It was another travelling day today but this post will not actually be about the journey.
Why? Because I ended up in a conversation with two Aussie guys for the entire ten hours teqin ride between Auckland and Wellington, paying no attention to the onboard commentary.
I only took one photograph too. This one…
Yes, I finally saw Mount Doom!
Readers with a memory may remember that one of the key reasons for walking the Tongariro Crossing was to see Mount Doom. This didn’t happen because of the cloud.
(In case new readers are curious here’s what happened on the day I did the Tongariro hike).
This shot was taken as the train waited at the National Park station for passengers to disembark or board.
Yes, I was on the Northern Explorer again, this time heading all the way down North Island to Wellington.
The railway line passes through stunning scenery. I talked about some of this when I went to Hamilton (shocking the conductor who couldn’t believe I was getting off at Hamilton if not for the cricket) and when I continued on up to National Park.
I was planning to pay attention on the stretch from National Park down to the capital.
This didn’t really happen because none of us listened to the audio guide. We were too busy chatting.
Sitting with two fisherman did mean that I received a commentary on the rivers we were passing:
“That’s a good one. Nice clear water.”
“That one would be good for trout.”
“Oh, I like that one. We wouldn’t have to stand anywhere near each other. We could ignore each other all day.”
Yes, I was travelling with ‘The Odd Couple‘, two grumpy old men who were actually the greatest of friends.
Stories of their misspent youth will not be shared here because I was too busy laughing to get permission to share. I will just say that it sounded like the Australian edition of ‘Men Behaving Badly’.
Let’s just call my fellow travellers *Gary and *Tony.
By the time the ten hour journey had finished, I had learned more about fishing than I ever needed to know, we’d debated the pros and cons of camping (there are no pros unless I’m going to Glastonbury) and I’d had a crash course on the wildlife to avoid in Australia.
Basically, all of it.
It would appear that Billy Connolly was mostly correct when he said that Australian animals had made it quite clear that humans are not welcome there.
Blue bottles in Australia are not flies, they’re ants, big ones, about an inch long and they bite. Often taking a lump of your arm away with them.
This isn’t nature. This is science fiction.
Spiders, pretty much avoid. Huntsmen are ok, apparently. I wasn’t too convinced when Gary showed me pictures of them that included his shoe for scale.
Snakes are bad news too. However they can be avoided by walking heavily. Basically, just stomp.
I did wonder if the two guys were just winding up the pom (i.e. me) but they were backing up these wild claims with various went references, when we could get signal.
There is no wifi on the train because, as the conductor announced, who needs the internet when the scenery outside is this good?
Back to the Australian wildlife… sharks in the sea, crocodiles practically everywhere else. Gary and Tony started channelling the late Roy Schneider:
- Keep out of knee deep water in crocodile territory.
- Keep away from anything that looks like a log floating in the water.
- Don’t go swimming in the rivers or the lakes in the evening.
- If your hotel has a pool use that.
- Keep off beaches where there are warnings about saltwater crocodiles.
- Don’t swim where there are shark warnings.
I think I’m just going to stay out of the water. Full stop.
I wasn’t too surprised to hear all of the warnings about sharks, crocodiles, spiders, snakes, insects (though Gary and John introduced a whole new cast of nasties) but I was more entertained by their description of koalas.
“Right bloody bastards”. This was justified with further evidence:
- Flearidden bastards.
- Bloody piss all over you.
- Stoned out of their minds on eucalyptus but…
- Claws like bloody razors and if they want to climb your leg you’ll bloody know about it.
- Bloody bastards.
I was laughing too much to ask if they were speaking from experience.
In addition to the wildlife advice, the guys also gave me some pointers for sights to see when I do visit Australia.
Of course, after the wildlife commentary, I’m not sure that I’m in a rush to do so.
At this point, Tony asked me if safety wasn’t an issue for me as a woman travelling alone. I’ve been asked this by several people.
My response is this: I pretty much have to take the same precautions on the road as I would at home. For example, I’m not walking down dark, unlit streets or across dark empty parks to take a short cut. I’m aware of my surroundings and who is nearby. I’m cautious about how late I am out and about. There are other actions but I’m not going to list them all.
