I’ve just had a lovely long trip in which everything went smoothly, the sea was like glass, the weather was perfect, the food was great, I didn’t get sick… which means that it will soon fade to just a pleasant but vague memory. It’s strange but the only trips we remember vividly are the times when things go wrong.
I still remember every detail of my first trip to Greece, wandering from town to town with a backpack, catching local buses, sleeping in people's spare rooms. We were two naïve girls alone, constantly having to fend off unwanted advances from Greek men who kept their own women shut away. There was only one occasion when it got really worrying—when we found ourselves alone in a house with three men and two beds. We had been invited there by an elderly man and assumed his wife would be waiting for us. A soldier and another man had accompanied us up the hill and we assumed they were escorting us out of chivalry. When they stayed and there was no wife to be seen we got distinctly nervous. Well, nobody tried anything and we gave a good speech about promising our parents that we would not stay where there was no lady to chaperon, and eventually the soldier escorted us down the hill again. Pfew.
Another trip I remember vividly was the time we tried to be among the first tourists to Ladakh, the Himalayan kingdom that had been off limits because of its proximity to China. We had hired a Ladakhi driver to come for us with a vehicle at 4 in the morning, so that we could reach our destination by nightfall. He arrived, his face completely expressionless, not seeming to speak or understand any known language. The vehicle was an open jeep. Freezing cold. We drove and finally climbed the Zoji-la pass, 15000 feet. Road had streams running across it, herds of nomad sheep and goats wandering down it—oh and a 3000 feet drop on one side. We reached the top, kept going through wild, Himalayan no man’s land and at 4 p.m. we reached a road block, manned by the Indian army. It turned out there had been a landslide, washing away twenty five kilometers of road. The driver had obviously known this before we started. We had no choice but to turn around and drive back.
It began to get dark. It was bitterly cold and we discovered the driver had other little quirks—like thinking he could save gas by switching off the engine every time we went downhill. Since the hills often involved sheer drops this was not good. I sat with my hand poised and every time it went near the key I slapped it away. We were horribly conscious of that three thousand feet drop on the Zoji-la. We had had nothing to eat since a breakfast stop at first light. We finally got back to our houseboat at midnight and the driver left without a word or a smile.
Yes, I remember that trip pretty well. And the French farmhouse in which my first task every morning was to sweep up the bits that had fallen down during the night, or the camping trip when it rained solidly for a week and our site became a lake. My theory is that humans aren’t meant to have it easy. We are built for survival and struggle and it’s only then that we feel fully alive. Maybe that’s why we like mystery novels—we create times of stress and heightened emotion when humans are at their most vulnerable.
So… any good survival stories to share?
I'll be giving away an ARC of my upcoming Royal Spyness book called HEIRS AND GRACES to the best story.