Changing countries? Are you always afraid to do that? Or do you learn to take big moves in stride? Do you become starry-eyed over the next adventure?
Maybe. Stars sure danced in front of my eyes when a former partner lured me to move from New Zealand to London. One of the most exciting cities in the world and one where English was the native language. On top of that, all of my on-the-job training in New Zealand was in the British school of journalism. I was armed to take London by storm with tear sheets of my front-page leads at Wellington’s morning paper, The Dominion, and tapes of my best radio and TV news reports.
My plane ticket included 13,000 miles of getting on and off planes, changing airlines, picking stop-over destinations.
What should be the first stop? The Pacific Islands. When would I ever have another chance to see the Cook Islands, Tahiti, and Hawaii? We got a couple of nights sleep in each port of call to break-up the 14 hour flight to North America.
The Cook Islands. We headed to the “capital” island, Rarotonga. We planned to spend our few nights there in our tent on one of the island’s beautiful beaches. That was when kids still hitchhiked and felt safe about it. Sleeping on a beach on a small island in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean seemed safe — and cheap.
But that was not to be. The tourist authority had us figured out in advance, with motel owners lined up at the airport when we arrived after 11 p.m. We were assigned to Mrs. Sword, who ran a motel — New Zealand style. A small apartment, complete with a giant bowl of mangoes, pineapples, bananas, oranges and grapefruit as well as orange juice, milk, tea, coffee, eggs, New Zealand cheese, bread, taro and tins of the local mackerel.
Five dollars a night for all of this. Mrs Sword also was the local scooter dealer. Since we were her guests she threw in our scooter. For a couple traveling on virtually no money this was a dream come true. Beautiful beaches, mountains to climb, a stocked larder, comfortable bed, terrace overlooking stunning beaches.
We had a few adventures there. Our first was on our round-the-island drive searching for the base of the trail to climb the highest of the 23 mountains.
Nearing the base another motor scooter aimed straight at us. A man about our age named Hans dismounted. Peter and I had hiking boots, day packs filled with water and snacks. Hans had pristine white sneakers with a white shirt and shorts to match. The muddy track to the top went past terraced taro fields — like rice paddies. A trial for someone who wanted his white sneakers to remain white. Hans had grown up in a city. He wouldn’t have understood “countryside” even if it had been part of a manicured stately home.
Beautiful views for us as we climbed. But not Hans. On the way down he was stunned as we passed a local farmer with taro stacked on his donkey. Next Hans decided he had to keep his socks and sneakers white. He took them off and immediately sliced the bottom of his foot as it sank into the mud. I had to rip my scarf off to stop the bleeding. Did he go for stitches as he should have? No. He limped on his red, swollen foot treated with mango skins — the only home remedy I knew.
Papeete, Tahiti was our next stop. We landed expecting the serene beauty we had seen in Gauguin’s paintings. Exotic women in colorful sarongs. Stunning beaches. Luscious food. Instead, swarms of Vespa motor scooters screamed past us. Even croissants and coffee broke our budgets. After one long day we got the next plane which took us to Hawaii.
On Oahu, we really did find beaches, places, and food we could afford. The Pearl Harbor Memorials, standing atop the burial group of 1,100 sailors interred in the USS Arizona, moved us to tears. Next to North America, Vancouver first. Just trying to escape the airport made us want to head straight back to New Zealand. Peter — a 20-something New Zealander of the 1970s, complete with the longish hair and blue jeans. Officials took him away to a room for what seemed hours, searching not only his backpack but his entire body for drugs.
Eventually they came out for the letter from parents guaranteeing they would support him while he was in the United States. That got him released from the interrogation room. Then we figured out how to get a bus to downtown Vancouver, then found another bus which took us miles away to our hostel.
Our adventures in Vancouver, across the U.S., and on to London next time.
Erna Morgan McReynolds, raised in Gilbertsville, is retired managing director/financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Oneonta Office. She lives in Franklin.