In the last thirty years, Rosita Boland has visited some of the most remote parts of the globe carrying little more than a battered rucksack and a diary. To celebrate the publication of her new book Elsewhere, here she shares with us three offbeat things from her travels.
The weirdest thing I ever saw for sale
I was standing with my rucksack in Florence, waiting for the bus that was going to take me to the hostel. The stop was by a very fancy shop opposite the Dumou, the city’s famous church. You had to ring a bell to go into the shop. I didn’t ring. I knew from looking in the window everything on sale in there was far beyond my budget. Beautiful, handmade leather notebooks. Delicate silver bowls. Hand-blown glass.
My gaze travelled to the middle shelf. There was just one item displayed on the glass shelf. Something made of silver and hand-carved oak. It was definitely silver; I could see the prominent hallmarks. The wood was gleaming and carefully polished. My brain struggled to comprehend what it was I was looking at. It was not an item you would ever associate with a precious metal and hand-carved oak.
What I was looking at was a silver rat trap. Not a mousetrap, although that would have been surreal enough. I had seen plenty of rat traps in farmyards in my day, and my, are those things big. The same size, in fact, as this one, all by itself on a glass shelf in an incredibly expensive shop in Florence.
I stared at it, agog, my head full of questions. Why would you make a silver rat trap? Was it a joke? Why would you want to buy a silver rat trap? If you were that wealthy, surely you wouldn’t have rats lurking in your residence. I could just see the price tag. This was when Italy was still using lira, but it was the equivalent of about one thousand euro.
I went to the Uffizi the following day and saw many marvellous and famous paintings, but when I think of Florence now, it’s that silver rat trap I remember more clearly than the Botticellis or the Titians or the Caravaggios.
I was hitch hiking up the west coast of Australia by myself in 1988, and there were very few hostels open there are the time. My next destination was Broome, and I was told there were campsites, but no hostels. I didn’t have a tent. And I was nearing the end of a year backpacking around Australia, and didn’t have much money either.
The warden in the hostel at Port Hedland, who told me I need a tent, had a tent, which some backpacker had left behind.
“But there are no poles and no pegs,” she explained, passing it over to me. “I’m sure you can buy some.”
I took the tent, which had no means of support, confident could find a camping shop in Broome, and buy what I needed.
There was a lovely campsite in Broome, to which I headed first and disposed of my rucksack and tent. Then I hitched into town. There was indeed a camping shop in Broome, but all their poles and pegs came with tents. Most normal people bought these things in one go, it was more or less spelled out to me. No, they did not sell poles and pegs separately. And no, there was no hostel in Broome.
Flummoxed, I stood at the side of the road and started to hitch a lift back to the campsite, wondering if perhaps I could treat the tent like a large sleeping bag and just crawl inside it each night.
I told my tent story to the couple who picked me up, and were also going to the same campsite. They started to laugh when I was finished.
“You won’t believe this,” the man said.
“Won’t believe what?”
“Our tent got hit by a storm last month, and it ripped to pieces. We had to buy a new one,” the woman said. “But we kept the poles and the pegs from the old one. We still have them. If they fit your tent, you are welcome to them.”
Amazingly, astonishingly, they did. And just before I was due to go back to Ireland, I passed them on to another backpacker, along with the story.
Most memorable bus journey
The bus from the Pakistani-Iranian border to Zahedan went through relentless desert. I was wearing a chador and headscarf I’d had made in Delhi, there was of course no air-conditioning, and it was so hot that when my hand touched the window, I yelped with pain.
It was hot and dry and there was nothing in the entire landscape for hours and hours and hours except sand, creeping like water across the road.
At one point, before dusk, we stopped at an isolated shack in the desert to use the bathroom there. I took off my headscarf and ran it under the cool water before putting it back on again. I got back on the bus and went to my seat.
There, on my seat, in the middle of the desert, was a fresh red rose. I lifted it up like a torch and looked up and down the bus. Nobody made any movement. I studied faces, but saw no clues as to who could possibly have left this magical, confounding rose, on my seat; a rose that had apparated out of the most arid desert I had ever seen.
Dusk fell. I tucked the rose into the net pocket of the seat in front of me, and all that night whenever I woke, I could smell its fragrance. By morning, it had collapsed; its petals strewn across my lap like scented jewels.
Elsewhere is published today by Doubleday Ireland (£14.99) and is available in store or online to Click & Collect.