“Mate, it’s good to have another bloke from Down Under around,” Says Dave in his languid Kiwi accent and nods towards the houseboat; “I’ve definitely had it with this lot.” I’ve been on the houseboat for five minutes and I’m already knee-deep in drama. Wanting to defuse the situation, I try to change the topic; “Yeah, cheers. So, how long have you been here for mate?”
He spits out over the wooden railings into the brackish lake water and smiles, somewhat bitterly; “Too long, mate. Too long.”
My cabin’s wooden door creaks when I open it. “Lunch will be served in five minutes…” Calls out Mike, the houseboat’s owner and Captain. I dump my backpack on my new bed, change out of my sweaty T-shirt in a haste and race up the stairs to the upper deck where the guests are.
“Have you been a guide here long?” Asks the clean-cut American, looking at me curiously from behind his rimless spectacles.
I smile politely. “No. I only just arrived here today.”
“Ah, really? You were pretty good at making those monkey noises earlier. Wasn’t he, Tim?” says the wife. Tim nods in agreement.
“Did you have any training for the job?”
I shake my head.
“I don’t suppose you get paid either?” He takes a huge gulp of his beer and ends the conversation before I can respond; “Haha, well, it’s true what they say; you people are from Down Under are crazy.”
The boat is deserted, except for Dave and me. The guests are all gone and so is Mike. We are sitting on the boat’s roof, watching the lake’s water transform from a deep blue to indigo to a dark navy and finally the same pitch black as the sky.
He is a carpenter by trade, he tells me; a fisherman by passion, and a handyman out of necessity. “But before all of that shit, it was just me and me surfboard. Spent all my time riding the waves and fucking birds and eating coconuts on some beach when I was your age mate.”
He pulls out his pack of cheap local cigarettes from the breast pocket of his unbuttoned, thread-bare fishing shirt and pulls one out with his teeth. He is always barefooted and with his long, thin hair, he vaguely reminds me of a wandering Hobbit.
“Back then, I moved around a lot mate. Ran a diving school near Great Barrier Reef for a few years, then went over to South Pacific. Fiji, Tahiti, Cook Islands. Even helped some TV crew make a marine documentary in the 80s’.”
“Sounds like you’ve really lived life man,” I say, genuinely impressed. But his life story somehow leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. 40-odd years of wandering the world, moving from one job to the next, bedding countless women and yet he seems rather lonely late in his life. It was as if I was looking at my future self, and I wasn’t sure I liked what I saw.
“Yeah, that was living mate. And this… this wasn’t too bad to start with either. Carl and I used to sit up here every night, with a few beers, talking and that. But then the business boomed and, well, he changed.”
“But that’s alright,” He pulls himself out of the shadows. “My mate knows this bloke who needs a manager for his fishing lodge up in Costa Rica. I’ll get in touch with him and see if I can get that gig.”
I say yeah, he should do that. Some time later, Dave finishes his bottle of Clos de Pirque wine, stubs out his last cigarette of the night and says he is heading to bed. I listen to his footsteps shuffling across the wooden gangplank and into his cabin. He stirs for a while, and then everything falls silent.
A few weeks later, at the end of my volunteering period, Carl gives me a lift back to the pier and the civilisation. I sit next to an American family who are chattering excitedly about their day and comparing their photos. But I’m not listening. I’m distracted by the deep, primal growls of the howler monkeys coming from the deep rainforest. They are claiming a small piece of this world as their home, and I wonder if I will ever be able to do the same.