Guns, Gropers, and Great People


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August 7th 2014
Published: September 2nd 2014
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When I joined this site back in December 2007 it never occurred to me I would write 100 blogs. I started because I was travelling to Guatemala, and a number of people were curious about this destination, so instead of cluttering up their email I started a blog. It wasn't my first trip or my first travel diary, and I knew it wouldn't be my last, but I never dreamed I would write 100.

My first airplane trip was when I was 11 years old, with my friend Tracey. We flew to Westport in New Zealand’s South Island, to stay with her grandmother in the tiny town of Waimangaroa. I can’t remember what time of the year it was, but I remember it was grey, overcast and a little rainy, although I’ve visited the West Coast since and that could describe it at any time of the year. Back then, probably still today, it was a mining town. Tracey’s uncle worked in one of the mines and I remember going to Granity and her uncle taking us to the mine at Denniston where he worked. Even then I remember it being small, but today the Denniston mine has been closed down and it’s a virtual ghost town. This trip sticks in my mind because even aged 11, I was excited about visiting somewhere I’d never been, getting on a plane, visiting the South Island, and new experiences. I thought the coal mine was really exciting! And interesting!

It was probably about a year later that I went overseas for the first time. My parents have friends who had relocated from NZ to Australia and I had been invited for the August school holidays at their holiday house in Surfers Paradise. I flew over on my own, in the care of the Stewardesses.

It was warm in the Gold Coast, and although I’m sure I wasn’t left entirely to my own devices, I remember having the freedom to wander around on my own soaking up the sights in what I considered a very exotic and exciting place. I have vivid memories of “Grundys”, an entertainment centre which (as well as being named after underpants – what child could fail to be amused already) had waterslides and a game arcade. I went to the beach and marvelled at how warm it was in August. Surfers Paradise had bikini clad meter maids that fed coins to meters that were about to expire. I saw giant cockroaches, two of them fighting on the pavement, and was both horrified and curious at the same time.

It was a while before my next overseas holiday, this time to the Cook Islands, where my then boyfriend’s father worked for the New Zealand Government. I had a month off in the university holidays and it was the stuff of dreams – warm balmy weather, beautiful beaches, and free accommodation at the official New Zealand residence. The food was delicious, mostly prepared by the cook, my clothes were laundered daily by the maid, a cleaner serviced my room, and we had a seemingly endless supply of beer – all of this funded by the New Zealand tax payer I assume. After so many days of sunshine and swimming, the tropical cyclone that swept past the island in my final days just added an extra pinch of spice to our adventure.

My first true adventure was to Vietnam in December 1996. Back then I always chose window seats, and I remember the thrill of looking out the window as we flew over Australia and seeing the
2008 Guatemala, Flores, with Lucy2008 Guatemala, Flores, with Lucy2008 Guatemala, Flores, with Lucy

Travel companion extraordinaire!
vast red earth. I must’ve napped because several hours later I looked excitedly out the window and we were still somewhere over Australia, and the red earth went on and on. We finally reached Ho Chi Minh City; I looked out the window and was breathless at the beautiful scenery.

Several years later these memories were my saviour when claustrophobia was beginning to threaten my plane trips. I would get in the plane and all I could think was that I was going to be sitting trapped in a steel cage and unable to escape. The idea of being unable to fly is a death knoll to a traveller and I knew I had to overcome it, so started looking for a cure. One of the visits I made was to a NLP practitioner, who went through a number of exercises, however the one that really worked was a visualisation, invoking an earlier time of being on a plane and having a really positive memory. This is the one thing that I still come back to if my claustrophobia threatens. I close my eyes and remember the thrill, the exhilaration, of looking out the window and seeing scenery so utterly different from anything I’d seen before, dense and lush greenery with waterways snaking through it, and the nervous excitement and anticipation about what Vietnam might offer me.

A few days later I met up with my brother and a friend of his, who had come straight from Hogmanay still clad in their winter wardrobe. We experienced for the first time the treacherous roads and the busses that careened carelessly around the hills, and learned not to sit at the front agreeing it was better not to know what dangers were coming. We sweated in the hot sultry beach towns, savoured delicious new flavours in run-down restaurants in alleyways, and were humbled by stories of wartime hardships and then in ‘re-education camps’ . We jumped on the back of motorbikes and marvelled at the other motorbikes and their loads – families of five, building supplies dwarfing the driver, cages of snakes.

Three weeks later I was back in New Zealand and the bug had well and truly bitten. It wasn’t long after my trip to Vietnam that I was off on the great Kiwi OE, basing myself in London and travelling to Europe for weekends. It seemed the world was on my doorstep.

Those days were all long ago, however since then I have almost always had a trip on the go or in the planning stages. When looking at new destinations there’s always a little spark in the belly and a frisson of excitement of what might be ahead.

When you travel, your senses are all fully engaged – new sights, colours, sounds, tastes, smells, experiences – you feel truly alive. Even the times when things are all going wrong…..: Like when our passports were stolen in Italy and I shared a train carriage with the man who kept groping me and I had to fight him off with a plastic water bottle on my way to Rome ……Or when we finally arrived in Chichicastenango after 48 hours of travel and we hadn’t slept, we were beyond hungry, then got dumped on the side of the road with all our luggage and had to elbow our way through the festival crowds to find our accommodation, secretly terrified……..Or being robbed at gunpoint in a taxi in the back streets of La Boca, surrounded by men scrabbling at us for money.

