I have many wonderful memories of the decade I spent travelling around the world but my funniest memory of all time is possibly my camping adventure memory from the year I spent in New Zealand.
All my close friends call me Tara; it’s not just a nickname, it’s also a play on my middle name. I’ve been Tara for years, and to some people I’ll always be Tara. So it was quite hilarious when I moved to Dunedin at some stage during my New Zealand adventure and met someone who went on to become one of my best friends. Needless to say, her name is Tara.
Our mutual friends called us The Taras; we also had other nicknames like ‘T&T’, ‘TaraSquared’, and my personal favourite, ‘TarTar’.
My story begins in Dunedin, but it doesn’t stay there. You see, one day (when we had a long weekend coming up), Tara asked me if I’d like to go with her to visit her father. He lived on the South Island as well, but in order to protect the not-so-innocent, I won’t mention exactly where he lived. I’ll just say that we needed to drive about eight hours from Dunedin to get there.
I was in charge of driving. I USUALLY am.
I’m sure you can all see where this is going.
Yes, that’s right. Tara decided that as the ideal passenger, she was going to contribute by getting drunk. This she proceeded to do as I drove along, trying to ignore her shenanigans. After a few hours I started to feel a little like her mum, not her friend who was the same age as her. I think the tipping point was when she took her seatbelt off and I pulled over and refused to drive until she clipped herself back in.
So, as a result of all this tomfoolery, and despite a large nap with much snoring, she was still seriously sozzled by the time we got to the little town her father lived in. He didn’t live _in_ the town, she told me, while fumbling around for the light. She flicked the light on and rubbed her eyes before telling me where to drive.
Thinking about that now, I think I should have just insisted we spent the night at a motel and look for his house the next morning. But if only hindsight were foresight, eh?
To cut a long (very long) story short, we were soon lost. She had no idea where her father lived. She had no idea where we were. And to make matters even worse, the car (which had been giving me trouble for a few days) suddenly spluttered and died.
I was stuck in the middle of the Kiwi countryside with a drunk friend who didn’t know where she was. This was 2002; we weren’t all glued to our cellphones back then like we are now. In fact, I didn’t even own one, and neither did she.
‘Oh Tara’, groaned Tara and fell out of the car, face first. I sighed. It was going to be a long night.
I climbed into the back seat and pulled out the piece of cardboard (it was doing stellar service) that we were using instead of the partition between the back seat and the boot. We had our clothes in the boot, of course, but I also had (among other things) sleeping bags, a torch, some other camping supplies (as she had said her dad may not be at home, and if he wasn’t then we’d have to camp) and, for some reason, half a bag of dog food. I’m actually still not sure why she put that dog food in there.
I grabbed the things I needed (all the camping supplies, including the sleeping bag) and crawled back to the front (the back doors of our car were permanently stuck; we always had to exit and enter via the front). I locked the car and marched around to where Tara was still on the ground. Switching my torch on, I hauled her to her feet.
‘Yow’, she protested.
‘Sorry’, I said, sounding, I knew, not in the least apologetic. ‘Come on. We have to walk to your dad’s now.’
‘Caaaaaaar’, she murmured.
‘Dead’, I responded before pulling myself together. ‘I mean, it’s dead. We’ll have to leave it here for now.’
We set off with the pinprick of the torchlight (yes, it was one of those little ones) to guide us. I know we wavered slightly, simply because Tara wavered. She had grabbed my arm and was apparently refusing to let it go.
To cut another long (and very painful) story short, Tara really had no idea where we were or where we were heading. I got tired of listening to her saying ‘Around next corner’, and ‘Whoopsie daisy, I was wrong’. I began to think it was some sort of horrible game to her. I snapped, but gently. I was tired; I was thirsty; I was tired of lugging my drunk friend around all day. Did I mention I was tired? It’s also no fun when you want to be drunk so that everything can be just as hilarious, but you dare not.
Tara listened to my grumping with good grace and suggested we camp where we were. ‘What, in the middle of this path?’ I asked sarcastically, as nobody in their right minds would ever call it a road. We played the light of the torch around us to find that the right side of the road was fenced off, paddock style. ‘Let’s crawl in there’, she murmured.
