For a lot of us, travel is one of the greatest things there is in life. But there is more to travel than just seeing sights. As any avid vacationer can attest, something about being in a far-off land always seems to bring out the unexpected. From the beautiful and awe-inspiring to the dark and disturbing, here are the personal stories of adventurers’ most unforgettable travel experiences of all time.
1. The Lady In Red
I found myself in Japan some years back, visiting with a buddy and doing the general touristy stuff. One such touristy thing was visiting a museum with a shrine and garden attached. I want to say I was in Kyoto specifically, but I honestly can’t recall any longer. Anyway, it was October, and it was very gray. The sky was gray and cloudy, with intermittent sprinkling.
This made the ground gray, and gray light cast a filter over what would otherwise have been green grounds. Most of the other visitors with me were Japanese, the median age being well over 50, so it’s safe to assume retirees. They dressed in neutral colors, such as whites, tans, khaki, or light blue. I was a stark contrast, wearing a bright blue and black fitted exercise shirt with a black over-shirt and jeans.
Also, I’m 6’3” and Caucasian. So you know, there’s that. I went through the museum first, which was mildly interesting. I was then briefly cornered by some old women who seemed to think I was fascinating. Then it was out to the front grounds. There was a large lawn between the museum and the start of the garden trail that would lead back to the parking area.
Not much ornamentation between the two. Just a small pond and some tables and chairs, as well as some elderly folk shuffling about. It was on the far side that I saw the woman in the red coat. It would have been difficult not to notice her because, as I said, everything else was grey, and here she was in a bright red long coat and a matching hat.
As I looked across the distance at her, she looked back and saw me. Our eyes met somewhere in the middle. She broke the eye contact after a moment and started into the garden trail, which was immediately obscured by trees. Perhaps I was reading too much into it, but it felt like we had a moment. All I could think was, Oh wow.
I was milling about for a few minutes, but in the absence of any reasonable distraction, I soon started on the path through the garden. “Garden” is a little bit of an understatement here. It was more like an organized forest. There was a lot to see, and the path was flanked by trees and well-tended flowers. Bamboo fountains and small shrines had been set up on small branch paths as well.
Being a tourist, I would stop to take pictures now and again. I skipped the first few since they weren’t dissimilar from others I had seen elsewhere in my travels. But I soon came to a small waterfall that I felt warranted space on my phone’s SD card. So I stopped and fiddled around a little, trying to find a good angle. Having acquired a satisfactory shot I turned to head back to the main path, and almost bumped into the woman in the red coat.
She was pretty and looked to be in her twenties like myself, though I’m a bad judge of age regardless of ethnicity. She was also quite startled. “Sumimasen,” says I, in what I’m sure was an atrocious accent. “Excuse me,” she replied in what was technically English. We stood there just staring at each other for a moment or two.
Then, she looked away. I inclined my head and moved past her. Again thinking, Nope, I’m not doing this. Further yet down the path, I’m stopped on a small bridge, attempting to clear a little room on my camera since I had the resolution setting up way too high and was thoroughly out of space. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something fall.
It was a pamphlet about the grounds. I crouch to pick it up and return it to its owner. Another hand enters my line of sight, cuffed in red. Sigh. “Doozo.” “Thank you.” She takes the paper but doesn’t look at me this time. Despite my doubling back to make sure we don’t run into each other again after that, we run into each other again after that.
Three more times to be exact, each time almost physically bumping into each other or something similar. Finally, I’m at the end of the path, at the small gift stand that sells charms, trinkets, and keychains. I was looking at a charm for a friend back home, and I went to pick it up. My guard was down, which was stupid, but here comes that red-sleeved hand again, reaching for the same charm.
No darn it, no. I’ve played this game. If our hands touch, that’s gonna set off some weird chain of events and I’m going to end up living here or some other weird nonsense. I’ve got a girlfriend, I ain’t doing it. I withdrew my hand, inclined my head to her again, stepped wide around her, and made a beeline back to my hotel.
Returning, I told my buddy what had happened. He said: “Dude, you should have gone for it! I wouldn’t have said anything to your girlfriend.” Feeling he missed the point, I went online and messaged said girlfriend, who thought the whole thing was hilarious. She has since been upgraded to wife, so I can safely say that I made the right choice.
2. Safe And Secure
I was working in Chicago back in August, and my wife flew up to join me for three days of fun in the Windy City. We were staying at a very nice hotel downtown, up on the 17th floor. After a long day of sightseeing, we fell asleep at around 11:00 pm. Just after midnight, we woke up to chaos. We both awoke to the sounds of a man outside our room yelling for security.
Literally. “Security!” At the top of his voice. After the first two yells, we both look at each other and make that confused dog head tilt. Is this for real? Is he intoxicated? Can we go back to sleep? Are you in a romantic mood? Actually, that last thought might have just been mine. Two more yells and we both think surely he’ll shut up.
And surely someone has already called for security. A couple of more yells of “Security” and a few more of “Somebody help me!” clinch it for me to go see what the heck is going on, because the scene has now shifted from annoying to kind of scary. I throw on some jeans and a T-shirt and tell my wife to call downstairs for security.
I cautiously open my door and can hear someone moaning down the hall by the elevator. I honestly expected to see at least one other curious sleeper join me on my quest, but the halls were empty. I walked around the corner and saw a middle-aged man on his knees next to the elevator doors covering his face. Still yelling through his fingers.
