This post, based on the theme “drive,” is written for the Kidspot Top Bloggers for 2011 competition.
Driving is not just an act of getting from A to B. It is an adventure, a story to tell, and the creation of memories that will last forever.
“Let’s go for a drive around the island, it is so beautiful here I want to discover what lies amongst the emerald valleys.”
My two girlfriends and I had been backpacking through Indonesia now for almost a month when we arrived on Samosir Island, Sumatra.
We decided to hire motorbikes from a few local boys we had sat and chatted with on the street the night before as they strummed their guitars and sang Indonesian love songs.
I had never driven a motorbike before, and my first attempt was a bunny hop about three feet in the air and my best friend Bec crashed hers into a sign.
“Maybe it is better if you let us drive,” Rosco said. “We can give you a tour of the island as we go.”
As it was our first trip abroad, we were keen to explore as much of Indonesia as we could and quickly agreed.
Elements of Danger
A week later, I lay across my friends’ laps in the back of a minivan that was overtaking slower drivers around sharp mountainous bends. We were squashed in with about 25 locals. I was stunned when the driver stopped to pick up even more and tapped the ticket tout on the leg…
“Um excuse me? I don’t think there is any more room in the Inn.”
“Yes. Yes. No problem,” he dismissively waved me off with his hand as he lifted up the newest passengers onto the roof to take their seat. Further passengers were made to stand on the window sill outside holding onto the roof as we continued our treacherous journey. I thought of how much I preferred this form of driving than my day of terror on the back of those bikes.
“Hey Bec? Would you rather be here or back on those bikes with the psychos right now?”
“Lovin this van Caz. Lovin it.”
Motorbikes lost their thrill for me after that day. Even when Craig sits in front to drive me, I feel a slight tremor of fear and extreme vulnerability and we have spent many days together exploring the back roads of South East Asia.
There was this one time we had to get separate motor bike taxis to go out to dinner in Phonm Phenh, Cambodia. His bike raced off; I sat perched on mine and watched in terror from behind as his driver made a sharp left turn.
At that instant, they were T-boned from behind by another motor bike, thrown to the ground and skidded along the busy main road.
Fears for my own safety were left behind as I hollered at my driver to stop and jumped off the bike mid-air to run towards him. Luckily, Craig lost only the pocket on his pants, but the bike however, was a tangled mess and his driver was scraped up and bleeding from head to foot.
An all in brawl erupted on the street as blame was thrown around. Craig and I knew how this mess could easily be turned on the foreigners who would be made to pay for all repairs, so we quietly slipped away and returned to our driver in the morning to give him some money to help recover the loss of his income.
The money we gave our Indonesian motorbike drivers were not enough to satisfy them. They wanted to make us pay through fear.
The trip started out pleasant enough around Samosir. Our drivers took us to many beautiful viewing spots high upon the rolling hills. I enjoyed the exhilarating freedom that came from sitting on the back of a motorbike; it felt like the perfect union of the fresh air, nature’s surroundings and myself.
Our drivers, Rosco, Roy and “Crazy Man,” were excited to take us to the famous natural hot springs. Bec’s driver, Crazy Man, had been making her get off the bike and walk up the hills, while he hid in the bushes and jumped out at her in a game of hide and seek only he found amusing.
Find your own way home
Bec was spooked and we politely asked the boys if they could drive us home.
They laughed in our face and tossed us the keys.
“You wanna go home, drive the bikes yourself. Otherwise wait for us. We want to enjoy the hot springs.”
Of course when you are being driven around a foreign land, you are too interested in the life that moves about you outside then staring at a map or noting landmarks to know where you are and how you can get back.
At least the time Craig and I had been forced to ditch our transportation in the middle of rural Malawi Africa, we had our drivers pointing the way for us to walk to the next village. A walk that was conducted in stony silence for an hour, the anger in our hearts separating us to deal with our heavy backpack load alone under the sweltering sun.
Fights happen when you spend so longliving out of each other’s pockets, especially after the gruelling journeys on the roads of Africa. We knew this one was going to be unlike any other the moment the driver pointed for us to jump in his vehicle that would take us to Monkey Bay. We walked towards the mini-van and he hollered for us to come back…
“Not that one, this one”
Our raised eyes moved from each other to him. As the passengers began to pile in with their baskets of goods, sacks of potatoes, and bicycles, we knew this was not a joke.
So we did what we had been doing for the last couple of months. We threw our backpacks in the Ute, and hustled for some space on a bicycle handle.
I was actually quite relieved a few hours later when the car jolted to a sudden halt on the dirt road, and to our left we could all see the wheel of our rusty, beat up Ute go rolling down into the ravine below.
