Before the alarm blared at I laid awake in bed fretting.
I was reviewing my trip planning and going around and around in my mind,
feeling dizzy like a twirling dervish.
“Had I done everything necessary?
What had I forgotten?” I had
started my planning eight months before, reading up about thirteen round the
world packages, on the Internet. “Which one to choose,” I wondered. “They are
all so different, so confusing. Their
rules and regulations take many pages of small print. Those rules are sure to come back and bite me
hard, metaphorically speaking.” I
listed, in Excel, a table containing long rows of many fancied exotic places
that I would like to visit; such as Santiago, Rio de Janero, Athens, Rome, and
Moscow, to name but a few, then counted air miles and stop overs. Reality crept into my planning slowly like a
kitten stalking a magpie on velvet feet.
“Fifteen stop overs with forty thousand air miles,” my pretty young
travel agent Lula advised. “It’s
expensive at $4,000.00 each, but Singapore Star Alliance, gives best coverage
over five continents. The package includes Air New Zealand, United and Air
”So it’s too many air miles to
I mentally reviewed my bookings for my hotels and cars that I had painstaking made via the Internet for some places but not for others. I thought, “Was I too flexible with my bookings or not flexible enough? I had paid for many hotels in advance to gain special rates. Imagine the confusion if I were sick or missed a flight. Had I checked my passport closely enough, had I obtained all the necessary visas, was my travel insurance adequate, and would my transferred $45,000.00 to my two Visa cards really cover this epic journey? What would happen if my Visa card was declined or swallowed by machines overseas?” “Relax,” I told myself. “You’re competent, well travelled and courageous. All you really need is some cash, credit card and a passport. Richard is also carrying traveller cheques. You’ve checked everything carefully. Believe that you’ll have a wonderful trip as you had carefully planned.”
I calmed down and reflected, “At least I’m
not frightened like Richard appears to be.” Richard was my travelling companion
and long-time personal care attendant of nearly thirteen years. I thought, “He was so terrified that a war
would occur in
Now the war between
As the trip neared, in March, Richard
raised the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) fears. ‘This is a new
mutated virus,’ Richard warned. ‘It’s
killing young healthy people and there’s no cure. Sixteen people have died in
I reflected too about Richard’s bad back. Richard is on a medical pension because x-rays had revealed severe degeneration of vertebrae in his lower spine. Richard wasn’t faking the condition or the very real mind -searing pain, which he often silently, stoically endured. In January 2003, he had twisted his back while exercising, and suffered crippling pain for weeks. “I must be totally bonkers, really crazy, a high level quadriplegic taking a personal attendant who couldn’t even lift a suitcase, on a five month world trip. He can’t lift my wheelchair up a large step. He’s not up to assisting a lift into a plane seat. Look at those strong young beautiful girls who offered to go and you declined them. Richard will get excited, try lifting too much, and will bugger himself. He’ll be in severe pain and useless for helping me. The trip will become a nightmare you won’t forget for a long time.’
My anxiety escalated with these unhelpful
thoughts. ‘Dispute these thoughts, Don,’ I said to myself. ‘Look at the
evidence thoroughly and don’t jump to conclusions. You are good for a quadriplegic of your level
at using a transfer board in and out of a car, or on and off a bed. Richard merely assists but needn’t lift. My
suitcase at thirty-three kilograms is too heavy, but Richard can wheel it,
while porters do the lifting in hotels. Richard is very aware of his
limitations. He has reported to work daily for thirteen years, so he can handle
daily routine. He probably exaggerates his weaknesses to protect himself and he
deserves a long service reward.
