I’m struggling a bit with the word ‘journey’. It’s one of those words that seems to have been slightly hijacked. You know, like ‘surfing’ the internet. It would seem to have turned into more of a spiritual thing; ‘One man’s journey from rags to riches’ or ‘a child’s journey of discovery’, you see what I mean? Its original definition is ‘The act of traveling from one place to another’ but it has another now ‘A process or course likened to traveling’. I reckon if you looked hard enough you could probably find a word that matches the new definition, or why not even make one up?
I’m ruminating (see what I did there) over this because my wife and I have recently completed a journey. It was an act of traveling from one place to another; we left the South West of England and arrived 2 years later on the Sunshine Coast in Australia. We did it, as much as possible, by car. The thing is that we also experienced a process or course that could be likened to travelling. A bloody journey.
It began late summer in a Thai restaurant in Taunton, England shortly after we had been granted permanent resident visas for Australia. Our house was sold and we were winding up our businesses, we had had nothing concrete planned for our arrival in Australia but knew from previous visits that we fancied the Sunny coast. I’d heard on the news that day a story about a company in London selling tickets for a bus to Sydney. It was to take three months and would carry nineteen passengers. I told Kym about it and the discussion that followed resulted in two definites: We couldn’t travel with the same nineteen people for three months and why don’t we just do it ourselves.
We journeyed through eighteen countries; we drove on the lowest road on Earth and the highest. We drove through deserts, crossed plateaus, breached mountain ranges and sweated in jungles while howler monkeys laughed at us. We crossed the equator, climbed volcanoes, followed in the footsteps of Richard the Lion Heart and his Knights of the Crusade. We explored Nabatean temples in Syria and whistled the theme to Raiders of the lost Ark as we walked into Petra. We sat on Lawrence of Arabia’s bar stool while drinking a cold beer in his favourite hotel. Agatha Christie wrote ‘murder on the Orient express’ in the same hotel (she was a surfer, true story).
We fought bureaucracy in India for days on end; we raised our hands above our head after driving into a military exercise in Syria… at night. A wheel fell off in Java; a lorry hit us in India. We had flat batteries in Mumbai and got a jump off a Tuk Tuk. We only had two punctures. We helped repair the outboard on the only ferry that could get our car across a river in Aceh. We span out from altitude sickness at five thousand metres in the Himalayas. We trashed some banana trees getting stuck in the mud trying to find a wave. We never once paid bribes to further our cause, seriously, not once. We got robbed by the mechanics in a Toyota garage in Hyderabad though. Really robbed, not just normal mechanic robbed. Jeans, sunglasses an umbrella and a hatchet.
We called in to see a friend in the Alps and went snowboarding. We visited my Mum on her small Greek island. We spent three weeks travelling with a French family through the Middle East. Mum, Dad and three kids in a Landrover with two roof tents on top. We popped in to Singapore to pick up a couple of boards from a friend where I’d left them on the way back from Indo sometime. Shared beers in a Muslim enclave with two Dutch cyclists who were following the old Silk Road. Rescued a lovesick French boy from the frustration and tedium of the Iranian consulate in Turkey and took him on a two day holiday. We stayed at Lena’s house in Southern Sumatra and she took us to see the elephant rescue centre. We rented a house on Bali and all our European friends came and visited. Adi and Linda refused to let us pay for food at their sarong shop on Lombok after we’d promised that we’d be back two years before. The diminutive security guard at the abandoned resort on Sumbawa let us stay there and use the showers and toilet. An Italian girl, newly arrived on Bali was having an issue with a taxi driver, we helped her out. She worked for the UN and was currently based in Timor Leste, of course we could stay!
I surfed. I surfed in Syria. Syria has sixty four point eight kilometres of coastline. India has a lot more and I surfed there as well. I surfed from Banda Aceh to Dili mostly alone, occasionally throwing sticks in to see how strong the sweep was or paddling from the middle of the bay out to the point to give myself a better feel for the setup. I got scared often, usually paddling across deep blue water but also by water so clear the bottom looked inches away. Sometimes just the isolation scared me. I surfed rivermouths, beaches, points and reefs. I can’t tell you all their names, not because I don’t want to, well there is that too, but because I have no idea if most of them had a name. They are all little crosses on a map.
Occasionally waves led to altercations. One time it was because Kym doesn’t surf. That’s not what the argument was about, that was the cause. Through the binoculars I’d spotted a long left point. The closest I could get the car was about a kilometre away; I pulled up grabbed my board and went to lock the doors. But hang on; a bag had to be prepared… water, sunscreen, something to sit on, a towel, a book, maybe a snack. I lost it. But there was little to be gained from arguing so in general we didn’t. For the most part we only had each other, and when you’re spending large chunks of time in areas where no one else speaks your language it helps if the only person that does is still speaking to you.
It wasn’t a chore. We have always been strong, we have shared joy, which is great, and we have shared tragedy, which while certainly not great is definitely a more powerful lesson. We came through it. We’d also had practice, a year backpacking on a round-the-world ticket five years earlier highlighted how much we relied on each other. Neither one of us could have done this alone, we have become a team, a loving, living team each completely mindful of the other.
You learn so many things. Important things like: mechanics, languages, map reading, trust (instincts), rationing, names of medicines and what they do. And also not so essential but equally as rewarding things, like: geography, history, architecture, beauty, tolerance, frugality and sustainability, recycling and repairing! We had culture shocks along the way, no more so than in India but probably the most thought provoking happened on our first day in Australia. We’d separated in a supermarket to shop quicker and when Kym still hadn’t arrived at the checkout ten minutes later I went looking for her. I found her stood in front of a six metre long display of nothing but milk sobbing her heart out. She had no idea which one to choose.
The journey came to an end at our little slice of paradise here on the Sunny Coast. A small Queenslander in a beautiful paddock surrounded by rainforest. The journey continues unabated.