I’m in my 40s and I am not getting the hassle I used to get when I was in my 20s.
Has the world changed in the intervening time? I don’t know. I talk to women in their 20s and some of them report the same type of nuisance behaviour (comments, leers, men trying to make unwanted physical contact) that I used to experience.
It’s rather grim.
Tony asked how I would handle a problem situation and I told him about an incident that happened while I was in Ulan-Ude.
I didn’t blog about it at the time but after the conversation with Gary and Tony I thought I’d share it because what happened doesn’t appear to be unusual, based on seeing the discussions in online female traveller groups.
The incident? A flasher.
I’ve seen that this can be distressing and my following comments are not intended to belittle anyone else’s experiences.
This is my experience and I handle most issues with humour.
The impact of this flashing incident on me?
Honestly… zero because of what I did and because actually, it’s the third time a man has exposed himself to me in public. And frankly, standards of presentation are slipping.
I was 19 years old the first time I saw a flasher. In a park, in Preston.
And he had made an effort… flasher trenchcoat, trilby hat and naked from his shoulders down to his knees, from which he had fixed a pair of fake trousers.
When the coat was closed, passers by would think he was fully dressed.
They’d also think he was warm because it was August.
Skip forward 23 years to Ulan-Ude in Siberia and here is what happened one sunny afternoon in September, including my assessment of the technique and presentation methods used.
Seeing a flasher wasn’t on the bucket list of wished for Siberian experiences but it was highly entertaining.
I was walking by the river and it’s anybody’s guess how long this guy had been waiting for someone to pass. I’m guessing he was a beginner.
I spotted him because of his internationally recognisable behaviour… Shifty.
I thought he was skulking in the bushes below the path because he wanted to take a leak. Yes, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
When he reappeared 20m later catching up to me, though about 10m away from the path itself (so not physically close to me) and STILL faffing with the fly of his jeans, I realised this was not a man with cystitis.
He was flashing me. It took a third or fourth look to verify this because:
- My eyesight isn’t great.
- He was 10m away in a clearing below the path, and, most importantly…
- He did not have a lot of material to work with.
He became brave and started stepping out of the bushes to give me a better view.
As you may have gleaned, I expect a better standard of flasher presentation than what I got in Ulan-ude.
Where were the trilby and flasher mac? There was no commitment, as his trousers weren’t even around his ankles. This was just lazy.
I started laughing. Loudly.
I took my phone out and made it clear to him that I was taking his photo. (I wasn’t. I don’t want these in my Google account thank you very much).
Ooooooooh, that made him jump.
He scuttled, yes, scuttled back from into the bushes.
I could see his head bobbing up and down, checking if I was still there, as he ran away.
I walked parallel, to the bushes where he was hiding, down the pathway, still laughing and holding up my phone.
I waited for a few minutes and then I left. Still laughing.
I think I may have ruined that moron’s afternoon.
So, as Kimberly (Victoria Wood’s friend) used to do…
Marks out of 10:
- for presentation: 2 (slapdash, poor preparation),
- for content: minus 3 (it’s questionable whether there was any),
- for skulking: a definite 7 (shifty intentions were indeed clear)
- and running away: 12.5! That boy could MOVE!
To be clear, and on a more serious note, I took these actions because I felt safe to do so.
There was sufficient distance between us for me to take the phone out of my pocket without there being a risk of him attacking me.
He had chosen this distance so he wasn’t a physical threat to me.
I was making a lot of noise to draw attention from other people.
If there had not been sufficient physical distance I’d have made sure there was by moving further away before I started ridiculing him.
Tony and Gary howled when I told them these stories, which was the intention, though they were surprised by the fact that I have been flashed at three times.
(Yes, I know I didn’t include the second story. Short version: I was 29 or 30 when I chased him off down the Fallowfield Loop in Manchester).
And conversations like these are why I can’t tell you anything about the journey from Auckland.
Fortunately, I’ll be doing it in reverse in a week so my intention is to get some decent photos and facts for your next pub quiz.
Readers may wish to start hoping I don’t have any entertaining travel companions on the way back.
*As in the TV show characters.