Gather round my friends, grab your sticks and your marshmallows and huddle yourselves close to the glowing embers of my curious travel anecdotes because it’s story time. In this episode I thought I’d share with you some of my escapades over the last eighteen months – the weird ones where things went off-piste, because nothing makes for a boring story quite like ‘and then we arrived safely at our destination’. Besides, we like to keep it real over here on Bella’s Odyssey, and that means embracing the unexpected mishaps in life and then laughing at them together because in life I’d rather be laughing than not laughing.
I’m all about the adventure. ‘Maximum adventure’ is what I like to say. But I wasn’t always this way. I used to find it hard to go with the flow and allow deviation from The Plan and be okay in complete uncertainty. However, I learned early on in my overseas experiment that nothing ever turns out how I expect it to and being flexible and adaptable is the only way to thrive in the travel wilderness. I realised that there’s absolutely no point in clinging on to your own imagined perception of the future with two metal hook arms like the T-1000 in Terminator 2. I do have a reputation for being quite laid back – a trait that I think has done me well in many situations – but it took me a while to feel as laid back on the inside as I seemed to other people on the outside. Nonetheless, adventures keep things interesting, strengthen character, and add to your tool belt of life, which is what travel is all about. So let’s dive in.
Very nearly running out of petrol is surprisingly easy to do in places like Australia and New Zealand where petrol stations are sometimes a hundred kilometres or more apart and trying to estimate fuel efficiency on rural roads is like trying to measure the circumference of the earth with a cactus and number dyslexia. Two of the times I’ve been in this predicament friends were at the wheel, but one time I was in driving alone in Australia on a road I’d driven many times before, up a rainforesty mountain range. My fuel situation was good when I left the town I was visiting, but a combination of the steep ascent and having the air-con on was enough to burn through my petrol faster than the Apollo 11 spacecraft. I sobered out of my complacency like someone caught Facebook stalking an ex and quickly turned off the A/C and, for some reason, the radio. My face was instantly dripping with sweat from the stress, it was 36 degrees outside or some preposterously hot temperature in summer and with the A/C off I descended into the human equivalent of a Louisiana bayou. I wondered if there was a way to coast up hills. I hoped the needle would rise to a less alarming place on the fuel gauge once I reached level ground at the top of the range, but it really didn’t and I still had 60 kilometres to go. I’ve never seen a fuel gauge dip below the final red ‘empty’ line into the nothingness beneath before or since. I made it to the petrol station, though how I will never understand. That car was such a legend.
My best friend and I did an epic road trip through New Zealand for three-ish weeks at the end of last year, but early on in the trip our exhaust split open and then broke into two completely separate pieces. It was amusing for a while as we pretended our 1991 Toyota Estima had a beefy V8 engine but quickly became embarrassing, especially driving through small towns where people like to look at things for longer than is really necessary. Being a resourceful couple, we attempted to solve the problem DIY-style with exhaust putty and some wire we found, which was about as effective as fixing it with porridge. Shout out to Murray’s muffler services in Blenheim for fixing it for us, although I still think we could’ve fixed it ourselves with the proper tools and somewhere that wasn’t a gravelly car park.
In another car-related incident, I had a blowout while driving 100 kph on a rural Australian road. As a self-sufficient individual I’m well-rehearsed at changing car wheels and had the spare on in no time, which was good because of the five or so cars that drove past no one stopped to help or see if I was okay. I assume it’s because I looked like I knew what I was doing. I’ll take it as a compliment.
I went for a leisurely stroll one sunny Sunday morning that turned into shoes-off knee-deep wading through a freezing river six times because it was winter, it had been raining a lot and the regular stepping stones and crossing points were very much submerged under flood water. We lost the trail at one point. After trudging for a couple of hours barefoot through mud and increasingly sketchy crossings we gave up and turned back. The moral of the story is that walks in New Zealand are way gnarlier than in other countries and also don’t trust your friends with directions.
