It was our last day of the ten-day Kimberley Region tour. Thankfully, I wasn’t too hung-over after a night of drinking. We ate breakfast, and Damien cooked up some leftover bacon and eggs from the burgers the night before. I was too slow to get an egg but ate some bacon and toast.
We packed up and got into the truck. I sat next to Phillip again, but this time towards the back of the bus. Damien started the truck, but it wasn’t moving. After five minutes of sitting there, he turned off the engine, turned around, and said, “There is a problem with air not getting into the brakes, which won’t let us move. I’m going to check something out.”
Damien got out to look at the truck while the rest of us were worried. I told Armelle, who was sitting in front of me, “Oh my gosh. My car broke down in Broome, which is why I am on this tour. Now the truck is broken too! The universe does not want me in Darwin!” Armelle told me to hold out my hands and repeat after her. She said something about accepting positive energy from the universe, and I repeated her.
Just then, Damien got back into the truck, started it, and we were off. After a short drive, we arrived at Katherine Gorge. Damien walked us down the path to the start of the hike that climbed up the gorge. He paused and explained some things about the area, like the green ants. Their butts are neon green, and you can eat them. Apparently, the butts are sweet. Damien pulled one apart and ate it. We all passed on trying it. Damien didn’t continue on the climb to the top because he wanted to check the truck out.
The lookout point was beautiful! The gorge overlooked the Katherine River. The people in the group who were always rushing ahead took a wrong turn and had to turn back. I knew they were going the wrong way, and I enjoyed the view instead.
We climbed back down and got back into the truck. We drove to another location where we’d hike a mountain to a natural pool. We only had one hour there because the truck situation delayed us a bit.
My stomach was hurting, and I realized that I started my period. I was annoyed because it wasn’t supposed to start for at least a few more days. I only had one pad, and I asked Suzanne if she had any. She had some in her bag, but it was in the back of the truck.
We all hiked to the natural pool while Damian stayed behind again. I didn’t get inside the water because of my period, and I wasn’t wearing my swimsuit. I also didn’t realize we would be swimming that day. I put my legs inside but didn’t stay too long because I needed to get back to the truck to get Suzanne’s bag.
Suzanne and I left the pool and hiked back down to the truck. I told her that I could feel tension with Damien, but I wasn’t sure if he actually liked me. She told me that she thought he did because he was always paying attention to me, and it seemed clear to her there was interest.
I told Suzanne about a tour guide I had on a nine-day tour in Norway a few years earlier. He had a girlfriend, but after two days, he started to flirt very heavily with me. One night the two of us stayed up until midnight talking. We had a ton of inside jokes and sometimes shared drinks/food. But in the end, he said a quick goodbye and was off. I expected to at least stay in touch, but I haven’t heard from him since.
I feel like I’m a magnet for men who lead tours into nature. They’re often men that I get along with, am attracted to, and they seem to enjoy my company more than others in the group. But I was afraid this was exactly what would happen with Damien. I told Suzanne, “I’m afraid that Damien will also just disappear. Nothing will happen with him, and he won’t stay in touch.” Suzanne insisted that it wouldn’t happen because Damien liked me. I wasn’t convinced.
Suzanne was sitting in the front next to Damien that day. She talked to him about relationships and his upcoming trip to Switzerland. He told her that he liked German women because “they say what they mean and mean what they say.” He liked straight forward women. He didn’t like Australian women because he said they play games.
Suzanne also told me that she found out that he doesn’t want a serious relationship and doesn’t want kids. I explained to her that it was fine with me. With my travels, I wasn’t looking to date seriously. I don’t understand why people think it has to be a serious exclusive relationship or a hook-up. There are so many other ways to have a relationship with someone. Damien knew Suzanne was my bestie there, and I’m sure he knew that what he said to her would likely make its way back to me.
