Friday, September 24, 2010

AROUND THE WORLD WITH A RELUCTANT TRAVELLER

Thoroughly cheesed off. Here he is on one trip and we haven't even left the airport!
My choice in husbands turned out far better than my mother’s, though where her selection of partners became progressively plural,  mine was strictly singular. 

My only problem with Stan lay in getting him out of Australia; you just cannot take the country out of the boy, and that applies in reverse as well.  My man in particular.  He was happy to wave me off to wherever my fancy took me, but getting him to tag along was another matter altogether.

Imagine my surprise when he suddenly agreed a round the world ticket was alright by him; so long as I organised and chose the entire itinerary.  Hallelujah.  I was in seventh heaven.

The kids had long flown the coop, the current dog sadly had gone to that big kennel in the sky and we were both foot loose without a care in the world.

When we took off ‘round the globe’ ticketing was still in its infancy There was a basic fly to rule in place whereby you kept moving in a forward direction and didn’t backtrack.  Thankfully as I soon discovered to my joy, dual Airline partners at that time didn’t always have the same slant on rules and regulations.

We started with Japan’s national airline to Tokyo: a magic city where the polite and generous inhabitants made sure we were never lost and even turned a blind eye when my husband was caught short in the Emperor’s gardens. The same airline flew us to Vancouver where I found a discarded umbrella that proved to be an uncanny rain deterrent for the next three months.

Our version of Where's Wally at Japan's Expo.
Hiring and driving a car in North America was too easy, the Yankee left hand drive found its own way to a little motel in Fall City, Washington that allotted us the bridal suite complete with tinkling bells attached to the mattress; later the hire vehicle’s USA cousin helped me avoid a hefty speeding fine on the highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Japan Airlines then flew us to Rio de Janiero where efforts to obtain the local currency and follow subsequent dodgy advice to store the money in a safe place provided the following only too accurate account about an incident involving my husband...

In Rio I had a sudden urge to cross from Brazil to Peru by train.  My "Railways of the World" said it could be done but first we would have to go to Sao Paulo, six hours by coach through fragrant eucalyptus bush that made one of us at least yearn for Australia’s outback.

San Paulo was in the midst of a football festival and the only available accommodation was in a seedy area of the city. But what can one do? Latecomers can’t be choosy.

We arrived on dusk and just as we paid the taxi and gathered our bags to enter the hotel  gunfire broke out and passers by around us immediately hit the pavement, face down. Trust locals to know the best position.

Stan and I stood wide eyed, frozen to the spot as a man in trousers and singlet ran past closely pursued by another man waving a pistol.  They disappeared round a corner. To our astonishment life resumed without any outward sign of concern.  Our reasonably clean hotel room looked out onto a sleazy movie house promising ‘explicit sex - 24 hours'.

While I freshened up, my reluctant traveller took a stroll to find an eating-place, ten minutes later he burst back into the room pale and dishevelled, arms scratched and bleeding.

"It's happened; it's happened." He was practically incoherent.

"What has?" I was almost too frightened to ask.

"I've been mugged."

A few minutes from the hotel he had been thrown to the ground by two young thugs who first tried his pockets and then his shoes (and I thought that hiding place was our secret.) They ran off empty handed when a plain clothes security guard leapt to the rescue.

We never made it to Peru, a German gentleman at San Paulo’s railway booking office told us it was a very dangerous train trip and not for the innocent and dopey.  Ok, so he didn’t say that in so many words, but that is exactly what he implied.  I remember my husband’s eyes growing wider and wider and his clutch on my arm tighter and tighter. 

As a result we now have an elaborate, overly expensive and sadly, unused Bolivian visa stamped in our passports. Internal South American air travel at that time was too expensive to contemplate, far more than our combined round the world ticket.

Actually we had a very good reason for travelling to Peru.  Our politically minded daughter had spent the past year in Nicaragua picking coffee beans for the Sandinistas; a perilous occupation at that time and I was anxious to make physical contact.  In letters and phone calls we arranged a tentative meeting in Peru’s capital, Lima over a 2 week time frame.  Now it appeared we wouldn’t make the deadline.

A flurry of phone calls to Amex contacts where we had arranged letter drops established a new meeting in London six weeks hence...

Safely back in Rio we changed over to Swiss Airlines and flew to Zurich where I dumped our summer gear in an airport storage locker to be collected on our eventual way home from London.
We spent a wonderful month in Europe travelling everywhere by Euro Rail, jumping on and off trains at will, staying in whistle stops that instantly took our fancy. Then crossed over to England so Stan could take in Wimbledon and the British Open and I could touch base with our travelling daughter and both of us shop until we dropped. 

Such is the serendipity of our mother daughter relationship we each passed the other on the Amex Covent Garden office steps, me leaving after depositing my letter, she arriving hoping the letter had arrived!  Considering this was in the era before mobile phones or internet I thought this pretty amazing.

A month later after a whirlwind trek through Scotland and Ireland we called into London’s Swiss Air office to arrange our next section, London Zurich Athens, and there we came unstuck.   Swiss Air reckoned we had already touched on Zurich and couldn’t fly there again.  I mulled over this new development for a while; at that moment a suitcase full of summer clothes and souvenirs were enjoying their own holiday at the Zurich airport and I was determined not to abandon them. 

WE DID FINALLY CATCH UP WITH JEN IN LONDON

Grabbing hold of my aptly named and increasingly reluctant traveller we walked round the corner to Japan Airlines where I made the same request.  No problem said the petite assistant bowing as these charming people do, and voila we had two bookings on a Swiss Airlines flight for Zurich connecting an hour later on a service to Athens, leaving me ample time to rescue our suitcase.




AND YES STAN DID GET TO ST ANDREWS
We stopped off in China...
I think he was envious of the bloke in the shorts, New Zealand.
No doubt both airlines, Japan Airlines and Swiss Air managed to get their act together in later years and the bad airline good airline trick faded into history, but for me on this occasion at least this inability to interpret rules and regulations proved a god send.

Over time the handling of money would also improve to the extent that the problems we experienced next would never have occurred had we been blessed with the miraculous international cash card.






©Robyn Mortimer 2010