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.
After having already shared my first three anecdotes with you a few weeks ago, here are two more.
Charlie and the Indonesian Cargo Ship
It was our second week on the Indonesian island of Java. The plan was to fly to Ambon, then onto the magical Banda islands. As we made our way to Surabaya airport I received an email from the Banda homestay owner:
“The airline you are booked on has stopped flying to Banda.You need to find the port town of Teluhu and negotiate your way onto the local speedboat to Seram island. Once you arrive at Seram island, there should be a cargo ship called the Malole. Find the Captain and catch a lift.
After 15 hours on the Malole, you will arrive in the Banda islands. Looking forward to seeing you soon!”
Getting over the initial shock of the airline grinding to an absolute halt, we thought through our options and decided that we could not miss this elusive paradise set in the far north east of the archipelago. After a night in Ambon, we set off on step one. The Teluhu waterfront was a bustling scene, the people more Melanesian than Asian. I had been warned about being overcharged for the speedboat, and was outraged when $9 was demanded at the terminal! Thinking I was being ripped off just for being a tourist, I made a fuss. During my “negotiations’ with the ticket official, an older man approached us. “You will pay the same price as everyone else…I own this town, this is my town, not yours…” Turns out ‘Charlie’ was not the mayor or a developer, but the town’s mafia boss. At the same time, I worked out that $9 was the legitimate price, and that we had just been confronted by the most dangerous man on the island. Fearing that our confusion had manifested into a slightly disastrous encounter, the apologies were laid out desperately as Charlie stared at us angrily.
With the situation diffused, we sat patiently by the water awaiting our speedboat. Charlie drove past, and with a change of heart, invited us to his house. While going to the house of a mafia boss who we had just deeply offended sounds like a terrible idea when you write it down, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The next hour was spent in a pink front room with a baby crocodile nailed to the wall, teaching English to Charlie and drinking hot tea amidst air rising to 39 degrees. Why not?
We survived the meeting and got on with step two. The island of Seram delivered its promise, with the groaning hull of the Malole impressed against the port. The cargo ship captain gave us a strange look as we approached the gangway “you want to go to Banda?”, he enquired. After a nervous “yes” we made our way on deck. Below deck confronted us with live chickens, a baby goat, 50 people and plastic mattresses slick with sweat. A picnic bench bolted into the deck seemed much preferable.
Trying to find comfort in the cold iron of the bench, we contorted ourselves into a position where we could pretend to sleep. The 15 hours at sea that followed were amongst the longest of my life. As the ship rolled towards our destination in the moonlit night, I could make out the distant flashes of lightning. Three tropical thunderstorms crashed into the deck we were perched on overnight. Very romantic. Hours later, as the morning sun rose, a couple of almost surreal-looking islands were dotted on the horizon. Said islands are known for one the most pristine diving sites in the world. It was Christmas Day as I put my scuba gear on the following day and I there was nowhere else I would have rather been.
The Chinese Mandarin
After having spent nearly two months in the land of the red dragon, my days in China were fastly approaching their end. It was time to make my last pit stop in the southern province of Guangxi. Compared to the places I visited in the weeks leading up to this, tourists were plentiful, but so were the numbers of surreal landscapes surrounding me. Catching an early morning bus from the capital down to Yanghsuo, I just couldn’t wait to get lost in the dreamy valleys perfectly plotted around the Li river. The road conditions weren’t ideal, but nothing I hadn’t seen myself through before. For some reason, however, my body started to slowly shut itself down. By the time the bus came to a stop at my destination, I was hardly able to carry my backpack, let alone did I know where to go. It is from the time I got off the bus until I dropped onto my hostel’s bed my memories are blurred. And it wasn’t long after latter, I realised I had food poisoning. What from, I wondered? All I had in the previous 12 hours was bottled water, and… Well, what else? Oh, a few mandarins from the market I visited earlier the same day. Mandarins. 26 hours of hell and a couple of rather desperate calls back home, I was already off to my next adventure, cruising through the most beautiful valleys I came to see in the first place. Mandarins, however, I have stayed away from ever since. You never know, right?
Do you have a travel moment that went so terribly wrong it’s almost funny to reflect on it now?