Don’t worry; I am not going to tell you another story about delayed Indian trains, broken rickshaws or food poisoning. Indian trains are not all that bad, and certainly can’t be blamed for ‘the worst journey of my life.’ Even if they are ten hours late, you can just lie down and sleep, and there is always someone passing by selling green coconuts, bananas, or peanuts in their shells to help pass the time. Try crossing Germany in the local trains. You have to change at least five times in nine hours between Frankfurt and Berlin; there are no beds to lie down in, and certainly no green coconuts for sale. That’s much worse, especially if you have to wait one hour between connections at a little station in the middle of nowhere, in the snow or rain. And just to clarify, German trains are not always on time! I would choose Indian trains any day.
However, even German regional trains can’t be blamed for the ‘worst journey of my life.’ They are boring and slow, but they always take me to my destination in the end, and I usually meet some nice people along the way.
The worst journey by far (and I have been travelling continuously for the last 8 years) would have to have been when I moved from New Zealand to Australia at the tender age of seven. New Zealand is just a little island, and a very safe place. Australia is big. Very big. And filled with all kinds of dangerous, poisonous, creeping crawling creatures. I vomited all the way in the aeroplane, just at the thought of going somewhere new and strange. My elder brother, meanwhile, told me stories of all the toxic creatures that could bite you, sting you, suck your blood, and would probably kill you. I had no desire to go to Australia. Being seven years old, however, I also had no choice. I could not understand what was wrong with safe little New Zealand. I set foot on Australian soil tired, scared and expecting to be bitten by something any moment.
Did you know that in the north of Australia, you can’t even swim in the water, because there are jellyfish that can entangle and kill you in minutes? There are all kinds of sharks in ocean, and octopuses with blue spots, blue blood, three hearts and enough poison to kill twenty-six humans. There is even a kind of ocean snail, which looks just like a shell, and has venom one-thousand times stronger than morphine. No wonder I was scared! Why on earth would you want to live there? If these animals are dangerous for adults, imagine how dangerous they must be for seven year old children!
If it was only the oceans which were dangerous, I could have comforted myself with the thought that I did not have to go swimming. However, even the gardens, houses and kitchen cupboards, could be home to dangerous things. Our first night in Australia, we went to stay at the house of some friends. It was a wooden house, old, humid, and the perfect place to find spiders and possibly even snakes. We slept on the floor covered with blankets. It was not cold, but I was so frightened that I tried to wrap my whole body tightly with my blanket so that no spiders could bite me when I was sleeping. I tried to cover my face, hoping that nothing would enter the small space I left for breathing. What sleep I did manage was filled with hairy funnel-web spiders, with fangs larger than those of a brown-snake and strong enough to pierce through toenails. There were red-backed spiders, paralysis ticks, giant centipedes, and of course, plenty of snakes. Even the snakes which weren’t poisonous could still strangle you. Creeping, crawling, slimy things filled my dreams. When I woke in the morning, my blanket had come loose, my body was exposed, and wonder of wonders, I was still alive!
I lived in Australia for the next twelve years, and the only thing I ever got stung by was mosquitoes, some giant ants, and one jellyfish (but not the poisonous kind). Even though I have survived, the memory of my first night in that dangerous, poisonous country does not leave me. Even though I can smile about it now, the thought still makes me a little queasy.
N D Dambiec