Suzanne told me, “You need to be straight forward and tell him that you like him. But you need to know it might only be a short physical fling.” Fear took over, “I can’t. I’ve been rejected too many times in the last two years. I can’t handle it. My heart can’t handle more rejection. I’m too sensitive. He’ll need to make a move.” I told Suzanne that she needed to help me with the situation.
We arrived back at the truck, and Damien stood in front of it, talking with another tour group guide. Suzanne and I walked to the back, opened the door, pulled down the stairs, and she climbed up to find her bag so she could give me some pads. I was standing on the stairs, trying to help her. As she rummaged through the luggage, Damien came to the back to fill up his water bottle from the spout outside the truck.
I knew he came over there because I was there. Standing above him on the stairs, I looked down at his bare feet and said, “Don’t your feet hurt?” He replied, “Not at all.” Suzanne continued to dig in the truck, trying to give us privacy.
I said, “You need a pedicure.” He laughed, “Naw, they just need to be cleaned. Wait until tonight. I will shower and clean them off, and when I walk into the bar, women will swoon at my feet!” I said, “I don’t think so.” He became more dramatic, “Oh yes! You will see these feet at the bar and won’t be able to resist! You’ll want to put your tongue through my toes!” I was disgusted, “No way! Not with feet!” Damien enjoyed making me squirm, and when Suzanne wasn’t looking, he made a sexual gesture.
Damien walked away, and Suzanne gave me her pads. As we walked to the restroom, she said, “See, he always comes to find you.” I used the restroom, and it was time to leave. Back on the truck, Damien was in a good mood and frequently on the microphone. He said he doesn’t like swimming in croc-infested areas because he doesn’t want to die from a crocodile. He told all of us, “If I die from a crocodile, here’s what they’ll say at my funeral: Damien was a bit of a dick. He was often socially awkward and strange.”
I thought, maybe Damien is self-aware after all. Damien continued, “But if I were to die by shark attack, they’ll say this at my funeral: He was a hero. He was a wonderful guy.” We all laughed as he explained, “Same person, but if you die by crocodile, you’re an idiot. Die by shark, and you’re a hero.”
We made a stop at McDonald’s in Katherine for the best coffee in town. As I waited for my coffee, I called the Greyhound station where I shipped my suitcase. I wanted to see if they were open past 5:00 pm because we might not get to town until close to 5:30 pm. I accidentally called the location in Broome, and they told me it was Saturday, and they were all closed. They wouldn’t be open until Monday. I was not happy because I wouldn’t have any clothes for the final farewell dinner we planned to have in Darwin that evening. I wanted just one night with some non-hiking, clean clothes.
A little bit later, we stopped at a park for lunch – the same old salad on wraps. I still had a bottle of white wine, and I didn’t want to waste it, so Suzanne and I drank it at lunch. We felt pretty good, and I took the last cup of it on the truck with me.
We continued to drive towards Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory. Damien was playing surprisingly happy music. He played songs like, Feel Like Making Love and Brown Eyed Girl. The wine made me tired, so I fell asleep. As we got closer to Darwin, Damien spoke on the microphone and gave information about the city.
Damien told us earlier that he would drop us off at our hotel as long as it was in the CBD (Central Business District). My Airbnb was about a mile from the CBD, so I was worried it would be too far away. I noticed on Google Maps that my Airbnb was coming up in a neighborhood. It was almost directly off the highway we were on. It would be a quick three-minute detour to let me off.
I walked up the aisle and leaned over the rectangular area towards Damien and said, “My Airbnb is in the neighborhood coming up. Can you just drop me off there?” While still speaking into the microphone, Damien said, “Wow, people just can’t wait to get off this truck. They can’t stand listening to my voice any longer. They are begging to get away from me.”
Flustered, I said, “It’s not that. You just said we had to be in the CBD.” Damien asked to see my phone, so I handed it to him. After looking at the map, he said, “That’s close enough to the CBD.” I was surprised that I hurt his feelings. I said, “I don’t care when I get dropped off. I just want to make sure that I do get dropped off.” He responded, “It’s fine. I’ll drop you off later.”