With the adrenaline running through my veins, I said “Dude, you need to quiet down. You are scaring everybody in the hotel. Security has been called and they are on their way. What’s wrong?” He pulls his hands away from his face and I can see tears streaming down from bloodshot eyes. “She pepper sprayed me. The witch pepper sprayed me.”
I quickly look around and confirm that we are alone. I then realize that I can still smell the spray, as well as the distinct odor of bourbon coming from him. “Who pepper sprayed you?” I asked. “Where is she?” “I don’t know,” he said. “Some big woman. Security!” I told him to relax and that I was going to get a wet rag for his eyes.
I hurriedly ran back to my room with the sounds of “security” still in my ears, but at least much quieter now. I told my wife what I had discovered, then I threw a small towel in the sink and turned on the faucet. My wife tells me that security is on their way. I made my way back with a now partially wet towel to the pepper sprayed man who had moved over to one of the couches near the elevator, still with his head in his hands.
Just as I was giving him the towel, four big burly men in suits came bursting through every possible exit and entrance on that floor. Two from different elevators and two from different stairwells. “He said he got pepper sprayed by a large woman who just left,” I told one of the security guards as they began to relax and realize what was happening.
“I got him a towel and told him that he needed to stop yelling.” “And where is your room, sir?” one of the guards asked me. “I’m just around the corner,” I replied. After about 10 seconds of awkward silence, I looked back at the guard and asked, “Is it cool if I go back to bed?” “Yeah man, it’s cool,” he said. “I’m sorry about the disturbance.”
I never got the answer as to what the whole thing was all about. I don’t know if this was some kind of a sketchy deal gone bad or maybe just a date with a jerk who got what was coming to him. But no matter what the explanation was, to this day I can still yell “Security!” to my wife and she’ll either tell me to stop or she’ll get out her pepper spray.
3. To Climb, Or Not To Climb?
It was Day 99 of my adventures in Asia. You could see it in the eyes of the trekkers coming in. In their leathered faces, their tired, worn, battered bodies. Iodine lips. One man entered the hotel courtyard, unlacing his boots to reveal a patchwork of bandages and neosporin. I greeted him when he reemerged from a shower, looking less sinewy than before.
He’d settled in a plastic lawn chair overlooking the Annapurna range. The balcony was littered with hippies and Russian trekkers, painting, glancing at the mountain through a telescope, or just staring off dreamily into thin air. He asked us if we’d just returned from the high pass too. No, I told him, we planned to attempt it tomorrow.
At this, he gave a skeptical smile, telling us in a throaty Russian accent that we were out of our minds. Ando, the most sensible of the trio, had already decided to turn back. He showed early signs of altitude sickness, including a relentless headache. We said our emotional goodbyes that morning. With him, we lost the last of the troupe, and now it was up to us, Yves and I, to decide whether we wanted to attempt the high pass to walk back.
There were many reasons that made me step back and reconsider this trek, among them: I had a flight to catch. I’d played with the notion of walking a quarter or perhaps half, but never all of it. That required two weeks at best. Now here I was, with a flight to catch in Kathmandu in seven days. If I crossed this mountain, I would have to keep going, and the flight put a strain on things.
Yves pulled out a notecard and we did some calculating on the balcony. Tomorrow we’d reach the village before the high pass, rest there, marking May 12th as the day we cross the high pass. That left five days to walk 70 more miles back to Besisahar. We played with notions of charter planes and imagined buslines. We studied poorly-loaded flight itineraries offered through Yeti airlines.
It’s very steep. Then there’s the issue of steepness, the defining feature that lent the reverse route its accredited “crazy way” status, for it required you to climb from 12,000 feet to 18,000 feet back down to 12,000 feet (highly recommended, to lessen the risk of altitude sickness). That meant ascending and descending 12,000 feet in a few hours, or about 3600 meters.
When above altitudes of 3,000 meters, most doctors recommend climbing no more than 500 meters in one day. Again, altitude sickness. A few days ago, while eating boiled eggs, two Latvian trekkers who made it over the high pass the traditional way told us about a sick man who was carried off in a clothes basket hung on the back of a local porter.
There are also horses, the woman said, buttering her toast. In Sikkim, we started to hear rumors about an Israeli girl who had lost her life here a few months ago when she ignored clear signs like the headache. But we had pills. We’d bought them off Swiss climbers who no longer needed them. I studied the little brochure tucked under the ancient travel catalog in the hotel restaurant: Signs of HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema), more commonly known as Altitude Sickness.
They included a thunderclap headache felt in the back of the head, near the neck’s base. Nausea. Loss of appetite. Dizziness. Hallucinations. I thought back to the tragedy of the 1996 Everest disaster. Tomorrow marked its 18-year anniversary. On May 11, 1996, eight people lost their lives while trapped above high camp, caught in a night blizzard.
Hypothermia. Plus it’s very cold, with nights above Muktinath dropping to a windchill below five or six degrees Celsius. We would camp in unheated mud huts. Just two months ago, a couple froze to their demise near Thorung-La, the Nepalese name of the high pass. All things that I had to consider. Now for the conclusion to this whole story.
