Beth and Ivan Hodge, a honeymoon with a differance
Beth and Ivan Hodge took off in a VW Beetle, traveling from London to Sydney in 1960 for their honeymoon. 35 years later they did it all again and having written a book about their adventures, For Love and the Beetle, the car is now at rest in a museum in New Zealand. Both in their 80s, they spoke to Responsible Travel writer, Catherine Mack about their adventures across Iran and Pakistan, the importance of accepting local cultures and customs and how driving has been their secret to a long and happy marriage. Read on, and be inspired by power of travel, and love.
Beth and Ivan Hodge interviewWhere's home for both of you?
Our home is now in Sydney, Australia, and although we are born New Zealanders we are also naturalised Australians.
What's your first ever travel memory, together and before you met?
Beth: When I was very young, we drove by car from Rotorua to Wellington by car. I was only a kid, about 10, and maybe that is what started the long journeys by car.
Ivan: When I was 16, I got a little 1928 Austin 7 car, which I shared with my brother and we used to do long drives, camping along the way. Driving an old car has been part of my life. But our first travel memory together was when we were married, which was in September 1959, and after a few days we came to Sydney. And that was the beginning of our first adventure. Neither of us had left Australia before that.
Can you describe yourselves in three words?
Beth: Iím honest, (that sounds boring!), Iím caring (that sounds boring too!) and I am reliable. Those are three boring ones. Ivan, you have to think of three more exciting words than that!
Ivan: Adventurous, entrepreneurial, and caring.
What inspired you to honeymoon differently from 'the norm' all those years ago?
We always say that New Zealanders and Australians had to travel, because we are such a long way from everywhere. If you really wanted to try and expand yourself, you had to travel. At the time all our young friends were going away, but usually as singles. We had just got married and so we just said, Ďwell, why arenít we going too?í
We also worked in both Australia and England before going off on our travels. Ivan worked in insurance, and I am a teacher. But the whole thing was our honeymoon in a way, except that we had to work to pay for it. It was all a honeymoon in our eyes because, for us, a honeymoon just means being together. Thatís what itís about.
So, we had six months in Sydney and then came to London in 1960. And we bought the Beetle at a Volkwagen garage in St. Johnís Wood. It was brand new, and cost us £435. We drove it in England - went down to Land's End, and then took it to Scotland, over to Europe -including Berlin Ė both sides of Berlin in those days. When it was time to come home, we realised it was going to cost so much to travel home and so we thought, Ďletís go the longest way we caní. And we did it! We took three months to travel home; we had £1 a day for our expenses, and £1 a day for the car.
And what's inspired you to do it all again 35 years later?
After we got back, Ivanís parents had driven the car for many years in New Zealand but when they were both past driving, we thought we would bring it back to Australia. Again, we decided to do it the long way. So, we shipped it to England instead. It just became an adventurous thing to do. We werenít being brave or stupid, it just seemed like a nice thing to do that not many other people had done. And of course the second time we didnít step out of our comfort zone so much. We stayed in hotels. There were no hotels the first time. We arenít like a lot of people who write books, adventure travelers who push the boundaries. Weíve never done that. We have just got on the road and driven. And it has been comfortable driving. We have been at risk a couple of times, but then everybody in their lives has been at risk at some form or other. We are cautious, and if a situation occurs, we get out of it.
Ivan, Beth and the Beetle leaving London, 1996 on their Ďsecond honeymooní overland trip
Where did you visit?
On the second trip, we drove down to Italy and then crossed down to Turkey and across the Bosphorus. From there we went into Iran, where we had arranged to have a local person drive with us, as we knew nothing about Iran. He travelled right across Iran with us and we enjoyed his company to the border with Pakistan. Or Balochistan. But the journey from the border of Iran to Balochistan is tribal territory, a desert drive and can be hostile. So, we arranged for a vehicle to meet us, and drive with us all the way to Quetta. It was like paying a road tax. If youíve got local people supporting you, then you get through. And that is what we did. They had a couple of guns, and a ute, and so we were safe. But it probably was the worst driving of the whole trip. The roads were in terrible disrepair, and a car seems to be the last thing in the pecking order. The little buses with people hanging off them seemed to have the right of way. And we would come across hundreds of trucks, plus animals in the road and people with handcarts. It just isnít good driving in Pakistan.