I walked back to my seat, and he passed my neighborhood. Damien drove around in a very inefficient manner, dropping people off at their hotels. On the second drop, he asked everyone to get their bags out of the back, so we’d be ready when he arrived near our places. Suzanne told me she was next, so she would sit in the back and that I should sit in the front. As I climbed up, I asked Damien, “I’m going to be dropped off last aren’t I?” He replied, “No, Nieve is near the airport. You’ll be second to last.”
As he drove around to each hotel, I told Damien he was mean the first two days but was so much better the last few days. He said, “I don’t think you realize just how sick I was when we started. I felt awful. My whole body hurt.” I explained, “You should have told us you were at 20% and not 80% then.”
It was down to just Damien and me in the front and Nieve in the back. As Damien pulled into the neighborhood where I was staying, he said, “Huh, this isn’t too far away from where we stay in the guide’s house.” I didn’t respond. Then in the microphone, he said, “If anybody left something in the truck, just call me.” Then he put the microphone down and turned towards me, “Well, I guess nobody has my phone number, huh?” I replied, “That’s true.”
We arrived at my Airbnb apartment complex, and I climbed out of the truck and got my bags from the back. I grabbed the cup I used for wine and put it in his bucket near his seat and said, “Sorry, I had wine after lunch, and here’s my cup.” As I climbed out, he said something that I couldn’t hear because the truck is so high up. I peeked in the front seat before Nieve got in and asked what he said. He said, “Nothing. Just said you did plenty of whining on the trip. It’s just a joke.” Ah, a dad joke. I shrugged because he was actually right; I did whine a lot.
I walked towards the building, and Brian, the owner, saw me from his balcony and waved me over. He let me in the gate, introduced me to his wife Amy, and showed me my room. They rented another room on Airbnb, and a French couple was currently staying there for a few months while they worked.
I didn’t have time to talk because it was 6:15 pm and dinner was at 7:15 pm. I jumped in the shower and then put on my mostly clean hiking pants. I had one non-hiking shirt that I wore the day before the trip began. I had washed it at one of the campsites, so at least I had that. I had to wear my dusty sneakers and only had time to blow dry my hair and quickly put on a bit of makeup. I put my Australian-American hat on and was ready to leave the house at 7:15 pm. Brian and Amy were headed downtown, so they graciously gave me a ride to the restaurant.
I walked into Moonson’s, which had outdoor and indoor seating. The restaurant/bar put several tables together for our large group in the outside patio near the entrance. Everyone made it to dinner except the three Swiss women who barely spoke to anyone. By the time I arrived, only three seats were left. Suzanne saved one for me, so I sat next to her. I was at the very end of the table with an empty chair on the end. The other empty chair was in the middle of the table. I was directly across from the group of four women who were a click. They were missing Nieve because she was the last to be dropped off and was running late.
As I predicted, Nieve showed up and sat in the chair on the end so she’d be close to her group. The server brought a couple of pitchers of beer and cider to our table, but any other drinks (and our food) would be on us. We waited to order food until Damien arrived and he was running late. He finally came around 8:00 pm and sat in the middle. He looked happy and practically skipped into the restaurant.
We ordered food, and then Suzanne and I went to the bar and ordered a bottle of red wine. At the bar, she kept trying to get me to say something to Damien, but I just couldn’t. I was feeling tired; maybe it was from the wine at lunch and the long day. I felt thrown off; perhaps it was because I started my period. Most of all, I was afraid of Damien. He is a large character, he’s smart, he’s a free-spirit, and can be very charismatic.
Suzanne and I sat back down. A few minutes later, she went to the front area to smoke. As soon as she got up from her seat, Damien slid over to her chair and sat next to me. “How’s your Airbnb?” he asked. I replied, “It’s good.” I was too nervous. I was too worried about what would or wouldn’t happen next. My attitude was short.
