There was a time in my life when I was newly single….again, and was looking for a companion. I didn’t wish to embark on another serious relationship, but was ready for some single guy fun. I, therefore, sought a male companion who would be willing to seek a little adventure, was financially capable and had no visible challenges that would hinder the aforementioned adventures. I had an old friend from my running days that seemed to meet this rather capacious criterion (basically anyone with a pulse) causing us to embark on several road trips together. To protect the innocent we will call him Graham.
Graham was usually the sane one who would drink moderately, leave a situation when the going was potentially hazardous, and always had a mind for thrift. I recall being saved from my stupidity on more than one occasion. I was the more computer literate creature, so would usually book our travel plans, with Graham very trusting even though my planning tends to be, what some might call, spontaneous. We travelled to Thailand twice, shorter trips to Calgary and Seattle, a cycling trip down the Oregon Coast, and several trips to Mexico. The excursion that probably garnered the best memories for me was two weeks in Suyulita, Mexico in a beautiful casita overlooking the ocean and village, then two weeks in the heart of Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town. We enjoyed this contrast of old world rural Mexico in Suyulita and the more cosmopolitan and exotic offerings of Puerto Vallarta.
Although Graham was usually my equable chaperon, I recall one instance when I was the portrayal of prudence and virtue while my good friend seemingly lacked all semblance of lucidity upon confronting the batting eyes of a young fraulein.
We had embarked on a road trip for the weekend and found little activity of interest by about 10:30 PM. We had enjoyed a few drinks but decided a little visit to a spicier venue would be an appropriate progression. We entered a rather infamous establishment to find only 2 other lonely patrons present. We briefly considered the peculiarity of this, but remained to peruse the entertainment. We were soon greeted by a pretty blonde about 40 years our junior flouncing across the stage. She performed her act in a manner that suggested my friend was the devotion of her entire performance. She completely ignored the remaining clientele….that being me and the two others. Graham was enthralled. I tried to deflect her….and his…..attention but neither were to be dissuaded. Was this a case of daddy issues? After the music ended our young princess strutted straight to our table. She quickly provided her name and informed us that she would be finished work at about 11:30, when she and a friend would be interested in joining us for further libations. Graham resembled a bobble-head doll, nodding very much in the affirmative and stated a desire to sign over the entirety of his RRSPs for the company of this young woman. For a change, however, my astute perception of the situation was emphatically exposed as I asked, the formerly wise one, to gain some perspective of the impending scenario. I suggested he should consider without bias that, in what circumstance, would two 20-year-old women join two men, which some may regard as past their prime, for drinks and company. Would a meaningful relationship ensue? “Not likely”, I exclaimed. In fact the other two establishment patrons began to present a somewhat shadier demeanour and were possible compatriots of our female acquaintances. Begrudgingly, the starry-eyed one saw the potential consequences of our impending foray into questionable pursuits and left with me for safer environs. I think he still blames me for discouraging the potential love of his life.
Not all of our excursions were as exciting, but all offered fond memories of exotic lands visited, friendships made, wine quaffed, and fine food enjoyed. It is strange travelling with a male companion, however. You always have to ensure there are two beds or, on occasion, two rooms. Hotel staff generally asks if one or two beds are required. That’s when our alpha male language and actions bubble to the surface, ensuring everyone within shouting distance of our extreme manliness. I recall returning from one trip to Seattle where it appeared everyone had been looking at us as if we were a couple. Upon our return, both Graham and I quickly acquired girlfriends and didn’t associate for several months.
Another problem with travelling as two males is maintaining the proper attire. In Asia we had both purchased very similar shirts from different vendors at different times to bring back as souvenirs from our travels. Upon leaving for the airport to catch a return flight, we rose at a very early hour without being aware of our respective apparel. Upon arrival at the airport, with luggage in hand, we lined up to deposit our bags and retain boarding passes. While in line we struck up a conversation with a fellow traveller. Making small talk he asked if we were part of a bowling team. This seemed an odd question until he pointed out we were wearing identical shirts. With our bags deposited, we travelled as bowling partners for the duration of the trip. Perhaps others thought we were fraternal twins.
While on travel status we tended to adopt an unstated routine of daily activity. We would generally rise at our leisure and have a light breakfast or an early morning run before embarking on our own interests. Graham liked to walk on beaches and explore the communities in which we visited. I liked to run in the morning, usually longer than Graham, causing my day to progress a little later. I would then enjoy a quiet breakfast and eventually seek a beach for some leisurely sunning and reading. After a few hours I would set out for a walk in the community and pretend I knew what I was doing as a photographer. My theory is: if you take a multitude of pictures, one is bound to turn out. Quantity over quality is my motto as I load my camera with thousands of shots. I can sometimes be perceived as a brilliant photographer while few are aware that it took me 5,000 tries for that one acceptable exposure.
