Travel Essay: The fields of lupins stretch before me, a burnished sea of pink, purple and blue. Our rickety campervan is bumping across the twisting roads of New Zealand. My feet had touched nothing but Irish ground for eight years and were unaccustomed to anything else. Yet they would begin to adjust to this dry heat and winding landscape faster than I expected.
The journey starts by stepping onto a plane in Cork airport. It is one of the worst experiences of my life. Almost as soon as the plane takes off I am plagued by sickness. It is a twenty four hour flight and I spend it all wide-awake and stunned by this crippling travel sickness. The television in front of me replays the same four programs over again. A creepy puppet version of little red riding hood plays and I watch it until I know all the words by heart, until I can stand it no more. We are a tiny dot flying high over the Atlantic. Everyone around me sleeps and I do the only thing that I can to distract myself from the illness. I read. I read ‘Molly Moon takes on the world’ lost in stories of hypnotism and orphanages for hours until, thank god, the plane lands.
My mum, sister and I wander around a mini crazy golf area while my dad tries to rent a campervan. My sister, Fiona, is three and toddles around, trying to climb parts of the set. We clamber onto a pirate ship, peering at the treasure chests and cabins. None of us have a clue how to play golf. Then my dad comes back with a set of keys and leads us to a sturdy white campervan. It is boxy yet comfortable looking. The window edges are scoured with rust but there are checked green and white curtains in front of each pane of glass. This is our home for the next four weeks.
We start off with my dad driving, my mum next to him in the front. Fiona and I sit down the back round the table where we can draw and play. The journey has only just begun when we realise that this is not going to work— New Zealand’s bending roads make me car sick. My mum and I switch places and the front of the car makes me feel a bit better.
We start again.
The first place we stay is Auckland. It is a large city and its main attraction is sky tower, a giant building with masses of floors. On the bottom floor we find another Irish man. He is large and talkative and terrified. He is afraid of heights. So we set off up the elevator with this strange, scared man. Each time we pass a new floor his face gets paler. So does my dad’s. We arrive on the top floor and Fiona and I rush out leaving my dad and the man cowering in the elevator. The walls of the building are made of glass which slants outwards. Pressing your body against it means you are leaning over the city that feels like it’s a million miles away. There is a thick sheath of glass on the floor that you can stand on and look down, seeing nothing under you except for the tiny cars crawling below. I lie against the wall, feeling like nothing but a thin membrane protects me from hurtling to the ground below, and look up to see the man and my dad. They have their backs pressed against the solid wall of the room, as far away from the glass as possible. They refuse to go near the edge, consumed by this crippling fear.
We go to a forest walkway. The weather in New Zealand is too hot for us and Fiona and I cannot cope, we are sapped of energy. But here it is raining, cool and wet. We are given bright red and yellow rain ponchos. We run through the forest with more energy than we have had in days, rejuvenated by the rain, looking like hobbits, tiny creatures in giant brightly coloured binbags, jumping and leaping our way through the trees.
My mum has always wanted to go bungee jumping. So we go to a place where you can jump of a bridge over a lake. I want to go too but am told I am not big enough. We stand on a wooden platform on the other side of the lake to watch. My dad hides his face behind his hands. She leaps from the bridge and it looks as if she is flying, her hair splaying in front of her face as she soars through the air, her arms held in a perfect arc in front of her head like wings. A split second before she would have reached the water the rope jerks and she is catapulted back through the air, flipping and twisting like a trapeze artist, coming to rest after a few more bounces. She hangs suspended upside-down over the lake until she is fished out of the ropes and into a boat by a man with a wooden pole.
It is nearing Christmas day and I am struck by the horrific realisation that I no longer believe in Father Christmas. I am devastated when announcing this to my parents. At three, Fiona is still a stoic believer. The man living in the campervan next door to us always wears a Santa hat and she becomes convinced that he must therefore be Father Christmas, despite the fact that he is only in his twenties and does not have a large stomach, beard or any visible reindeer. After days of wheedling to go talk to him she persuades my mother to take her to him. They knock on the door of his campervan. My dad and I watch this scene from our caravan, expecting impending doom. The man opens his door, Santa hat still in place, thank god. My sister presents him with a broken marker and thanks him for her Christmas presents. The guys stares in bewilderment at her for a few seconds and then mumbles a hesitant ‘ho ho ho’. From our campervan we breathe a collective sigh of relief at this success.
‘At least he speaks bloody English,’ my dad mutters.
Christmas day itself is bright and sunny, something which feels rather off-putting. We wear shorts and t-shirts and meander along the beach. We decide we should go to church as Christmas is always the one time that we do. The village we are staying in is so far untraversed by us. After some time traipsing around we discover a church. Sure that we must, as usual, be late for the service, we hurry in the door. It turns out that we have burst through the door at the front of the church, ending up behind the priest, into the middle of a native Maori service.
There is a short stunned silence as the priest stops his sermon and, along with the entire congregation, peers at us in shock. The church is packed with families, all well dressed for the occasion. They all speak Maori. The four of us stand clustered at the altar in our raggedy shorts and sandals, my sister clutching the naked baby doll that she found in her stocking. Then, seeming to recover himself, the priest smiles and gestures at us to sit. We are presented with Maori hymn books and the service continues on, in Maori, with many people gesturing at us during appropriate moments such as when to sing hymns and turn pages.
Leaving the campervan back at the rental place is nostalgic, the battered vehicle has become our home. Packing our bags has the same kind of finality as moving house would. As the car pulls away from the campervan, Fiona and I wave goodbye to it out the back window. We drive to the airport, trundling for the last time down the winding paths. We board the plane for the dreaded trip home, but this time, I hardly feel sick at all.
BIO: Rachel says: I am a 23 year old graduate of Creative Writing from NUI Galway. Born and raised in Cork I now live in Galway while completing a masters in applied behaviour analysis. I write fiction and poetry and previous publications include online publications such as Live encounters poetry, Words Dance Magazine, Red Flag poetry express and Dead flowers poetry rag. I have been published in hardcopy publications of the Crannóg magazine, Persephone’s Daughters, Ropes literary review and Z-publishing’s anthology. I am also a guest writer for Z-publishing. I have a wordpress blog of my poetry and fiction https://rachbrow1994.wordpress.com/ and a tumblr blog of original writing which can be found at https://www.tumblr.com/blog/aninsomniacsink.