Damien continued talking and pointed out a group of young men standing close to the bar, “There you go. Some American military men for you.” Then he looked at the girls across from me and said, “Wink, wink.” I said, “No, thanks. I’ve already dated a military guy.”
I was confused. Why was Damien trying yet again to get me to hook up with other guys? He told me I should find Chris days earlier, and now he was pointing out other guys. Damien grabbed the nicotine in front of him and asked whose it was. I told him it was Suzanne’s, and he started to roll a cigarette for himself. The girls across the table began to hassle him, “You eat so healthy the whole trip, and then you go and smoke?” Damien pushed back, “Come on. Every once in a while, I like to enjoy a cigarette. Isn’t that okay?”
Suzanne came back and stood waiting for her seat, so Damien went back to his seat. Suzanne gave me a look like, “I told you. He always goes to you.” I updated her on what we talked about. Damien walked over to the tall tables near us. There was another tour group there, and he started talking to the guide. She was pretty, petite, and looked like a free spirit with her blonde dreadlocks and Indy vibe. It made me feel stupid for even liking Damien. That’s the type of girl he likes, not someone like me.
Our food finally arrived, and we all ate. People started moving around chairs, and some people left. I sat at the other end near Brock, Oliver, Linda, and Kayla. Brock wasn’t feeling well from drinking the night before and looked like it. We all chatted, and Damien was somewhat involved in the conversation.
I went back to my chair, and Suzanne was smoking with Damien in the front area. When she came back, she told me, “Christy, you don’t want Damien. While I was talking to him, he was staring at all the women walking into the bar with their boobs showing. Seriously, he couldn’t even focus. It was so disrespectful.”
I was disappointed. The second day that I met Damien and played some of my music, two popular pop songs came up, and the lyrics were about cheating or something about players. He teased me, saying, “I bet you have some Justin Bieber songs on there.” I tried explaining that I did not, but sometimes I liked pop songs. Then he went on a rant, “That’s the problem. Women listen to these songs and think that’s what men want and how men think. Then they act that way when that’s not how real men are.” Frustrated, I tried to explain to him that wasn’t the case for me; I just liked the tunes.
Hearing that Damien disrespected my friend by staring at women wearing hardly any clothes was disheartening. Damien was a hypocrite. He pretended to be above all of that nonsense and that he was a higher quality person. But in real life, he was unable to control himself. Damien was just like every other man. I wanted to tell him, “Women don’t think that’s what men want because of songs. They think that because of behavior like that.”
I also took that as a sign that he was not interested in me. Linda was standing up on the opposite side of the table, talking to a guy. I walked over, and he introduced himself – James from Melbourne. He was 35 and was in town with friends for the horse races. Damien was sitting in his chair across the table, and suddenly I noticed he was saying goodbye to people.
I quickly walked over to Suzanne, and she said, “He’s leaving. You have to say something. It’s now or never. Don’t have regrets.” I told her, “I can’t. It’s going to be just like the tour guide in Norway. He’ll disappear, and I’ll never see him again.” Suzanne insisted, “This is your last chance.”
I looked up to say goodbye, but Damien had already made his way around the table and was gone. I looked towards the entrance, and he was just stepping outside, past the two-foot white fence. I ran after him and tapped his shoulder. He turned around, “Oh! Hey! Sorry!” He went in to hug me, and I only slightly hugged him while saying, “You were going to leave without saying goodbye?”
Damien said, “I went all the way around the table. I must have missed you.” He hugged me again, and I didn’t hug him back while I kept my arms straight. He laughed and said, “Come on.” I sighed, “Why are you leaving already?” He replied, “This isn’t my scene. I usually leave by 9:00 pm.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket, and the clock said 10:00 pm. He chimed in, “See! I’ve stayed an extra hour.”