Remember, in three weeks of trial trips to Penang, Puket and
I found relief getting up at 5.00 AM to catch Qantas flight QF762 to Melbourne, as I really had awakened at 3.00 AM, pondering the journey ahead, slightly hung over from the delightful Margaret River Evans and Tate Cabernet Sauvignon and three Grand Mariner liqueurs consumed the evening before with my good friend and fellow inebriate, Michael Hand. “I wished I had passed on those liqueurs,” I dismally thought feeling tired and a little sluggish. My fellow traveller and personal care attendant Richard arrived promptly at to assist me with a quick shower and dressing, tasks that he has done five days a week for the past thirteen years. “How’s things? I’m so excited to get going,” Richard buoyantly greeted me and we got down to business. Ninety minutes later, I kissed my wife Lily Auld goodbye as I departed for a nearly five-month trip around the world. “Take care and don’t invite any strange men in,” I joked. “Have fun,” Lily said, “and come back safely.” Soon, at 6.20 AM Richard and I and our two heavy wheeled suitcases were hoisted by a hydraulic lift into a wheelchair taxi and my manual wheelchair was strapped firmly to the floor with a seatbelt looped tightly around my waist. The big burley driver in his mid 30’s introduced himself as Neil Alexander. We got into conversation as he deftly manoeuvred the cumbersome van through early morning Autumn fog and into heavy rush-hour traffic on the forty-minute drive from Cottesloe through Perth and along the palm lined sparkling azure waters of the Swan River to Perth Domestic Airport on the East side of the city.
“You must know most of the wheelchair users
around here,” I commented to break the ice.
The driver replied, “Yes, it’s like a family. I have confirmed repeated bookings by the
same people every day and really get to know them. I get invited to weddings, parties, funerals
and other family events. I really prefer
driving wheelchair taxis. It’s more
rewarding than one time fares that you never see again.” “Do you know my quadriplegic friend Mike
Wright, with his big bushy white beard and hair?” I asked. “Yeah, I’ve picked him up at the Quadriplegic
Centre a few times.” Already I was
making connections and building relationships.
Neil continued. “I lease this van for $700.00 a week. I need to clear $1000.00 weekly to make
money. I’m studying at
High School teacher. I used to be a boilermaker and I worked in large metal fabrication plants twelve hours a day. I now drive the taxi between classes and on weekends. It makes enough money to support my family.” I empathised, “It must be hard doing full time studies and full time cab driving and find time for your family too.” I added that I used to teach high school but went to Edith Cowan University Mt Lawley Campus as well, like him, for three years to study psychology in the early 1990s. “I’m now a school psych at Warnbro High School. Kids call me psycho.” “Yes, I know Tony Gillespie who teaches there,” the driver responded. We talked about both of us mutually knowing Tony and what a great guy he was and I said, “I don’t think that you’ll have any trouble getting a job. Where do you want to work?” “Hamilton Hill area, I think,” Neil stated. “I went to high school there in the late 1970’s. I did the Alternative year 11 course in 1979, and then left for an apprenticeship.” I was amazed and exclaimed excitedly. “I worked there too from 1977 to 1981. Do you remember me?” Neil didn’t, but we mutually cognised on coincidence and the small size of the world.
By this time I was feeling car sick as
Arriving at the airport with plenty of time to spare, my newly found friend helped drag our bags to the Qantas counter. I had booked my first $450.00 E Ticket via the Internet and had no paper proof of purchase. Paper tickets were on their way out apparently. I worried, “Would they know that we had booked and paid for the flight when we had nothing to show them.” Saying a cherry hello, a friendly woman Qantas staff member found us in the computer and asked for photo identification. No problem for me, but Richard’s Polish id didn’t match the English name. Not good enough. “We’ll miss our first flight,” I fretted. Fortunately, Richard found suitable identification and we checked our bags through, with the girl ignoring my 5-kilo of excess baggage and we were cheerfully wished a very pleasant flight.
After clearing a beefed up security check with six alert hard working security guards and gigantic x-ray machines, we grabbed an omelette at Café au Volo, and then transferred from my wheelchair to an airline aisle chair twenty minutes before departure. With two women assistants and my well-travelled wooden transfer board, I managed to shift my heavy bulk into the tiny tipsy aisle chair by leaning my head against the airport wall and lifting with straight arms, without falling on the floor and without any lifting by the female attendants who clearly were frightened of lifting a heavy quadriplegic. “Why do they employ females for this job” I wondered throwing ideas of gender equity out the window. “We need a strong man here for this job.” They strapped me in place in the tiny chair like the bag of potatoes I sometimes feel like, first a chest strap, then a leg strap. I was bumped and pushed into the plane hitting every seat as the attendant fought to get me down the aisle. “Are you ok? Watch your arms. We’re nearly there.”
