too many drinks that night, too, he, to get them to spend more time together, really became overly assertive, much to their disapproval.
“Where were we?” I asked, holding up my condensation-covered beer simply to get back on track with our destined-for-the-glories-of-intimacy course, I hoped. Still hovering in the surrounding atmosphere was salacious anticipation.
A mere few lines of conversation later, he returned. Like a leech, he was hard to (verbally) shake off, and I wished that we could have asked the bartender to remove him from the premises, but they seemed to be friends. Nothing Rita said made the picture clear. Her friend was not there. She didn’t want to come out. She was tired. She was asleep. He didn’t care. Pestering her for more answers, he clearly started to get on Rita’s nerves. For a good ten minutes she was forced to come up with excuse after excuse. He then insisted on going to find her partner, which at least got him out of our hair for a wee bit only, it turned out.
Now that the moment was lost, and now that he had repeatedly rained on our parade, I wasn’t sure where the evening was headed, but she, thankfully, piqued my curiosity once more by gingerly saying, as she caressed the back of my hand from across the table, “Would you like to go for a walk on the beach?” The language barrier, though, didn’t allow her to understand my response: “Does a bear shit in the woods?” Nevertheless, we were off, hand-in-hand, into the shadows.
Eventually, after a few stops to gaze at the intoxicating stars, a chance for me to try to imitate John Cusack’s character in the movie Say Anything by naming certain lesser-known constellations, hoping that she would be swooned by my esoteric knowledge of the night skies, we arrived at her bungalow, a tiny ramshackle yet dreamily-idyllic place that was enveloped by the perfect setting of a palm-fringed, tranquil shoreline, the type of locale that just fosters and exudes romance.
There, on the steps leading up to a miniscule front porch, we sat down and then, immediately, embraced, which then turned into a long, deep kiss, our inhibitions lowered by the drinks we’d indulged in. Rockets blasted off, if you catch my drift. Fireworks repeatedly streaked upwards into the now shimmering, sparkling sky. I…
“Shit, he’s back!”
From out of the shadows stepped our Rastaman friend. Had he been watching the whole time? Did he get off on peeping nefariously at us from behind the palms? How long had he been there? Was he going to ask to join in? My mind was awhirl with all sorts of questions.
Startled and a bit perturbed, herself, Rita asked him to leave; nonetheless, he insisted on seeing her friend. She, again, this time resolutely, begged him to go. Persistent like a hyena wanting to get to a gazelle’s carcass through a venue of vultures, he then asked to see Rita away from where we were seated on the steps, in private. She obliged, her patience greater than mine. Tapping my fingers on the hand railing, counting the moments, I sat and wondered how this was all going to pan out, watching them secretively chat ten feet away. I even considered leaving.
A mere few minutes passed until she came back to join me again, but it seemed like an hour had transpired for I was starting to get restless with the whole ordeal unfolding in front of me. She again reminded him to depart—for he was still lurking in the shadows, yet he stood his ground and wouldn’t budge—though she’d implored him repeatedly.
Aggressively, moments later, he approached the steps once more, and this time, he tried pulling her aside so that he could pass in order to get to their front door. Inching over ever so tactfully, I blocked his path, and I then stated as politely as possible, given the circumstances, that he should listen to what Rita was explaining.
Slurring his speech, still holding on to his Red Stripe, he exclaimed uncompromisingly, in more-broken-than-Rita’s-English English, “Who you, Canada dude?”
“She explained,” I continued, firmly but not pugnaciously, “that her friend is too tired to come out and play.”
“Shut you up, Canada guy! Go from here! Fuck you.”
“Sorry, buddy, but I think you’ve had one too many,” I soothingly stated. “Please leave her alone.”
All along, I was rehearsing in my mind what would happen if this escalated into something more serious than the soap opera-esque drama that was unfolding. Knowing that I was a foreigner in a distant land, having heard stories of westerners being tossed into squalid jail cells for a night after breaking the law in places like Thailand, Timbuktu, and Tijuana—or even for longer incarcerations, I didn’t want anything major to transpire. Moreover, I didn’t know if he had buddies nearby or within shouting distance. I, naturally, didn’t know his background, so my hesitation about what to do grew.
