Have you ever hit a troubled spot in your life, wondered what you’ve done to deserve it, gone back to find where you went wrong, and realized you can’t? Go back there. Do life over and do it right this time. That you can never get those years back? That’s where I am in my life right now. I’ve traced my life back to a time and place 23 years ago where I took a wrong turn. But the water under it has washed the bridge back away. I can’t go back and I can’t make up to the people I’ve hurt in those 23 years.
Only Father can. In some instances He can make the way clear to take us back to where we missed the plan for our lives and thereafter guide us along the upward path. Praise be to Him.
I’m like an ancient Israelite having gone into idolatry and been divorced by YHWH. Now He’s using signposts of my life to show me THE WAY BACK TO ISRAEL.
Let’s pick up my trail to find the place my road forked and I started to follow a lower path instead of the higher one. Interestingly enough it all started in Israel, but the trail took me a little time and a lot of travel to arrive there.
We left off the previous part of my journey in the Drummoyne house in Sydney, in the posts Crowded House, Dave, and Juanita’s Revenge. When the house was sold we all had to move out. Michael and I found a flat in a converted hospital called Sunbury in Ashfield. It was near our friends, Marlene and Tony, with their big white dog, Chelsea, whom Juanita would visit whenever the urge took her. To get to their place, she would have to cross busy Canterbury Road, and would patiently wait at the traffic lights with the other pedestrians for a green WALK sign.
It was soon after, Michael and I broke up. Living in sin never did work for me. I did it twice. It’s based on lust without true love or committment. Marriages must have these too or they will not work either. We decided to remain friends, as we were going overseas two months later. Travelling with an ex made it very easy for us as we were so familiar and comfortable with each other. We argued a lot, but Michael was such a lovely man and we got on as friends so well it did not deter us.
One year before we left, both of us put $5000 each into a term-investment account. The interest paid for our tickets. We also paid for those tickets a year in advance, saving us all the fare increases during that time. This paid for our backpacks and sleeping bags which we bought for each other’s birthdays anyway. I still have that precious sleeping bag that kept me warm in sixty-something countries, though the zip has been broken and it has holes in it where I once used it to put out a fire in my bedroom.
One day I brought home a little tent. Michael said, “Never!” but I put it up in the back yard to show him it would fit both of us and our packs inside. So we took it. How glad we were later to have it. Michael carried the poles and pegs while I carried the nylon part and storm cover. Or was it the other way round?
For our send-off my parents came down to Sydney. All our friends and family were there. Carrying my 20 kg backpack into the airport, I wondered how I would ever manage to lug it around the world. It was before I later went to Africa I sent it home full of souvenirs and presents collected in London, and downsized to one half as big. I had discovered, as a wise man once said–Confucious I think–that on a journey even a straw weighs heavy.
Michael and I had decided to travel first through North and South America before ‘hitting’ Europe. Because at that time South America was the unknown and unconventional. That’s me! Who wants to do what or go where everyone else is? It was 1982. Few Australians travelled to South America in those days. We were unable even to get a direct flight that didn’t cost a small fortune. So our first stop was San Francisco where we stayed in Oakland with the family of a huge Afro-American named Ozzie, whom Michael had met in Australia. He was a darling, and so were his mother and aunt. I never did find out if they survived the earthquake that so devastated that suburb a few years later. I hope so.
Our footsteps then took us to Los Angeles where we met a Melbournian named Chris who was also going to South America. But Chris had lost his passport so couldn’t continue til later. We arranged to meet him in either Mexico City or Guayaquil in Ecuador. Ever southward we went, to San Diego, staying with friends whom Colin and Dave (see post Dave) had met there.
MEXICO, BELIZE, AND HONDURAS
Mexico. Dirty, crowded, cheap. No Chris at the train station as arranged. Disappointing, but after seeing the sights for a week in that immense city of nine million people, it was off to the Yucatan Peninsula and the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Ever downwards to Belize which will forever remain one of the favoured countries I have ever visited. At the border we caught the Batty Bus the name of which I thought was a joke. But no, it was owned by the Batty brothers of Belize City! On one of the tiny islands, Cay Caulker, in the Caribbean, we enjoyed a few days camping, eating barbecued lobster and homemade bread every evening. The fishermen would sell us their catch that was too small to legally export. From Belize we took a motor boat on an eight-hour trip to Honduras. It was horrible and I was seasick. Honduras was a shock with its poverty and street beggars.
