I had no idea where in the world I was. I mean – literally. The plane I was on touched down somewhere between Hawaii and Fiji. I was backpacking around the world in the days where travel was more casual – backpacks in the cabin and standby flights the norm.
I had no idea where we’d landed.
All I knew there would be a flight again in 24 hours.
I disembarked anyway.
Challenge 1 – getting through customs.
I tried blagging where I’d be staying – at the local youth hostel.
No hostel existed.
No hotel existed.
At least the unknown destination was English-speaking.
Challenge 2 – what to do next
Standing outside the “airport” on the side of the road.
Maybe there will be a bus, maybe there won’t?
A van pulls over – I’m offered a lift.
Challenge 3 – destination unknown
Where to say I’m going – I don’t even know what country I’m in.
Capital city maybe?
No – okay, how about some local attraction?
I get in the van….
From the kind lady who stopped to pick me up at the side of the road, I discovered I was in Rarotonga. I was taken around the whole island – all 21 miles.
No wonder it didn’t have a youth hostel or hotel.
The beaches were awesome.
My host was more than accommodating. I was invited back to her house where I was treated like a king. In fact, every whim was painstakingly met. Meals were served by ladies-in-waiting, fresh chicken cooked, fruit picked… presented at exactly a time I had suggested. No one else was eating?!
I then noticed that many people present wore purple. I had stumbled across the kindest cult in the world. My host, the leader, believed herself to be Princess Diana reincarnate and her followers adored her. I was the first person with an English accent they’d met, hence the royal treatment.
But after several hours of intensive special treatment, even being waited on like royalty becomes a bit wearisome. If I asked to go anywhere, I would be taken. If I asked for anything, it would be provided. So, I asked to go to the only place I felt I’d be left in peace.
I asked to be taken to a bar.
Tearfully my host tried to persuade me otherwise and her followers sat weeping outside for a while as I drank inside until it became clear that I would not be returning as the night wore on.
I was left alone in the bar.
Well, not alone exactly.
I was with a young couple – the biggest bloke I’d ever seen and his newly-wed wife.
When he asked me to dance with her, I wasn’t going to argue.
The bar closed. We headed up to the hills to the couple’s house to fill the hours until it was time for me to head back to the airport. They had agreed to give me a lift when my flight was due. As we drove along, the couple were keen to ensure I knew their home was simple and inexpensive. I’m hardly bothered by such things.
The home was simple as expected. Yet in one corner of a sparse room, something caught my attention.
“Is this what I think it is? I asked.
Three gold medals hung on the wall almost discreetly in a corner.
It turns out I was in the company of Rarotonga’s most famous Olympic weightlifter.
A year or so later when I was at University, I tuned into the Olympics to watch the weightlifting. There he was!
“I’ve been to his house and danced with his wife.” I told my mate.
Taking the opportunity to jump off a plane between destinations turned out to be one of the most eventful 24-hours of my life.
Not everything is planned.