About 4:00 PM is cervesa time, when we meet at our residence to wash down the dust of the day with a cool beer and swap stories of our respective adventures. We seldom quaffed more than two drinks, but a nice glow would be established as a fine foundation for the evening. Thereafter we would wander the streets in search of a meal, usually having a glass of wine with dinner while Graham, usually exhibiting the utmost self-control, would have one cold beer. By 9PM the old guys would return to their humble dwelling to watch a movie and have a good sleep for another day of similar adventure.
This routine has varied little during several trips. Graham, however, is a little older than me and tends to become ill, on occasion, for a week at a time. I recall one instance in Mexico when he became very ill and was confined to his bed for most of a week. After a few days he learned that the nearest resort had a staff doctor who could prescribe him medication. We attended for some medical help but the language barrier saw him provided several hundred dollars of worthless pills that offered no benefit. A few more days saw a further deterioration as Graham seemed to be losing the battle. He then attended a Mexican physician in the nearest town of Bucerias who prescribed him pills that were promised to be a solution to his ailment.
As it turned out there was no pharmacy in our community offering this particular medication. I, therefore, left my sickly friend groaning in bed while setting out to fill the prescription. I wandered through town, with each pharmacy telling me it would surely be available at the next. Finally someone phoned a little pharmacy in the next town and confirmed that the prescription could be filled there. Boarding a local bus, I set off in search of the cherished capsules. I was deposited at a gas station miles from any town. The driver pointed to a small building beside the gas pumps. It was, apparently, a rural pharmacy that contained the correct medication, I am sure, because nobody was aware of its existence. The prescription was quickly filled and I sought a return bus ride. Waiting on the highway I observed several busses pass, but none were willing to stop for a foreigner such as me. Dusk was nearing and I began to consider that I was a single white man in a country of brown men, on the edge of a lonely highway, with a pocket full of pesos. The situation was beginning to take on an ominous presence. Another bus passed and I waved. He waved back and continued on his way. I had had enough and produced a wallet with several hundred pesos therein. After all, what good is money if one is unconscious, or worse, in a Mexican ditch? As the next bus approached I waved my bills to indicate I would pay whatever was necessary for a ride. He stopped and I boarded.
We returned to town with everyone eyeing the wad of bills clutched in my fist. I was not relieved of them, thankfully. While walking the several blocks to our little casita, to add injury to insult, I tripped over an uneven curb and fell 6 feet to the ground below landing under the wheels of a bus. Luckily, it was stationary and I only suffered bruised knees and pride. Finally, I burst into our room bearing my powdered riches to find the unhealthy one absent. The neighbour lady informed me that her husband had taken Prince Graham to their physician. I waited, pills in hand, until a car arrived to spit out my sickly friend. He seemed happy with his bag of pills and settled in for a long night of convalescence.
This is not to say Graham is a sickly person. He has certain exuberances in some areas of his demeanour. I recall one beach that he loved to run daily in the heat of the day. We were staying in a resort on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand directly overlooking a most beautiful beach. The roads are very difficult for running in Thailand due to the volume of traffic and lack of shoulder. We soon found ourselves running on the beach even though sand is not always a good base for running as it is usually soft, the waves wet your feet and it is not level. After a few days, it became apparent that Graham was running about 4:00 PM when it was still quite hot. This seemed very odd, as he generally liked to be stressed as little as possible and, normally, would prefer to run in the cool of the morning. I paid little attention and did my morning runs while lazing at our resort in the afternoon. Finally one day I decided to follow him down the beach at 4PM. After about 20 minutes of running I discovered my ogling friend, buried in the sand, intently observing a most beautiful and nude Japanese volleyball player. The rat! He had failed to mention this aspect of his training program for most of a week. I doubt I will ever forgive him but, perhaps, this was some justice for my involvement with his lost love.
Travelling is not always pleasant and can, in fact, be very challenging at times. In one instance with Graham I recall a most challenging return trip. We had been staying with my brother-in-law and his wife, in Hau Hin, Thailand. Upon reaching the end of our stay, we were flying out the next day from Bangkok that is about 4 hours of driving from Hau Hin. We, therefore, went out for a final Thai dinner the night before and managed to consume a few bottles of their local brew. In the morning Graham awoke feeling sickly with an enlarged head and upset stomach. After some unsuccessful attempts to secure Ginger Ale for his rumbling tummy my brother-in-law took Graham to a local medical clinic for some doctoral care. They returned several hours later, after Graham had received a treatment of intravenous fluids. He appeared to be feeling a little better but was still quite incapacitated.