Due to a recession in the Americas at that time, in every Latin American country we went our American dollar traveller’s cheques were worth gold to exchange. In Costa Rica we took a train east the furthermost point, a village on the coast to stay one night. I’d borrowed a Spanish language book and read it until the early hours. As I was just about to turn out the light I noticed in our very budget accommodation, cockroaches everywhere, just waiting to swarm all over us. Ugh, how I hate cockroaches. The thought of it made my skin crawl. What to do? I took out our little can of Aerogard and nearly emptied it spraying the stuff around us. It’s a wonder we didn’t die of toxic poisoning! But it either must have done the trick or I was so tired I didn’t feel them while I slept.
FROM PANAMA TO COLUMBIA
From Panama we flew over the Darien Gap between Central and South America, avoiding a ten-day jungle hike to Columbia. Once there, in the town of Medellin, at the bus station, Michael went to buy tickets to our next stop: the border with Ecuador, as I stood outside waiting. We’d been warned about Columbia, one of the most dangerous places on Earth. All our money, documents, and traveller’s cheques were hidden either under our clothes or in our shoes. However we had forgotten one thing. Innocent me, standing there, someone ran past and grabbed for my watch. A quick-witted lady next to me reached out to stop the theft, as did I, and together we saved it, though with a broken band. The thief ran off into the crowd. I ran inside the bus station to warn Michael to take off his watch!
On the bus, three times we were delayed at the landslides common to Columbia’s rain-soaked mountainous, jungle roads. And that’s where I learned to speak Spanish. It was a matter of having to as not a single Columbian on that bus spoke English. I used my little phrase book and dictionary to pick my way through conversations with those delightful people.
At one slide a motorcyclist had nearly lost his life when he heard the falling mountain rumbling. He’d ditched the bike and ran. We had to await bulldozers to come clear the road before resuming the journey. The trip to the border took three days instead of about ten hours.
It was the middle of the night when we reached Ecuador. Our Columbian bus driver graciously helped us to cross the border and the border guards to find us a bus going to Quito, capital of Ecuador and the world’s highest city. Though we were near the equator, it was cold.
Quito is an old and incredibly interesting city, but we only got to spend one night there, much to our disappointment. At 7 am next morning we boarded a curious bus on train tracks to take us to Guayaquil on the coast, to hopefully meet up with Chris before he left. The trip took us past Ecuador’s snow-covered active volcano, Cotopaxi.
Once on the coast, Michael and I rushed out of the bus-cum-train station downtown to a certain prearranged hotel, and there he was, patiently waiting. How nice to see a fellow Aussie where in most of these towns, cities, and countries, not only hadn’t they ever met an Australian, the people had never heard of our nation.
PERU AND BOLIVIA
So the journey continued. Into the deserts on the west coast of Peru, south to Lima where the hotel at which we stayed boasted of freezing cold showers which I managed to brave in order to wash my long hair. Thence up into the Andes by various modes of transport: bus, truck, and train to the red mud buildings of Cuzco, and the Lost City of the Incas. Preferring the scenic route, the guys and I chose to CLIMB the mountain up to Macchu Picchu instead of paying for the bus. I think it’s about a kilometre high. I got my second wind, leaving Michael and Chris far behind, which none too pleased them. All that running with Juanita back in Sydney paid off. Llamas came and tried to eat our lunch of tinned fish. It really was a spectacular place. Better than the travel brochures depict.
And Cuzco was amazing too. One day we hiked up to the Altiplano to see the ruins of Sacsayhuaman with its gigantic stones fit together so perfectly no one knows how it was done or where the great stones came from, requiring technology more advanced than for which our modern methods allow. If you look on Wikipedia, you can see a panorama of it with Cuzco in the background in the valley below. Being so high, this height at 3700 m gave us altitude sickness, whereupon on our descent to the city we stopped in a tea shop to recover. They very appropriately served us cacao tea from the raw leaves out of which cocaine is made. It is an antidote for just about everything in Bolivia where the people chew it addictively.
