The sand underneath us is cool, but the summer’s warmth hasn’t left the night air and it isn’t likely to. Dawn is just around the corner, and the breeze that washes in over the ocean has the welcome touch of a dear friend rather than the chilly, urgent shove of an unwelcome intruder. It is a scene perfect for romance, but we’ll have to settle something a little more run of the mill than poetry, outstretched hands, and butterflies fluttering unbidden.
Overhead, a thousand thousand stars lay scattered across a mottled pall of violet, deepest blue, and a slowly growing field of blue-grey that will soon be the brilliant azure that dominates the skies by day. There aren’t any clouds in the sky, but the moon sits a solemn observance over those either still awake or just waking up.
In this no man’s land between the night before and the day not yet quite begun, joggers starting their day in the right way move by staggering, weaving revelers from the night before who seem to move in slow motion. It’s a changing of the guard – those who will make best use of the day clocking in as those who have sucked the very marrow out of the night turn in.
Beneath a palm tree, unfamiliar mouths meet for the first time and the awkward, laugh into one another’s mouths urgency of first kisses (followed shortly thereafter by second and third and fourth kisses) is had.
It’s an unremarkable scene in the grand scheme of things, but to those involved it is a comfortable thing; a temporary filling station along the often bumpy highway that is life – a pit stop that recharges, but isn’t likely to be remembered in the months and years to come.
They’ve both got a great many miles to travel yet.
I’ve got a somewhat embarrassing confession to make. Despite having been to eleven countries over the course of five years of largely full time travel, I’ve not had what most people would consider a whirlwind romance on the road.
Oh, I’ve had romances and relationships, but those have been as an expat with his own apartment, a regular social scene, a (fairly) regular job, and the kind of stability that fosters long term romance rather than passionate flings.
I’m sad to say that, while friends and fellow bloggers can regale me with tales of wild nights spent with German backpackers, kisses stolen under the moonlight in some strange and exotic city, or tender final moments spent with somebody after too little time together; I find myself with no such tales to share.
In all my years traveling, all of my romances, trysts, sexual encounters, and what have you have been limited to my time living in China or South Korea. In the other eight countries, there’s been nary a kiss stolen in earnest.
The closest I’ve come? A few kisses on a beach in the Philippines earlier this year…
Back to Boracay
The first leg of my 2014 visit to the Philippines saw the Bush boys back together for the first time since Fiji in 2011 as Dom & Bronte, Leigh, my mate James, and I opted to spend our first week in the Philippines in Boracay.
With it being Dom & Bronte’s only week off, they were eager for plenty of beach time, a few quiet beers, and some fun in the sun before returning to frosty Nanjing.
I’ve already talked about our Boracay visit in brief, but one facet of the island that the single lads in my group liked was the opportunity to hang out with local girls and see the island through their eyes.
Meeting on the Beach
We’d been on the island for a day or two, but our first real night out found the five of us chilling on the beach with some ice cold Red Horse and a motley crew of fellow backpackers in tow. We’d been drinking since we’d returned from our island hopping tour of Boracay, and the single lads in our posse held high hopes for a night of drunken debauchery.
At some point after losing the couple among us, but before being drunk enough to stagger home; I spotted a girl who’d served us dinner earlier in the evening and, seeing us, she waved us over to join them.
Just like that, we were sinking San Miguel and shooting the shit with a bunch of “local” girls.
I use the rabbit ears because very few people working on Boracay are actually local. Many of them came from other islands where their families, significant others, and children remain while they’re making money catering to the country’s ever-growing tourist industry.
Clubbing in Boracay
As the night wound into the wee hours, the only other guy in our makeshift posse suggested the group move to a night club.
By this point, I’d been drinking for about nine hours, so the events of the evening are something of a blur.
At some point an English lad and his Hong Kong (Honkonese?) girlfriend insisted on buying my brother and I tequila slammer after tequila slammer after tequila slammer. If it was blurry before, it was positively into the realm of surrealist art and interpretive dance now.
As I’m a magnet for swingers, it seems, the girl stuck her tongue down my throat at one point while her boyfriend watched on with a disturbing level of approval.
This would be the third time in my life that a swinging couple took a liking to me. I’m not sure what signals I am putting out there, but they’re clearly not the ones I mean to.
My poor brother lost his phone at some point, and this found us rushing around at sunrise trying to find it in the now empty club we’d last seen it in.
A night club by daylight – on the beach or otherwise – is a depressing place. The ghosts of past night’s regrets haunted the empty dance floor and the place reeked of booze, piss, and vomit.
It was to no avail – his precious iPhone 4 had likely found itself a new home in some lucky local’s pocket.
Our night could have ended on that sour note, but our newfound friends weren’t going to let us stagger back to our hostel on such a low note.
“Come with us!” they urged us, and we soon found ourselves at Ole – a combination Spanish, Mexican, and Cuban place that we’d eaten out a few days earlier.
To our surprise, the place was still open at 6am (we later found out it was a 24 hour deal) and was serving breakfast.
The girls ordered for us and when we tried to take out our wallets to get the bill, they waved our offers and protests away and insisted it was their treat.
After hearing horror stories from people about opportunistic locals taking advantage of drunk tourists, it was a really positive note to end our evening on. Sure, we were down a phone, but we’d been treated to breakfast and shown the island from the perspective of those who make it all run smoothly, rather than through our often rosy coloured tourist eyes.
Ringing in the Chinese New Year with Romance
Our relationship (such as it was) with the girls might have ended there, but with Chinese New Year a few days later, they were in touch to see if we wanted to hang out.
Our Chinese New Year wasn’t just hookah, Red Horse, and fireworks (although these were had in abundance) – it was dancing in a crowded mosh pit on White Beach, lounging on cushions on the beach out front of Mint listening to live music, and, in a moment of cheesy romance – stealing kisses by starlight as the sun began to colour the horizon with lighter shades of blue.
It was our last night on the island and, as holiday ‘romances’ go, it would barely register on most people’s radars. A kiss goodnight (good morning?), the promise to stay in touch, and leaving the island with fond memories that went a tad beyond tourist activities and happy snaps.
I’m thirty years old, but kissing a relative stranger as the sun rose over the beach was my first ‘holiday romance’ of any description. Having almost always traveled as part of a couple before, it was a fun new experience for me – although not quite enough to check off bucket list item #47.
While others have tales of wanton debauchery or bittersweet romance that could never last, that’s my small but sweet offering for now. Maybe someday I’ll have that stereotypical romance on the road that seems to be the fuel for many an Eat, Pray, Love inspired fantasy, who knows?
Have you ever had a little romance on the road, be it with a local or a fellow traveler?