BY Crystal Walton
For Eric Sabourin Andy Smith and Noah Serrao it was a journey that would leave its mark forever.
For months they plotted and planned an epic adventure that would criss-cross the Eastern Hemisphere. Then from October through March the young men from Wrightsville Beach visited Hong Kong Thailand Cambodia Indonesia Australia New Zealand and Fiji making a pit stop in Hawaii before heading back east.
They began by saving money before committing to the trip and purchasing a plane ticket that allowed them to circle the Pacific for six months. “I was just waiting to save up enough money ” Eric 25 says. “Once I got there I figured ‘Okay I can do this.’”
In October Eric and Andy flew to Hong Kong and were immediately consumed by the city’s crowded streets and unique cuisine. “I ate raw duck eggs ” Eric says of one memorable meal. “I don’t like raw eggs to begin with. It had a coarse green exterior. I bit into it and instantly I felt like I was going to be sick.”
Life in the ancient foreign city proved to be a crash course in international travel. “It was hard to adjust at first. I couldn’t read the money — it was frustrating ” Andy 25 recalls. “I was second-guessing myself for sure.”
Meeting up with an Irish friend and her companions Eric and Andy traveled to Thailand just as the country was spiraling into a political coup. They saw memorials for victims of the 2004 tsunami that claimed more than 180 000 lives in Southeast Asia and witnessed a failed test of the tsunami warning system. “It was hard to sit on land where so many people died ” reflects Andy.
A poverty-stricken country of more than 15 million people seemed like an unlikely stop for three men looking for freedom and waves.
However Andy’s mom Cindy was in Cambodia on a mission trip with the First Baptist Church of Leland and so mother and son united then waited for Noah’s arrival before heading out to work with World Team the sponsoring organization.
The day after Noah 28 landed the three traveled four hours outside of Phnom Penh where World Team was holding a conference for the volunteers in Cambodia. Eric Andy and Noah were put in charge of the missionary’s children. “They live a very worldly life ” Eric says.
The long dusty road to the village led them through countryside with extreme levels of poverty – no power no water no medical care. “It was the worst I have ever seen by far ” Andy states.
“You could see them washing their plates in the river ” adds Eric. “They were on this long dirt road with just bamboo shacks. But the kids are happy as can be. They don’t know any different. It makes you thankful for every single thing you have ever had on this planet. Any sorts of problems or issues that you think are a big deal or it really gets you down — it’s nothing.”
The warm sunny shores of Indonesia beckoned the three for a more relaxing time spending two weeks surfing and beaching it. Andy’s birthday was celebrated in Bali in the footprint of the Bali nightclub bombings that occurred in 2002 (an extremist Islamic group set off the first bomb inside a nightclub then a second outside as people were pouring out). “That was definitely in the back of my head ” Andy says. “It had already happened twice. It could happen again.” Thanksgiving came and went in Indonesia and the boys marked the holiday quietly dining on fried rice and chicken nuggets.
“We got a lot of love in Australia ” Andy says laughing off the anti-American vibe they felt elsewhere. They flew into Melbourne and drove the Great Ocean Road before meeting up with Matt Wilson brother of Wrightsville Beach friend Jeremy Wilson who acted as a tour guide for more than a week.
“We got to hang out with people our age ” Eric says. “His friends showed us great hospitality. He was the best tour guide ever.”
Surfboards and a car (a 1990 Ford Falcon dubbed the Bunyip) were purchased because the Australian leg of the trip would stretch for more than a month.
Australia a country known for backpacker hospitality offers travelers free camping and access to clean hotplates in the national parks. “They are so into preserving what they have ” Eric says.
Christmas Day brought “super glassy” waves and the day after Christmas English Rudd Andy’s girlfriend flew in for a visit.
The group then headed out to the Gold Coast continuing their camping expedition. “It rained for five days straight ” Andy comments. “It was hardcore. She was great.”
Andy and English then headed out for a separate excursion to an offshore island while Eric and Noah continued on checking out more surf spots.
They met up at the airport in Brisbane to set out for their next destination and English flew back to the states.
The Kiwis like to talk – all three say they were the friendliest people they met on the trip.
While in New Zealand the trio spent most of the time camping in caves and cooking meals off the car engine. Low tide would reveal seafood for meals a tip offered by the friendly locals. Days of driving had another unexpected side effect – “I had whiplash from looking at everything ” Noah says.
Empty beaches led to ideal surfing conditions.
“You would come around a point and see a point break breaking three waves deep ” Andy says wistfully. “There would be no one out there. … I didn’t want to leave New Zealand. I fell in love with it there.”
A brief stopover in Fiji gave the boys some time to reflect on the journey. They soaked up the sun relaxed and took a boat trip by Castaway Island where Tom Hanks filmed the movie. “It was really beautiful ” Noah says.
They slowly prepared themselves for their return to America after months away from home.
“I couldn’t believe how fast it went by ” Andy remembers.
Two weeks in Hawaii allowed Noah to share some hometown hospitality with his traveling partners. He grew up in Hawaii before moving to New Jersey and he was proud to show off his hometown.
“Everywhere we went we thought it was more exciting and beautiful. Noah was telling us the whole time ‘These places are pretty don’t get me wrong but wait ’til you get to Hawaii.’”
English returned to meet up with the group in Hawaii and they all traveled to Kona an outer island for Eric’s birthday.
Noah stayed on in Hawaii while Eric and Andy made the trek back across country returning to Wrightsville Beach as changed people.
Life back home seems different now after seeing so many other parts of the world and finding freedom which Andy called the main theme of the trip.
“We wanted to get out of the everyday lifestyle ” Andy says. “Everyone talks about wanting to do it and we made it happen.”
“The realization is that we were living our dreams ” Eric adds.
The trip filled the trio with a sense of urgency to get out into the world and explore while appreciating their own day-to-day lives.
They are already planning their next excursion – a 2008 trek in South America.