Around the world in 42 days (that is, a Melbourne Storm off-season)
To be honest, I was a little bit chuffed with the amount of travel Hoff and I fit into the 2011 off-season. We had a lovely time gallivanting across the US – and make no mistake, we did gallivant – and we enjoyed the other travel we did throughout 2011 as well.
The best thing about travelling with Hoff, apart from the witty conversation and stellar company (of course) is that he carries my bags. Contrary to popular opinion, chivalry is not dead, it’s just hiding out in the Hoffman household.
The worst thing about travelling with Hoff is the frequency with which the man needs to eat. Highly impractical. Whereas I can load up at the breakfast buffet then snack on whatever local delights I happen to come across until dinner, Hoff (being rather large) requires a full, sit-down meal at semi-regular intervals. So inconvenient.
Nevertheless we had a wonderful time, and as noted, were frankly quite pleased with ourselves for straying somewhat off the traveller-beaten track. Then we arrived back to Melbourne Storm. It seems that by club standards, our American adventures rate as a little tame, compared to the travels of some of our purple kin.
Cooper Cronk and his lovely partner Eli headed for South America, more specifically Chile, Peru, Brazil and Argentina. After completing the famous (and infamously arduous) Inca Trail, Cooper may well be the first footballer in history to come back from off-season fitter than he was when he left. Never fear though, it wasn’t all 9 hour up-hill walking days and altitude sickness, the pair also passed their days visiting giant stone deities, checking out waterfalls and picking up a boatload of Spanish along the way (the language, not tapas…necessarily).
When pressed on the motivation for choosing South America, Eli cited long-held fascination with all things Incan, and specifically, Machu Picchu. Apparently this fascination either stems from a spiritual affinity she has long felt with South America, or the fact that her Mum had a picture of Machu Picchu on her screensaver on her computer when Eli was growing up. Either/or. It hardly matters, screensaver memories aside, the pair now have ticked a pretty impressive box on their respective bucket lists.
And so to the Slaters. Hoff and I were avidly following the Four Nations whilst we were away and as sympathetic as I was for Billy and his horrific shoulder injury, my first thought was actually of Nicole - fresh off the plane to the UK, sans children for the first time in four years, battling the Tube (for 2.5 hours) planning on seeing her beloved play on the International stage. Instead she arrives to find him in pieces, requiring surgery and frankly, ready to jump back on the plane (presumably the same one Nicole just got off) and go home. I am pleased to report, however, that they overcame this disappointing turn of events by travelling around Europe for the first time together – taking in the sights of London, Paris, Barcelona…and Leeds. There’s a prize if you can spot the odd-one-out there.
So Cooper, Eli, Billy, Nicole, Hoff and I might be forgiven for some collective feelings of traveller pride. Between us we covered Europe, South America and North America – how do you top that?
Enter Ryan Hinchcliffe and his fiancé, Brooke. Over the course of the 2011 season, Brooke (who comes from a long line of intrepid travellers) managed to convince Hinchy to pack up and head west for three weeks of camping in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. So whilst the rest of us were tucking ourselves into hotel room beds on most nights of our travels, Brooke and Hinchy were rattling around in the back of what can only be described as a truck/bus hybrid (evidently driven by a local who had infinite issues spotting speed bumps before it was too late to slow down) and pitching their own tent on the banks of sometimes-hippo-infested waters.
And whilst Hinchy may have required more than a little coaxing on Brooke’s behalf to get there, in the end it seems that getting up close and personal with gorillas in Rwanda (for example), made the trip absolutely worthwhile. And on the subject of gorillas, apparently Hinchy’s most annoying holiday habit is to imitate the gorilla noises that the (highly-gorilla-experienced) local guides made to soothe the beasts, despite being specifically (and repeatedly) warned against such copycat behaviour.
(Sidenote: Hinchy now claims to be fluent in Swahili. I’m sceptical, but as I don’t know anyone who is fluent in Swahili and my own knowledge is limited to two words from a certain 1994 Disney animation, I am in no position to judge).
So there you have it. Whereas travel during the year tends to be limited to any destination lucky enough to host an opposing NRL team, the off-season presents a literal world of opportunity. And I’m pleased to report that all here at the Melbourne Storm have done our best to take full advantage.