It’s funny how these memories are quickly forgotten (well maybe not the gunman). What you never forget however is the people, and that's probably the best thing about travel. Simultaneously your world perspective is bigger and broader, but also the world gets smaller as you meet and talk to people from around the world who all have the same hopes and dreams. Whether it's the travel companions you started with, fellow travellers you meet along the way, the locals who show you kindness and share their stories; these are always the memories that have stayed with me.

The worst question that anyone can ask, is "what's your favourite country?" Over the years I haven't neglected my own backyard, and I have enjoyed numerous holidays and road trips with friends around New Zealand. So if anyone’s asking, my favourite country is New Zealand. You just can’t beat going home. Just promise me you'll never ask me what my second favourite country is, I'm still looking. The travel bug - it's well and truly bitten and it's very addictive.


"We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if

only we seek them with our eyes open.”


Jawaharlal Nehru








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2nd September 2014

Happy memories
100! As you know, I stopped blogging after my Mum told me that she preferred reading your blogs to mine (I like to think that is because she prefers a personalised communication, but of course it's likely to be because you write so well). Lovely to see some old photos - many happy trips! I am off to Hawaii for a week on Saturday - hardly exotic, but I still have the same feeling of excitement and anticipation at the thought of going somewhere I've never been before. Sadly as another US state I don't get to add it to my tally of countries, but travel is of course about much more than ticking different destinations on the list.
2nd September 2014

Happy memories!
We have definitely had some great trips together, it was fun going through the old photos ..... we will have to start planning our next one. Still keen on a walking holiday in Victoria? We will have to start thinking dates. Hawaii sounds great, I've never been! I'm off to Cambodia in 10 days and can't wait. Any trips to Sydney planned?
2nd September 2014

Congratulations on your 100th blog...
and we feel honored to be included in the pictures of your travels and TB family. Dinner with you and David and Denise at your apartment overlooking Sydney harbour was the highlight of our trip to the South Pacific and Australia. So now you are off to Cambodia! We look forward to reading your blogs.
2nd September 2014

Thanks Bob, it was really lovely to meet you and Linda, and Will. It's been one of the real surprises and pleasures of this travelblogging site, the ability to meet so many other like minded and interesting individuals. We will have to meet again somewhere!
2nd September 2014

Grundys
Congratulations on reaching 100 blogs - a fine century! Grundys is not a word I've heard in a long, long time. I spent my teenage years living on the Gold Coast and our family would often go to Grundys to play the games in the arcade, have a meal and watch people career down the water slides!
2nd September 2014

Grundys
Thanks Shane! I loved Grundys, all that a 12 year old from the middle of nowhere could dream of. I had never been on a water slide before then. The start of the travelling life!
2nd September 2014
2012, San Francisco, meeting Dave and Merry Jo (D MJ Binkley)

Happy 100th!
Wow, great stuff. The world seems so much smaller now doesn't it? It is always fun to think about those early trips that made such impressions and how they formed our future decisions. Keep blogging keep traveling.
2nd September 2014
2012, San Francisco, meeting Dave and Merry Jo (D MJ Binkley)

Small world
Thanks! You're right, the world keeps getting smaller. It was so lovely to meet you in San Francisco, i often think about how we can organise another meet up somewhere. One of these days!!
2nd September 2014

The World is fun 'cause of the people in it
Your first century and no sign of weariness slowing you down...nah...just warming up me thinks. What a delightful 100th blog Rachael...full of happy memories...photos of happy companions...surrounded by your smiles. Our pleasure to have shared some happy moments with you...read or heard your adventures...looking forward to many more.
2nd September 2014

The world is fun 'cause of the people in it
You're right, it's all about the people. I was remembering a story this morning ..... my brother and his family went to Edinburgh to spend Christmas with his wife's family. They went via Germany for the Christmas markets, went to London, visited Hogwarts...had all kinds of adventures. I asked my niece (6 years old) later what her favourite thing was on her holiday and she thought about it a while before saying, "seeing Granny and Grandpa". She hit the nail on the head - it's all about the people!
2nd September 2014
2010, an Argentinian feast on Stella's last night

Congratulations!
What a fine 100th blog! It's so great to read of your travels over the years and that trip at 11 that's inspired you ever since. Congratulations on overcoming your fear of flying--I imagine that wasn't such an easy thing to do. And just think--it led you to amazing adventures with robbers, guns, gropers, and great people and food everywhere. Looking forward to your next 100.
2nd September 2014
2010, an Argentinian feast on Stella's last night

100 blogs
Thanks Tara! I'm looking forward to the next 100 too. The wonderful thing is I have no idea what's ahead.....that's the beauty of it!
3rd September 2014

Happy 100th Blog! xx
And here's to another 100! Loved reading this one Rachael. Thanks for sharing your childhood travel stories...it made me think back to my first plane trip too. (p.s. I read Tara's comment, and I think you should consider changing the heading of this blog to 'guns, gropers and great people' :) )
3rd September 2014

100 blogs
Thanks Ren! Yes, you're right, "guns, gropers and great people" is an excellent title! Thanks both Tara and Ren.... I did also seriously consider "Still prattling on..." but that one is much better :)

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