I followed her warily. I have a perennial fear of bulls (ever since I was once chased by one). However, it didn’t look like it was a paddock for bulls or cows; if it was, it was apparently deserted. Aware that we were probably trespassing, I resigned myself to putting up the tent in the (now fading) light of the torch. Tara hovered over me after I’d prevented her from ‘helping’; her help caused the tent to stay down more often than it went up.
Eventually, exasperated, I sent her to sit down on – or around – the post. She set off as I put the tent up and chucked the sleeping bags inside. I looked around to find – that Tara wasn’t there.
I panicked slightly. Where on earth was I going to look for her? That was my first thought. She doesn’t have the torch! That was my second thought. I realised the world had gone black. _I_ don’t have the torch, I thought, panicking a little more now. I ventured to call her name as loudly as I dared.
There was an answering splash, from not very far away.
I squeaked and headed in the direction of the splash. I’m just going to gloss over all the rocks I tripped over; the plants that whipped me in my face shall not get a mention from me. As for that tree I found myself making love to, I – I just don’t want to talk about that at all. Ever.
Eventually, my wavering steps led me towards where I thought the splash had come from. I called her again, several times, without response, before I eventually got a mumble that was very close to me. I groped around and found a very wet being that had formerly been my friend. She wasn’t just soaked to her back teeth; she was also shivering.
‘Tara!’ I said as I helped her up. ‘What HAVE you done?’
‘Fell in’, she said.
I marched her back to the tent (eventually) and made her strip down inside. She started to sober up at this and protested hugely.
‘I’m NAKED’, she said, sounding horrified.
‘That happens when you take your clothes off’, I said helpfully.
‘You have to’, I said firmly. ‘Your things are soaked. Put your sleeping bag on.’
There was silence.
‘What?’ she asked.
‘Put on your sleeping bag! Get into it and zip yourself up. Or I’ll do it.’
Our eyes had adjusted to the darkness now and I was vaguely able to see her outline inside the tent when I crawled in. I zipped her up and squeezed the water out of her hair. She looked like a large worm.
‘I can’t move’, she protested.
‘Well, you don’t have to, do you? You just have to stay put.’
‘What if I need to pee?’ she asked.
‘You wouldn’t DARE’, I threatened.
She sighed. Clearly she felt very put upon.
I had spread her clothes out near the tent and weighted them (as best I could in the dark) with some of the rocks that were all over the place in this paddock. I began to see why there were no cattle there; it had probably been unused as a cattle paddock for years. I worried it might contain goats, though.
We were talking to each other; she was talking about her father and how surprised he would be to see her (I gathered that all had not gone well with their parting and that the prodigal daughter was now returning home). I was starting to moan about how hungry I was. Suddenly, there was a bang.
I’m not kidding; there was an honest to goodness bang somewhere outside.
That noise did the work of ten hot showers and twenty cups of coffee. Tara was sober in an instant, while I was wishing I was drunk instead.
‘Wha-wha-what?’ she asked.
‘Wh-wh-who?’ I stuttered.
‘Wh-wh-where?’ we cried in unison.
‘Out there’, I whispered, trying to get her to stop yelling.
‘A gun!’ she whispered back.
‘Yeah. Look, let’s crawl out and leave our tent things here. We can’t be stuck inside here with someone out there with a gun. Come on.’
‘Noooo! I can’t. I’m wearing a sleeping bag.’
I glared at poor Tara in the darkness. ‘You had to go fall in that water and get wet and now we’re going to be killed, thanks to you!’
She started to cry. ‘Stop blubbering’, I said sternly.
I suggested she take off the sleeping bag and come out while we grabbed her clothes and made a dash for it. This was met with stubborn horror. ‘I refuse’, she said dramatically, ‘to die naked.’
‘You’ll be naked under your clothes’, I said unhelpfully.
‘I won’t be caught dead NAKED’, she said again.
