An Unlikely Travel Companion
The trip was my idea. I actually had to convince him to come. But now the warnings were flowing in thick and fast from everyone I knew.
“You won’t even be able to party properly in Europe.”
“You’re not gonna want to do the same things.”
“You’ll hate each other by the end.”
When I told my sister she raised her eyebrows and coughed out a laugh of disbelief.
“Why would you go travelling with him for six months though?” she questioned. Under the scrutiny I felt I needed an excuse other than He’s a cool guy and I want to.
“Well, he has family connections in Holland, so I want to go there together, and I want a male to travel with in India, then I figured we may as well fill in the middle!” I said, trying to sound convincing.
“Right. Well. Good luck with that one.”
The conversation turned to other things but I was restless.
Most 18-year-olds don’t do half a gap year with their 63-year-old Dad. Had I made a terrible mistake? But it was too late. The flights were booked.
You wont even be able to party properly in Europe…
“Hey! Uncle Paul!”
My cousins greeted Dad and I with hugs and a flurry of words exchanged in Dutch as we piled onto the small boat. Drinks in hand, we cruised out into the hidden channels of Amsterdam.
I leaned back on the bow, sunnies shielding my eyes from the late-night European sun. The boat zipped beneath delicate bridges and past cobbled streets, humming with the sound of bicycles.
My cousins laughed encouragingly as I practiced my abysmal Dutch, the conversation punctured by shouts of “Proost!” with the arrival of each new beer.
Thank god for family connections, I mused, as Amsterdam whirled around me.
One of the cousins plonked down next to me and gave me a squeeze around the shoulders.
“We’re so glad you and Uncle Paul came to visit!” she said. “It’s so cool that you’re travelling with your Dad.”
I looked over at Dad, who was in the process of rolling a joint to share around.
“Yeah it is!” I laughed. “He’s pretty cool.”
As the night grew dark, we docked the boat and I stumbled to the bar with my cousins while Dad headed home for the night.
When I finally crawled into bed at 7am he looked up from his coffee, shook his head and laughed before leaving me to sleep off my miserable hangover.
You’re not gonna want to do the same things…
We pushed on through the sweltering cobbled streets of Athens. I attempted to ignore my hangover while Dad pretended to ignore the hordes of tourists. The frown on his face told me he was not succeeding.
“It’s just not the same Daught,” he said, shaking his head, as we squeezed through the crowds bumbling through the market. “In the ’70s it was all hand-crafted; none of this tacky plastic.”
I half closed my eyes and tried to imagine what it would have been like the last time he was here. Streets full of locals and the occasional hippie cruising in and out of rickety stores selling food, coffee and handmade trinkets. The imagination hurt my already sore head.
“Plastic shit…” I heard Dad mutter again as he eyed off the stalls.
A coffee house popped into view, tables full of serious faced men, rapidly clacking dice against a backgammon board. A spare table and board sat to one side.
Dad and I glanced at each other knowingly. We’d planned on visiting the mighty Acropolis that day, but the thought of iced coffee and backgammon in the shade was far more tempting than scaling yet another Roman ruin. I raised my eyebrows and nodded to the table.
“One game?” I tested, knowing full-well one game would turn to an all out ‘first-to-five’ battle. Dad grinned.
“Lets do it,” he replied and we veered out of the crowd and into the café. The Acropolis would have to wait until tomorrow.
You’ll hate each other by the end…
Trumpeting truck horns blasted me awake. Apparently that’s how you turn a blind corner in India; don’t give way, just beep and hope that people move.
I rolled over to see Dad’s bed empty. He was probably out for a morning walk.
I left him to it. By himself, he was just another old hippie, reliving the glory days; nothing special. I, on the other hand, was a spectacle. Being young, blonde and female basically meant I walked around with a sign on my forehead saying PLEASE STARE AT ME.
The truck horns continued their jarring symphony. I sighed. May as well get up.
The smell of breakfast drew me out in search of a morning cuppa. When I reached the kitchen door, I paused. Dad was back from his morning walk, coffee in hand. Hovering around him was a small gathering of backpackers, each with a different look of enthralled wonder on their faces.
“…because back in those days it was a little different,” Dad was explaining. “The border to Afghanistan was still open, so you could travel through pretty safely.”
His expression told me he was quietly chuffed at all the attention. I grinned to myself. Dad’s travel stories were a regular occurrence growing up, and part of the reason I ended up inheriting the travel bug.
I listened for a moment, watching the shocked backpackers reactions as he relived the time he got caught smuggling hashish across an international border.
As I watched, I felt a wave of pride. Dad had been reluctant to come on the trip, nervous about travelling after 30 years. But here he was, six months later, staying in hostels, hiking mountains, eating street food and coaxing me onto trains resembling sardine tins.
As Dad’s storytelling wound down, and the backpackers dispersed I moved into the kitchen.
“Morning Dad,” I said.
I popped the kettle on and settled in beside him to plan the last days of our trip.