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March 30, 2009

BABS’ 50-DAYS GETTING TO THE CHURCH ON TIME

david ellis

WHEN a girl's asked to be bridesmaid to her best friend, it's important she get herself to the church on time.

But that can take on a whole new meaning when our bridesmaid lives in Wales, and the church is a near-20,000 kilometres away in Brisbane, Australia – and she refuses to fly.

That was the dilemma facing Barbara Haddrill in 2006. A committed eco-campaigner, Barbara has an aversion to flying because of the environmental impact of carbon belched out by today's jetliners.

So she sat down in the 4-metre long caravan in which she lives a largely self-sustaining existence on a farm on the outskirts of the picturesque Bronze Age town of Machynlleth, and started plotting how to get to Brisbane – not in a mere 24- to 30-hours, but via an amazing fifty day odyssey one way, and a further seventy the other.

And she not only had to carry her needs for such a vast Jules Verne-like adventure, but also her bridesmaid's dress as well.

"It started to get very daunting," she says now. "And I kept putting it off until I simply had to start moving."

And move she did. Like something out of Girls Own Annual her tent and necessities went into one backpack, clothes and bridesmaid's dress into another, and an accordion she plays in a local gypsy-music band called Finikity Charos, was tied to the lot.

Then she hitchhiked to London, coached it from there through Belgium, Germany, Poland, Belarus and into Moscow, and connected there with the Trans-Siberian Express for a 6-day, 6,000km journey to Beijing… often entertaining fellow passengers with her accordion.

But in Beijing reality set in as she found herself unable to communicate in the local markets she sought out for their regional foodstuffs (that included at one stage deep-fried Asian lizards and grasshoppers.)

"I started bawling my eyes out in Tiananmen Square, because no matter how much pointing or waving of notes I couldn't communicate about what I was buying – and worse, how to get from Beijing to Australia. I feared I was failing in getting to my friend Helen's wedding, and just felt stuck."

But she forged onwards, somehow combining a heady mix of road and waterways transport across China, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore, and from there by cargo ship to Melbourne.

"There was me and sixteen male sailors from Russia, the Ukraine and the Philippines. It was the first time I felt nervous: English was virtually unspoken, and there was a lot of staring, but it actually turned out a lot of fun."

And a coach got her happily from Melbourne to Brisbane in time for Helen and Steve's marriage on the beach at North Stradbroke Island.

"It was lovely, and worth everything," says Barbara.

But she then had to get back home to Wales. Again she started by hitch-hiking, getting a ride from Brisbane through the Outback to Adelaide with a tough truckie who said he'd take her along 'so long as I didn't argue.'"

From Adelaide she got a bus to Darwin, broke her own rule with a short flight to Bali as it was the only option available, used buses and boats to Singapore, and hopped on another cargo ship from there to Genoa.

"Then it was by train to Milan where I caught up with my mum and sister, train to Paris, bicycle from there to Calais for the ferry across the Channel, train to Bristol, and finally bicycle from there to Machynlleth."

"Had I gone by air I would have been responsible for 11.2 tonnes of CO2, but doing it my way I reduced this to just 1.8 tonnes."

Barbara's amazing 18-country adventure by road, rail, bicycle and on foot has recently been published as a witty, at times emotionally-gripping book, called Babs2Brisbane that can be ordered through Amazon Books or http://babs2brisbane.com/

FOOTNOTE: Barbara still lives in her caravan, generates her own hydro-electricity in a nearby river, uses forest-floor wood for heating, grows her own fruit and vegies, raises chooks for eggs, writes and lectures about her journey, and works in a vegetarian restaurant at Machynlleth's Centre for Alternative Technology.

And apart from sometime circumnavigating Wales by horse and cart, she has absolutely no plans to go any further afield again.
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