As told to Elisabeth Easther
When I turned 21, my parents gave me a return ticket to London, but because I didn't have much money, I cashed in the return. I flatted with a friend, who was a nurse, she did night shift and slept all day, and I had the bed at night. You think you'll never do that sort of thing, but it just made sense.
I hired a car with three friends and we toured Europe. We could hardly shut the boot, we had so much stuff. We took the ferry from Dover to Calais and our first stop was a campground in Paris. Everyone was partying and one girl sped around the campground in our car, which upset the locals. At about 5am, we're sound asleep in our sleeping bags - and you know how loud tent zippers are - and the zip goes up and all these policemen are shouting at us in French, telling us to get out for making a disturbance in the campground. Still in our pyjamas, we stuffed everything in the car - we didn't even fold the tent - our passports were thrown at us, and that's how we drove into Paris.
Two of us stopped in Mykonos and found work at a beach bar, which happened to be at a nudist beach. We were allowed to wear clothes, but there was a big glass cabinet with all the food in it, and people would come up and point at the food, and we'd serve them, at eye level with their nakedness. Europeans have a very relaxed attitude to nudity.
When I lived in Scotland and my brother was in Portugal, our parents came over and we went to Morocco. We met in Casablanca and it was brilliant, except for Fez. There was an uprising while we were there and the protesters targeted foreigners by torching five-star hotels. We were only three-star, but some five-star hotels burned to the ground. There were tanks throwing out tear gas, pushing the protesters back, and at the hotel, there was no electricity, no food, nothing. We packed our bags and sat in the stairwell all night long because our rooms faced the street and people were throwing things through the windows. In the morning we went to our car, although the hotel didn't want to open up in case people stormed the garage, so they got the military to help and eventually, we drove out of Fez.
I travelled a lot less while my kids were growing up, but when I turned 40 I decided to do something for myself, so a girlfriend and I went to New York and we did everything – shopping, nightclubs, comedy shows, we hardly slept. By the time I turned 50 I'd changed a lot, I was more interested in nature and the planet than shopping, so for that birthday I went to Peru to Machu Picchu. It was mind-blowing, the sights and sounds, and we loved Lake Titicaca where, ages ago, the Peruvians had escaped invaders on boats made of reeds. They still live there today on their reed islands in their reed houses. That was a magical place.
When my two eldest left home and my youngest went to the surf academy in Raglan, I wasn't needed so much and I had a good look at my life. I was happy, everything was ticking along but I was too much in my comfort zone. Nothing was wrong but it wasn't invigorating either, and at that moment, things fell into place for me to walk Camino de Santiago in Spain.
On the Camino, everyone asks why you're doing it because everyone has a reason. No one is there simply for exercise. It's more than just a pretty walk. The Camino brings the reality of life into sharp focus, you find out what's important and what's not. The symbol of the Camino is the scallop shell. You look at a scallop and all those lines lead to the same place at the base of the shell, to remind us that there are many different routes to an end goal, so don't become too attached to Plan A, as there's always a Plan B. I met an American couple who had brought their son, who was troubled by drugs. They were trying to help him, but the mother fell and broke her leg so the husband and son pushed her in a wheelchair.
It is so freeing to live in the present and focus on walking. I was extremely content on the Camino. I walked 1200km in all, but I also saw how it could become addictive. I met an 89-year-old Spanish lady who was doing it for the 22nd time.
Everyone who walks into the Arataki Visitor Centre says how lucky we are to work there. We have a beautiful building surrounded by bush and birds, and because the rangers are all so passionate about their work, they are inspirational to be around. And everyone who visits is so happy. I learn something new every day and that has given me a deeper appreciation of our precious environment.
Nicky Mann is a visitor service representative at Arataki Visitor Centre, in the Waitakere Ranges.