The Boeing 737-400 with its configuration of six seats divided down the centre has the advantage of arm supports, which lift, making transfers from the aisle wheelchair into the airline seat relatively easy. Unfortunately, these planes are really cramped for my nearly 2-meter height, giving little foot room and forcing my knees into the seat ahead. Richard struggled to push me into place. “This has knobs on it,” I thought. “Wish I could afford business class.”
Happily we were granted a vacant seat,
between Richard and myself, which allowed a pleasant uneventful flight to
A relaxing four hours passed. We finished
our tasty Penne lunch, set our watches forward two hours, and touched down
Our bags were waiting, so Richard wheeled them and me a few meters to the Avis counter where a pretty young girl greeted us and asked for credit cards and drivers’ licenses. “Its $3500.00 deductible, if you have an accident or $350.00 if you pay a $27.00 daily insurance fee. Toll fees are an extra $7.00 daily. Would you like a Magna or Commodore?” I elected a new red Commodore with 3,000 km on the clock. Richard embarked to find it somewhere in the bowels of the airport dragging a suitcase. He returned for the second case, and then returned for me.
The weather was cool outside, at least 10
degrees Celsius below
Reaching the car, I struggled into the passenger seat. Because my triceps muscles are paralysed, I lack all lifting strength in my arms. I’ve learned to lock my elbows, keep my arms rigidly straight, and to lift some of my body weight with my weak shoulder muscles. I can’t lift my whole weight, but I’m strong enough to push myself sideways on a smooth transfer board surface. This assumes my feet are in the car, and slide forwards, that I can lean forward to lift, resting my head on the dash, and I have a convenient support structure in the door. These conditions are met at home and I easily slide into the driver’s seat, independently and reliably. However, I’m not used to getting into passengers’ seats and I struggle, curse, and generally need assistance by a vigorous push. This was the case here. “Push Richard. Damn it, I’m stuck. Ah! OK, I’m there.” By 4.00 PM we were in the car, adjusting mirrors and seats and were moving again.
Knowing that Richard only drives a few
minutes daily around
Richard mused, “I first arrived in
I looked about at a dry treeless plain
stretching away from the freeway, with lower socio-economic housing scattered
about. “What a euphemistic name,” I
thought. Richard continued
enthusiastically. “Four of us shared a
room with toilet and shower. Accommodation,
food and travel were free for six to twelve months. We attended English classes daily, with many
of the smarter migrants moving on to St Kildas near
Now we had negotiated the sweeping Pascoe
Vale bend and were headed south on a six lane busy Western Link. “Wow,” I thought. “This pocket guide map, courtesy of City
Link, may be free but it lacks detail.
“Wrong move Richard,” I thought as we
merged onto a six-lane toll freeway.
“It’s ten kilometres until we can get off.” At last, we got off, renegotiated the city,
asked directions and at 8.00 PM drove into the Holiday Inn,
The Holiday Inn on Flinders and Spencer
Streets is only two hundred metres from the Crown Casino, a stroll across the
Richard pushed my wheelchair through the throngs of young people to
Leaving behind the high rollers, we pushed
outside, walking along the
We dropped into the Automatic Café for a pint of Tasman Strong Arm Beer and tasty Spaghetti pasta. With the clock ticking the midnight hour, Richard pushed me back to our hotel, where we predictably got lost looking for the room and ended up returning to reception for help. We later learned that the hotel was constructed in a complete circle with a three-story glass roofed beehive structure in the centre to contain the reception and administration.
Getting to bed for a quadriplegic is always problematic, emptying the leg urinal in a wheelchair accessible toilet, brushing my teeth, taking my prophylactic bladder medication, transferring from the wheelchair across a board to the bed, then being undressed, leg urinal removed and urinal bottle put into place. Tapping and expression or pushing now empties my bladder, and the bottle is emptied. Then, it’s replaced between my legs with a cloth strap through the handle and under the legs. Richard is highly experienced and in spite of an intoxicated state, he handled the job with dexterity. The first day of my trip had ended.
