We’ve never really been the package tour types, though we have done a few and they’ve mostly been good delivering exactly what one would expect. But even when the kids were small we did some wonderful travelling and when you do things independently, things occur that glossy brochures never prepare you for and I have to admit we’ve been lucky or blessed to have got through quite a few close calls.
The list that springs to mind –
We once drove from New York to the Florida Keys and whilst on the back roads of South Carolina we managed to gain the attention of some drunken, toothless, brace wearing and no doubt armed yeehaas in a pick up truck who followed us for over 20 miles on a desolate road and they had made it quite clear by their drawling gestures that they’d like to have their way with the wife and daughter and possibly me too. All the time I was driving, with, I might add, the petrol gauge pointing at E, I was designing a plan of action that my mind kept insisting would involve banjos and shoving. And the rest of the family were not too comfortable and giving me constant advice on how I should drive. I was already doing 90 and the boys were keeping right up just 6 feet shy of the back seat.
They did pull off. I think it was me giving them by best Burt Reynolds scowl in the rear view. Either that or they were reaching the boundary of their electronic tag.
Then there was the alligator incident.
We’d hired a canoe in a wilderness in Florida ( a different year) where one paddles along a spring fed river until you come to the first spot where you can be picked up (a road bridge over the river) which was four hours downstream. The river was crystal clear, only approx 20 feet wide at its widest and only 4 feet deep, very winding and strewn with overhanging trees that have to be navigated around. I used the word ‘navigate’ as if we were respected in the canoeist community for our daring do. We are not. A better and more honest sentence would be, overhanging trees that will be smashed into, get jammed stuck on that tear your skin as you continue to wing it. This was the first time we’d ever canoed by the way but we weren’t worried about being humiliated because we were the only ones doing it. We were totally on our own. Alone.
However, after a good hour, none of us were talking to each other and we’d got into a nice rhythm with only the occasional straight on into the bank when the river took a bend, which luckily for us novices was only about every 10 yards. Ali was in the front, me at the back all Apache like and the kids in the middle, one behind the other, but we were trundling along nicely and hadn’t crashed for a good 15 minutes. It was then that I spotted, about 30 yards ahead, a rather large alligator, about the same length as the canoe, slip off the bank into the water. I thought ‘Oh My God’ – (had it been recently I would have probably just thought OMG) – but quickly decided that I wouldn’t say anything to the others, I’ll just keep paddling whilst keeping an eye on it, at which point Ali did a full 180 degree turn in her seat showing a face that would scare a ghost and said, ‘did you see that massive crocodile just go into the river?’. This was the moment that the kids made loud noises and the boat rocked and we careered into a sand bank – approximately exactly where the Gator had gone in. And we were stuck rigid. No amount of paddles pushing into the bank would release us. By this time the kids were hysterical and I don’t mean they were doing their best comedy routines. So a decision was taken that somebody would have to jump out of the canoe and pull it off. Yes of course it was me. I gave my daughter Emma my paddle and said, ‘if the alligator comes you have to hit it on the head as hard as you can or daddy will die’.
At this moment I became totally alive. I even recalled the Zen story of the man being chased by a vicious tiger (are there other sorts?) – He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious. I jumped out of that canoe as if in a dream, wrenched it clear and jumped back in like a gymnast all the time assuming that I was about to go the way of Captain Hook. Suffice to say, he must have eaten and thought the English underfed as that one glimpse was all we had.
Then there’s the family being held up by four cops at gun point and at point blank range in the US incident – and there’s the hashish incident in Morocco and the Wild Boar encounter and the Amsterdam incident – but they’re other future blogs.