Another time I swam in the sea on my own during a storm as it was getting dark, which was a terrible idea now I think of it. I was having a YOLO moment where I felt the urge to do something whacky and exhilarating, but despite the profound and amusing ‘what the actual f*@k am I doing’ moment I had while bobbing around in the waves like a stubborn cork, I wouldn’t recommend the experience to anyone. Actually, maybe I would. But probably not, for, y’know, health and safety reasons.
I’ve experienced a few peculiar living arrangements over the last year and a half; one time I lived in a literal garden shed in a garden. It was supposed to be a summerhouse, but it wasn’t finished and while it had electricity, that was where the luxuries ended. It didn’t have running water, upon opening the door to the bathroom you were presented with the outside world and, most alarmingly, it had a basket ball-sized hole in one wall. I actually enjoyed being in the garden on my own, it was very peaceful for a big city like Auckland and I liked listening to the insects at night. What I didn’t like was the insects helping themselves to my abode like a teenager back from uni and I had to constantly battle spiders, crickets, weird tiny cockroach-looking things, ants and one time a giant centipede. I would go on a rampage with my trusty can of Raid, probably taking a few minutes off my own life in the process because I don’t know what god-awful chemicals they put in that stuff but it kills things in a deeply disturbing fashion. I didn’t get the giant centipede, though, because it looked like it had made a genuine mistake and was trying to find the way out. I managed to bundle it up in a plastic bag and put it outside. I kid you not, this thing was 30 cm long; look it up if you don’t believe me.
I also lived on a farm in rural Australia in a shipping container. Before you ask, no it didn’t have windows, but it had a glass door at the front. It was extremely cold, which is something people don’t believe about Australia. I was there over winter and it was between minus five and minus eleven every night for more than a month. At the farm one day in late spring I scared the crap out of myself as well as the snake slithering across a patch of open ground by getting within a few inches of its face while bopping along on the quad bike. I don’t know what kind of snake it was, besides a somewhat disgruntled one, but it was short and black and I didn’t want to hang around to investigate. That very same afternoon I was out checking the cows in a paddock at the edge of the property and saw a shiny, moving something in the near distance. I drove over to have a cautious look, still a bit freaked out from the earlier serpent encounter. Turns out, it was a brown; the second most venomous snake in the world.
Finally, and this will be the last anecdote for this episode, while in New Zealand’s Northland myself and two friends walked the gruelling Cape Brett track, which offers stunning views of the Bay of Islands but if you were to look at a side view of the topography next to a seismograph of a magnitude 7 earthquake they would look identical. I don’t think you’ve experienced steep hills until you’ve been to New Zealand. It also was a relentlessly hot day and we definitely didn’t pack enough water. And because we’re ambitious (read ‘not sane’) we did a two-day trek in one day, walking to the lighthouse and back instead of staying overnight like most (sane) people. We smashed the 32-kilometre walk in ten hours or something but when we got back the onsite food cart at our campsite was closed. We didn’t have enough petrol to get to the nearest store and the petrol station was also closed because it’s Northland. We were counting on the food cart for our dinner so hadn’t bought stuff for our evening meal. The only food we had left was one dry wrap, three bits of bread, seven small salad leaves, some aioli, cereal and milk, some coffee, and one cereal bar between three people. What ensued was probably the most hilarious dinner I’ve ever had. I laughed so much at the absurdity of my two friends, both hungry blokes, they won’t mind me saying, carefully sharing out scraps between them. I had cereal for dinner, which, as you will already know, actually isn’t unusual for me.
Packing your sense of humour is absolutely essential for any expedition. Full time living overseas and travelling is not for everyone, and I’m not saying that to make myself seem more important or better in some way; it’s just the reality. Things go tits-up. Like, a lot. It’s part of the fun. Tackling problems builds character, resilience, and it’s rewarding in that you feel like you’ve achieved something. It’s also more fun to live life so that it makes a funny story later. Or, at least, that’s how I like to live my life. So that’s why I’m all about the maximum adventure. Within reason, though, of course.