From there we drove to Dharamshala where the Dalai Lama residence is, and then across to Shimla, also up in the foothills. We drove down to Delhi, and finally down to Mumbai. On the first trip we had gone to Kashmir, which is beautiful, and across to Calcutta. But second time we just wanted to see something else and have new experiences. And after that, we shipped the car back to Australia.
On the first trip, we got a Union steam ship vessel from Calcutta that took the vehicle and us, and it took seven weeks and three days to get back to Auckland. The second time, we left the car with a shipping company in Mumbai, and they shipped it to Australia, which took four weeks, but this time, we got on a Qantas flight back.
Werenít you scared about places like Turkey or Iran?
It is even in the paper today that the PKK say that they are going to challenge the Turkish government again. It has been going on for years. And we contended with that on the second trip too. We were in Ankara and it was recommended by the Australian government not to continue, because of the PKK. And we were going to be driving into a war zone. Well thatís what the embassy told us, but thatís not what we were being told by local people. However, Volkswagen provided us with a support vehicle for the tricky parts. The risk was that if the car broke down at night, you could be taken as a hostage. It is logical not to go out at night in countries like that, with those circumstances. During the day, it was fine. Youíve got to expect governments to make people cautious before they travel. Maybe we were foolhardy, but we also did our homework with the local people.
What were the biggest challenges you faced along the way?
The biggest challenge is to keep yourself in good health, which means working out the food that you can get, preparing it before eating it, and also ensuring that the water you get is safe. Youíve got to be a safe driver, drive within your own limits and within the limits of the conditions you are driving in. You are safe in the vehicle from being attacked. You just lock the doors and then you are in your little cocoon or hideaway. All our stuff was put outside in the tent, and if we thought we were in danger, not that that ever happened, we would have just left everything and driven off. That was the contingency plan.
The other challenge was communication really, especially second time. The first time we used to just pick up mail at the embassies or at American Express. Can you imagine doing that these days, using the embassy as a mail drop?! You couldnít do that now! The second time our daughters wanted emails to know that we were safe. But it wasnít always easy and we were dependent on the internet 20 years ago. The hotels had fax machines at the time, of course, but often it was locked away in the general managerís office, so you had to wait for him to be there so that you could use it. It was hard work!
Have you both changed as people? And how do you think the places have changed?
Beth: Well, weíve got older. I mean, we are both 80, which is a nasty shock. It comes faster than you think! I think one of the things we realise is that we are more tolerant of people from all sorts of places. But also what upsets us now is that when somebody is visiting a country, then we think you should go by their customs and beliefs. In Iran, for example, you are expected to cover your hair as a woman and wear long sleeves. And I had no difficulty with that. But I get cross when we are traveling and find other people not being respectful of a country. I might say that we both loved Iran, by the way, and found the Iranian people tremendous. Very kind and friendly and warm to us. Itís a fabulous country, and isnít it good that it is coming back onto the tourism map now?
Ivan: When you get into a place like Iran, youíve got to dress in accordance with their local standards. Also, they have an alcohol ban, and so you have to live with that as tourists. And you donít try to break the rules, you donít change money illegally for example, because if you do, youíre at risk. So, you live by the standards that the locals ask you to observe. A lot of young people donít do that. They also need to ask questions about people, rather than telling people how good it is wherever they come from.
Ivan and Beth and the Beetle, Iran, 1996
Which place had changed the most between your two trips?
Probably Lahore, Pakistan. People had moved out of the surrounding villages into the major centers because they couldnít survive in the desert territory. We didnít recognise it really, but this applied in so many places. Cities had become large, and what we remembered as small villages had become major towns.