Good Friday 18 April, the
I awoke in the morning tired, after a poor sleep, caused by the hotel windows and walls occasionally emitting very loud cracking noises, like joints being shifted. “This is unreal,” I thought despairingly. “This whole crazy place is tumbling down.” Then there was my legs twice spasming and falling onto the floor. Unfortunately, this problem caused Richard to sleep poorly as well as I woke him and requested assistance. The solution in future was to tie my legs to the bed with a Velcro strap or my belt. At home I use a surfer’s leg strap with great success. [Richard strapped down my troublesome leg using my belt every night for the rest of the trip and this problem didn’t reoccur.]
Getting up on a bowel treatment (BT) day, which occurs three times weekly, is a dismal experience. A process, which takes a non-disabled person ten minutes to complete the three S’s, takes my carer and me nearly two hours. Richard has assisted me for thirteen years now, except when I have been travelling with Lily. Firstly, there are suppositories, which are inserted wearing a plastic glove, and which take half an hour to work. Then, at home, I transfer across my trusty board to a specialised heavy stainless steel wheelchair, which contains a toilet seat called a commode. It’s constructed in a special way so that it may be wheeled over a toilet bowl. I’m not sure how other quadriplegics carry or handle commodes when travelling, but it quickly became apparent to me that I couldn’t travel with both a wheelchair and heavy commode. In 1980, I hired a now deceased craftsman to construct a fibre glassed toilet seat and moulded container, to replace the removable seat of a standard push wheelchair. This flat light weight seat sits easily into my suitcase. When mounted, a bowl sits under the toilet seat atop of the wheelchair crossbars to prevent unpleasantness. The entire construction is lightweight and may be fitted in two minutes to transform, presto, my wheelchair into a commode. This wheelchair adaptation doesn’t go over a regular toilet seat, but the container is quickly emptied down a toilet. The inventive contraption may be used in rooms without access to toilets.
Richard assembled my commode then wheeled me into the bathroom, where the process of bowel evacuation takes about thirty minutes. I always pass this time happily while drinking strong black, preferably plunger coffee and reading books or computer magazines. I then shower. This operation requires a wheelchair wheel-in shower which consists of a drain in the floor and hand held shower piece. These facilities are available in my room this morning, so I’m in good humour since hen’s teeth are more common than wheelchair showers. Richard assisted with the shower, and then wheeled me back to bed, where I transferred by rolling from the wheelchair onto the bed and waited to be dressed. Dressing takes twenty minutes, with the really difficult part being the painting of skin bond adhesive on to my penis, and then rolling on an external catheter. This device, which I call an Irish condom, tongue in cheek, is simply a condom with a tube in the end to fasten to a latex leg bag, which is secured to my upper and lower leg by two Velcro and cloth straps. This bag has a tube and tap at the end for emptying into toilets. When equipped I usually require a bag to be emptied only once a day. Once dressed Richard and I set off for a buffet breakfast in the Clarendon Street Café, included in the room price. This restaurant, we found, was the only way into the Holiday Inn hotel, without pushing up a long, very steep ramp. We were beginning to know our way around.
This meal was excellent with Richard and me consuming scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, fruit, juices and three coffees. Returning to the room refreshed and happy, I typed away while Richard tried to contact Polish friends of his from the migrant camp of twenty years ago. Richard was successful with one name from his tattered address book and talked rapidly in Polish for twenty minutes. Then he told me his conversation.
“When I came out as a refugee, I stayed
with Les Peck, a Polish civil engineer refugee who spoke fluent German. He had constructed things, buildings or
bridges I think, there for a decade. He
and I lived together in the camp and studied English together as neither of us
spoke a word of English. He then sent
for his Polish wife and right away gained a job as a lowly road labourer for
three months. I was studying and washing
dishes myself then. Les told me then
that he had enough manual work and unbelievable to me, he got promoted to boss. He’s a bit arrogant.” Richard continued.
“He’s been late having children and answered the phone for our unexpected chat
by asking, ‘Do you have kids?’ When I
said no he said, ‘don’t you know where to put it or how to use it?’ He boasted of his economic success to me from
being a manager of a gas company; his houses, and a summer cottage, but said he
was on his way out and couldn’t see me.”
