“It’s Gonna Be a Bumpy Ride, Kid”: A Note to my 13-Year-Old Self
Looking down at my feet, I have to keep reminding myself I’m wearing takeaway boxes as shoes. I curl my toes as I feel the heat from the tarmac penetrating the not-so-durable cardboard that protects my feet. I never thought I would find myself in the middle of an airport clad in such footwear, in the driest heat imaginable, waiting for a 200-seater plane to finally take me home.
At the ripe age of 13, I was not like most girls of today with their nips popping out of their shirts. Rather, I had pimples popping out from under my horrendous fringe. I remember lying on my bed with its flannelette, mandala-print sheets, hopelessly wondering what the world had to offer me in the future in terms of travel.
I dreamed of sunsets over sand dunes and exploring vast deserts on camel back, sipping champagne on terracotta terraces and, maybe, finding love with some foreign prince charming like in the cliché chick flicks I would fill my Friday nights with.
When it came time to head out on my own, I soon realised that travelling is not a blockbuster movie. I didn’t have a million-dollar budget; I wasn’t surrounded by Clooneys and DiCaprios; and to be quite frank, camels stink like shit and champagne tastes revolting. Travelling, like the rest of life, is just a series of good and bad moments in different places that are defined by your attitude towards them.
Some may ask if I’m qualified to make these accusations against a multimillion dollar industry that captures the spirit of the young and the old, and undoubtedly, I am.
So I’m standing at the airport, worlds away from my naive 13-year-old self, with takeaway boxes as shoes. This odd predicament begins with a goat that I met at an animal wildlife sanctuary on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. With a few hours to fill in before my flight back home to Australia, I figured a quick visit to a local attraction, such as the animal sanctuary, could do no harm.
Making my way through the animal enclosures, I noticed a figure following me from one to the next. Enter Jonathan the goat: a small, pudgy, white-bearded creature that was fond of my company. Parading around, we took photos, we shared a salad sandwich and even fed the ducks together at a rather small pond (puddle) in the middle of the property.
It came time to leave, so I went to exit the way I came in: through a one-way turnstile activated by the ticket I purchased upon entry. Jonathan seemed quite keen to accompany me, and checking with the keepers, they seemed fine with letting the goat farewell me through the turnstile. In fact, they found it hilarious.
I placed my ticket into the slot and prodded Jonathan forward to move through the gate, but he wouldn’t budge. Instead, he let out a massive scream, as if he was a feature of the many screaming goat videos on Facebook. For fuck’s sake Jonathan, I thought. Now is not the time. I have two hours to get to the airport and sign in so I can fly back over the ocean and sleep in my own bed on my new mandala-print sheets.
All of a sudden, a gush of liquid flowed out from between the goat’s legs.
“Jonathan is a Joanne!” cried one of the keepers with a chuckle.
No, this can’t be happening now, I yelled internally. A goat I thought was a very fat male has turned out to be an extremely pregnant female and has decided to give birth right here, right now; my freedom is just the turn of a metal-armed star away.
I instantly decided that I would not abandon my new friend in her time of need. Though I convinced myself it was due to ethical reasons, it was also because no one could get me out of the exit booth. After two hours, a precious baby goat – or kid if you want to get all scientific – was delivered in full health. I managed to lift Joanne and Lil Joanne over the gate, and was granted my exit.
13-year-old me could not have predicted that this was what the world had to offer in terms of travel, but the weirdness of that particular journey was not yet over.
A few hours later, I was crumpled with exhaustion on the floor of the airport after becoming a goat delivery specialist. What I also did was make the rookie mistake of leaving my shoes untied. By the time I woke up, my shoes had been stolen right off of my feet. Fortunately, my quick-thinking friends sacrificed their takeaway boxes as temporary footwear, a decision that saved me from the sweltering lump of asphalt that is Port Moresby’s airport.
Even when it doesn’t go to plan, travelling has taught me more than any education system or even my parents ever could. It has connected me with amazing people and given me life-changing and eye-opening experiences. From dancing with tribes in Papua New Guinea to hiking canyons in America, to standing on sacred Aboriginal land, witnessing traditional energy cleansing ceremonies as my spirit was welcomed to their country. I have even had an indigenous tribe walk two hours along the Kokoda Trail in the rain just to sing me ‘Happy Birthday’. 13-year-old me could not have predicted that either, no matter how long she lay on those flannelette sheets.
I have also had to sell tin foil “government repellent” hats to intoxicated teens at a festival to scrounge enough money to catch a taxi to my hostel. I have witnessed people get free tattoos simply from purchasing a taco, and I once paid a guy in San Francisco $50 to play ‘Under the Sea’ from The Little Mermaid on aluminium buckets. I have watched a lady in a trench coat on a public train give a pigeon mouth-to-mouth, claiming it was her spirit child. (The pigeon actually did survive thanks to her quick reaction time.)
From living off a tube of Colgate toothpaste for a week to using 32 two sticks of chewing gum to hold my hiking boot together in the middle of the Australian bush, I have experienced how travelling can be not good, not bad, but just plain unpredictable, unexplainable and uninspiring.
When you trot the globe, it’s not all ‘Walter Mitty’ and ‘EAT, PRAY, LOVE’, but it is not necessarily all a chapter from ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ either. It can’t be predicted or planned or tailored. If I could talk to my 13-year-old, pimple-faced, fringe-bearing, Mumford-and-Sons-loving self again, I would say, “Stuff the whole live, laugh, love travel shit. Don’t plan anything meticulously, and if it comes to it, deliver that goat. In the end, you won’t remember that 18-hour flight where you slept perfectly, or that hostel where the bathroom was super clean and the sheets were definitely changed that afternoon. So fuck it. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride, kid.”
Cover by Wesley Quinn