At least now I could find some of the Tin Man’s magic oil to unhinge my legs, take the bike out of my butt, and go for a walk to find a more reliable vehicle. The frustration and tiredness got the better of Craig and I and we unleashed it out on each other in a fire torrent of worn out abuse.
There was that moment with Rosco on the back of that bike on Samosir Island when I let the fear get the better of me, and I learned then that uncontrolled outbursts of emotions never do anyone any good.
Rosco turned psychotic once we had left the hot springs. He raced ahead of the others on the bike and I had to beg him to pull over and wait for the others to catch up. He beckoned for me to join him on the grass and look at the pretty pictures the clouds were making in the sky.
That is when alarm bells started to ring. Samosir Island is famous for magic mushrooms. There wasn’t a guesthouse or restaurant in the small tourist town that wasn’t advertising mushroom shakes or mushroom pizzas on their menus. Lake Toba was widely spoken about on the backpacking route as the place to go if you wanted to trip out.
I didn’t need to ingest the mushrooms to feel the side effects of its psychedelic world. I was trapped in the reality of someone else’s.
The others soon caught up, and the ride of terror began. We were taken to look out points whose magnificent views were lost on us as we spoke in hushed voices to each other to do whatever it took to keep together.
There was one thing about our communal village pick up and mini-van drives in Asia and Africa. We always had so many comforting hands and friendly voices protecting us and keeping us safe.
My Ugandan friend Benson decided to take his Muzungu (white person) under his wing on our drive through the mountainous passes in the back of a pick up on the way to see the gorillas.
Our 97 km journey took over 9 hours as we battled with muddy roads and torrential rain. Of course the thirty of us, with all village possessions packed into the back did nothing to speed the journey along.
Several of the villagers had to stand in the middle of the tray, on the potato sacks, holding on to each other for support while we sat perched on the edge of the Ute, legs dangling over the side.
A couple of stops before, we had picked up two prisoners, handcuffed together, and they now danced delicately with each other battling to stay upright. One of them could not help but balance on my shoulder.
I tried my best to remain quiet, but eventually a small “Ow” slipped out from underneath the pressure of his backside.
Benson turned immediately to the prisoners behind me and started beating them.
“Get off my Muzungu. Get off her”
“No Benson, it is okay. They didn’t mean it.”
“They were trying to kill you man! No one is going to hurt my Muzungu.”
I was really grateful for Benson’s support further along the journey when I almost came face to face with the treacherous valley below. We were hiding under a blue tarp from the torrential rain, Craig and I in hysterics about the driving predicament we now found ourselves in. The laughter caused me to weaken me grip and I began sliding.
“Help,” I screamed out. “I’m falling.”
Benson turned and began pounding on the roof of the driver’s cab. “Stop driving! Stop driving.” The car screeched to a halt and Benson hoisted me back up into the tray.
Uncontrolled Bursts of Emotion
For all the crazy driving adventures I have had before, I never once actually thought I was seriously going to die. I feared for it, and felt it’s icy breath threatening the skin on my neck, but there has only been one time in my life where I actually resigned myself to death.
Rosco was doing his very best to play cat and mouse games with the others as we made our way back home. He would speed up and away from them, and then slow right down to a crawl once they caught up. His antics were really starting to fray my nerves.
I was worried for Bec and we soon passed her standing outside a ramshackle pub where her driver had demanded they stop for a drink. Her eyes pleaded with me to stop and help her but Rosco would not have any of it and he sped away.
We now found ourselves alone. The road had begun to crumble, and the incessant pot holes made it difficult for straight safe driving. This was when Rosco decided that the best kind of driving is that which is done fast.
Terror, exacerbated by the needle swinging up to 100 on the gauge below him, gripped my body. I could not hold it in and I began belting his arm, the sobs exploding from my body as I screamed,
“Slow Down. Slow Down.”
“Why, are you frightened? Do you think I am going to hurt you? he sounded so hurt and misunderstood.
“Slow down slow down,” he taunted, squealing into the wind, mimicking my terror.
He turned to me, mouth wide open, teeth bared and laughed, a maniacal ear-piercing laugh that now, 14 years later, I can still hear vividly in my mind; a laugh that quickly dried up my sobs and made me focus intently on this present moment and what I was going to do to be free of it.
Of course no driving adventure would be any fun without music. Rosco decided it was time that he let the tunes roll out and began singing my Bob Marley favourite, “I shot the Sheriff.”
His unique version of the song turned my blood to ice.
“I killed the tourist and then I stole her passport.”
And then there was that laugh again that would do the joker proud...”Slow Down Slow Down…”
Over and over again.
I could barely breathe and had no logical thoughts as to what I could do.
