A sample from the autobiography, ‘72 Yeas On The Slippery, Slippery Gangway Called Life: The Ups and Downs of Working 45 years in the Shipping Industry.’
Chapter 14. Twice Around the World
Winding back to March 2001, my company in Darwin was doing well, I was a supervisor for P&O ports, I was doing accounting for the Russians and other work for the UN too. It was a busy time. I was making good money. But it was also very stressful. During one of my stints in Darwin, I got chatting to an Australian guy in a bar who mentioned that he was about to go on a round the world trip. Quite spontaneously, I decided to go with him, bought a ticket and left two weeks later for a three-month holiday. I worked for myself so I could just do it. I didn’t have to inform anyone that I was making the trip. I just told my customers that I wouldn’t be there for the next three months. We flew to London and onto Brazil – Sao Paolo and from there to Rio , where we stayed for a while. From there we went to Santiago in Chile, then up to Lima, Peru.
In Lima we caught up with some of the Peruvian helicopter crew I’d met when discharging the big Russian helicopter in Darwin. I’d got to know them when they knocked over two lampposts in Darwin when the pilot was taking off. It had been my job to protect the Peruvians against the Australian authorities, who were looking to get their money back. The down draft was too high on the helicopter and the lampposts were not secured enough, so the combination meant that the lampposts fell down. Due to my efforts, the UN paid for everything, so I helped the Peruvians and they didn’t have to pay for the damage. While they were in Darwin, the Peruvians also had difficulty getting paid for the work that they’d done operating the helicopter, and I intervened on their behalf and sorted it out. I said the Peruvians aren’t leaving until they’re paid for the job they did in Dilli. In the end, I had to go and get money out of my own account to pay the Peruvians. Without any paperwork, I gave them 20, 000 US dollars, hoping that I would get that money back from the Canadians because the Canadians were fighting with the UN at that time. I got all the money back in the end and the Canadians were very friendly, and very happy that I took care of the Peruvians. The Peruvians were also grateful to me for my help in getting them paid. So they were pleased to see me when I came to South America – I was a good friend. And they gave me a good welcome.
Peter and I both found love in Lima. Unfortunately, Peter fell in love with the wife of the pilot, Julio, who’d invited me to his house. I could tell that this was going to go totally wrong. Julio had invited me into his house, I so felt it was my responsibility to keep an eye on the situation when Peter made a pass at his wife. I also had a new girlfriend, Raquel, a freelancer, who was separated from her husband. Her husband was very high up in the Peruvian Army so I felt a bit nervous about the whole situation. Although they were separated, they had three kids: a son of around 16, a daughter of 12 and another son, aged 5. The older kids were self-sufficient but Raquel had to look after the five year-old. He was the problem. She couldn’t do anything with me because she had him in the house. I asked her to come to Australia with me, but she said her ex-husband would never allow it. Anyhow, I had a great time in Lima with Raquel and the helicopter crew.
The fly in the ointment of my first round the world trip was Peter. It turned out that he was a penny pincher. We were really quite different and pretty incompatible for such a big trip. We got on well enough for a drink in the bar in Darwin but actually what we wanted from our round the world trip was different. He liked to travel by bus but I hated the bus. I liked to fly and stay in four-star hotels, whereas he liked to stay in backpacking hostels, so it didn’t work very well. While he was visiting Machu Pichu, for example, I got drunk with an American girl at the nearest bar. He told me later how nice it was to see all the wildlife. I told him about the nice time getting drunk with the American girl. I said I was interested in some of the sites but not all of the boring stuff. Show me a couple of stones and they’ll still be there in a hundred years, but the people I meet might not be there again. We agreed that we were totally different. So we did a whole tour around Peru and then we finally parted company in Santiago.
After parting company with Peter, I went down to Valparaiso to catch up with a friend. He was glad to see me, and took me out to restaurants every night. We had a great time. After ValPo, I went back to Santiago, then I flew into Argentina and I met Peter again at the airport in Buenos Aires. Then he left to go home, and I went to Rio on my own for another couple of weeks. He was employed so he had to be back at a certain time. I was freer as a freelancer. By this stage of our trip we weren’t really talking to each other and we didn’t sit together on the plane. In any case, I had a great time in Rio without Peter. I was able to be a little bit wilder.
While I was in Rio I met a Brazilian guy when I was having breakfast in a little place down the road from my hotel. He liked to watch tennis and Wimbledon was on at the time. So I talked English with him and he was very impressed. He was glad of the opportunity to talk in English because he didn’t often get the opportunity to, and he wanted to be a tourist guide. So I was happy to help him and talk in English. And through our conversations I got to know him and totally unplanned he became my personal tourist guide. He took me to the Maracanã stadium for a football game there. I went to the wrong side for five minutes and he was after me: ‘Hans, you cannot go there – it is the other team’. I said ‘I don’t care. I’m German and I don’t know who is playing’. ‘But this is Vasco de Gamma’ he said. ‘They are really hated in Rio.’ But I just wanted to have fun. In any case, it was great watching a game with a local. I loved sitting in the middle of the Brazilians, like an insider. I was in the thick of it and it was great. The same guy took me to the Favela. You can’t just go there just as a tourist – even I’m not that stupid – you’d get killed or shot. But with my local friend it was okay. One night I told him that I was feeling lonely and he pointed me in the direction of a place where I might find female company. It was a girly place. I was sitting one side of the bar, which was a u shape, and suddenly there were five girls who all wanted to drink with me. At the same time I saw a girl on the other side of the bar who didn’t say anything. I thought she seemed more interesting than the other five, who were much keener. So I went around to her. She was very standoff-ish, which I took as a challenge, and it ended up in the way you’d expect. I had a good time. It was expensive but it worked. She was a very nice girl. So that was Rio. After that I went back to Santiago, then Buenos Aires, then Sydney and then home.
My second three month round the world trip in 2002 was even funnier than the first. My first destination was Germany, but because I was using Qantas air miles for the flight I had an eight-hour stopover in Mumbai. When I got to Mumbai I discovered that they didn’t allow smoking in the airport. I also found out that first class passengers were allowed to smoke in a designated area of their lounge. So I found my way in there. When I was in there an official Indian guy came and said I couldn’t be there because I didn’t have a first class ticket. I simply gave him my card, which said Captain Hans Meyer on it, and he apologised and allowed me to sit there. Before I’d found the first class lounge, I was sitting in a restaurant and could smell that people were smoking nearby. In any case, from Mumbai the flight route took me to London and then to Frankfurt. From there I went to Hamburg and met an old girlfriend from school, Rita, who had since become a cocaine addict who was working in the Red Light District. All my school friends told me not to get in touch with her. But I was never one to be told what to do. So before long I found myself in her bed again. We had a great time. She had a pimp running her. I tried to do my best and to help her out of a bad situation but unfortunately it didn’t work. I also caught up with Sascha again during my visit to Germany. At 28, he was still living with his mother while he was studying (he’s studied five things, including Psychology and IT), but he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.
Then I went to New York and caught up with the American girl that I’d met in Machu Pichu the year before. And after that I went on to South America again, where Raquel was waiting. We’d kept in touch since our initial meeting and she’d been to stay with me in Australia. I was also meant to be meeting a friend in Santiago, but out of the blue, he had died. So I decided to spend the whole time in Lima with Raquel. Because I was travelling alone on this trip I was very flexible. And I enjoyed it much more for it. I’d also decided not to employ a replacement in Darwin. I was already doing work in Dilli and I decided that if I lost all the work in Darwin, then so be it. I just put my company on hold and told people that I wouldn’t be available for a while.