I spent hours that afternoon just sitting on the ledge, watching the mountain before me. I’d come this far. Now here I was. There it was. What more was left to say? I wasn’t the first person to do this, nor would I be the last. And so it came to be that I said I was going to do it. Tomorrow. Yves listened to me talk and nodded silently. The question of pace came up, a real concern.
I liked to walk slowly, taking my time, conserving my energy, while Yves preferred to run off like a rocket and get there in half the time, wasted. We didn’t know how our agreement would work out on the mountain, in these bleak and harsh conditions, but we settled nonetheless to attempt the pass together. In the afternoon, we set off for a practice hike to gauge our stamina and handling of the thin air.
We made it just before the small village beyond Muktinath, the one Katjia our hotelier had advised us to camp in the night before attempting the high pass. At the very outskirts sat a small temple, and a naked Sadhu greeted us from the ground. We’d walked in on his shrine and tent abode. While passing through town, I unearthed a small store that sold Snickers chocolate bars and managed to negotiate a reasonable bulk rate on the condition that he act as my dealer for the high pass attempt, and purchased three on the spot, with the promise of more the following morning.
Now the big day is finally here. Wish us luck!
4. Potato Famine
I served in the Peace Corps in Armenia a few years ago in a small town on the southern tip of Lake Sevan. My province was famous throughout Armenia for being cold. One Armenian I met called it “Siberia, Armenia.” Its population was famous for drinking a lot and growing potatoes. Come wintertime, with my host family we would eat potatoes three times a day for months on end.
I made my mom send me a few care packages full of Sriracha so that I could handle it. But there’s one thing my mother could never know. The practice of men using the services of “women of the night” is pretty common in Armenia. There’s an idea in the culture where you marry the girl you love and she gives you kids and a family, and then there’s also the girl on the side you sleep with (and often pay).
Armenian dudes would ask me all the time if I wanted to go get some company with them. I’m not into hiring women for that sort of task, but if you are, I’m not the one to judge. However, I AM one to judge if you ask me to try and hire one within the first five minutes of meeting me. Don’t you think if I was going halfsies on trying out that sort of an experience, I would feel more comfortable doing so with someone I already knew?
But I digress. At the time, I was dating a member of the Polish EVS (European Volunteer Service) in a town about an hour’s drive away from me. I’d go out and see her, and I’d normally spend the night once or twice a week. It was easy to get there. I would always just hitchhike because I was a cheap fellow and didn’t want to wait for a bus.
I liked chilling with the drivers because we would just chat. It always surprised them that a non-Armenian American could speak Armenian well, so lots of times they’d invite me into their houses for dinner or for something to drink. Sometimes I agreed, sometimes I didn’t. This one time, I was going to see my girlfriend and the guy asked me if I wanted to get a woman of the night with him. “Nah man,” I said.
“My girlfriend is waiting for me. I’ll get plenty of action there.” At least he waited until we had been chatting for about 30 minutes before bringing it up. He asked once more just to make sure, and I again tell him that I’m not interested. This is where it got very weird. He pulled out his phone and called the girl.
My Armenian at the time was pretty good for a foreigner, so I could understand the whole conversation. He’s jibber-jabbering with her, asking what she’s doing, and I can hear everything on her end. She said she was cutting someone’s hair when he called. Eventually, it gets to the point where he invites her to his house. The rub is that she lived about an hour south of us.
That’s not much, but that hour drops down thousands of feet of elevation. You drive south for a bit and then suddenly you hit the edge of the plateau. Because of the geography difference, they don’t grow potatoes down there. Eventually, this guy finally convinces her to come up to see him. He offered to drive all the way down there, pick her up, and drive her all the way back when she needs to go home. This is where it gets SUPER weird.
They’re talking and I swear that she agreed to come up for 10 kilograms of potatoes. I still don’t know how I feel about it all. On the one hand, the sheer absurdity of someone having intimate relations in exchange for potatoes is pretty darn funny. On the other hand, it’s kind of sad. On the other other hand, the women of the night in Armenia had a lot more freedom in their lives than the wives did.
They controlled their own money, they could go out when they wanted, they could sleep around instead of just with the one dude who’ll shack up with them a few times until a kid or two pops out. They weren’t stuck at home cooking and cleaning all day, not even allowed to eat with the men sometimes. But they’re still selling their bodies, which is kinda sad.
5. Looking On The Bright Side
This is the story of the most laid-back guy that I ever met during my travels. I was on Vancouver Island in Canada, and had met a good group of people somewhere in the woods where I was camping. We decided to go out to a bar one night and, to make a long story short, we all ended up getting pretty in our cups together.
On the walk (or stumble) home, we somehow managed to get lost, and found ourselves in a hippy colony nestled in the forest, where there were a bunch of crudely built wooden houses with psychedelic people hanging out on the porches. One guy about our age invited us up to come and join him on his outside porch, and so we sat up there and had a smoke with him.
He was an incredibly laid-back guy. One of my friends was worried about there not being any ashtray, and the fact that we were getting ash all over his floor, but he just waved it off and said “Don’t worry, one day it will be windy, and that will clean the floor.” We all laughed as we thought this was a pretty casual and easy way to think about cleaning. Then it took a sudden downturn.