I was struggling to voice what I wanted to say. I wanted to say, “I like you. Can I leave with you?” Instead, fear of rejection took over me. I stumbled, repeating myself asking why he’s leaving. He said, “I’m going to spend the next three days eating broccoli and making sure I’m healthy for my flight to Europe. You know how it is.” I pleaded, “But why are you leaving?” He tipped my hat and said, “It’s just like that.” I asked, “Are you making fun of my hat?” He laughed, “No. It’s like your hat. I’m off with the sunset.” I wasn’t accepting it, “But why?” He insisted, “That’s how these things work.” He hugged me again, and I hugged back.
Damien walked away, and I turned back to the entrance. They told me I needed to go to the side entrance since it was after 10:00 pm and now a nightclub. I walked to the side, and they asked for $10. I tried to explain that I didn’t have my purse because it was inside, and I just stepped outside to say goodbye to someone. They weren’t budging.
I walked back to the street and headed in the direction that Damien walked. A block and a half later, I caught up. He had turned the corner and was looking at his phone. I tapped his shoulder and said, “They won’t let me back inside.” He said, “No, that’s ridiculous. Come with me.”
As we walked back to the bar, I said, “You were mean to me the whole time.” He explained, “You’ve been in Australia long enough to know that if we give you a hard time, it’s because we like you.” I wanted him to say he liked me. I pushed further, “But you were mean to me the whole ten days.” He continued, “We Australians only give people crap if we know they can handle it.”
We arrived at the entrance, and they instructed us to the side again. At the side, Damien explained that I only stepped outside the gate to say goodbye, and I was part of a tour group. They insisted that I pay the $10, so Damien walked over to a girl a few steps away. He explained it to her and kept stressing that I was part of a tour group. She reluctantly said, “Fine, but she’ll need to come in with me.”
As I started to walk away from Damien to follow the girl, I angrily said, “You were right. You’re worse than Chris.” I stormed off as he breathed an angry breath. I got back inside and found Suzanne. Most people had left at this point except for Linda and Kayla. I sat next to Suzanne at a small table, and a few tears fell down my cheek.
I told Suzanne what happened and how much I regretted it. She tried to comfort me and told me he wasn’t good for me, anyway. I was angry. I felt like all the flirting and leading me on was for nothing. I didn’t even get to make-out with him. The entire time I knew that was how it would end. I could feel it in my bones. It’s why I often tried to avoid him. I knew that for him, I was entertainment. People always tell me that I’m a great conversationalist.
Two different times in my life, a guy at a party has told me, “I love talking with you. I wish I could put you in my pocket and pull you out whenever I want.” That’s how I felt with Damien. He liked having me around when it was convenient, he liked flirting, and he enjoyed picking on me.
I entertained Damien for a ten-day trip that he’s done many times. In the many years that he’s been guiding, I thought about how many women he probably flirted with. How many women he was amused by. For him, it keeps things interesting. For me, it was painful. For me, it was yet another man that I liked who didn’t want anything more than to satisfy his own desires.
The loud music from the DJ was in full swing, and people were on the dance floor. The place was filling up with party-goers, and I sat at a table in tears. I couldn’t help it. I tried my best to hold it in, but as Suzanne talked, tears just ran down my cheeks. I felt rejected, and I was disappointed nothing happened, not even a kiss. I didn’t even have a way of staying in touch with him.
I briefly got it together while I talked with Suzanne. Ten minutes later, Suzanne’s Uber arrived to take her to the airport for her red-eye flight. We hugged, and she said, “It’s not goodbye. It’s ‘see you later!’” I watched her get into her Uber and drive away. I walked back to the table where Kayla and Linda were standing nearby, talking to those guys from earlier. Tears continued to trickle down my cheeks.