Richard said goodbye but rang him back with a further enquiry. “Les was irritated, and said he was rushed
and had to leave, but would like to talk later.” Richard added, “I last saw him twelve years
Richard tried other contacts
unsuccessfully. “You’ve got to write
annually, Richard,” I patronised. “Once
every twenty years isn’t often enough. Email helps these days.” Richard was particularly saddened and
disappointed to miss Voychuk with whom he had roomed during his two years in
Richard and I settled on our outing for the
day, a long walk along the South bank of the
Arriving back at the Holiday Inn at 6.00 PM we discussed dinner. “Let’s try the Dragon Boat Restaurant, downstairs,” I suggested. “Dishes are $30.00, a bit expensive, but it’s convenient.” Richard agreed. Sitting down, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by four hundred Chinese diners, most in large family groups and speaking Cantonese. This, to me, was always the litmus test for quality restaurants. Service was fast, attentive, and dishes large, and tasty. “We’ve waited only ten minutes but the place is packed. It’s hard to believe that they’ll cater for so many people so effectively,” I said to Richard. “This is a great meal, and really wonderful restaurant. We chose well.”
Ready for bed around 10.00 PM I asked Richard if he was heading off to the Crown Casino only a short walk away. Richard hit the nail squarely on the head with his heated reply. “The Casino is boring as hell,” he exclaimed. “People there don’t want to talk or make friends. They’re totally focussed on winning money. They’re monkeys, mindlessly pulling slot machine arms repetitively. There’s nothing to do there.” That comment put to rest my fears that Richard might find himself penniless, early in the trip.
Saturday 19 April Visit to St Kildas
Leaving for a swim at the Albert Park Aquatic Centre, at 10.00 AM, Richard was told it was a ten-minute walk from the hotel. Returning three hours later he ruefully explained. “I’d forgotten how Australians measure distances. One kilometre is really six. I walked like hell for forty minutes. All the tramlines veer right or left from where I wanted to go. The Centre is the biggest and best I’ve seen, only a year old. Fantastic. I had a great time.” I had spent the three hours absorbed with the laptop.
In the afternoon Richard and I set out for
St Kildas on
Valet service fetched the car, Richard
installed my two-meter ham radio gear and we set off, south up
Richard and I walked passed
We walked along the beach then returned to
admire the scary sophiscated rides, roller coasters, wheels and other thrill seeking
Checking my watch I noted time running on to 5.00 PM. The sun was setting and air getting cool. I had promised to meet an ex-girlfriend, and still a good friend of mine, twenty-five years down the track, Janet. Janet had driven four hours from Albury for the date, and was staying with her sister Belinda, and Belinda’s husband and three teenage kids. We were meeting at my hotel at for drinks and a meal. Janet had come into my life in 1977, when I met her at a folk dance and fell in love. Soon Janet and myself were dining out, spending our nights together, and canoeing, camping, dancing and travelling on weekends.
I also SCUBA dived every Saturday and
Sunday morning, flew a Cessna 150 in the afternoons to obtain a private pilot
license in December 1977. I was employed
full time as a curriculum
coordinator, a prestigious, unique research position in
By December 1978, Janet and I had rented a
Advancing watches two hours ahead to 3.00
PM, we admired a good view of the New Zealand Alps as we flew West, near
Queenstown, and Mount Cook, and on over the flat verdant green of the
farm-studded Canterbury Plain. I put on
my high school geography teacher’s hat and lectured Richard, “
On landing, a female attendant volunteered
to lift my heavy bulk into an aisle chair four centimetres higher than the
airline seat taking offence at my pleads for a strong male. “It’s ok, I’ll do it,” she repeated
twice. She strained and grunted, and I
exhorted, “try harder, we need a big lift, yeah, nearly.” I ended up between
the two chairs perched precariously. I
had told Richard, who is physically unable to lift anything without injury to
his back that he must always put on a show of helping. Otherwise, the attendants become distressed
and nasty. Richard tugged feebly at my
belt, making up for his lack of strength by urging me on vociferously. A male attendant helped more effectively by
lifting my legs at my knees. With minor
buttock abrasions, I made it into the aisle chair and was wheeled to the air
bridge where my wheelchair waited. I
thought, “Good on ya Air New
At the Avis counter, Mr Navigator, me, made
sure the cheerful red headed male clerk, marked the route to Holiday Inn,
We drove directly to the hotel, missing only a tricky turn into Oxford Terrace, a deficit quickly remedied as Richard asked directions from a friendly grey haired driver. I sent Richard out in the car for take away while I updated my diary in our new hotel room. I turned in early, after a large filling take-away chicken pie and a polar bear while Richard took the car into the city and explored until midnight. He reported on his nocturnal adventures.