At this point, one of the group members who was way too gone started throwing up all over the floor mid laugh. We all started looking for a mop or something, horrified that we had just gotten vomit all over this nice guy’s floor, but we were stopped by his response, which I will never forget. “Don’t worry, guys! One day, it will rain!”
6. The Love Seat
Yesterday, I was flying back home to Boston from a business trip in Washington, D.C. I got to the airport much earlier than expected, so I decided I’d try to get on an earlier flight. I went to the ticket counter for my airline to ask about this. I was helped by a man who told me he’d put me on standby for a flight that boarded in about an hour.
He told me to see the gate agent after going through security and tell them I’m on standby. He said that they’d then assign me a seat when possible. He gave me a temporary boarding pass without a seat number. As he was helping me, he was joking around with a female employee who was next to him at the counter. They were saying something about “missing a flight,” but I didn’t really think anything of it.
I got through security and arrived at my gate. There was another man standing at the desk, helping some other people who were presumably also flying on standby. When I got to the front of the line, I handed him my boarding pass and explained that I was on standby. He said “okay” and started to type something into his computer.
But a few seconds later, the girl from the ticket counter suddenly showed up. “Oh, I got this one,” she said, snatching the boarding pass from him. To me, she said, “You’re lucky! Someone gave you a seat. It’s an upgrade too.” I didn’t know what this meant, but I was happy to get a good seat so I didn’t question it. I got seated in one of the “extra leg room” rows.
After I boarded, a guy sat down next to me who looked around my age. He smiled and said “hi,” and I said “hi” back. We each did our own thing for a bit. I was planning to put on headphones, but I had this feeling he wanted to talk so I waited. Sure enough, he struck up a conversation. I’m not usually one to talk on planes, but I was in a good mood and he seemed friendly, so I didn’t mind.
We chatted about our jobs, our reasons for being in D.C, etc. We kept talking as the plane took off. I’ll never forget what happened next. After a bit of silence, he said, “Okay, I have a story to tell you. I’ve been debating whether to tell you because it’s a little embarrassing for me, but I think I want to.” I told him to go ahead.
Apparently, he was originally supposed to be on an earlier flight, which he missed because he got the time wrong and thought it left later. When he got to the airport, he went to the ticket counter and explained his situation. They were teasing him about it, saying “How could you miss that flight? It was delayed!” and stuff like that.
He retorted with “Well, maybe I was supposed to miss that flight. Maybe it’s destiny.” The ticket agents immediately got on board with this idea, one of them saying, “Yeah! Maybe your future ex-girlfriend is on the next flight!” Apparently, at that moment, the other girl who had given me my seat chimed in, saying, “How about his future WIFE?”
Around this time, I guess I approached the ticket counter and they overheard that I was going to be on standby for the same flight. The agents told my seat partner that they were going to hook him up. They gave him the seat in the extra-space row, presumably because there was an empty seat next to it. The female agent then ran to the gate and intervened to make sure I got the seat next to him.
She even exchanged phone numbers with him, and she was apparently texting him advice about how to talk to me. At one point before boarding, they were talking in person, and I guess a little crowd gathered around. So it turned out that several passengers and members of the flight crew knew about her little scheme.
I didn’t notice any of this, but I guess the flight attendants greeted my seat partner by name when he got on the plane, and one gave him a fist bump on his way out. We said goodbye near the airport exit. He gave me his business card, which had his phone number on it, so that I could contact him again if I wanted to. To be honest, I don’t think there was much romantic chemistry, but it’s such a good story that I kind of want to get together at least once.
7. Let’s Get Away From It All
After I graduated from high school, my dad surprised my family with a vacation. This particular vacation was a two-week Mediterranean cruise. We were all so excited for this. We packed our stuff and left the house to go to the airport. We had a layover in Amsterdam before we went to Rome, where our cruise was departing from.
Our layover in Amsterdam was only a couple of hours long. But lo and behold, our first flight had some mechanical issues and got delayed for two and a half hours. We thought that maybe the plane ride might be able to make up for some of that time, but they were not able to. We missed our connection, and in turn, the worst happened. We actually missed the departure of our cruise.
As soon as we landed in Amsterdam, my dad called the airline and got in contact with the cruise. They planned all sorts of stuff. The airline took us all over the place and paid for all of our flights. My dad got into direct contact with the captain of the ship and found out that there was actually another group of passengers from the United States who had missed the departure as well.
The captain got in contact with the airline and told them to get us to Santorini by a certain date and time, so we got there and found a beautiful hotel on the side of the mountain, just like you see in the pictures. But there was just one thing missing. In the midst of all of this stuff going on, the airline completely lost our luggage.
Better yet, the boat was showing up the following day and all we had were the clothes on our backs that we had already been wearing for about three days. There were two or three times when the small Santorini airport called and said that they had our luggage, but in reality, they did not. The captain called my dad and said that they would have a tender boat there to pick us up in about two hours.
We were about to have to get on the boat with no luggage, and needless to say, we were all freaking out. No swimsuit, no clothes, nothing. Well, about one hour before the cruise ship arrived, the airport called us again and told us that they had our luggage. My father and I left to go to the airport, but we were not feeling very positive about this because of their previous mistakes.
When we got there, our bags were indeed laying on the counter. Sitting there like a lost treasure that we had finally discovered at long last. We picked them up, and then we headed back to get my mom and sister. We then headed out to the dock to get picked up by the tender. After all of this, we got to stay a night for free in Santorini and in Amsterdam as well.