In Bolivia the bottom had dropped out of their currency making us rich. In La Paz we stayed in an upmarket hotel for pennies. A train took us out to the highest lake in the world–Lake Titicaca–with its islands made of reeds. Walking on these islands is like striding across a water-bed with a leak in it. My sneaker-clad feet got wet, leading me to wonder how the Indians actually LIVED, SLEPT, and PLAYED FOOTBALL there. It was very cold. I couldn’t have borne it myself, being the hot weather-loving, landlubber I am.
Back in La Paz, it was over the Andes for us, in a plane, with its beautiful sights, and down to the Amazon at sea level once again on the other side of that lofty mountain range held together by Australian eucalyptus trees. Throughout all our Amazon cruising, we survived the piranhas because, unlike in Africa, we sensibly DIDN’T go swimming. A bus driving so helter-skelter through the pouring rain bits fell off it took us to Manaus, a sprawling metropolis on the Amazon near to where its two main tributaries–the Rio Negro (meaning black) and the Rio Solimoes (meaning white)–meet to form the more than mile wide mighty Amazon for its run down to the ocean at Belem. Did I fail to mention we were in Brazil by now? With every day bringing a new adventure.
Brazil necessitated us talking Portuguese which my tongue found infinity more strenuous than Spanish. As our bus was so late despite its drivers speed, we had to rush to the waterfront to find a riverboat. It was with extreme sadness here Michael and I said a hasty farewell to Chris for that was where we left him. He was making his way to Venezuela, and from there to London where I caught up with him about six months later in The London Chronicles. (You’ll catch us too if you stick with me; that’s if you can stand the pace.)
Although Michael and I spent ten months in the Americas, would you believe only two of them were actually in SOUTH America? This was partly due to the fact the Falklands Islands War between Britain and Argentina was on. It was 1982. I think I said that already but most of you today would not even remember that war or wouldn’t have been born then. The further south we went the more hostile to Westerners the people became, so we didn’t venture past Bolivia and Brazil. Upon mentioning this in a conversation to my handyman in Sydney in 2001, he remarked in disbelief, “You must have been just a tiny little girl then!” In fact I spent my 22nd birthday in Mexico City.
Michael and I obtained a cabin on the riverboat where, along with a number of other backpackers who mostly slept in hammocks for the trip, we journeyed to a little town of Leticia on the border between Brazil, Columbia, and Peru. I notice on Wikipedia this town today has 33,000 inhabitants. When we were there it was barely more than a village with a few buildings and a muddy track down the middle of them. It is Bolivia’s southernmost town and being on the Amazon and the hub of three countries it has an airport, the reason we disembarked there.
By this time we were travelling with a nice little Swiss girl named Ingrid. She had been on the boat with a fellow Australian girl, both of them having come from Belem to Manaus. There, in the company of a South American guy, the three had ventured into an unsavoury part of town. They were attacked, the young man held at knife point while both girls were pack-raped. I was immeasurably grateful to have travelled with two protective men and that the Almighty was looking after us. I still said my ‘Our Father’ prayer every morning.
IN COLUMBIA AGAIN
At Leticia, Michael, I, and the others camped at the airport awaiting a cargo plane to take us to Bogota, Columbia’s capital. We heard from the tiny airport’s customs officer that a few months there made them rich from the bribes given them by drug smugglers to look the other way when planes were loaded up. When at last a plane arrived after several days, the trip was like being in outer space, which only someone who has travelled on a cargo plane could appreciate. On takeoff one is glued to the floor and on landing (it feels like) we floated to the ceiling!
From Bogota, due to its dangerous reputation, we lost little time returning to Medellin for our flight back to Panama before retracing our steps north to Mexico. But, on the bus I was robbed. And of more than a watch this time. For some obscure reason, I had all three plane tickets in my bag which I hung over the seat in front of me for our overnight trip. My hand must have slipped off the bag as I slept. In the morning we awake with no plane tickets and all my traveller’s cheques gone. We arrived in Medellin just before our flights were to depart but were not allowed to fly without tickets. In addition, being a Friday afternoon, it was too late to go to the bank. Michael and Ingrid had cheques but we couldn’t cash them. All we had was a US $20 note that was in my money pouch with my passport. We had become complacent, a dangerous position for any traveller. The $20 had to last three of us all weekend in very expensive Columbia. We found a super-budget hotel with saggy beds and ate sparingly. But I survived to tell this tale!