Where's the best place you've woken up together?
Balmoral, which is where we live in Sydney! We look across to the sea and it really is very lovely. On the trips, well, it was probably in Dharamshala in India on the second trip. On our first 1961 trip, we also drove round to the back of the Taj Mahal and slept in our "love bug" wanting to see the Taj in moonlight. Which was not to be, as there was no moon that night. These are special places.
Is there one person you met on your journeys who you feel you were so lucky to connect with?
We met a Dutch lady with an Indian doctor in Dharamshala on our second trip. They were very interesting people, and had their two boys with them. We arranged to meet them again down in Delhi. There they introduced us to the Dutch ambassador and we had a family dinner with them. They told us the history of the embassy, and that it was where the Pakistanis and the Indians negotiated their separation.
How long did the second trip take you?
We left in August and arrived in November. Exactly the same as first time. We even used the same notes that we had made for our first journey, and virtually followed the same time frame. Because climate wise too, we had planned it so that we wouldnít be near monsoons and things like that. Anybody can do it!
Did you ever feel like giving up on your adventures?
No never. Absolutely never. You canít give up. There was a time, in fact, when we thought we might have done it a third time.
What's the secret to a long and happy marriage?
Beth:Driving! I drive, and am driving more and more now because Ivanís not driving quite so much. But on the trips, I navigated, and Ivan always drove. That worked for us. When you go on a driving vacation together you are sharing all your adventures and, anyway, Ivan would never have known if I had given him the wrong directions! And there were no electronic gadgets telling us where to go then either.
Ivan: A good marriage is about sharing lifeís experiences together. Not having separate experiences. We are also just lucky. We have three daughters and twelve grand children, so we know there are always ups and downs, but our life has been one of sharing experiences. We have always spent our leisure time together with our family.
What are you most proud of achieving together?
Beth: Of course we are proud of achieving these two trips together. But really and truthfully, and it may sound awfully ordinary, we are terribly proud of our family. We get on very well, they all live around us and we see a great deal of them, and that is fabulous to us.
Ivan: Well, referring back to the drive Ė I am proud of the fact that I could drive from London to Calcutta and not have an accident. Not put one scratch on the car. We hit a donkey in Turkey on a gravel road, but there was no damage. The donkey was fine too!
What's your happiest travel memory together?
Ivan: I must say that India captured my imagination. I found it sensational. And on the second trip, there was a posh hotel called the Imperial Hotel in Delhi. When we drove in there, the general manager came out and saw the car and offered us a very lovely room at a very low rate, because he felt we had earned it. And we accepted his hospitality!
What's always in your bag - no matter what adventure you're on?
Beth: My lipstick!
Ivan: I always have a little comfortable pillow with me on trips. Because if you have a soft pillow, you can put it on a hard one and you are still comfortable. So that is important. I donít mean the blow up pillows that you wrap around your neck. I mean a proper feather one.
What do you still dream of doing that you haven't yet done?
We both want to go to Sri Lanka, Kerala and places like Vietnam. We have been there, but want to see more.
Where would you like to be right now?
Do you think you discovered and learnt more going together than you would have as solo travelers?
No doubt about that. The ultimate is what we have had Ė to find a traveling companion. And then you are sharing it with somebody.
What do you dream of for your grandchildren's world in the future?
Ivan: I dream that they travel and become worldly people; appreciative of different cultures. I donít want them to be closed in their minds about what is going on in the world.
Beth: We have been lucky enough to take a couple of our grandchildren to Paris and Europe with us and it is just astonishing to watch their faces light up. It was just a joy. I will encourage them to travel as much as they can, but also hope that they can enjoy their travel in relative safety, which is not easy in the world these days. But they do need to travel. Everyone needs to travel.
Read more about Beth and Ivan Hodgeís adventures on their book website. Their car is now in a museum in New Zealand.
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