Looking back, I’m glad that we got this extra experience. And since everything ended up working out, it ended up being okay. But I don’t know what I would have said if we wouldn’t have gotten our luggage back. Needless to say, ever since this experience, my dad has always scheduled his flights to arrive in his departure city at least 24 hours in advance.
8. These Boots Were Made For Walking
I wish to share with you the story of how I walked 20,000 kilometers or 12,427 miles in 22 countries, which took me a total of four years and three months. On May 11, 2014, I started a very long walk from Estonia in Northern Europe. Four years and three months later, I completed the journey and had arrived at Sumatra Island in Indonesia.
To cross some rivers, seas, and an ocean, I also used some ferries, ships, and planes. But 20,000 kilometers (or 12,427 miles) is the distance that I covered 100% by only walking! The 22 countries where I walked were Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Iran, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
The longest distance I walked in any one country was in India, where I walked over 3,600 kilometers or 2,236 miles. This took me about seven months. I have plenty of fun facts to share about some of my most memorable experiences along the way. I slept and lived briefly in over 220 local homes, together with local families. In some countries, home is the most private place. A holy place.
To be inside a local home together with a local family is surely one of the most special, interesting, and enriching experiences that can happen to any traveler. The longest time that I stayed in one home was over three months. I became very close with one family in the mountains of Nepal, and helped them to build a new house after the big Nepali earthquake.
I slept alone in a tent for over 650 nights. I used a total of 24 different pairs of shoes. When I started this long walk, the total amount of money that I had in my pocket and in my bank account was eight euros. At times, I literally collected, washed, and ate some edible leaves from the roadside. Later, I rented out and sold my house, which made the journey a bit easier.
I also started to earn some money by writing travel articles, selling my travel photos, and making YouTube videos about my experiences. All of my travel expenses for one full year were, on average, 3,000 to 3,600 euros, which is about 3,245 to 3,785 in American dollars. Over 2,200 kind people stopped me on the road and asked me many questions.
They gave me a lot of free drinks and food, invited me to their homes, gave me many gifts, and even gave me money in some cases! In one day, I normally walked about 25 to 35 kilometers. My daily record was 64 kilometers, or 39 miles. I was going very slowly and I did not want to break any records. The weight of my bag varied a lot, from eight kilograms at its lightest point to 23 kilograms at other times.
For many weeks, I was walking and camping in the snowy mountains of Turkey while it was freezing cold. And for many weeks, I passed some desert areas in Iran and in India where the temperature rose every day to over 107.6 °Fahrenheit. For many months, I walked in the monsoon rains of Asia. In Cambodia, I once walked quite a long distance on a very remote road with the water over my knees.
Once, I crossed a hilly jungle in Laos completely on my own. On Day Three, I finished all my food and I started to eat fresh bamboo leaves. Two times, I was bitten by dogs. These were in India and Thailand. One of the times, I needed to go to a hospital because of this. Over one week, my walking was escorted by the heavily armed authorities of Northeast India and in Myanmar.
In different countries, I was invited to visit over 45 schools and universities to share my travel experiences and photos with tens of thousands of students. For one month, I lived in a Zen monastery in the mountains of Vietnam. My dear mother came to meet me and joined me to travel together through Greece, Turkey, Nepal, and Vietnam.
In Vietnam, we had an epic trip together where we bought just one bicycle. My mother was riding the bicycle with our bags and I was running alongside her for over 220 kilometers, over the course of two weeks. Together with my older sister Kadi, we went to conquer the highest mountain in Greece. As some of you may know, I am referring to the one and only Mount Olympos.
At another point along the way, I was also learning taekwondo with a Fifth Den Black Belt Master while living in the master’s home. Many people joined my walk in different countries. The biggest group I had was in Vietnam, where 13 people joined the long walk for five days. It was an amazing group walk! I found new homes for three dogs and four cats that I had found abandoned on very remote roadsides.
The longest time one dog walked with me was exactly 10 days. And I gave over 140 international media interviews. My biggest interview was a long TV interview for a show called “Talk Vietnam.” After I had walked 13,000 kilometers, I had arrived in Vietnam where I met a girl named Sâm. She was a marathon runner and wished to join my walk for a few days.
Over the course of the next year, Sâm came to meet me and to walk together with me exactly 10 times. Two times by bus and eight times by airplane. In five different countries! Together, we walked over 750 kilometers as a pair. In October 2018, we got married. And last year in March, we became the parents of a beautiful baby girl.
We are dreaming and making plans to continue traveling around the world as a family of three. Some day we will do it! I would continue walking, and my wife and daughter would move along on the same route with a small camping car. My dream is to walk in different countries, at least 20,000 kilometers more. When I achieve that, I’ll have completed walking the total distance of planet Earth’s Equator, which is 40,075 kilometers (or 24,901 miles).
9. Friends In High Places
So it was 2016 and I was living in Chicago at the time. If you don’t know anything about Chicago, let me tell you that the winters are brutal and my body wasn’t used to the cold yet. I was also living by myself at the time, so my mom noticed that I needed to get out of the house since I was starting to feel down. So my mom decided to buy me and my brother a week’s vacation to the Dominican Republic.
