Emerging from the jungle, the swirling mist dissipates, and a massive, awesome cave is revealed right in front of us.
The rock walls are layered with color like some sort of geological tie-dye while rays of light filter through the hanging vines.
Our guide, Eddie, who looks like an Asian Jeramiah Johnson barefooting through the jungle, has been silent throughout the trek, allowing the chirping rainforest to envelope us.
Then, as we enter the magical, frightening darkness, Eddie breaks his silence and whispers gravely:
“See, stalagmits form from the ground up. Stalactits hang down from the ceiling.”
Stalactit? That’s an unfortunate mispronunciation.
He goes on, “Easy to remember stalacTIT…because it looks like a woman…you know…hehe…hanging down.” He mimes enormous breasts, in case we don’t get it.
Um…yeah Eddie, we get it. In fact, we can’t imagine ever forgetting that.
Giggling, he hands us a flashlight and we continue into the airplane hanger-sized cave.
“Look! Look!” Eddie screams. “Spiderman!”
We whip around to see him shining his light on this:
Granted, the spider did just about make us crap our pants. But c’mon Eddie, Spiderman? Could we possibly stick to genus species? I mean, Spiderman doesn’t even live in a cave.
And that’s when the squeaking began. We shone our flashlights anxiously to the ceiling while Eddie squealed “Batman! hahaha! Batman!”
OK, batman lives in a cave. Well, if you want to be really technical about it, he lives in a mansion. But look, Eddie, we won’t argue if we can just move on in silence and continue the nearly spiritual experience with nature we were having before you started talking about comicbooks and boobs. Whad’ya say?
Just then, Eddie shines his light at Dave’s feet, revealing he’s standing in a big mound of…
“Wahhahah! You step in the Batman poopies! Batman poopies poopies! Wahhah!”
Uncontrollable laughter. Seriously, Eddie would have been rolling on the ground if it wasn’t covered with poopies.
At first, we didn’t know quite what to make of Eddie. The man who walked somberly through the jungle became an ADHD seven-year old as soon as we entered the cave!
But before long, this bizarre, pitch black ecosystem leaves us silly-struck too, and we can’t help but laugh. Really, what else can you do when you’re surrounded by stalactits and knee-deep in Batman poopies?
Just as we’re exiting the cave, we look over to find Eddie cutting a piece of bamboo, putting it to his mouth like a flute, and making some of the most realistic fart sounds we’ve ever heard.
The darkness had us all now, cause we couldn’t wait for a piece of that action.
Khao Sok, Thailand
A series of quotes, conversations, and skilled eavesdroppings on foreign impressions of America.
When our waitress guessed that we were German, the Aussie couple we had been chatting with at the next table answered for us. “German? No way! Emily and Dave are too friendly! - we think American.”
But admitting our red, white, and blue with this couple began a long, lively line of questioning:
“Hey, why do you Americans tip? It doesn’t make any sense. Why tip a waitress and not a cashier? A taxi driver, but not a bus driver? It’s so aggravating wondering who to tip and how much…The price should be the price and that’s it! You’re gonna ruin it for the rest of us with all your silly tipping.”
They have a point - tipping is not customary in most countries, and our well-intentioned tips have actually caused confusion (waiters running after us with our “change”). Even on a tight budget, it took us six months to break the habit. And when we get home, well that’s what they call “reverse culture shock”.
Legoman met Hermit Crab darting through the waves on the beaches of Phuket, and they became such good friends, he joined Legoman on the journey to Bangkok. Little did Hermit realize that with parts of the big city still a little flooded, he would feel right at home.
(Check out the backstory on this series here: http://shortstorylongtrip.tumblr.com/post/5831793806/toy-story )
In a closet-sized rundown store in downtown Bangkok, thick with incense and crammed wall-to-wall with cobwebby Buddhas of every size…
Dave: Hello, how much is this Buddha?
Tiny Thai Grandma: For you, 1,000 Baht.
Dave: I dunno, that seems like a lot. I heard that you have to have an export permit to take Buddhas out of the country. I’d hate to spend a lot on one and then have it…
(TTG raises her hand to silence Dave, then stares at the Buddha, as if in a trance. After a few seconds, Dave cautiously continues)
Dave: I’d hate to have it confisca…
(TTG still staring into the eyes of the Buddha, raises her hand to Dave’s lips again. And then, slowly, like Linda Blair, rotates her head around to meet his eyes.)
TTG: You have good heart, strong soul. You are here with your wife and mother, yes?
TTG: They also are good people. It is because of this that I can tell you, you do not need an export permit.
TTG: Positive energy and love will be with you when you go home. Customs will not stop you because you have good heart and kind life.
Dave: Um, OK. I’m not sure…
TTG (exasperated): I cannot lie, because I am a vegetarian!
TTG: You and your wife and mother are good. Do you believe what I am telling you?
Dave: Um, yes?
TTG: Do you believe that I am The Creator God?
(TTG’s eyes widen, and stare deeper into Dave’s, as if trying to control his mind.)
TTG: Do you believe that I am the Creator God?
