The bucket list

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After nearly three months on the road in our little motorhome we have arrived at a remote place called Gabriel's Gully which marks the southernmost point of our journey around NZ. Tomorrow we will alter course back to the north and head for home.
I was a mediocre student at school, only doing well in history and geography and it is true that those two subjects directed the course of my life and filled my bucket with things to do and see of which Gabriel's Gully was one, first learning about this place in Form Three history class so it's been on the list for nearly 70 years. The gully was named for a man called Gabriel Reid who in 1861 was scratching away in a river bed and was rewarded for his efforts by the glint of gold shining up from between the shingle, and this discovery precipitated the biggest ever goldrush in the southern hemisphere. Over the next two years 11,000 prospectors descended on the place and extracted well over half a million ounces of gold which in turn played a massive role in kickstarting the New Zealand economy. About the same that I learned of Gabriel's Gully, school geography class taught me about the pitch lakes in Trinidad, but that turned out to be a big disappointment. I had imagined a huge depression filled with pitch as black as a politician's heart but standing there some years later, all I saw was a flat, featureless weed infested wasteland - also similar to a politician's heart come to think of it..The pitch was there alright but you had to dig down through the crud to get to it. My class teacher omitted that important piece of information.
And books led me astray as well. Reading and rereading Joshua Slocum's 'Sailing Alone Around the World' prompted me to my own circumnavigation although by a more genteel route via Panama instead of Drake's Passage through Patagonia. These days ocean sailing is the preserve of the rich but in the '60's it was the province of misfits, dropouts, lunatics and more than a couple of fellows on the run from the law in various jurisdictions. And single-handed sailors could be counted on the fingers of one hand which was not surprising given our not very good survival rate at the time. But back to history class again, it gave the opportunity to visit St. Helena and Napoleon's place of incarceration. Again, and I don't know how it is today but in the '60's St.Helena was one of the most isolated islands on earth with just two ships per year calling to lighter off cargo, weather permitting. I had overwintered in Capetown and as word got around that I was preparing to sail a man from the post office called and asked if I would please deliver two bags of mail to the island and after him a couple of ladies with two shoe boxes of sweets for an orphanage, and finally a tobacco shop owner with cans of Snuff for his island customer. My meagre cabin space was somewhat diminished but it was a voyage of only 1600 miles, say around 20 days so I accepted.
St.Helena was like time travel and I couldn't understand the locals until it dawned on me that their English was 200 years out of date but that didn't matter, I was here for Longwood, Napoleon's house. I don't remember now but I think the walk from Jamestown to Longwood was about 8 miles and about half way there I could hear the sound of a horse and cart coming up behind me. It was an ancient 4 wheeled affair loaded with hay and under the command of an old man and drawn by an even older looking horse. As they drew level the old man asked 'are thee going to visit Napoleon?' Hoping for a ride I told him I was. 'Thou be too late' he replied. 'Ee be dead now, thou knows', and with that he drove on.
Longwood, the grave site and surrounding lands has been ceded to France in perpetuity and was in the care of a lovely Frenchman who welcomed me with such enthusiasm that I gained the impression that I was his first visitor in decades. After showing me around the grounds he opened the door for me and told me to go in. I thought he would accompany me but no, he left me to explore alone. You will have to imagine how it felt for a history buff to wander around Napolean's house, completely unchanged since the day of his death in 1821. There were no roped off areas, no 'don't touch' or 'private - keep out' signs. In his bedroom I resisted the temptation to lie on his still made up his bed but I did look underneath and sure enough, there was his potty.. In retrospect I think rummaging through Longwood remains one of my most treasured memories and my biggest bucket list item ticked off.
But back to Gabriel's Gully. The sun is setting now and although the hills are covered in regenerated forest and the stream has given way to a small lake resulting from mining, it's easy to visualise in the failing light the desecrated hills and to imagine the roar of the sluice guns and the clamour of 11,000 miners hacking away at the gravelly earth but its quiet now, just a couple of ducks on the lake arguing over whatever it is that ducks have to argue about and behind me the clatter of a pot as the child bride gets dinner ready and also probably wondering why we had to come to such a place.
And I realise now that all items on the list are ticked off - my bucket is empty. Nothing remaining except for the kicking of it which will occur sooner rather than later, and with that I am content. And I feel more than privileged - my list included among others, sailing the length of the Amazon, standing on the hill where Balboa first saw the Pacific Ocean in 1513, meeting a girl on Tuesday, getting engaged the following Thursday and married a couple of weeks later - ok that one wasn't on the list but it should have been. Best thing I've ever done by far....
And if you've bothered to read this far then you ought to indulge me. I'm not the only one with a bucket list. How are your items going?
A wonderful read - you should turn your bucket list adventures into a book.