The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

My Backpack Romance

I pulled my backpack out today. It greeted me like an old friend, throwing itself upon me, covering me in its scent – a dusting of musky spice, reminding me of out last jaunt together. The next trip is just around the corner, about two weeks away, mind you I haven’t booked any flights yet.... nor set the actual date... nothing like leaving things to the last minute!

Contemplating what to pack for Asia shouldn’t be difficult. There’s no need for anything too flash or too warm, I’m sure I can pack light. Although, I don’t know if I could pack as light as friends of mine who travel with only carry-on luggage. This couple travel the world, experiencing wild and crazy adventures and they do it all with just a tiny day pack. And this includes their photographic gear. “S” takes amazing photos and not with a point and shoot. She sports the full deal – SLR with lenses and tripod – where she fits it is beyond me.

Big M and I have had a number of discussions on how much to pack and what bags to take. We did consider for two seconds the possibility of taking just carry-on but I need more than two pairs of knickers for a four-month-plus trip, and definitely more than one pair of socks. I know you can now buy special quick-dry-no-chaff travel undies, but I do still like a bit of femineity to my underwear. So the carry-on idea was quickly dismissed. However, the type of luggage was greatly debated. Big M suggested a wheelie-bag with handle. I suspect he’s hoping we won’t be legging it too often. I definitely have other ideas!

I love my backpack. She’s been with me for eons. A lovely green and purple Macpac with lots of straps and zips. Zips locked tight with padlocks of which I’ve lost the keys to. Thankfully, I can still get in via the top. I dubbed her Mamapacca. 

Like any typical mum, I try to account for every need and scenario and then proceed to pack everything.  

I remember the first time Mamapacca and I trekked off together. Cradle Mountain 1997. I had visions of intrepid travel, scaling mountains and wilderness, inspired by the likes of my heroes Sue Fear and Bridget Muir. Filled to the brim with 20kilos of everything, including a pair of high heels (for a night in Hobart after our 8day trek), we set off into the Tasmanian wilderness and for the first three days it rained solidly. My 20kilos became a sodden wet 50. I secretly suspect Big M put some of his gear into my pack (he too was toting 20kilos!). Mamapacca was carried up rugged mountainsides, dragged thru thigh-high mud, pushed across waterfall boulders and used as a seat in alpine cushion meadows. She never kept my clothes dry (I forgot to line with waterproofing bags) but she weathered the elements and held fast. She may have been green, but I was positively lime.  

Our next outing was to Nepal where she held the load with little care as Big M, Bud and I traipsed across this mystical country. Oblivious to the insurgency that was igniting around us; we slept through bombings, were chased by cantankerous cows and cranky carpet sellers, lost "the Bud" for a couple of hours, and averted a possible kidnapping. Well I maintain it was a kidnapping ....although, the chap with the machete in the back of our jeep could have been a farmer and our driver with his gun, possibly a .... no, I’m definitely sticking with the kidnapping theory! Oh how we had merrily skipped our way along. By the end, Mamapacca was a shade of dusty olive, but I felt a tinge of sage start to settle upon me.

In between continents, Mamapacca and I explored the great southern land, trekking the Snowy Mountains, the Great Barrier Reef islands, Boonoo Boonoo & Bald Rock, across Lake Eyre and up the Birdsville track.... well ok we didn’t actually trek it but she held the gear whilst sitting in the back of the car. 

In New Zealand we did trek the beautiful isle of Stewart Island, though I prefer its Maori name, Rakiura – land of the glowing skies. Gone the need to pack heels and the blow-dryer, this time my item of indulgence was a full size pillow. Oh what a sight I must have made, staggering up and down the endless boardwalk steps, ten’s of thousands of them, with my pillow strapped to the lid of Mamapacca, bobbing high above my head. Thankfully, "the Bud" was also on this trip, took pity on me and (after endless bouts of begging and weeping and threats of being grounded for the rest of his life) carried Mamapacca up most of the steps.  

As my emerald years passed, Mamapacca accompanied me across the globe, her deep forest green slowly drifting into drab army-tent-green by time we had paused in Cambodia. And then I did the unthinkable! I took another! A torrid interlude with baggage that left me sour. 

Big M and I were going to Paris - city of lights. A city of love. A city of endless cobblestones. Mamapacca was not fashionable nor cool enough to carry my garments to Paris. Actually, if truth were told, Big M had decided he didn’t want to strap on a backpack anymore. His was cutting into him he said. I gently suggested that perhaps it wasn’t the straps fault, more like his creeping middle age girth, but we were going to the city of love and I wanted it to be all about the Amour! So I agreed to be escorted by a wheeled bag with a long handle.  

In fact, we got two. Two big, huge suitcases with wheels and handles. Ah yes, I remember it well. Strolling the cobblestone streets of Montmartre looking for a hotel. The clunking of wheels trundling behind us as we hauled great lumbering suitcases up tiny winding hillside lanes. The narrow spiral staircases of quaint hotels that don’t have working lifts (or any lifts for that matter). The ups and downs of the Metro tunnels, its eternal crowds waiting to catch trains, giving no room or way to tourists with big bags with a long handles.... make that two bags with really long handles. Yes, taking wheelie cases with handles on shoestring style travel can be such fun!  

And then disaster struck.  

We were leaving gay Paree and her romantic delights and needed to catch a train to Tours. It was a working day, early morning and hoards of commuters. The gypsies were swarming, the traffic was chaos and we are tightwads, no taxi to the station for us. No, we intended to stroll the cobblestones to Gard de Nord. 

Clonk, clonk, clonk...scrape. Cobblestones have gaps. And my bag’s wheel had found one. Lodging itself tight, it tore free from the bags frame and left me with a huge suitcase on one wheel. Big M offered to carry it with its tiny little minute handle to the train station whilst I pulled his bag along. When we finally arrived, red faced from over- exertion, we realised we were running late for the Tours train. Real Late. The type of late that requires you to run extremely fast. Amazing Race fast! Not only were we late, but we were on the wrong level to catch the train. We headed for the stairs. Lots of stairs. Big M carried my bag up, I pulled his bag as well as carried the day pack and my hat bag...... I was in Paris, in the springtime and I needed a selection of nice fashionable hats!

And then it not another wheel loss, this time it was a snap of the handle. As the bag had bounced from one-step to the next, the handle completely snapped at the base and dislodged from the case! All my Paris loving went out the door. I kicked the bag, I cursed the stairs, I swore at the train as last call rang out and worst of all, I yelled at poor Big M.   

We did catch the train but it was a dash that nearly killed us both. We carried and dragged and stumbled and tripped our way along the platform with such a great angst and hurriedness that almost gave us coronaries and broken legs and scrapped heels that I never want to see another wheelie bag with handles for as long as I live.

Now as I look across at Mamapacca, the red security stickers from our last Bali sojourn still evident on her clips. I think about I how I laid against her on the beach as we waited for the boat to Gili Trawangan, a comfort no suitcase can offer and how when she sat strapped to my back in the crowded markets, I felt secure in the knowledge that no one was about to run off with her. And as she sits there, waiting to be filled, it’s her vibe of "promised adventures to come" that fills me with eager anticipation. 

I am indeed happiest with a ticket in my hand and a backpack on my back and these will be my continuing evergreen years. Now, what to pack!