In a week I’ll be inhaling the sulphuric fumes of a lake-within-a-volcano within a lake-within-a-volcano, enjoying the splendour of a palace made of coconuts, drinking beers at a Hobbit-themed folk bar run by midgets and scraping the mould off my back with a rag and a stick. It sounds like paradise, yes? But where would this rapturous location be?
Normally, I take my Grand Tours solo. Being, as Lizzie Bennet might say, ‘of an unsocial, taciturn disposition’ I prefer to be as inconspicuous as a single white woman in a developing country can be. I’ve always got more adventures of it this way, more laughs and just more fun in general. Despite the ‘lonely’ moniker that solo travellers get, I reckon you’re never lonely when you travel alone.
But somehow I’ve never managed to find the right person to join me in my gadding (a suitable metaphor for LIFE don’t you agree). A blend of adventurousness and sloth; unselfconsciousness and discernment; bookishness and the ability to pi-jaw about rubbish for 10 hours straight. Who, like myself, dreams of the day that all their luggage, passport and money gets stolen, just to see how they’d cope. And all with a non-judgemental attitude to people, food, and most importantly – loos.
However, hope always springs eternal. And every now and again I’ll attempt to hook up with some jovial cove, only to find they’re a raving nutter with the nutritional range of a coeliac 92-year old and a deep suspicion of anything Foreign. Here’s my favourites:
The runner-up of Boo’s travelling freakshow is a hell tour I took South Africa. I was trapped on safari for five days with the Worst People in the Whole World: a racist Christian ornithologist, a racist British man and his racist South African fiancée, a racist Austrian man whose wife had had a baby not three weeks’ previous, who nonetheless spent the whole time hitting on me and plying me with beer and food because he ‘liked big vimmin,’ and an appalling racist Australian couple who brought whingeing and arrogance to a whole new artform. After days held in close captivity with this pair, the whole group of disgusting people banded together with the intention of throwing them out of the minivan and feeding them to the lions.
Of course all this served me right. I have no particular fondness for animals (outside of a David Attenborough doco), have shocking eyesight and thus cannot see a LION-coloured creature in LION-coloured undergrowth during a LION-coloured drought from 10 KILOMETRES away, and have never been into organised tours with total strangers anyway.
The best of Boo’s travelling freakshow happened in South-West China. I went with someone I presumed a platonic friend, who nonetheless spent the entire two weeks behaving like my insane, possessive husband. Every time I talked to someone he’d stand over them glowering until they moved away. On our hike along the fantabulous Tiger Leaping Gorge, the sweat on my pony’s back was pointed out as proof I was too fat to attempt it, I was cursed roundly for wanting to eat three meals a day instead of the one he was used to, the hideous faces I make when sleeping on the bus, and oh, the colossal size of my pack – despite the fact that he scaled the Gorge carrying two antique Chinese maces and a professional hairdryer.
This served me right too, obviously.
But it is not all bad. Much water under the bridge, sand through the hourglass, days, lives etc. It’s been three years since I’ve had any kind of proper holiday and I’m feeling a little bit…well not so old but that certain things have changed. I’m not quite sure what those things might be. When the time came to organise my Philippine sojourn, I baulked at the idea of going alone. Strange! I’ve done all sorts of lunatic shit on my own, and perhaps the need to prove this to myself has passed. Or maybe I won’t get ‘it’ anymore – the ability to navigate my way around, talk to strangers and devour unpleasant cuisine. Or perhaps I’m even more of a tightarse than I was 10 years ago. I decided to phone a friend.
My Lady Travel Companion is an über-funny sheila. I’ve known her since we were 9 years old, so I may be slightly biased. I call her Kathleen (Turner), due to her nearly 6ft of glamour, blonde bubble, fondness for Jewel of the Nile-style billowing silk blouses, camel-toned court shoes and taupe nailpolish. She thinks that the nearly 6ft tag is not enough, so wears heels she calls the ‘cliffs of insanity’ to accentuate her height and thus intimidate her co-workers. She pretends she is conservative and straight-laced, but is actually deeply eccentric.
There is a lot to be said for people you’ve known for yonks. In one look I can communicate: ‘dude, I remember when you were kicked out of assembly for dropping a hymn book, when you wore Kuta Lines tops and read ‘Tracks’ magazine and when you worked at the Fairy Shop.’ Likewise, her look can say: ‘dude, I remember you when your Mum made you and your sisters a Belial finger puppet, when you wore gold winkle-pickers and a purple catsuit to our formal and when you were a dork and still are.’ This is all priceless information to have on someone, and may work well on the long bus trips.
We had a long discussion about our ideal travelling situation, and realised we were opposites in more ways than one. She’s never travelled without her partner, I usually travel alone. She lives very comfortably, I’m usually teetering on the edge of penury. “Ideally, I’d go five-star,” she confided. “With those blokes who serve you cocktails on the beach when you wave a little flag.” I revealed that in my system, there is no star. “One-star or hostel,” I reckoned. “Or a really filthy brothel.”
We discussed air-con versus fan, what level of cleanliness means ‘clean’, how large the insect population could go (and what sort of insect), squat toilets versus Western-style and if she could live with a bucket bath. I then had to explain exactly what a bucket bath was, amid much guffawing. We agreed to both meet in the middle.
And to truly appreciate how the other half lives, we have come to the following arrangement: we’ll spend a couple of nights in a super-swanky resort where attendants follow us around with peacock feather fans and gin, and a couple of nights in a shared dorm with feral hippies and blocked loos. I think this could all work quite spiffingly, and despite how much enjoyment I know I’ll get out of the Philippines, I think the bulk of the humour will be wrung out of my Lady Travelling Companion.
We also discussed what luggage we’d bring. She had a backpack somewhere, but revealed that she’d bought a wonderful new suitcase instead. It is bright orange, with little wheels so you can drag it around behind you on a natty handle. I can see it now – she’ll be strutting through some crowded bus station, all blonde quiff and clacking mules, while I’ll be toiling along in her wake, all frizz and sweat stains and flapping backpack with the ghost of 1,000 goat turds ground everlastingly into the weave of the scungy green fabric. And swearing, in a way that Kathleen Turner never would.
I’m very excited. It’s going to be brill.