There’s nothing like a multi-day road trip for catching up with someone you haven’t spent nearly enough time with lately. I got a chance to do just that about two weeks ago when my nephew Andy stopped into Auckland on his way to Sydney for a friend’s wedding. We rented a car in Auckland and spent five days driving around the northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island. Andy suggested that I mark my six-month anniversary of leaving Canada with a transcript of a rapid-fire Q&A session that we had somewhere between Cape Reinga and Te Kao.
Q) What was your best meal?
A) There have been some very memorable meals but for a combination of reasons I’ll pick a particular steak dinner at Argentine Steakhouse in La Paz, Bolivia. I made several trips to a decent salad bar, enjoyed a selection of fresh-baked bread and rolls, steamed rice and french fries, a perfectly done 18-ounce sirloin, and washed it down with two 600ml bottles of Pacena beer. The bill came to 53 Bolivianos or CDN $9.53. The taxi across town cost another 20 Bolivianos (CDN $4.00), but of course I split that with four nice people from my hostel.
Q) What was the most bizarre moment?
A) I spent one very long day with a private driver in Chile. Among other things, he claimed the entire world’s supply of avocados come from Chile; the country’s coins are actually made of silver and then plated with copper and nickel; and the country’s 50 McDonald’s outlets were rated #1 thru 50 when stacked up against the world’s 35,000 Mickey Dee’s.
Q) And the scariest moment?
A) To chop about 400km off a trip around the southern portion of Lake Titicaca, our Peruvian bus was loaded onto a barge and towed across the lake while the passengers piled onto a small boat for the midnight crossing. I counted five life jackets for 24 passengers. Thankfully I was seated beside an old Peruvian woman who was dragging a sack full of live chickens. Chickens float, don’t they?
Q) What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done?
A) That’s a toss-up between skydiving in New Zealand and the Death Road Bike Ride in Bolivia. Skydiving was perhaps more intense but it was over in five minutes whereas the 64 km long Death Road produces white knuckles for a good six hours.
Q) Have you been scammed?
A) Only by Vodafone in New Zealand. I don’t have a cell plan but instead buy pre-paid data packs from time to time. Each $3 “Daily Data Deal” provides 100mb of data and expires at midnight even if purchased at 11:59 p.m. I’m sure most people think they have 24 hours to use the data but nooo, not with scummy Vodafone.
Q) How about something completely unexpected?
A) I’ve shared a lot of dorm rooms with girls and guys in their 20s and 30s and was surprised to find that at least 30% of the girls snore at least as loud as the guys. Those numbers go up dramatically after a night at the hostel bar.
Q) Where have you been treated best?
A) The people in Peru and Bolivia were friendly but we didn’t have too many deep discussions due to the language barrier. The people of New Zealand are by far the friendliest I’ve come across.
Q) It seemed like a good idea at the time…
A) Wearing my mother’s ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ gold charm on a gold necklace seemed like a good idea when I left Toronto. It wasn’t a very smart thing to do in a place like Rio de Janeiro. Thankfully a Good Samaritan found the charm in the gutter and returned it to me a few minutes after a thief ripped the chain from my neck.
Q) You’re a bit of a city boy. What’s your best experience with nature?
A) Tough to separate Yosemite National Park (USA), the Ballestas Islands / Colca Canyon (Peru), and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (New Zealand).
Q) Tell me about the most interesting character you’ve met?
A) I can’t count the interesting characters I’ve met but here are five that come to mind:
• Australian woman who was traveling the world giving seminars that help women become better acquainted with their ovaries
• Team of hackers and a lone fugitive from the FBI who were operating out of a Peruvian hostel
• Foul-mouthed bus driver who asked to be called ‘Uncle Fuck Fuck’
• Newly unemployed construction worker who I met in a dusty saloon in rural Gerlach, Nevada
• Gypsy fortune teller who took me by surprise in San Francisco
Q) What’s the most unique form of transportation you’ve taken?
A) I’m sure I’ll have a better answer if we do this again after 12 months but for now I’ll say the rooftop seat on the 6-tonne truck that I rode through Argentina and Brazil.
I spent the first six months traveling through Canada, USA, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. The next six months will take me in a mostly northward direction to Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Within the last hour I have put down a deposit on a 120 day backpacker style trip that will take me through Mongolia, China, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Turkey. I’m sure I’ll have a whole new set of answers after completing that portion of my Round-The-World in 100 Saturdays adventure.