"Are we lost?" Erin asked. I sighed. "No. We are not lost. I know exactly where we are."
She gave me a look. "So, where are we?"
I paused, surveying the area. We'd spent the last twenty minutes walking the parapet of a ruined stone wall, twenty feet above the forest floor. The jungle was silent, deep and green. A stone face watched our wanderings from a crumbling gate, like some aged grandfather tolerating errant children.
"We're in Angkor," I said at last.
"That's very helpful. thanks. I'm pretty sure our tuk-tuk driver has given us up for dead."
"He was going to meet us at Bayon."
"Two hours ago."
"We just have to get there, and we'll be good," I said, full of confidence. I pulled out our small area map and stared it for a moment. Then I pointed back at the stone visage. "That's the Victory Gate. We're standing on the outer wall of Angkor Thom... right about here, I think. If we just keep going south, we'll hit the East Gate, and then we can circle back to Bayon on this road here."
Erin studied the map over my shoulder.
"The East Gate." She sounded skeptical.
"Yeah. Right there," I pointed.
"The one that's also labelled the Gate of the Dead?"
"I suppose so," I replied.
"I was kidding about being dead, before." Then her eyes narrowed. "This isn't going to be like that time in Ireland, is it?"
I frowned. "Um... maybe?"
"You don't remember when we got lost in Ireland?" She stared at me. Then elaborated, "The ruined tower you spotted from the road and just had to get a closer look at? The one with the bull?"
I felt the lightbulb go on. "Okay, that was not my fault. For one thing, how was I supposed to know that farmer kept his herd penned up in a field around the tower? It's not like he put up a sign."
"He did put up a sign. It was on the fence we climbed to break in."
I ignored her. "Anyway, this is totally different. We're on a wall. They don't keep bulls on walls."
"We're in Cambodia. In the jungle. Have you seen the size of the spiders here?" She shook her head. "I swear, when it comes to ruins you're like a little kid."
"I am not," I pouted. Then I saw another crumbling structure through the trees. "Oh! Look at that! Come on!" I scurried off.
Erin sighed and followed.
To my delight, the East Gate was more tumbledown than the Victory Gate, and considerably less trafficked. But the elephant carvings remained beautiful.
"See? No zombies or anything," I said. "The Gate of the Dead is just a big pile of rocks. Really cool rocks."
Erin stared at the carvings. "I will admit, that is prettyawesome."
I glanced behind us. Thick trees hung over a muddy, rutted road. Supposedly, it was the way to Bayon (aka, the personal temple of king Jayavarman VII) and the main complex of Angkor Thom, but it looked abandoned. I began to wonder if I really had gotten us lost, but shook it away. If I was right, just down there was the Terrace of the Leper King, the royal temple of Bayon, and the ruins of an ancient city. Even thinking about it left me jittery. "Anyway, you ready to head on?"
Erin caught my tone. "You're like a schoolboy on his way to see Star Wars for the first time."
"Fine, so I'm excited. You're the one who wanted to get up and watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat."
"Yes. And if our camera lens hadn't fogged over in the humidity, we'd have had some great shots," Erin fumed. Then she shrugged. "Though maybe it's better this way. We got to enjoy it, instead of staring at it through our Canon."
"And now we're enjoying a ruined city!" I countered.
"We're lost. Don't forget that part."
I shook my head. "We're not lost. We're exploring. And I already explained how I know exactly where we are."
Erin raised an eyebrow. Then she waved toward the road with a smile. "Well lead on, Indiana."
It took thirty minutes to hike in along the dirt track. And the whole way, there was no indication we were anywhere other than remote Cambodian wilderness. We are not lost. We are not lost. We are not lost. My mental litany didn't make me feel better.
Until the trees opened, and Bayon stretched in front of us, misty and gorgeous.
The outer walls were covered in carvings, relief sculptures of daily life in Khmer, of battles and farming and other things. I was in heaven, scampering between scenes. Erin followed more slowly, but I could see she was getting excited.
Just beyond, Bayon became a maze of narrow corridors and dimly lit hallways. This was the royal temple of Jayavarman VII, one of the most important site in the Angkor complex, and it was decorated to match. There were carvings, narrow altars, and endless stairs leading toward the peak. At last, we emerged on a veranda surrounded by towers. And each one was covered in stone visages.
The morning sun finally burned away the mist, leaving a clear, blue sky. Which only made the setting more striking.
And now it was Erin's turn at giddy glee, as she clambered around the towers. She stared up into the smiling faces and poked in every shadowed corridor. I even caught her humming the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. She broke off when she caught me grinning at her.
I shook my head. "Oh, nothing."
"That's right," she said. Then went back to humming.
PS. Later, we did manage to find our tuk-tuk driver (the man had a saint's patience) and we got a few shots of Angkor as well, coming back for sunset.