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Solo Stories: “A Friend for Ireland”

by Marisa Umsawasdi

I had booked my first “real” solo trip with the Kiwi Experience in December of 1999. “Real”, I say, because it was more than a few days long. I didn’t know what to expect at all, and of course, I was pretty nervous. I took a lot of things back from my 3 week adventure including some amazing friendships.

I would say that I’m the type of person that is easy to get along with. I can talk to anyone about anything. And it was really easy to meet people through the Kiwi Experience. Along my journeys, I met a really cool guy from England named Mike. I don’t quite remember how we first met (probably just a simple introduction…hi, my name is…).

Our bus had a stop in Whitianga. We all got our hostel dorms. Mike and I were the only 2 people in this one room. That evening, I went to a bone carving studio, and was the last one out. I was going to go to the bar to meet up with some other folks, but couldn’t find my way, so went back to the hostel. Mike was there, so we decided to play pool and hang out for a while. The next morning, he told me that I was snoring really loudly though the night. Haha! I told him he should have woken me up.

In Waitomo, a few of us on the bus had signed up to do Haggas Honking Holes – a caving adventure. Most people did the blackwater rafting, but Mike and I did the caving. We had a great small group, and had tons of fun abseiling down waterfalls and crawling through the caves.

When we got to Taupo, I was a bit distracted by this hot Dutch guy. I ended up spending the day with him, and pretending the rest of the world did not exist. Well, that was short lived, a romance for a day and a half.

Mike and I ended up doing a lot of group activities, such as white water rafting, kayaking,
We also spent a lot of time chit chatting on the bus, at the hostels, and at the bars. It was usually just a small group of us – me, Mike, Laura from Wales, Kristen from South Africa, and Emma from England just hanging out. I enjoyed their company, and we all got along so well.

In the end, I took down emails and vowed to keep in touch…

Six months later, in June 2000, I decided to go backpacking in Europe. It was my 2nd real solo trip – this time, for 6 weeks on my own. I visited a lot of my friends that I had met on my previous travels. I stayed over in the Cotswolds with Mike and his family for a few days. This was an area not really visited by backpackers, but I had to visit Mike! His family was very welcoming and were great hosts. They gave me a nice place to stay and fed me, too. A lot more than I expected!

We explored the Cotswolds countryside, and various towns, such as Gloucester, Tetbury, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwick, Painswick, and Cheltenham. He also took me out on his family’s narrow boat for a day trip. It was really nice to see this part of England. It’s good to get away from the hustle and bustle of London for a change!

I ended my European journey in August in London. I ended up contacting some of my old friends to have one last party in London before I left back for the states. I met up with Mike, Kristen, Emma, Laura, and a few other friends for a last shebang at the Walkabout in Covent Garden. We were so drunk by the end of the night, and had a really good time.

One of my friends (I was staying with her in London) had lost her wallet, so we had to backtrack our steps. Mike was kind enough to walk with us to make sure everything was okay. We couldn’t find her wallet, but got a hold of her roommate. Mike walked us – 2 very drunk girls – off to the proper Tube station to make sure that we headed home okay. Now that’s an awesome friend!

One thing I told Mike was that I would love to spend some time, like a month or so, in Ireland and just travel around. He said that if I ever decided to do that, let him know because he would go with me. I’ll always know that I have a friend for Ireland…