Although we weren’t leaving for several hours, a taxi driver had arrived to take us on the four hour journey to the airport and was washing his car awaiting our departure. I guess we were his only fare of the day and, most likely, the best paying. Our time finally arrived. We said our goodbyes and, I am sure, the site of our backs was most appreciated by my brother-in-law and his wife.
We drove to the airport with Graham basically sleeping. Upon our arrival we found our airline ticket booth closed. We decided to line up in one of several lines where other travellers were waiting for their wickets to open. We chose the line with a Caucasian monk who was first in line, thinking a man of the cloth would surely be ushered through with little difficulty. The lines filled in and we were two of about 300 people awaiting airline agents. The wickets finally opened and the lines started to be processed. We soon discovered that our monk friend was trying to seek a free ride. It seems in Thailand monks generally eat, travel and are sheltered by the generosity of the Thai people, although airlines may not be in full agreement with this policy. The teller, of course, had to consult her superiors who consulted their superiors, thus initiated some arguing, and discussion, and finally he was ushered through.
Meanwhile the other lines had moved significantly along while we remained stationary. I had thoughts of shaving my head and donning some flowing robes, but eventually our time arrived and we presented our smiling faces to a stone-faced airline agent. We passed our documents forward, whereby I expected luggage would be taken and tickets issued. The tickets were, in fact, within sight and touch of my little hands when my good friend Graham interrupted the agent to thrust a written doctor’s note that was designed to provide him special consideration for his grave illness. He had secured the note while visiting the Hau Hin medical clinic without failing to mention this and wanted to be placed in 1st class with no consideration for his lowly companion….me.
Much to my dismay, the teller frowned and took back our tickets. She walked away to consult her superiors, and they consulted their superiors, with much ensued discussion. Meanwhile, having grasped the complexity of the situation, I began to inform dear Graham that they do not generally allow passengers to board any flight if they are ill. His note had revealed to them that he was gravely ill, to the extent that he needed special care. I further informed him that he would surely be required to remain at Suvarnabhumi Airport until his health improved, but I would most definitely write from Canada.
The teller and her supervisors soon returned and began discussing what I believed was our situation in their native tongue. Perhaps they were discussing what they would be having for lunch or who was dating whom, but eventually they turned to us and began to grill Graham as to the nature of his affliction. He miraculously seemed recovered and informed them that he was feeling much better and would gladly travel in economy. He had been wondrously cured and would cause no further trouble. It appeared we had witnessed a miracle, possibly instituted by our Caucasian monkish friend. I, however, interjected, suggesting that the deceptive one was lying and should be cast in irons. Much to my chagrin they believed the sickly one and issued our tickets. I could barely look at him, but considered his apparent illness and the fact that I knew no one else within 200 kilometers. I consequently guided my, less than trustworthy, friend to the next line.
We had overcome one hurdle and, with boarding passes in hand, were directed to the next challenge. We were shuffled through various airport mazes and found ourselves in the immigration line. We had acquired a visa when we entered Thailand that would expire after 30 days. Although we were nearing our 30th day limit, I had no concern with our upcoming processing. Graham entered one line while I sought a quicker one. Of course, his line moved faster and he was called to the counter ahead of me. I continued to stand in line while he disappeared behind a barrier. My turn finally arrived and I presented my papers. The official took one look at my passport and directed that I should “come with me”. I was shepherded to a little cubicle where another Thai official was sitting behind a large metal desk. I observed Graham’s book and jacket on the desk, but no Graham. I wondered if they had heard of his treachery at the last line and had taken him to a jail cell where the truth was presently being extracted from him by force. The two Thai officials chattered merrily in their native tongue while nodding towards me. I think there was even a tsk, tsk, or two amid their conversations. Finally the shepherd left and I was informed that my visa had expired 8 days previously. It seems when we departed Thailand to visit Cambodia our 30 day visa was terminated and the visa to re-enter Thailand was only a week in duration. We were in breach of Thailand law and were required to pay a fine….in cash, or be thrown in a Thai dungeon. It was about $2500 Thai Baht or $80.00 American. As the dungeon didn’t sound too good I gladly paid the fine with cash in hand. Upon receipt of my stamped passport, I was guided out the door but Graham remained absent. I hoped they weren’t inflicting too many wounds….at least not visible ones, on my sickly friend. I passed through the luggage scanners and waited on the other side. After a few minutes he appeared with his shirt dishevelled, luggage overflowing and, if he had any hair, it would have been in disarray. He seemed very befuddled and concerned as to what had just occurred. As I learned later, he had no cash to pay his fine and was directed to a bank machine without knowing why he had handed over the money.