He slowed down, turned off the speedo, sped up again, and later dimmed the lights as we drove around bend after bend on the mountainous road. I searched desperately ahead for any sign of the sparkling lights of the town where we were staying.
“You know Caroline,” he eventually broke the silence. “We could have an accident here and no one would ever know what happened. Your body would be lost in the jungle and no one would ever find it. Your parents would never know what happened to their missing daughter.”
I begged myself not to cry or show any sort of emotion.
“But, we are not going to have an accident are we?” was my quiet, monotone reply.
“Well how do I know? These are dangerous roads. It’s very easy to have an accident.”
And that was when I gave up. That was when I realized there was nothing I could do. I was at the mercy of this man; it was up to him and some other powers that existed outside of myself, to decide whether I would live or die.
I sat quietly on the back of the bike, the fear slithered out from within me, and I waited.
It wasn’t long before the lights of our village appeared in the distance. As we rounded the last bend back into town an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and relief flooded my body. I will never know why he left it at that, maybe the magic mushies had worn off and the fun of the game left him.
My nightmare was now over
By the time we pulled up out the front of our guesthouse, my friends had caught up. Bec and I jumped off the bikes and embraced each other.
Rosco then asked me the most bizarre question of all, “Would you like to go out for a drink?”
I cannot repeat here the vile vernacular that erupted out of my mouth as I grabbed Bec’s hand and raced to the bar to order straight shots of vodka. A drink I never drink.
We spent the remainder of the evening with a chair jammed up against the door of our room sharing our tales from our day of driving terror. We left early the next morning on the first ferry out of there.
The Fun of the Drive
While I might be less inclined to jump on the back of a motorbike or sit in the back of pickups along the dusty roads of Africa and Asia now that I have a family, the thrill of the drive and the adventures that can be had along the way have never left me.
Even those scary ones have left me with a story to tell.
Road trips are now fun in their adventures, instead of uncomfortable and frightening (except maybe when I am forgetting which side of the road I should be driving on, but that’s a whole other story).
Kalyra insists that we play Carrie Underwood on repeat for eight hours so she can sing her heart out and munch out on chips in between songs.
She often remarks how much she misses her white car in America, the road tripping van that took us on adventures exploring the delightful cultures of the South.
Before that, it was Winnie, our brown mini van, who helped us outrun tornadoes in Oklahoma, protected us from electrifying lightning bolts in Arizona, and drove us to new Rocky Mountain highs in Colorado before delivering us safely to the Pacific Ocean in California for our journey home.
It is not just the tales of danger and terror that the word “drive” conjures up for me, but of times searching the Savanna for cheetahs on the chase, giraffes loping by, and elephant tribes bathing in the mud.
Of drives along some of the world’s most well known and magnificent routes– the Great Ocean Road, Pacific Hwy 1 in California, the Legendary Pacific Coast Drive along the East Coast of Australia, The Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, and the stunning Chapman’s Peak Drive and Garden Route in South Africa.
Kalyra is already talking to me of the New Ford Territory and how she would like it to be pink.
The last colourful car I had was my Eurovan. The campervan my girlfriends and I had bought for our three month European driving tour.
The first one, Bert, was proclaimed dead by a Portuguese mechanic who received our desperate pleas to come fix our broken van.
“Bert dead. Better off in the ocean.”
We were heartbroken by the thought of our grand European adventure now being conducted by the schedules and limitations of public transport. We wanted to drive. We found a van for sale at the nearest traveller’s campground and bought it.
As was the tradition of the Eurovan tours, you had to name your van and paint it in a way that best reflected its’ name and personality.
And so Gurumerang was born…
Can you imagine the looks on the faces of those sitting outside the upper class cafes of Monte Carlo as we drove around and around the roundabout in an attempt to outshine and outclass the Lamborghinis and Porsches parked out the front of the famous casino?
Maybe I might settle for a tamer look this time.
New Driving Adventures Await
One thing I know, My New Ford Territory- whose name I will christen once I am sitting in the comfort of its leather seats and caressing the steering wheel in my hands to learn more about who you are-you will never be considered just that piece of metal that gets us from A to B and makes us look good.
You will be our portal to adventure and new discoveries; you will help mould the stories of our future travelling and family lives. I know how important you are, as it is often the journey we remember the most.
I promise to make your life with me and my family an exciting one.
Where would you like to drive first?
The rugged coastline of the Great Ocean Road, the wilds of the far North Queensland rainforests, the heart of our red centred outback, or a trek across the Nullarbor Plain to cruise the splendour of untouched Western Australia?
I’m ready when you are.
It is all about the memories after all.
What are some of the driving memories that have never left you? Share your story in the comments below…
If you enjoy Mojito Mother and what I do then please share this post, write a comment below, and vote for me to win the New Ford Territory for a year and $5000.