As told to Elisabeth Easther
I grew up in Waipawa in Hawke's Bay, a typical rural town. I hadn't even been to McDonald's till I was 16. I was so excited when I went to university in Palmerston North - back then I thought Palmy was the big smoke. After graduating, I set off on my OE as soon as I could, working in banking and project management in London for several years, but back then I was never as excited about work as I was about travel.
My first proper trip was to Morocco with four friends. In a small town called Khenifra, a family took us in, they weren't rich but they were so kind. When we went to leave at the bus station, they sent an uncle with us, because everyone charges for the seats and we weren't very good chargers. So the uncle leaps through the tiny bus window, his arms flailing on the inside and his legs flailing on the outside. He just launched himself and when we got on the bus, he was sprawled across our seats, wearing the proudest grin. I can still picture it now.
My boyfriend, Walt, suggested we cycle through India and Pakistan, but I'd read something about bombs there, so I suggested South America instead. For six weeks I trained by cycling around Richmond Park for an hour every Saturday. We weren't very well prepared. We started in Antigua, in Guatemala, to learn Spanish but I wasn't ready for cycling so I made us take buses. In one town, we gave our bags to a guy who said he'd put them on the bus. He did put them on, then passed them straight out the window. Although that robbery was quite good, because we had way too much stuff and that cut it down.
At some point Walt said I had to start cycling but we were at such high altitude, I couldn't get up the hills, so I'd throw my bike down and demand to go home. I was horrendous, but Walt was so patient. My screaming went on for about a month, then one day I realised I was doing it and we cycled through Guatemala, up to Mexico then all the way down to Chile. That trip really did define me as a person.
Bolivia was my favourite country. It's big, sparsely populated and not very touristy. We rode along the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt plain, about 3.5km above sea level in the middle of nowhere. We also had the most frightening experience there. We were in the desert, cycling in sand at high altitude and it was so cold. We could hardly see, the wind was howling. It was a tail wind and our speedometers were up to 60km/h and we were being blown off course. But we couldn't stop because it was so freezing. This went on for about five hours, till we found a little wall to shelter behind till it passed. I was terrified. I thought we were going to die. Once it was over, Walt got our bearings using the compass and we found a village and stayed put for a few days to rest.
We went down the world's most dangerous road, from La Paz to the Amazon. People call it Death Road. We were going to cycle when we saw people gathering around a truck. We ended up driving with them overnight, down these narrow rutted roads with huge drops. We'd get punctures and, while they were fixed, the driver would drink in a bar. It was like a cattle truck and everyone was terrified.
In 1999 we did a dive course in Egypt, in Dahab. I wasn't a great diver at the beginning, it took me about 40 dives to get good on air, but I loved it and after that we went diving everywhere we could. In Honduras, in the Caribbean, we went to Utila and did our instructors' tickets, then got jobs as instructors, which meant we were diving up to four times a day and at night as well.
I had no desire to return to New Zealand but when we came home for a visit, we passed through Paihia to go diving. I fell in love with Northland, so we got jobs at the dive shop. That was about 17 years ago. Today I work for Blah Blah Marketing with my business partner Anika and many of our clients are tourism related - The Twin Coast Cycle Trail, Northland Experiences. We love promoting this area, helping small communities build businesses that otherwise mightn't exist.
I never felt excited about working until I started diving. And working in marketing, it's more than a job, as there is so much community involvement and it feels like we're really make a difference. I'm so lucky to have made a life in Northland. During the holidays, we go camping, boating, diving, we have all these amazing beaches to explore. I definitely know my travelling days aren't over, but for now, I have so much here in Northland.
Steph Godsiff is a manager with blahblahmarketing.co.nz , Northland