“I walked between the Casino and a large
Cathedral, which peeled bells every fifteen minutes,” Richard said. “The city was totally quiet, being Easter
Sunday with no one on the streets. The
side streets were like those of
Monday 21 April 2003 Mount Cook
I slept well and woke refreshed, except
Monday morning was the dreaded BTs, a process consuming two hours from 7.00 to
9.00 AM. Fortunately, I enjoyed a long
hot shower in the wheel-in shower. Left
over chicken pie takeaway constituted breakfast. Richard packed and I paid the $100.00 Holiday
Inn bill, then we left to drive around the city centre. Turning on the local
radio, I heard a pop tune with the words, “It feels so good to move in you….”
“That’s a bit explicit,” I thought and changed stations to hear, “This is
I noted the British background in the vast
majority of residents and use of British terminology such as Motor Sales for
car sales. Streets were often four lanes
in width, creating a spacey, leafy, pleasant atmosphere. Single storey wooden frame, tin roof cottages
predominated on the back streets reminded me of the unpretentious New
Driving around made Richard
disoriented. “I’m hopeless at knowing
where I am and which direction to take. I always go east thinking its
west.” I recalled Richard setting out
Richard went through a speed camera at sixty kilometres and was strobed. “Had your picture taken, Richard,” I joked. “I wasn’t speeding,” he muttered. “Perhaps not, but the light on the camera flashed,” I replied. “You won’t have to pay, we’re leaving NZ,” he said. I contradicted him, ‘you will pay because Avis will charge the ticket to my Visa, and I’ll charge you. As driver you are responsible for your speed and tickets.” Richard drove silently for the next half hour. [We never received a bill for that ticket!]
The green flat plain was dotted with numerous large paddocks of sheep; everywhere we looked. Some paddocks were populated with one or two thousand snowy white animals. Holstein dairy cattle added back and white colour to the bestial scenery, reminding me that dairy products in NZ were the cheapest in the world; a dollar for a milkshake or double scoop ice-cream. Unusual eight metre neatly trimmed hedges, constructed from tightly packed spruce trees, acted as windbreaks towering like prison walls and bisecting the countryside. Bridges hundreds of metres in length spanned gravel beds of enormous dry gravelled floodway rivers. Turning eastward we also spotted deer and emu farms as well as Black Angus cattle and stopped to allow traffic to cross numerous single lane bridges.
As we drove east in mid-afternoon towards towering snow capped mountains, we climbed steadily, while the temperature dropped and the mid-April autumn colours intensified; brightly coloured tall yellow poplars lining the two lane highway, like picturesque sentinels. Oncoming traffic, being the end of the Easter holiday, was unrelenting, nearly bumper-to-bumper. Richard pulled out to pass in the face of an oncoming car, and badly scared me. I gasped, “Jesus Richard, take your time. I’m in no hurry.” I calmed myself by thinking, “Richard is very good at not speeding. He won’t do a dangerous move like that again.” We stopped for a coffee, overlooking barren Alpine meadows and large lakes. As the sun dipped below the horizon at 6.00 PM, it painted the snow clad sides of Mount Cook, picturesque orange and yellow and made us shiver in the near zero Celsius temperature.