Saying goodbye to so many people all at once was too much for me. I looked around at the people having fun, and I didn’t want to convince myself that I was okay and stop crying. I wanted to cry, and I wanted to go home. I said goodbye to Linda and Kayla and ordered an Uber. After I got into the car, the driver asked how my night was. I reassured him, “It was great.” Then I sat in silence as I lost control of my tears once again. I tried my very best not to make noise and hoped that he couldn’t see me crying in the dark.
I got back to my Airbnb and curled up into bed. I cried and cried. I couldn’t take the constant “goodbyes” and losing people. It had been over a year of meeting people, building a relationship, and then suddenly saying goodbye. When I’m with people for a few days all at once and suddenly alone again, the emptiness is too strong for me to handle. I get a glimpse of being around people – laughing, learning, and creating. Then it’s all gone in an instance.
Suzanne had become a very good friend, and saying goodbye right after Damien was just too much. I also said goodbye to Kayla, Oliver, Brock, Grace, Armelle, and Linda. The quietness of being alone was deafening. I couldn’t sleep.
I was also angry. My Airbnb host in Broome told me that my car broke down for a reason. It was because I was meant to go on this tour. How could this be the reason? To tease me with relationships with people? Introduce me to people only to rip them away?
I thought about all of the time I spent with them. Ten days nonstop – the laughs, learning about other cultures, and exploring a virtually untouched and incredibly beautiful landscape.
Oliver from the Netherlands – his sweet, intelligent, and fun soul was always a joy to be around. He always made me laugh, and I had so many good conversations with him.
Kayla – the adorable Australian. The innocent and caring flower child. Through incredibly optimistic eyes, she saw the world and had such excitement about what this life has in store for her. Her curiosity was endearing.
Brock – the Australian student-athlete who had a dad joke for every situation. He was goofy, light-hearted, friendly, and a hard worker. He has a bright future ahead of him.
Grace from Taiwan – her sweet, sometimes naive nature, was heartwarming. She didn’t seem to have a bad bone in her body. When Damien told her to yell at the group to “hurry the f*ck up!” she peacefully changed it to, “Please hurry up, guys.”
Armelle – the opinionated woman from France. She has studied a lot and knows a lot. She wasn’t afraid of sharing her opinions, and I appreciate that. We often didn’t agree, but we were able to be friends anyway. I enjoyed her insights.
Linda – the sometimes socially awkward girl from The Netherlands. She’s beautiful, and sometimes people took advantage of her. She was traveling and working for a year around Australia. I admired her courage to go on this journey of self-discovery.
And of course, Suzanne, the spit-fire professor from France who was living in Belgium. She inadvertently spoke to me in French a few times, and I somehow knew what she was saying based on her facial expressions and body movement.
Suzanne taught me so many things, like being more direct and expressing myself. She encouraged me, laughed with me, and goofed-off with me. She was my bestie because we understood each other. I loved her zest for life and her sometimes dramatic nature. She was a good friend.
It was all too much. I cried out to God, letting him know I couldn’t keep doing this. I couldn’t keep meeting people and then losing them. I was sad after leaving my group in Thailand, too, and felt the emptiness of the apartment there. This time was worse. Maybe it was because I had spent the majority of the last four months alone. Perhaps it was because we spent ten very full days together, eating together, sleeping near each other, riding in a truck for hours each day, and hiking together. We never had alone time.
The pain, sadness, loss, and loneliness hit me like a brick. It magnified everything with Damien. From the moment I met him, I knew I was going to like him. He was tall; I liked his long hair and his rugged look. He was intelligent and was an independent thinker. He was strong enough to handle my debates and opinions. Sometimes I’m sarcastic, and sometimes I can be a jerk. He was capable of handling it.
I cried on and off for most of the night. I was grateful that my room was far away from the homeowners and the other guest room. I have cried in many Airbnbs, so I am used to being quiet. I tossed and turned all night, hoping those feelings would pass.
To see a video of the ten-day tour, click here. You can also watch on your smart TV using the Vimeo App (or google search), and searching Australia Adventure Tour.
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Post Edited By: Mandy Strider