I realised our voices were raised again, so I hushed her. Tara’s spirit had returned and she hushed me back vigorously. While we hushed each other a light flashed against the tent and a man spoke.
‘Who the hell are you?’ asked a stern commanding voice.
We clutched at each other. My life started to flash before my eyes. I was thinking with sorrow of my mother, whom I wouldn’t even be able to call before I died, when the voice spoke again.
‘I said, who are you? Damn fools. Do you know I nearly shot you? Come out of there!’
I trembled. ‘I’ll go first’, I whispered heroically. ‘I used to kick box. I don’t know, I may escape. You take off your sleeping bag and leave the other side. Okay? Just run.’
‘Noooo, I can’t let you do that’, she protested, sounding like she was crying again.
‘Shut up, you idiot.’
I raised my voice. ‘Alright, I’m coming out.’ I gestured dramatically at Tara as I crawled out of the tent. I stood up blinking in a small but powerful light, with my hands up. ‘Don’t shoot’, I said in a strangled voice. ‘I – I’m harmless. I mean, I’m mostly harmless. Look, I have my hands up.’
‘I can see that’, said the voice drily. ‘But I didn’t ask you to put them up.’
‘I won’t do what you want me to do’, I shot back with spirit. ‘In fact, my father knows I’m here’, I lied. My father didn’t even know I was alive; we’d been strangers ever since he walked out on us when I was five. ‘So the cops will be crawling ALL OVER you.’
There was a silence. I could hear some shuffling inside the tent. I hurriedly spoke again.
‘That’s right. So don’t think you can hurt me. In fact, I’ll have you know that people are on their way here as we speak.’
‘Is there someone else in that tent?’
‘No. Of course not. What a thing…’ The tent collapsed and Tara emerged out of it, still encased in her sleeping bag. ‘…to say’, I finished.
There was more silence. ‘Bloody zip’, said Tara tearfully. I rolled my eyes.
‘Only YOU could fuck that up’, I yelled at her.
‘You zipped me in too tight!’ she yelled back.
‘Oh, that’s right, blame me!’ I yelled again.
‘SILEEEEEEEEEEENCE’, yelled the man with the gun.
There was a mutinous silence while we both glared at each other.
‘I am not here to kill you’, said the man slowly, as though he were speaking to a child. ‘In fact, I happen to BE a cop.’
‘Oh!’ I said faintly.
‘And this’, continued the cop, ‘is a night shooting target range for the league I belong to. In fact, you guys are in the middle of twenty of us, all armed with guns.’ He sighed. ‘It’s a wonder you weren’t shot!’
‘I’ll say’, agreed Tara.
‘It’s her fault’, I said tearfully, the emotions of the past half an hour catching up with me.
‘ME?’ said Tara, sounding aggrieved. ‘YOU are supposed to check the car!’
‘You know we’ve been saving up for it!’ I retorted. My lip trembled and I burst into tears.
‘Siiiiiiiiiiilence!’ yelled the cop again. ‘Is there anything like you two girls for gabbing and fighting, I wonder?’
To cut a long (very long) story short, we eventually found ourselves (Tara dressed in her wet clothes) in the back seat of another car belonging to one of the members of the league. All twenty of the men had thought it was hilarious; two girls camping in the middle of a target range, while one of the girls was dressed only in a sleeping bag. One of the cops scoffed that ‘they saw it all in their field of work’, while Tara and I sat mutinously in his car.
Eventually, we found Tara’s father’s house and roused him, poor man, out of a sound sleep. He was very good about it, and listened to our adventures while he cooked us beans on toast. When I had been fed I was feeling in better spirits about it all, and we eventually began to giggle about everything we’d been through.
And we still haven’t stopped; in fact, it’s one of the first things we say to each other when we talk. Because we live so far away from each other, we don’t meet in person very often, but thanks to e-mail and the telephone, we are still very much a part of each other’s lives. We’ve both grown up since then; Tara is going to be married soon and she’s a mother to three-year old Leah. And we think we’re hilarious. We just have to hear each other for us to say, almost simultaneously, ‘Remember when…?’