Home > Personal > Tales of Europe: Alexa the Kiwi Lives the Life Less Ordinary

Tales of Europe: Alexa the Kiwi Lives the Life Less Ordinary

Free walking tours in the major European cities are one of the best parts of traveling through Europe, especially when alone. The quality of the tour itself varies enormously depending on the city and the guide, but nearly all the ones I went on exceeded the sometimes disparaging descriptions of these types of tours I sometimes read.

The tours also provided a great way to meet people, especially people of similar age and circumstance to myself. The easiest to meet were others traveling alone of course as gravity naturally drew people not talking to anyone else to speak to each other, usually during the milling around before the tour began or during the break provided during the three or four hour tour.

But this isn’t the story of the tours, no this is the story of a young woman I met right before the tour I took in London began. This is the story of Alexa, and three outlandish events on her journey from her home in New Zealand:

Alexa doesn’t immediately stand out in a crowd. Pretty, with shoulder-length brown hair, a smattering of freckles across her cheeks, and a wicked glint in her eye, it’s only when she flashes her dazzling and infectious smile that heads start to turn. In between puffs from her inexhaustible supply of cigarettes, she told me about life in Havelock North and her decision to save up money and, much like the thousands of other Australians and New Zealanders I encountered, travel the world. What made her story different from so many others was that instead of immediately departing for Europe or North America, Alexa instead went to South Africa. In short but vividly descriptive sentences, she described her unconventional trip along the eastern coast of Africa.

Hitchhiking, even in a country like Denmark, let alone the United States has always struck me as very risky. In South Africa and Mozambique it feels like just asking for trouble. Yet, with the nonchalance of those blessed by an endless fountain of luck, (or, although not true in this case, lack of brains) Alexa talked about what it was like, never knowing whether the next ride would come, how far it would take you, where it would drop you off, and what you would do that night. My particular favorite was when she and a friend actually hitchhiked by boat across a lake that was on the way to their destination, because apparently just regular hitchhiking in Mozambique was not enough for her.

Apparently even that adventure was but a prologue however. Alexa next related how she flew to Dubai from Africa, planning on both seeing the sights and meeting an aunt who lives there. While going through customs, (and waving at the waiting aunt) the security personnel removed a large Ziploc bag of uncooked macaroni Alexa carried with her in case of emergencies. Rather than just shifting the bag around, the customs police proceeded to actually crush the macaroni. Normally, this would be a mere irritant, quickly forgotten, but unfortunately Alexa, though scrupulous otherwise, was unaware that three small seeds of plant acquired and disposed of in Mozambique, had gotten lodged inside the U-bend of some macaroni. This would be very bad in any country, in Dubai, Alexa was immediately escorted to an airport holding cell with nothing but her bag and her guitar, without even a chance to explain to her bewildered aunt what was happening.

A lot of people might still be in that holding cell, or on their way to prison, but Alexa took it all in stride. Picking up her guitar, she proceeded to strum away, singing her favorite songs to keep her spirits up. Within just a few hours, she was taking requests and before long was laughing and joking with the airport security like old friends. Over the next few days, they took her on car tours of the city, made her stay much more comfortable and did everything but let her go. The day before her scheduled flight to Egypt, the head of airport security told her they would let her go without charges, much to Alexa’s relief. Relief rapidly switched to surprise however when he then pulled out a diamond ring and professed his love and asked Alexa to marry him. Playing the delicate balance between saying no and not angering the guy in charge of her freedom, Alexa gracefully declined his kind offer and boarded her plane as quickly as possible with another quaint anecdote to add to her collection.

As was typical with all her journeys, Alexa hadn’t made plans for where she would stay in Egypt. Aboard the plane she inquired of friendly flight attendant as to possible places to stay in Cairo. Before the attendant could respond, the gentleman sitting next to Alexa spoke up. At this point in her story I could already see the broad shape of what was to come, and started laughing even before she told me how the man, in his 30’s, told her that she could stay with him and his family, no problem. The only thing was that she would have to pretend to be his girlfriend of the last couple of years.

Naturally Alexa accepted, even with all that acceptance might imply, and spent a week or so with the man and his family. The mother and sisters in the family apparently thought the world of her, buying her gifts and treating her magnificently, showing her an Egypt not many tourists see. Of course my immediate question was if the kind stranger tried to take advantage of the girlfriend fiction. He did not at all Alexa explained, because according to him (and I had this verified as a real idea among some Egyptians), her freckles indicated that she had AIDS and he didn’t want to catch it.

I was quite speechless when she finished that story with the description of the many gifts she had taken with her on her flight to London. A short story or screenplay with that kind of arc would be immediately dismissed as unrealistic in all the wrong ways I thought, which made it seem even more realistic somehow. And with the perfect timing characteristic to her stories, the tour began.

Alexa’s had more adventures that I didn’t put down here or only heard about later. She puts herself in the way of opportunity and never refuses an experience, an admirable, if to me rather scary way to live. Still I always look forward to our chats both for the stories and for her unique viewpoint on many topics. Perhaps it’s just a matter of degree rather than kind that makes her stories so intriguing to me, everyone has a few, hers just seem bigger and happen much more frequently. Whatever it is, it’s another great tale of Europe and the people I met.

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