Elisabeth Easther talks to the Turnaround Manager of the Interislander Ferry.
As a family of seven, childhood holidays usually involved piling into the six-seater Falcon station wagon — sometimes with a caravan on the back — and driving from Wellington to Urenui in Taranaki.
Squeezed in, no seatbelts, we'd play in the river or the sea. We'd watch fishermen bring in their catch and we'd get sunburnt. In our last year of school, seven of us piled into the back of a mate's Kombi to do a tour of the North Island. We spent New Year in the Taupo motor camp, then it was up to Coromandel and Mt Maunganui with all the bogans and booze, bottles and fights. We sampled the joys of the Whangamata pub, sleeping outside in the carpark, and scooting in and out of holiday parks to use the showers. Every day we'd set off with no idea of what we were doing or where we were going, but we always got somewhere. It was a very slow trip and every now and then the van would break down, and one of us would have to perform open-heart surgery on the Kombi, tools and grease everywhere, the engine exposed. One thing I learnt is Kombi drivers all wave at each other, they share a camaraderie that you don't get with Holden or Morris people.
When my girlfriend (now wife) told me she was going to South America, I said if she made it India, I'd come too. Here's me with just two days' overseas experience under my belt — a weekend in Sydney — and we fly straight into Kathmandu. If Sydney felt foreign, this was another planet. We spent a couple of days getting used to the sights, sounds and smells while doing what Lonely Planet told us to do, because that's what people did back then.
Our first night bus was meant to be a six-hour trip but it actually took 10. The roads were crazy and windy; up and down the Himalayas we went with trucks overtaking buses overtaking other trucks, all coming towards us on blind corners, at speed, with the horn. Yet they all seem to miss, so you think that it's working, till you come round a corner and see a tangle of wrecked vehicles. Two people actually got off the bus, they just freaked out. Anyone who's been to that part of the world knows you either love it or you hate it. It takes some getting used to, the assault on the senses, but I loved it.
Walking along in Kathmandu, we poked our noses over a fence and saw a holy ceremony about to take place in front of the King of Nepal. Someone ushered us in, there was a little stand for foreigners and a goat was brought in front of the king. A guy with a big curved kukri knife lopped the goat's head off — blood gushed everywhere. Then the same thing happened to a water buffalo — this joker decapitates the beast with one fell swoop. It was all very matter of fact, and the people around us were all chatting away.
My favourite place was Rajasthan. It's hot and dry, the buildings are old and beautiful, the people are friendly and they love their moustaches. The only downside was when I got crook with dengue fever in Pushkar. I thought I was sick for a week, but Nic told me it was actually two and I just slept for 20 hours each day. But our hotel was very nice. It backed on to a little hill and I have memories of lying in bed and looking out the window to see men dropping their pants and women lifting their saris, defecating outside my window, then I'd roll over and go back to sleep. We paid for a doctor to visit and he had a stethoscope but I'm not sure he was a real doctor. He said: "Don't worry, be happy." Then pointed to a bottle of gin in the corner and said, "Drink that." I lost 10kg, but eventually I got better.
For 10 years, I worked for a rental car company and it was amazing what people left in cars. We amassed a lot of fake Ray Bans and umbrellas, also a fake gun someone thought was real. People would leave cameras with massive telephoto lenses just sitting on the dashboard, or passports and plane tickets — but they always came back for those. At our Christchurch branch, the staff came in one morning and found a car with a smashed up windscreen and dented doors. They went through the CCTV footage and saw a group of Americans drop the car in the morning. But after posting the key, one of the guys realised he'd left his passport in the car, so they started throwing rocks at it to get in. They dented everything and eventually got in a side window. That was unusual.
I see a lot of impatient travellers in my line of work and you wonder if they're having fun. I think travel taught me tolerance, it's a cliche but it was on the road I learnt to be patient and tolerant of others.
Further information: see kiwirail.co.nz