This ticket included everything paid for, all drinks inclusive, the whole nine yards. We were stoked for this trip because I hadn’t seen my brother in over a year, and we needed a much-deserved vacation. I couldn’t have possibly been more excited than I was in anticipating heading on this trip. Now, it is also important to note that I was a major introvert, so making my objective to go and talk to random people was something that was very hard for me to do.
The same was not the case for my brother. So I said to myself that this is where I will start to talk to new people and stop being such a coward about it. Another reason I was really looking forward to getting this show on the road. So we arrive at the resort, with some minor problems along the way, but we made it to the room.
We decided that we were going to go to the room and set everything down and roam the resort for a bit. When we arrived at the room, we opened the door, put our bags down, and saw a tub in the middle of the place. We also noticed that there was only one bed. It hit us both at the same time. We looked at each other and started laughing because the room we were in was clearly a honeymoon suite.
It was so funny to us, but we settled everything down and set out to roam around. My brother wanted to take out some cash while we were out and about, so we stopped at an ATM machine that was available on the premises of the resort. When we arrived there, we saw these two guys and started to talk to them. They were super cool, so we told them where our rooms were and that we should hang out more while we were all still there.
On Day Three of our stay, I’m pretty sure we hadn’t had a single sip of water in three days. Luckily, I can handle it, so I was fine for the most part. But my brother was absolutely hammered. Like majorly hammered. We saw the guys that day and told them we were gonna go check out the club on the resort. They looked at us and said that the club was trash on the resort and that they rented a car and were going to go to the ones downtown, and wanted to know if we were down to go with them.
We said sure, we’re down. We arrive at the club on the resort later that night and see the two dudes there. I’m with my brother (who is still slammed out of his gourd) and we are talking to the two guys who said that they are about to leave. They were wondering if we were down to go with them now. I look to my left and my brother has vanished.
Like gone. He was standing right to my left the whole time and is now missing all of a sudden. I look at the two guys and ask them if they knew where he went, and they were just as clueless. So they asked if I wanted to go and I said sure. Now I’m a bit tipsy myself, but I’m still okay. I got into the car and we set off for downtown Punta Cana.
On my way downtown, I start asking them some questions, like where are you guys from? They said Canada. So then I asked them what they do? They looked at each other and started laughing. They then turned to me and said, “We are ENTREPRENEURS.” I was like, “Okay, what do you guys sell?” They started to smile and said, “Anything that anyone is willing to buy.” Then the wheels started turning in my 18-year-old introverted head.
“OHHHHHHHHH,” I thought to myself. “They’re drug dealers.” But then it also hit me, “Wait a second, ordinary dealers wouldn’t be able to afford multiple trips here.” And that’s when I realized that they weren’t just any old run-of-the-mill dealers. They were drug lords. Needless to say, I stopped asking questions at that point.
The rest of that night, I talked to various women and other underworld friends of theirs from multiple different clubs. It was AWESOME!!! No, I didn’t get with any of the ladies, but it was a heck of an experience. It was the major thing that broke me out of my shell. At the end of the trip, I was pretty happy with how everything had played out. I’d give the experience a ten out of ten rating, and I would definitely do that again!
10. An Unsatisfied Customer
Beware of American Airlines. My wife and I and our friend, Jack Clifford, made reservations to fly on AA on June 30 to Chicago, London, and then Nice for a river trip. We were supposed to join up with our daughter, Debra Lee, in Chicago. Diane Lee and I were business or first class all the way. Here’s what happened and why none of us intend to ever fly on AA again.
1) All five of our flights were more than three hours late in departure. 2) Our flight on June 30 was canceled and we were re-routed to Dallas-London-Nice and unsure all day whether we would ever get there, and we were unable to join our daughter on the final two legs of the journey. Our Dallas to London flight was delayed over three hours because of a faulty fuel gauge that had to be fixed.
On the much-delayed Nice flight, we were put in coach and didn’t receive the benefit of the Business/First Class tickets that Diane and I had paid for. 3) On our return from Paris through Dallas to Albuquerque, we were supposed to leave at 11:30 in the morning. Instead, we took off around 2:30 in the afternoon. We missed our connection and were re-scheduled onto a 6:30 PM flight.
We rushed, only to find that Flight 1203 to Albuquerque didn’t have a crew or pilot and was delayed until about 10:30 PM Dallas time. We flew to Albuquerque but were diverted to El Paso due to the weather. We got a new crew finally and took AA 1203 to ABQ about 4:00 in the morning on July 15 local time, instead of 3:30 PM the day before. Due to excuses, delays, incompetence, and lost bags, we are done with AA forever.
11. The Holiday Spirit
Turkey is a top notch place to visit. Cool people, beautiful scenery, lots of old Greek history, and epic food. It was Ramadan during the time I was there, but that didn’t seem to affect the tourism industry at all. Maybe in the more conservative eastern parts, but we stayed near the coast. Two years in a landlocked mountain country makes you antsy in the pantsy for the beaches.
After my service in Peace Corps Armenia was up, some buddies and I decided to travel through Turkey. The plan was that we’d travel together and then we would split up in Istanbul and go our separate ways home. My plan was to then fly to Warsaw to see my girlfriend at the time. Istanbul was cool and everything, right up until the very last day when I got pickpocketed.