We pulled in Mount
Cook National Park and spotted the thirty odd buildings of the
townsite. Lights glowed in the
lengthening shadows, highlighting an enormous hotel, the Hermitage (Aoraki) lite like a passenger
liner, ten stories high, appearing to sail sedately, at the foot of the
mountain. We booked a disabled room for
$90.00. “You’re lucky,” the receptionist
told us. “We have five such rooms but
four are booked already to a tour of disabled Americans” We met the group at
dinner, mostly elderly folk from
I found myself feeling irritated and despondent, with this emotional clue making me aware and focussing in on my thoughts. “I’d hate to travel with a group of other disabled people and these people aren’t really disabled, only elderly,” I thought. “They can stand, walk short distances, use their hands and control their bladder and bowels. They are way better off than me. I bet this tour wouldn’t take a quadriplegic like me. These people should take folk like me.” Hold on a minute I counselled myself in my mind silently. “These people are having a wonderful time, and the tour bus with its lift lets them take their electric chairs with them. They are doing more activities than us. If you took your attendant on such a tour you could reduce costs, also take an electric chair, be spared the bookings and organisation and have a good time. If you contacted them, they might even have an attendant to share amongst more disabled passengers, further lowering expense.” I added to myself in my mind, “I guess they are doing a good job and I should keep their email for a future trip.” I felt more buoyant with this new belief.
[Andrew wrote me in September, saying, “I
cannot express enough how much I have enjoyed reading your journals. Thank you
so much for mentioning what we do and how we do it. Ironically, you mentioned
how our group didn't include anyone like yourself. That was just the
composition of that particular tour. Being a quadriplegic myself we actually
started to cater to people like ourselves, I guess older people just have the
time and the resources to travel with us. Congratulations on all your success I
am very impressed by your journey! It was a pleasure meeting you please stay in
touch and don't ever hesitate to send adventurous disabled travellers our way!
We appreciate any help we can get!
Director, NeverLand Adventures, Inc.
I'll give the hippie your best!]
Richard undressed me and put me to bed around 11.00, then went out to explore the hotel nightlife. “It’s dead,” he reported disappointedly a short time later. “Reception’s closed, the bar is empty and it’s as quiet as a tomb.”
Wednesday 23 April 2003
Richard aroused himself at 7.30, and began the two-hour BT process of getting me going. The Aurum Hotel room, with its twin beds, high quality furniture and large wheel in shower was the best we had stayed in to date. It’s unique in its policy to sell rooms to investors for $186,000.00 then renting them for the investor, at a boasted eight percent annual return. It’s one of a hundred hotels scattered around the city. We opted to finish our Indian meal for breakfast, and then Richard took a long bath while I typed. At 2.00 PM we ventured into town to take photos, consume cappuccinos, window shop and admire the many beautiful young ladies in the town. Richard commented, “I really want a girl, but I’m getting old and they’re in their twenties. It takes so much work. I only fantasize.” I said sadly, “At least you have a sex life, Richard. I have no feeling, and only get high blood pressure and headaches.” I then disputed my comments to myself. “Get off it, Don. Don’t get yourself down. You didn’t do anything when you were able bodied and as a happily married fifty six year old man, you’re not in the least interested in chasing twenty-year-old women. They are hardly older than girls you counsel in the high school. Sex has never been a part of your life style and you haven’t really missed it. You are really enjoying your life the way it is.” I felt happier after this bit of self-therapy.
We drove East along the lake for forty
minutes on a serpentine road that hugged the mountainside, sometimes skirting
the beach and sometimes climbing up the mountain. We drove down an exceptionally steep hairpin
road to the lake and parked next to the Thistle
and the Rose, a van. Donald emerged
from the camper van, carrying a fishing line, to catch his nightly trout
meal. This white haired Scottish
gentleman came over to our car, while Richard took photographs of the
lake. I asked him, “Think it’s going to
rain?” He talked about the gravel dust
storm caused by the high winds and added, “We camp here for $10.00 a night paid
to the Department of Agriculture. There
are no amenities, but we’re self-contained and love this mountain setting. I love
Returning to the hotel around 6.00 pm we rang Tanya, the manager / receptionist to pay up. “She’s very beautiful,” Richard warned, “from a South Pacific island.” Tanya, in her twenties, with long lack hair and eyes and beautiful smile and teeth, arrived about 7.00 pm. “I’m from Tonga.” she told us, “and I left when I was nine before they used washing machines. I went back at thirteen and they had modernised with a jet airport for the tourists coming to see the statues. There are 140 islands, there, mostly uninhabited, which can only be visited by yacht. I’m been manager here for the last five years, working a ten hour day, four day week, but it extends into twelve or fourteen hours daily.” Tanya and I negotiated the hotel rate. She wanted $140.00 a night, but I had booked by the Internet for one night at $125.00. We settled amicably for $265.00 for the two nights.
