The Jour­ney

For Michael Robotham, the wan­der­lust never sleeps

Qantas - - Contents -

The jour­ney

Lon­don to Kath­mandu, Nepal

The year

1988

On the radar

He won the Bri­tish Crime Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion Gold Dag­ger award in 2015 for Life or Death. His lat­est novel, The Se­crets She Keeps, is out next month. MY ad­ven­ture be­gan above a Lon­don travel shop in May 1988. Six­teen of us gath­ered for a meet­ing, eye­ing one an­other with a mix of hope and trep­i­da­tion. Would this hol­i­day bond us for a life­time or make us want to stran­gle one an­other in our sleep­ing bags?

The next day, we climbed into a soft-top Bed­ford truck with seats down ei­ther side, to start a four-month jour­ney across two con­ti­nents, from Lon­don to Kath­mandu.

As with many ad­ven­tures, the mo­ments of ad­ver­sity are the most mem­o­rable. We en­tered Iran the day af­ter an Amer­i­can mis­sile shot down a pas­sen­ger plane and im­me­di­ately sensed para­noia and hos­til­ity. When our truck was waved down at a mil­i­tary check­point, teenagers bran­dish­ing Kalash­nikovs con­fis­cated our beach pho­tos, mag­a­zines, play­ing cards and chess sets, shout­ing and wav­ing their guns with each new dis­cov­ery. In Is­fa­han, the ho­tel pools were drained and the bars closed but most Ira­ni­ans we met were friendly and grate­ful that tourists had come to see their beau­ti­ful coun­try. In the months that fol­lowed, we were tear-gassed in Pak­istan, placed un­der house­boat ar­rest in Kash­mir and stranded by an earth­quake in Nepal. But it wasn’t all high drama. We camped on a beach at Gal­lipoli and sat around a fire, singing Eric Bogle’s And the Band Played Waltz­ing Matilda, feel­ing the spirit of the An­zacs all around us. Wak­ing early for a swim, I dug my toes into the sand and found spent ri­fle shells. In Jor­dan, we rode on horse­back into Pe­tra, the “rose-red city half as old as time”, and I pic­tured my­self as In­di­ana Jones dis­cov­er­ing a lost world. We crossed the desert of Wadi Rum, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Lawrence of Ara­bia. I drank sweet tea with a Be­douin tribesman, who of­fered me three camels for my wife. He seemed hurt when I turned him down.

In Syria, we vis­ited the wa­ter­wheels of Hama and the Souk al-Mad­ina in Aleppo and be­held the crum­bling majesty of Palmyra – all now off lim­its or de­stroyed. In re­motest Pak­istan and In­dia, chil­dren wanted to touch our white skin and per­haps re­ceive a pen or a pen­cil for school.

Our leader was Ian Steven­son from Bris­bane. Barely 26, he had a calm author­ity that got us across bor­ders and out of trou­ble with­out ever pay­ing bribes. He’s one of my old­est friends and my youngest daugh­ter’s god­fa­ther. Today, he runs Con­ser­va­tion Lower Zam­bezi, pro­tect­ing the wildlife and nat­u­ral beauty of Zam­bia.

Ev­ery few years, he calls and says, “It’s about time we had an­other ad­ven­ture.”

“Where do you have in mind?” “How about Namibia... or Mozam­bique... or Colom­bia... or Peru?”

The trip from Lon­don to Kath­mandu sparked a wan­der­lust in me that has never left. Since that ad­ven­ture, I’ve been like Bilbo Bag­gins in The Lord of the Rings, al­ways des­per­ate for an­other es­capade or quest. Great jour­neys are like great nov­els: they an­swer ques­tions you never thought to ask.

Michael Robotham’s trip “wasn’t all high drama”; in Turkey, he shared a mo­ment of light­ness with young lo­cals (above)

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