My flight was 15 hours and my wallet was boosted right on the street. Ain’t that a doozy. Since it was my last day in Turkey, I didn’t mind too much because I would be staying with my girl in Warsaw so I didn’t need money immediately and my mom could Western Union me a little emergency cash when I got there. I already paid for my hostel and had my plane ticket from Istanbul to Warsaw and Warsaw to DC.
I didn’t need any money until I got to Poland. Then, I found myself in an unexpected jam at the airport. Call me paranoid, but I always arrive at airports like four hours early just in case something like this happens. I was flying Air Baltic since it was the cheapest flight I could find. I should have done more homework on the airline.
Apparently, if you don’t check in online, you need to pay like 20 or 25 euros to check in at the gate. A fairly reasonable fee for a budget airline. If you want to fly on cheap airlines, you just need to read about all their extra fees. I don’t complain too much. I messed up here, no one else. But of course, I didn’t know this until I got to the counter.
I was there early, grooving and in a good mood. Sure, I got pickpocketed last night, but all I lost was a debit card that I was able to cancel immediately, and the equivalent of $30. And I was going to be seeing my baby in a few hours. I hadn’t seen her in months, so I was excited. I hand over my passport. The guy behind the counter piddles on the computer and says “Okay, that’ll be 20 euro for using airport check-in.”
Oh snap! My face just dropped. Me: “Excuse me?” Him: “Yes sir, we charge a 20 euro fee for checking in at the airport. Online check in is free.” Me: “Well darn.” I ruefully smiled. “My idiot self didn’t read your website about all the fees. I’m sorry.” Him: “It’s okay, sir. It happens to many travelers. We take cash or credit, whichever is easiest for you.”
Me: “Well here’s the problem. I just got mugged last night, man. I was out buying some peanuts from a street vendor and then a truck drove right down the sidewalk and everyone had to squeeze up against the tables and stalls. Apparently this is a common tactic. I bought my peanuts with some bills in my pocket, and twenty minutes later when I went to an ATM to get some cash, my wallet was gone.”
I put on that whole “Man, I’m and idiot and please take pity on me. I know it’s totally my fault and you don’t have any reason to help me out, but maybe you might” smile. I just continued. “I swear I’m not trying to scam you or anything. We have plenty of time before my flight. If you want me to unpack my stuff to prove I have no cash or credit cards, I’ll do it man. I messed up and hopefully we can figure something out.”
I was really banking on the fact that no one is so crummy that they would force me to miss my flight because I literally have no access to money and it’s a measly 20 euro. Especially in Turkey, where everyone (other than that jerk who took my wallet) had been so wonderful and hospitable. I then have a lightbulb go off in my head, and I give it a shot.
I say: “It’s Ramadan. I don’t know much about Islam. I don’t even know if you’re Muslim. But I think I remember reading something about how one of the tenets of Ramadan or Islam is to help a traveler in need. I’m a traveler in need. You can help me out by letting me slide on the fee. All I need to do is get on that airplane and I’m all set.”
At this point I was pretty warmed up and felt like I was perfect with my verbal plea. No way is he going to turn me down. No one is that horrible. I’m getting on this plane and I’m not paying that airport check in fee. Peitho, the Greek goddess of persuasion, had my back today. Everything was set. Now it was time to drop the bombshell.
“It’s your call. You have the chance of making my final memory of Turkey be the epic Turkish dude at the Air Baltic counter who let me slide on a fee so I could get home.” Mic drop. And the crowd goes wild! Everyone’s cheering! That white boy just crushed it up there appealing his case! This is the kind of speech that NFL teams watch in motivational films the week before the Super Bowl.
So yeah, of course he waived this fee this one time. It’d be a pretty lousy story if he didn’t. He said: “All right, I’ll do it. But don’t make a habit of ignoring airline fees. The next guy might not be as nice as me.” Point taken. Thanks, airport dude!
12. Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire
I was hitchhiking through Alaska, which is not difficult at all. The people are so nice, and you get picked up really easily. Regardless, you still get picked up by some crazies. But so what? It happens. Anyway, I was hitching from Fairbanks to Denali, and the highway was completely empty. Fortunately, I got picked up a few miles out of Fairbanks.
However, it quickly became apparent that this guy was one of the aforementioned crazies. Really nice guy, but had definitely been doing a lot of bad substances. When I realized this, I thought it would be a good idea to get out, so I made some excuses and got dropped off on the side of the road. I was then in a dilemma, in that I was sitting on the side of an empty road in the woods with no ride coming any time soon.
However, I had a tent and a ramen noodle pack, so I thought I should wait it out. After a few hours sitting by the road, I noticed it was getting pretty smoky and thick clouds were emerging from the trees behind me. But there was still nothing I could do, and my water was running low, so I decided to stay put. A little while later, I heard something crashing through the undergrowth in the forest.
Suddenly a team of firefighters covered in soot and carrying axes burst out of the trees and started running past me. One of them lingered back and came to ask me what the heck I was doing here in the middle of nowhere. I told him I was waiting for a lift. He looked confused and said, “You won’t get no lift here, the road is closed ’cause of the fire comin’ down this way. ” His next words made me shiver.
