Welcome to the Jungle Party: A Ridiculous Tale of Tubing in Laos
I bombard out from the toilets and back into the fray. Behold! Like a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. The Mekong shore is littered with bodies, bottles and ping pong balls. Corpses in swimming trunks piled on top of one another, limbs spread, flies buzzing in and out of their mouths. The shrieks of an abandoned baby. Cicadas.
There are some survivors. Brad (25, USA) charges about in his turtlenecked rash vest and sunglasses with the cord at the back, making S-leads in his sandals and calling loudly for the Frisbee.
Cindy and Mindy (both 22, USA) are steadfastly narrating their day for the benefit of everyone within earshot. Cindy is contemplating how many carbs are in Beerlao, Mindy is concerned that she put her top on back-to-front – she can be observed in left-vision chasing her tail around and around in circles, trying to catch the tag.
Shane and Brodie (28, 29, AUS) confessed life ambition “poundin’ a Jager Bomb on all 11 continents” stand by the water in their short shorts and tattoos, self-modelled Ibn Battutas in Bintang singlets, pondering Plato.
Ivana (25, RUS), who makes Sylvia Plath look like a high school cheerleader and Arthur Schoppenhauer like a performer at a children’s party, has fermented in the tropical sun. Her Weltschmerz has metastasised into something significantly more malignant, some kind of suppurated Weltwound, leaking pus. She is sitting at the bar, talking about drowning.
Marvin (25, GER) is standing as far away from Ivana as he can get without himself drowning, his fringe of blonde hair flapping beneath the Ms. Daisy hat, canvas handbag swinging from the skinny German elbow, waving the disappointed German fist at Shane and Brodie.
“MY FIRST DAY IN AUSTRALIA I AM CONFUSING VEGEMITE FOR PLUM JAM! SIS IS BEING REALLY SE VORST MORNING OF MY LIFE!” he cries.
I’m bombarding through the middle of it all, boogying, completely fuck-faced. The sun is setting, so we must depart. We put our valuables into the tour guide’s waterproof bag.
“Oh my God I’m here too!”
“GUILTY!” I scream as I hand over my wallet. I scream so loud that Brad falls into the water without ever getting the chance to adjust his life-vest properly.
“End I am German,” Marvin confirms, “so I take my own beg.”
Shane and Brodie both fart masculinely as they enter the water, Cindy and Mindy narrate the occasion, while Marvin reclines daintily in his tube, his handbag dangling inches above the water, and twiddles a cocktail umbrella behind his ear.
The evening is half-drunk and dazed by its own heat; the air sits like a wet towel on top of us. It’s like Heart of Darkness, except in this case Fritz is next to me in a wide-brimmed hat with a handbag, noisily vacuuming up a can of iced coffee and playing with a cocktail umbrella.
“AJ, Marvin! Wait for me!” a Russian accent from a cliff above us.
“Ivana, you can’t…” I begin.
“Shut up!” Marvin, to me. “YOU MUST JUMP, IVANA! JUMP INTO SE VATER!”
Ivana peers down from the ledge. “But I think this is very dangerous.”
“NO, YOU MUST JUMP!”
“But there are rocks.”
“YOU MUST JUMP IVANA! SIS IS ZE ONLY WAY I WILL EVER GET RID OF YOU!”
Ivana is like the Christo Redentor statue atop her cliff: motionless, torn between her suicidal tendencies and the conflicting desire to stay alive long enough to share them with others. Marvin and I float out of sight.
“Oh my God I’m wet!” Cindy enlightens us all.
“Oh my God me too!” Mindy.
“Hey guys!” Brad salutes as he bobs up astern, applying a final tube of sunscreen for the day, his life vest riding up around his lycra turtle neck. “Just thought I’d go ahead and check in on how you fellas are doing.”
“FUCK YOU BRED! FUCK YOU!” cries Marvin, swiping at Brad’s tube with his cocktail umbrella. POP! Brad sinks down into the murky water.
“I’ll see you fellas later on then, alright?” Brad calls back as his head spirals off downstream.
“Oh my God I’m American!” says Cindy.
“Oh my God I just fell in!” says Mindy.
“Oh my God me too!” says Cindy.
With all the Americans subaquatic, Marvin and I enjoy a rare moment of repose. Marvin fills it frivolously. “Smell my arm, AJ,” he says, ramming the German forearm under my nose.
“That’s nice, Marvin.”
“Sis smell is yam. I am using yam moisturiser.”
Our D&M is interrupted by a voice from behind, “AJ, Marvin! Wait for me!”
“Ivana? You jumped?”
“OH MY GOTT! VERE IS MY SHOTGUN?” Marvin, rifling through his canvas handbag.
Ivana rafts up alongside and brightens up my day like the ray of sunshine that gives you melanoma.
“AJ, do you think our destiny is always watching from just behind?”
“No, Ivana, that’s you.”
“Do you think Death is always running to catch us?”
“There are times I’d wish He’d hurry up…”
We’re hit now by a sheet of water – a huge frantic downpour. The river extends straight up into the sky, one continuous wall of water, and me bobbing somewhere in the middle of it, lost in three dimensions, like a fish in a tank, my only consolation that Ivana and I have become separated.
“Oh Marvin in the Sky! Have mercy on my soul!”
“VAT SE FUCK DO YOU SAY?”
I steer towards the squealing German voice as the rain spews down. I crunch sideways into a rock and collapse off my tube.
“Blessed Marvins Above! Thank you! Thank you for delivering me!”
