When Travelling Goes Wrong
They say “the world is a book and those who don’t travel only read the first page”. Well, on the rare occasion travelling resembles a terribly written thriller which you wish you put aside as soon as you read that first page. Talking about ‘bad’ things doesn’t come very natural to many of us. Some don’t want to be reminded of them, others may feel like negative moments are not worth sharing. Ultimately, it’s all about creating positive vibes so why bother sharing stories about things going terribly wrong?
I decided to bring this new series to life for two reasons.
1. So you don’t have to go through the same.
2. No one’s travels, or life for that matter, are perfect. Neither are mine.
Today, I will share three different anecdotes from three different countries I have visited over three different years. (yes, three is my absolute favourite number…)
Indonesian Dirt Roads
I know, I know. The motorbikes they had on offer had no mirrors. The road, well, I’d hardly call it a road. And no, I have not driven a ‘motorbike’ (which really was more like scooter) before. So far so good. It wasn’t all that bad, of course. My better half convinced me to fit the little first aid kit into my handbag – “just in case”. I paid extra for a helmet. And we had an epic adventure to a canyon famous for its stunning green waters and waterfalls planned. To start off with, the roads were quiet. Slippery, but quiet. The villages we rode through looked like they were out of a movie and the smiles on our faces where as big as the watermelon slices we had for breakfast. And then it happened. What exactly, I can’t tell you. But I ended up underneath my motorbike on the middle of a not not-so-quiet street. A couple of men lifted the bike off me, I moved my head and other limbs and didn’t feel a pinch of pain. I was fine. And then I tried to get up and walk to the side of the road, which wasn’t as easy as I wished it was. In fact, blood was streaming out of my knee and the initial shock gave way to a roller-coaster of emotions. A couple of ladies called us inside their home and offered some (dirt) water to clean up the mess. But really I had nothing to worry about. My head was completely fine, my love is a pro at first aid and fixed me up in no time and the bike was already of such advanced age that a couple of new scratches made no difference. With a “I can’t believe this just happened”-look on our faces, we jumped (okay, it was more of a clambering motion) back on our bikes, rode with a speedy 20 km/h to the end of the road, arrived at the green canyon, hired a boat and took this epic photo.
I was halfway through a journey across South America and had just spent two days exploring the iconic Iguazu Falls. The falls lie on a three way border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. I had heard some rumours about a town on the Paraguayan side of the border; a shifty fascinating place, complete with counterfeit shopping malls, dingy street stalls and, according to local sources, one of the biggest black markets in the world. Sounds like the place to be, so off we went.
Almost immediately after crossing the open border from Brazil into Ciudad del Este, the rumours started to ring true. There were armed men everywhere, the offers of counterfeit socks or zapping tasers were thrust in front of us as we wandered the crowded streets. It seemed like the kind of place where you could ask for anything you wanted and get it. My love and I explored a bizarre electronics mall and sat down for lunch in a dingy food court before heading through the markets. Tired of seeing socks and more socks, we were eager to see some different areas. After walking up a couple of streets too far, however, an uneasy feeling came over us. We were finally convinced to turn back towards Brazil. After passing another few hundreds of stalls filled with pistols, batons, brass knuckles, scarves, socks and “Adidas” gear, we came into a crowded intersection within sight of the border. Out of the blue, a terrifying sound exploded no more than 20m from us. I was pulled behind a car as a gunshot whistled over our heads, the crowd started screaming and running and we darted into the nearest shopping mall (too many malls in one day!). As the adrenalin started to wind down and out of my veins, we made our way over Rio Parana back to the relative comfort of Brazil (empty-handed by the way; it’s not like there was anything to buy at the biggest black market in the world). I am still convinced that there is much more to this country than what we experienced in the matter of a few hours and would love to go back and discover its beauty one day. Till next time, Paraguay!
The most recent one of my “When Travelling Goes Wrong” stories took place after I had already been on the road for over two months. By then, I was a keen and experienced solo-traveller; or at least that’s what I thought I was. How come then that I called my dad telling him in a slightly teary and a bit too panicky voice I had “a problem”? These types of calls happen about once every year surrounding instances such as breaking-down cars or food poisoning. This time, I had no accident, I was perfectly healthy, and, to top it off, I was by the beach side watching the sun go down.
In fact, this particular day started off with one of the best adventures during my time in Vietnam. I read about a coastal highway leading to an abandoned lighthouse and decided to check it out myself. I hired a motorbike, packed my first aid kit (“just in case”, remember?) and made my way to this mysterious lighthouse stopping at road-side food stalls for directions, freshly baked banana chips and grilled corn. The lighthouse turned out to be on an island just off shore so a local fisherman took me across, I climbed right to the top, and took it all in. What a beautiful day! All I needed now was my loved ones around me and my day couldn’t have become any better. Instead, the tables turned and a serious of unlucky circumstances lead to a minor disaster. On my way back, I stopped to check my phone for the name of a temple nearby. Now, my phone was in one of those cloth wallets you get at every South East Asian market and, since I already packed my gear to go on an overnight bus in a few hours, it contained most of my cash, my ID’s as well as both of my credit cards. As I looked through my phone, I placed my wallet on my lap and a sudden wind gust blew it straight off to the left. To my left, there were sand dunes. SAND DUNES. My wallet was now officially becoming one with the sand. And running after the wind on a sand dune was definitely not the smartest of my ideas. Long story short: a day, a sleepless night, and hardly any food later, my credit cards were blocked, new ID’s were on their way and, thanks to PayPal and a very trusting and generous travel companion, cash was back in my hands.
Do you have a travel moment that went so terribly wrong it’s funny to reflect on it now?