That was not the end of this particular adventure. Being frugal travellers I had booked the cheapest flights possible with Air China. I think we must have saved about $50.00 each on $1,200.00 tickets and there was a $100.00 hidden surcharge applied to our return trip. Not my smartest move! China Air transports very few Caucasians. This did little to faze us so we continued to our lounge and eventually boarded a huge plane packed with about 497 persons of Asian descent, one white monk, and us. Initially I enjoyed the ride as I had pre ordered a vegetarian meal and was singled out to be fed first. I gulped down my food while everyone else looked on ravenously. This was a good start!!
Off we flew with our first stop being Beijing, China. We landed and had a 6 hour layover for the next flight. It seemed Graham’s miraculous cure had not been as complete as previously thought. He kept nodding off with mouth agape and 497 Asians getting a full view of his very pink oesophagus. We finally landed in Beijing and sought out sleeping rooms. We thought a four or five hour sleep would refresh us for the next leg of our journey. We paid our money, gathered our towels and chose our little cubicles. After about 4 hours of tossing and turning I finally rose for a shower and actually felt a little rested.
We returned to our airline lounge where countless Asians and one white monk waited patiently. Suddenly there was an announcement in Chinese causing the populace to become noticeably agitated. We had no idea what had been said but made enquiries of a younger looking Chinese person. He informed us that the airline had announced the flight would be delayed for a few hours because of a huge storm in our flight path to Canada. Air Canada, that occupied the accompanying lounge, was still going to make the flight and travel the same route. Something appeared amiss. I began to consider that the $50.00 not saved was less than my greatest moment.
This, however, was of little concern to two hardened travellers, so we settled in for a few more hours of reading and reclining. After about 4 hours there was another announcement informing us of a few more hours of delay. We could see our airplane on the tarmac, completely dark and no staff member had gone out to make any preparations whatsoever. Air Canada had long ago departed. China Air provided us little box lunches and assured us we would soon be soaring through the air and off to our destinations. Four more hours passed and another announcement could be heard over the loudspeakers. They offered us little prepaid telephone cards this time. Who would I call in Beijing? Our Chinese compatriots, however, were not sitting on their hands. A large group began to mill around the airline desk and were loudly voicing their disapproval. Even our pale-faced monk, who was getting a free ride, was seen at the front demanding his rights. We spoke to our youthful Asian friend again and were informed that our fellow travellers believed the airline was delaying our flight because it wasn’t entirely sold out and they were waiting for another China Air flight to arrive so they could fill all the seats.
The milling crowd was not appeased and were becoming very animated and boisterous. There was one skinny airline representative behind an inconsequential desk. Violence seemed to be the next course of action. Suddenly several armed soldiers, which appeared very much like the Chinese National Guard, arrived and stood quietly behind the desk with guns drawn while the ticket seller tried to explain the situation to a very disgruntled mob. I did not want to spend even one night in a Chinese prison. After all I am very pink and performing penal labour in a rice paddy would be very bad for my complexion. Consequently I found a corner of the lounge about as far from the action as possible and desperately began emailing friends as to my exact location and what was transpiring. I wanted some evidence of my last seen location so that a substantial ransom could be paid for my eventual release. Meanwhile Graham was still snoozing, blissfully unaware of our impending danger.
About 13 hours after landing in Beijing we finally observed some uniformed personnel stroll towards our plane amid a very angry crowd. On the 14th hour we were finally boarded. Another 12 hours later we landed in Vancouver. A mere two hours thereafter we boarded another plane for Kelowna and arrived in our homeland, kissing the earth some 42 hours after our journey had begun. It would seem Graham gained more sleep during this voyage than if he had been tucked into his little Kelowna bed.
I think this was our last trip together as I eventually did embark on a long-term relationship (with a lady) and was eventually married on a little beach in Maui. I decided travelling with a male companion was not how I would discover the world although we had enjoyed some great adventures and gained a fairly close bond regardless of our respective imperfections. I am sure he would have a few stories to tell about me as well but, since it is my creative licence, I will tell the story my way.