Saturday, 4 January 2014

the road files: the other side of the coin

View from a bus: a little greener a
little smoother
My backpacking partner
in crime and I
I put flip flops on my feet, threw a backpack on my back and tied my hiking shoes to it. Then I hopped on a bus, and went back in time. Before I was a sailor and voyager, I was a different kind of traveller. I was a backpacker: hopping from hostel or pension to hostel, and seeing the world from a train or bus window. Did I like travelling that way? I loved it. As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t do enough of it. It was great to see the world with dusty feet and a worn language phrasebook in my hand.

There are so many ways to experience foreign lands, voyaging by sea is one and backpacking is another. I have spent the past two and a half years voyaging between countries and within them by boat. When my friend Dana suggested going back to my landlubber ways for a girls’ getaway, I jumped at the chance. It got me thinking: how would I compare the two? Is backpacking really so different from voyaging?


In Rotorua, land of thermal activity
Voyaging is all about weather (and fixing things, but that’s another story). Is it safe to stay in that anchorage? Can you leave today for your next destination? What does it look like 3 days from now for longer passages? Is it so windy you can’t leave the boat, or so rolly you can’t sleep at night? Secondly, when you scan a new town, it is to know where the locals buy food and if there is a farmers’ market nearby. You also want to know where there is potable water (if you don’t have a watermaker), and where the nearest hardware store/chandlery/petrol station/Laundromat is. And then you explore what is interesting in the area. This usually includes hiking, historic sites and the best snorkelling holes. To reach town you have to get into a dinghy and row or motor to shore and find a safe spot to leave the dinghy while you’re traipsing on land. (This is harder than you might think in some places.) You cook in your own kitchen (galley) and sleep in your own bed (berth) every night. If Laundromats are absent, or too expensive, you hand wash your linens and clothing. Depending on where you are, you shower in salt water off the boat and rinse with fresh water or you have a sponge bath in the cabin. (Many boats have showers, but we are among those who don’t.) When you’re cruising, it’s true, you are constantly doing maintenance or fixing stuff on your boat, but you have the best seat in the house for viewing sunsets and visiting dolphins. Because all sailors are dependent on the seasons and weather windows, boats tend to cluster in similar areas (unless you choose less trodden locations, we do a bit of both.) You meet many sailors from all over the world. (Though, in Mexico, the majority of sailors are American or Canadian.) As a voyager, it can be easier to assimilate yourself into a community (if you stay long enough) and to meet locals. Voyaging also demands more investment up front. While you’re traveling, you can live very cheaply, but first you need a boat. That costs money, how much depends on your budget and what you think you can’t live without.


Hanging out by the lakeside in Taupo
When you’re backpacking, your main concern is where the bus stops and when it leaves. The weather is irrelevant. You carry everything you need on your back between destinations. You eat out a lot, or you cook in communal kitchens if you are the hostelling type. You typically sleep in bunk beds with an international array of mostly young people (unless you get a private room). You shower in communal bathrooms. You step out of the hostel, and walk everywhere. You visit the sites and join in adrenaline inducing activities. (Although many cruisers do this too, there are plenty of built-in adrenaline boosters simply while sailing in bad weather.) There are countless opportunities to meet other travellers. In a way it’s easier to meet others as you share long tables and sleeping areas. They come from everywhere, but in New Zealand at least, the majority of them are German and Dutch. As a backpacker, you don’t always mix with locals, you tend to clump your way through towns with other backpackers. Again, just like cruisers, it depends on your personality and preferences. When you travel and meet strangers, you have the ability to quickly bond and form strong friendships. Personally, I find that the friendships I have made as a cruiser are longer lasting, than the passing friendships in the backpacking crowd.

Hunting for graffiti art
Voyagers share similar experiences and have their own lingo. So do backpackers. And both groups do experience a lot of the similar pleasures and challenges that come with being a foreigner in a new country. For many years, we have spent a lot of time with other sailors. Since 2011, we've been sailing offshore, that’s “our normal”. It has been a while since our form of travelling has been considered crazy, odd, or wild. When I recently hung out with adventurous backpackers who thought sailing across the Pacific was the coolest thing since the invention of toast, it reminded me that I belong to a rather small subculture of wanderers.

Resting after a very demanding dip
in the Spa park hot pools
The more you travel, the more you see the world for what it is, not what you think it is. Your journey can be with a backpack or on a sailboat, and when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter which you choose. They differ in important respects, but ultimately, they both reflect a thirst for adventure and a love of travel. Basically, they are two sides of the same coin. While I am hooked on voyaging, I will always have a bit of the backpacker in me.

All these photos were taken on our road trip to Taupo and Rotorua. We stayed in hostels, and explored the nearby Waitomo Caves as well. Good times were had, and while Dana forged ahead for a few more days, I returned to Rick and the boat, content.

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