After a glass of duty free Bundy and coke,
we visited the hotel dining room after a difficult exhausting push up a very
steep driveway for a meal of blue cod, a local NZ fish. We met the waiter and bar attendant Rasmus, a
solid young man in his early twenties, for bottles of the popular NZ Spleight
beer in front of a large crackling fire.
In perfect English he told us, “I’m from twenty kilometres west of
Rasmus helped us negotiate the multi-level hotel maze back to our room, where I brushed Richard’s suitcase, with my wheelchair. In a Dr Hyde and Mr Jeckyl manner, Richard turned on me almost like a savage dog and shouted very loudly and angrily, “Don’t you fucking touch my suitcase!” Rasmus relaxed manner evaporated like water in summer heat. He looked at Richard as if Richard was unbalanced and quickly left. Richard told me, “I paid my wife Hisako $200.00 for the case and want to keep it in good condition.” “Richard.” I said, “I felt highly embarrassed that you used obscenities, in front of people doing us a service, because it offends them and demeans me. I would like you to keep such language private between the two of us.”
Thursday 24 April
Our plan today is to depart the hotel 8.00 AM, drive highway 8B up the Tawarau River gorge to Camwell, turn east on highway 8, make a dog leg turn and proceed through central Otago on Highway 85 to Palmerston, then hike North nearly three hundred kilometres on Highway 1 to Christ Church and our Holiday Inn hotel: a total trip exceeding five hundred kilometres.
The Tawarau River gorge with its steep hills and rapidly flowing river is exceptionally scenic and we made many stops to take photographs. We stopped at a tourist site outlining the gold mining history on this river. Camwell is a beautifully laid out city on a large lake, overlooked by steep hills, frosted with snow. After taking advantage of a photo opportunity from a roadside vantage point, high above the town, we pushed on through the rolling countryside, making one stop at a fruit orchard. The worker sent us on our way with a free bag of apples, telling us that he wasn’t interested unless we purchased a truckload.
85 is exceptionally scenic, arid rough and empty country with immense
hills, dissected by rivers and creeks.
The region has a unique, colourful character. We passed a
farmer’s fence two hundred metres were burdened with shoes, male and
female, of every variety numbering into the thousands. I wondered if this was a reoccurrence of the
to become the defining feature of the town’s fame.
We stopped at an isolated Spleight pub in
the middle of no-where. Using the toilet
Richard was amused by a brightly painted skilfully executed cartoon in German
painted on a board. Scene one was a man
combing his hair with a toilet brush and saying, “this isn’t right.” Scene two showed the brush on the buttocks,
with the man saying ‘this is better.’
Seen three presented the man cleaning the toilet, saying, ‘this is
right.’ Richard asked the pub owner
about the cartoon. “One of our farmers
does a lot of business in
Friday 25 April
Up at 4.00 AM, Richard accomplished the
quadriplegic two hour routine competently, we checked out $115.00 poorer and
then we got lost driving to the airport.
It was dark, and I found the small map print and street signs were
impossible to read. Time drifted to 7.30
with a 9.00 plane departure, and my anxiety escalated. “I’m lost. I’m going to
miss this flight and the one to
Richard chatted to a NZ deer farmer, as we
waited for our one-hour NZ flight 508, Boeing 767-200, from
We had one hour in Auckland to disembark,
transfer from the domestic to international airports, shop and board the Boeing
767-300 three-hour flight to Nandi, Fiji.
My wheelchair had been booked to Nandi, and I was confined to a small
awkward horrible NZ wheelchair, and pushed into the domestic departures
lounge. “Someone will be along in twenty
minutes to drive you to international departures,” I was reassured. Twenty-five minutes later, Richard was
worried, but I had escaped into Wilbur Smith.
Thirty minutes later, I suggested Richard talk to Air New
End of Chapter Two