I step onto what I think is dry ground, but it turns out to be Brad, who is lazing about like some kind of goddamn water monitor amongst the reeds. Ankle-deep in American, I trip and stumble into a shrub. This bothers me, so I kick Brad back out into the river.
It looks like one of Tony Abbott’s nightmares as we all clamber up into Vang Vieng: wet raggedy stragglers form all eleven continents, clothes hanging off our bodies, streaming from the river into the town. The only thing missing is the recurring image of Christopher Pyne in a skirt, holding a lollipop, which I assume recurs in Tony’s nightmares and will certainly be recurring in yours.
“SIS GUY,” Marvin indicates a bewildered-looking tuk-tuk driver with his (Marvin’s) handbag, inadvertently hitting Cindy in the mouth (no, he hits Mindy in the mouth! I keep getting the twits confused!) “IS SAYING SET SIS TUK-TUK IS BEING SAME PRICE FOR FIVE PEOPLE AND ALSO FOR TEN PEOPLE TO GO FOR JUNGLE PARTY!”
“Oh my God Marvin that’s okay!” says Cindy (the one Marvin didn’t hit in the mouth).
“NO SIS IS NOT OKAY!”
Marvin apparates at the back door of the tuk tuk shortly afterwards, accompanied by six Israeli friends from earlier in the day.
He ushers them to their seats, shaking his head wistfully, “I sink sis is not ending so vell for your people, last time you got onto a bus vis se Germans! Yes? Ah-so” he slaps the roof with his handbag, “VE GO NOW!”
Ivana pre-dated us at the jungle party by a matter of minutes, she can be seen in a skin-tight red dress, dancing on the bartop to Summertime Sadness by Lana del Rey. Her dress fits her the way a balloon fits air, maybe tighter.
“YUCK!” screams Marvin, recoiling and spilling some of his iced coffee, “VAT ZE FUCK IS ZIS? SHE IS LOOKING LIKE A FRANKFURTER ZET YOU ARE COOKING TOO LONG AND SE SKIN IS SPLITTING!”
Marvin takes a swipe at Ivana’s ankles with his handbag, but she sways expertly backwards and keeps her balance.
“I DO NOT UNDERSTAND SIS BUSINESS PLAN! EVERYONE IS ARRIVING END IMMEDIATELY VOMITING! HOW IS SIS ENCOURAGING FOR RETURN CUSTOMERS?”
The dancefloor heaves and hisses like a huge jellyfish. Sunburnt bodies squirm and wriggle to techno beats, our own demonic fluorescent fantasy. There is sweat and lust and intoxication and ecstasy, and the bedfellow of all of these, Death, grinding in a red dress on top of the bar.
Marvin fits into the place like a baby cuckoo. He parades through the middle of the dancefloor, brandishing his handbag like a pair of numbchucks, his shrill voice carrying over the house grumble.
“ZIS IS ECTUALLY BIGGER ATROCITY SAN ZE KILLING FIELDS!” he screams when he arrives at the bar.
“Marvin what’s wrong?”
“ZIS MEN IS NOT SERVING TO ME DIET COKE!”
“One might call this a Colacaust!”
“SHUT UP, AJ! ZIS IS NOT FUNNY! FUCK YOU!”
The night passes in wine and babble. At 4am I am in a corner, swaying mournfully with Ivana in her prohibitively tight dress. Most people have left. Marvin remains, with full-calorie Cola, answering questions about tubing.
“HOW AM I KNOWING HOW MUCH MONEY YOU ARE NEEDING FOR TUBING? ZIS IS ECTUALLY REALLY STUPID QVESTION! For exemple, do you buy one beer, two beers, sree beers, ten beers? Do you eat food? Do you plan for party aftervards? Is your favourite fruit being in season or out of season?”
“Oh my God I love strawberries!”
“Oh my God me too!”
“Oh my God Marvin’s hair looks like Justin Bieber’s in Baby (2010).”
I turn to Ivana, feeling exceptionally generous. “Tell me about Destiny, Ivana.” Then I realise my mistake and kiss her to shut her up. At 7:30 I am awoken by a thin blonde body clambering into my bed and sitting on my face. It smells like yam and iced coffee. A canvas handbag swings across and cops me in the balls.
“AAAAAAA!” Marvin has a sudden attack of the screaming meemees and leaps backwards out of the bed, hitting his head on a stool. “VAT ZE FUCK DO YOU DO IN MY BETT? ZIS IS DISGUSTING!”
“This isn’t your…”
“Good morning,” coos a Russian voice on the pillow next to me.
“You don’t mean that, Ivana! You hate the morning!”
“But I love…”
“Shut up! Shouldn’t you be in your coffin by now anyway? Don’t you have a curfew or something?”
“Oh my God I’m awake now!” Cindy’s inspired contribution.
“Oh my God me too!” Mindy.
Shane wakes up and pukes on Brodie. Brodie punches Shane. Shane farts, a fart about as trustworthy as Richard Nixon in those 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debates. He discovers that he needs to shit, right now, urgently, post-haste! He springs out of bed, lands on Marvin, staggers for balance, and charges out the door. Marvin sits bolt upright and screams, just a single scream, with a beginning and an end, no longer than one second in duration, retaining a neutral facial expression throughout.
Splosh-splosh-splosh – at least one quarter of the doorframe is darkened by Brad’s nerdy Ultimate Frisbee silhouette, complaining that he was mugged and had to walk all night up the river to get back to the hostel. Marvin throws an empty can of iced coffee at him. An Israeli falls out of his bunk and lands nose-first on the floor. Sounds like heavy metal as Shane finds a toilet. Someone sobs.
And we’re back to Hieronymus Bosch all over again.
Cover by Christoph Christoph