(Emily motions wildly to Dave behind the grandma, as if playing a life or death game of charades - “Just pay whatever she wants! Let’s get the hell outta here!”)
TTG: Then I know who you are and what your heart is. You have good luck and long happiness, and you can buy the statue no worries.
Dave: Alright, since you’re The Creator God, I’ll give you 800 Baht.
(Hey, that performance alone was worth 100 baht.)
Two weeks later, leaving Thailand, we sweat a little at customs. Antique Buddhas aren’t allowed out of the country. Ours isn’t an antique, but we don’t have the paperwork to prove it. For whatever reason, though, nobody checks our bags. Maybe cause of our kind hearts. Or maybe, cause we were protected by the vegetarian Creator God.
Thanks to the girl with the mohawk carrying the knockoff purse, Dave got double Bingo. To be fair, we did eventually see everything on the cards…except cheetos.
Fresh off a plane followed by a bus, we stagger up five flights of rickety hostel stairs with our heavy backpacks. 30 kilos of gear thump to the floor as our eyes lock on the appliance propping up the television.
Beer fridge! No way!
We move in for a closer inspection (we’ve been faked out by “decorative” appliances before). We crank it to the max, cross our fingers, and shut the door.
Now, you’ve gotta understand that the beer fridge is the white tiger of hostel amenities. And one that actually WORKS, well that’s like the two-headed baby unicorn of hostel amenities. And when you’ve gone to this much trouble to make your own in the past…
…you don’t waste it.
Scouting for a minimart, we dismiss the sidewalk and stride down the middle of the street like we own it. We’re sweaty, dirty, and our budget is dwindling, but it doesn’t matter cause we’ve got a beer fridge. We feel freakin rich.
We burst through the doors of a store aptly named “minimart” and make a beeline to the case in the back.
We look. And look some more. And then, we swallow hard.
Heads low, we’re about to turn away when Emily notices part of the case covered with a towel. Peering around this makeshift curtain, sure enough, we see they’ve got a full stock.
Hmmm - Is it a religious holiday? We’ve bought beer in many a Thai minimart with no complications - what’s the deal? We glance around uneasily; there aren’t any employees to ask.
But then, as we turn to leave, one of the shelves hisses at us: “Psst - can I help you?”
We look around, startled, but don’t see anything.
Again, “Is there something you need sir?”
Finally, we notice something hovering above a shelf that seems out of place between the Oreos and the Seaweed chips: a white turban.
Pushing up on our tiptoes, the man underneath it is revealed. Sitting on a tiny stool, he peers at us from behind the shelf.
As soon as we mumble “beer”, he gets up and beckons us back to the curtained case. Kind of like that old man who lures Aladdin to the Cave of Wonders.
Pulling back the towel, hands trembling, he hands us a couple of bottles. Then, with one eye on us and one on the door, whispers with a steely gaze, “You didn’t get this HERE.”
The excitement of the beer fridge is nearly eclipsed by this drugdeal-ish weirdness, but ten minutes later, with a couple cold ones safely icing in the subarctic temperatures of our magical fridge, we toast to it.
Here’s to you, creepy turban dude! Or, as they say here in Thailand, Chalong!
Two croissants, yogurt, granola, bacon, sausage, three kinds of fruit, French toast, and some fried rice. As I weave my way back to our table, I marvel at my plate of what looks like breakfast Jenga. The solidly constructed foundation, the artful stacking and balancing - it’s an admirable quantity of food considering the buffet plates are the size of espresso saucers. Everyone knows making multiple trips to the breakfast buffet is tacky.
I smugly take my seat, but Dave scoffs. His plate is even fuller than mine. He thinks he’s won, but I have three more croissants in my purse. Ha!
Dave’s parents are visiting us in Bangkok, hence the fancy hotel with the breakfast buffet. We proceed to eat like there’s no tomorrow, while the parents delicately munch wheat toast and orange juice.
“I shouldn’t have too many calories if I want these pants to fit!” Nancy pats her tiny waist.
We look up from our third croissant smothered in marmalade.
It’s one of those words, like hairdryer or Starbucks or Monday…we just don’t use it anymore.
You don’t think about calories when you’re on a budget like ours. You eat rice because rice is cheap. When breakfast is free, you eat five of everything. You get over the carb shock pretty quick, because guess what Hollywood - carbs are what keeps the rest of the world alive!
It’s been seven months without scales. Without Jillian Michaels screaming at us through the DVD. And it’s pretty hard to have a fat day when you don’t have a mirror and your pants have a drawstring.
But suddenly Dave’s mom is talking calories at breakfast, and we realize our fancy western-style hotel room has a scale.
Aha. Now you’re getting interested. You’re thinking “I saw that post where they ate their way through Singapore - they must be fat! I bet they need one of those seatbelt extenders. I bet the airline makes them buy a whole row on the way home!!”
Well, we both lost 5 pounds (and that’s after 8 days with Dave’s parents). So there!
Look for our diet book coming out next fall: Quit your job, travel around the world, eat mostly rice, walk everywhere wearing a 15 kilo backpack, and several bouts of diarrhea later, yes, you will lose 5 pounds just like us!