Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rainy Day Reminiscing

Yesterday’s blog got me to thinking about Europe and travel in general and how I’m way overdue for a trip across the pond. I also think that rainy days turn me into some sort of wistful sentimental sap. So bear with me. My mystery reader turned out to be a dear old friend from Australia that I had met in Spain more than 30 years ago. (I believe a rowdy rendition of Waltzing Matilda got my attention originally). At the time, I considered someone from Australia almost exotic. Their accents were rarely heard where I came from and as it was on the other side of the world; it held a certain mystique to me. I used to lie in bed as a young girl and spin my dented metal globe around and around and dream of the places I wanted to see one day. Australia was a big pink blob on my twirling sphere. It was a far away land. I never imagined that one day I would not only meet an Aussie in person, I would actually make the pilgrimage down under in 1979. A weathered traveler by then, twelve European countries under my belt, I was ready to tackle the South Pacific. After living (as in, I managed to stay alive) in Banff for a year or so, my friend Linda and I saved our pennies until we had enough to strap on our packs and go. It didn’t take a lot back then. Less than two thousand dollars is my recollection (and that included the air fare!) We started off on a six week tour of the Hawaiian Islands, just to get warmed up. We hitched rides and camped most of the time. The best campsite was on the floor of The Haleakala Crater. I spent half the night waiting for the rumored wild boars to attack. They never did show up, but a few nasty aggressive geese took a run at us. An unfortunate car accident laid us up for a few days in a hotel in Maui so after that we rented a car. My family came to Honolulu for Christmas, so we got to stay in a hotel for awhile again – a luxury after our two-man tent. Our open ticket allowed for stops along the way, so we figured Fiji or Tahiti sounded good. We chose the former. I’m sure Fiji is wonderful – it was hard to tell as we arrived during monsoon season and spent the entire time walking around in a torrential downpour. After 10 straight days of beyond wet weather and giant cockroaches, we decided to get out of Dodge and headed for the land of my childhood dreams. I’ll never forget the feeling of absolute glee when the plane landed. I think I expected to see kangaroos on the runway. We spent six weeks in the land down under. We hooked up with my Australian friends, Jeff and Steve, and they rolled out the red carpet for us in Queensland. This time I really did see some “roos” and roadside “pie” stands and lived and ate and drank with their family and friends in a small town called Maryborough. I ate fresh oysters (washed down with Fosters) for the first time in my life and toured the area on the back of a motorcycle. I learned new words like “fair dinkum” and “Sheila” and “mate”. The dream had become a reality. I was 21. The final leg of our journey took us to New Zealand. Call it poor planning, but I arrived in Auckland with fifty bucks left in my wallet. I had to find a job, and find one fast. We spent a few days with another friend I had met in Europe. Her family kindly fed and sheltered us and set us on the road to Wellington and the Nelson area where it was thought we would find work on an apple orchard. They were right. We hitched a ride from Wellington to Nelson and the man who picked us up knew a farmer and he delivered us and introduced us and the next day we were employed. It was that simple. We worked long enough (about 6 weeks) to reload our wallets and spent the next month touring the rest of the country. It was paradise. I think it is the most beautiful place I have ever been. From Christchurch to Queenstown to the rugged west coast of the South Island and back to the North Island. I hiked on the Hooker Track and gazed upon Mt. Cook, and stood on the northernmost tip of the coast of the North Island and held myself firm against gale force winds. It was the most alive I had ever been in my life. You never forget that.

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