Was he well known there? Did he have a posse of pals that would come to his aid? If something happened, would he set the local authorities on me? Would they search for me the next day if it turned out I went on the offensive?
The backpacker area of Langkawi Island was relatively small, so I was certain I could be “found” easily, either by the police or by his friends. My mind was again spinning with more questions; I didn’t want to ruin the rest of my week’s stay there in, what was, otherwise, paradise.
Without warning, he bitch slapped me across the forehead.
Walter Mitty-like reactions bolted around frantically in my head. My blood pressure rose. Testosterone flared. Teeth clenched. Ready to pounce, I could feel the springs in my legs compress, preparing themselves if need be.
Having just ETS’d (End of Term of Service’d) from the US Army a mere six months before (having then moved to Japan to teach English), I knew I could handle him; I had been a perfect Army PT test score award recipient, i.e., I wasn’t a slouch physically, and having studied a smattering of kung fu, tae kwon do, and karate over the years, I had no doubt what I could do to defend Rita and to debilitate the drunk bastard. However, I knew that turning the cheek was best—as should always be the case, right? I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. If I had been in the States, perhaps a different story I’d be telling today.
For a few minutes, he stood there in front of me, as I was still seated, and taunted me, trying to goad me into standing up and fighting. I wanted none of the crap, my thoughts instead focused on why he had to come along and ruined the evening. Repeating something about me being a Canadian, he slurred his way through a torrent of erroneous nonsense, but I wouldn’t move from the spot. Rita, unsure of what to do, stood her ground, too, at least to stop him from getting up the stairs and to partially block his access to me.
He again lashed out, this time smacking me on the shoulder. He was so drunk that I also felt it unfair that I retaliate physically. Countless reasons prompted me to stay seated, though I knew I was, at least, NOT going to let him through.
There was no way he was going to get to their door, I knew with certainty, and after those few moments of taunting, he gradually tailed off with his livid diatribe, perhaps—even in his drunken state—realizing he wasn’t going to get me to take the bait. Once again, Rita took him over to the palms nearby and, apparently, talked him into calming down, and she then returned to persuade me to stay, claiming that he was not going to bother them, or us, anymore, assuring me that they were now safe. I wondered how she got him to calm down. Did she promise him something later?
Already in the wee hours, I had grown a trifle tired of the silly shenanigans. Somewhat begrudgingly, especially because it was Rita’s last night in Langkawi, I stated that it was simply getting too late, yawning and stretching dramatically myself to prove the point, just as her travel companion had done a few hours previously. Whether or not we would have had a fully intimate encounter will never be known. All seemed pointed in that direction, pardon the pun, but Mr. Persistence put a damper on all things lascivious.
After a small peck on the cheek and after slowly letting go of her hand after a final embrace, I asked once again if she was going to be all right. Reluctantly, I muttered a less-impressive “arrivederci”, for this time I was not attempting to roll my R’s with any hidden, artful attempt at being coolly coquettish. Turning to mosey off back to my guesthouse, I waved goodbye to la bella dona, never to see her again.
A few meters down the path to the main road, I stepped over a good-sized hardwood stick, and for a moment, I harbored thoughts of taking it in hand and going back to whack the guy upside the head, exclaiming fervently as I was doing so, “By the way, asshole, I’m not Canadian!”
Yet I let the anger subside and made my way back to my guesthouse, eager for at least a partial night’s sleep, one that would end at the doorstep of a new dawn without the prospect of the local authorities showing up to interrogate me about my whereabouts the evening before and without the increased chance that a band of irate Rastas would torment me by kicking sand on my towel on the beach later that day.
Naturally, I would have liked to have awoken with more “pleasant” memories, the kind filled with rockets blasting off and fireworks exploding in rapture. However, I was willing to simply settle for sweat dreams of Rita rolling her own R’s as we, interwoven, passionately fell to the sand at the foot of the palms outside her bungalow, a soft, shadowy patch of paradise beneath a comforting canopy of overhanging fronds, a place where there were no inebriated, belligerent Rastafarians lurking creepily in the dark.
Although he didn’t necessarily represent the greatest outright danger for this traveler, he at least forced me to consider whom I spend time with while on the road. The highway is sometimes fraught with real dangers, yet at other times, the risks are merely to one’s pride or a challenge to one’s hormonal control. This experience was surely one of the latter.