Monday saw us winging our way OUTA THERE! Ingrid farewelled us in Costa Rica to return to Switzerland. Michael and I travelled north to Guatemala instead of bypassing it this time out of concern for our folks worrying about us being in a war zone. We mistakenly thought the revolution there was in the city and we weren’t going anywhere near that so we’d be alright. Well, we were alright, but not because we missed the war. In order to go see Tikal, a recently discovered and excavated Mayan city in the jungle, we stayed in a lovely little town on a lake called Flores. There at night could be heard the gunfire of war. Whoops! On the way to Tikal our bus was stopped at numerous checkpoints by the military looking to arrest guerilla fighters. We saw one at a checkpoint hooded so he could identify others anonymously. He’d probably have been executed later.
Belize again. What a relief to pass over that border manned by British soldiers speaking ENGLISH. Belize, the tiny country whose population of the descendants of released slaves, conquistadores and Indians who lived in colourful rickety wooden buildings, had been until independence a British colony. The soldiers were there to stop Guatemala from invading them. Michael and I caught a mail truck to a tiny remote village in the forest thinking to visit Canadian friends we’d met on the way down, only to find the boys were away at the time. These two students were in Central America studying tapirs. It’s an animal, a relative of the pig. Funny thing they found about tapirs. Upon coming to a river, the animal, undaunted, would just walk across on the bottom as if the water wasn’t there, holding their breath or something.
Back on Cay Caulker, we enjoyed a much-needed month-long sojourn eating lobsters every night again. While there a hurricane hit and demolished all the tents except our little one with which Michael originally was not pleased. By the time I left that tent in Israel almost two years later it had become worth its weight in gold. But that night of the hurricane, we were in it about to retire after leaving the Brits, over for a long weekend, at the local watering hole. As the wind increased coconuts started dropping around us with a thud. “OMGoodness!” I said LOUDLY to Michael, “We better get out of here before one of them lands on our heads!” With that we WERE out of there and up under the house of the campsite’s owners. All the soldiers came running back to save THEIR tents, but by then it was too late. We all had to ride it out under the house as one by one the tents collapsed. At least it was better than them blowing away. Everyone put smokes to their mouths before realizing not a one of us could light them for the fierce wind.
When the storm had blown over it became so calm the sandflies started literally eating us alive. So we all slept out on the jetty where there was a little breeze to keep the teeny loathsome man-eaters at bay. Those gorgeous Brits shared their tinned chocolate rations with us.
RETURN TO THE USA
Instead of undergoing the ordeal of returning to the States via Mexico, we took the Batty Bus out of Belize and flew from Merida to Miami. Hot humid Florida. Disney World and all that. Space Mountain. My favourite: the Swiss Family Robinson tree. Etc. Back to San Francisco in a drive-away car we obtained in Houston, Texas and which gave us no end of trouble. Taking in on the way the breathtakingly beautiful Grand Canyon, Las Vegas with vibrating beds (!) in its motels, Hoover Dam, Death Valley, and Yosemite where on the ground in our little tent we must have spent the coldest night of our lives.
From San Diego again after staying a month with Donny and enjoying the crowd we knew there, we took a $99 cross-America trip to New York, visiting Denver–the Mile High City–the Rocky Mountains, St Louis and the Mississippi, and many other marvellous places.
In New York it snowed. We bought our tickets for London before enjoying a short trip around eastern Canada: Montreal, Niagara Falls where newlyweds take their honeymoons, the Great Lakes stretching like oceans to the horizon, and caught up with friends we had met in South and Central America.
Returning to New York, one of my favourite places in the USA–I don’t understand why as I mostly hate cities and suburbia–the student hostel at which we were staying kept the doors open till midnight for us. American people were incredibly nice. The others I really liked were the Greeks and Germans, all for their friendliness, generosity of spirit, and hospitality.
One cold December night we winged it to London, which was to become my second home and one of my favourite places on Earth. My most favoured of course is Israel, for being the place my King and Saviour lived and walked. And it was in those two places the next chapters of my amazing, romantic, adventurous life began. Just in case anyone is wondering, every word of this is true, I’ve not related a fraction of it, and it’s not even half over yet! Sorry I have no photos of this time as I had to downsize a long time ago. I’m still a traveller at heart and on a journey–whether across continents or through life–even a photo weighs heavy.