“You might want to run.” A little bewildered, I asked him if they had a car for me to get a lift out of here in. He said yes, but at this point the other firefighters who had gotten to their vehicles screeched by and picked him up, leaving as fast as they had arrived, with me standing speechless and alone on the side of a burning road.
Screw it, I thought, I should run. I started running along the highway with my stupidly big backpack until I reached an intersection where more cars could arrive from, though the smoke had followed me all the way. Around then, a car came by and pulled over to pick me up. Just my luck that the dude driving was intoxicated out of his mind, but hey ho, no rest for the wicked!
13. I’ll Fly Away
A few months ago, I was flying overnight from Canada to Hong Kong in business class. At some point, I fall asleep. The next thing I know, my mom is waking me, telling me someone was either dying or just lost their life on the plane. My first thought was something like, “Holy heck! (Or some other words similar to that) I can finally use that first aid training!”
Curious, I raise my seat a bit. High capacity seating means my feet are pretty much trapped in a cubby hole when the seat is fully reclined. By now, I’m awake enough to notice a guy, we’ll call him David, somewhere in front of me shouting with an obvious tone of anguish to some guy, who we’ll call Jack. I first look across the aisle and see my dad sitting there.
Seeing as he knows CPR, and has used it before, this tells me one of two things are happening: 1) Jack is already deceased, and David is just grieving loudly. Or 2) More experienced people are dealing with it. Both of these mean that I’ll only be needing my “sit around and be awkward” skills, which I am amazing at. At the time, I was a bit sad that I wouldn’t get to use my first aid skills, but later on, I’d be glad that I wasn’t involved.
Sad but still curious, I peeked out of my aisle and saw people performing CPR. I thought, “Well, this could take a while,” and checked the map. We were near the International Date Line, as in nowhere near a place where landing a fairly fully loaded Boeing 777 would seem like a great idea. The CPR and David shouting at Jack to respond goes on for a while, and blocks off both aisles, meaning the only escape was going to the back.
I go to the back after a while, because I eventually feel a bit stressed, and unsurprisingly, others are there. I stand by an exit quietly, and a friendly guy notices I’m quite quiet, so he asks if I’m alright. I respond with: “Yeah, just collecting my thoughts.” I realize that unless Jack’s heart starts beating, we’re probably going straight to Hong Kong, seeing as there will probably be someone there who’s expecting Jack.
After a while, I go back. David is still shouting. I go over to my parents and they explain to me that David had assumed he was sleeping and didn’t bother him. Eventually, he noticed Jack was blue, so he alerted a flight attendant. I’m going to assume the flight attendant began CPR while another flight attendant went to search for a doctor, or asked on the PA.
My mom also told me that she had noticed the pair boarding, and they had both looked fine. Apparently, they were even laughing. At some point, that I can’t place in my mental timeline, they used a defibrillator, and the shouting for Jack continued. Eventually, the doctors decide to stop. I can’t remember how long they were trying to revive the guy for, but they were probably going at it for over half an hour, maybe even a whole hour, before they gave up.
David was noticeably distraught, and shouted something like, “Why aren’t you doing anything!” I felt really bad for the people directly involved with attempting to revive Jack, because it’s gotta be hard, having to explain to a guy that you tried your best and there’s no point going on. Eventually, David calms down. The flight attendants pad down Jack’s seat, recline it a bit, and buckle him back in to prevent him from shifting around.
They also put a blanket on him, but not over his face, as if he was just sleeping in his now overly padded seat. David is also put in a different seat, so he won’t have to sit next to his now-deceased friend. The flight attendants also come around and individually ask everyone if they would like to speak to a counselor in Hong Kong.
I said that I was fine and didn’t need it, as did my parents. I don’t think I got any more sleep on the flight after that, but I did attempt to write an observation of what happens when people’s friends pass right in front of them. I also had to use the washroom later into the flight, and when I was walking back to my seat, I kinda stared at Jack’s body, but kept walking at a normal pace.
Before arrival, an announcement told us that we had to stay in our seats when we arrived at the gate. As I was in business class with Jack and David, I saw why. At least 10 people came on, including people in suits and people in vests that said they were from the Health Department or something. The people who helped in trying to revive Jack were identified, and I guess they were asked questions there, or told to get their baggage and then go with the investigators to answer the questions.
Jack’s body was removed by the Health Department people, and David accompanied him. After all the officials left, we were allowed to go. Overall, I think I’d give the experience a rating of a four out of five. I got stressed and had to wait before I could get off the plane, but that was it. However, I would not like to go through that again.
14. Thinking Outside The Bucket
Don’t drink buckets of intoxicating drinks. I feel like I should have known this, or like this wisdom would have been passed down from a parent or experienced friend. But it wasn’t. And I’m sure I can say this about any liquid you are contemplating drinking from a bucket—it probably won’t end well. Here’s the story of how I learned this lesson the hard way.
Sunburned and excited, we found two unoccupied rugs in the sand and sat down. Rumor has it, when in Koh Phi Phi, you have to partake in a ritualistic evening of drinking beneath the stars with other well-cooked tourists. We had our seat. The crystal clear Thai water gently broke onto the shore in front of us. Giant mountains were framed in the bay and the view could not have been any better.
Our animated server quickly greeted us with an ashtray and a smile. We were weak, at the mercy of one of the most breathtaking locations on earth. We eagerly agreed to two of the “specials.” A few moments later, we were handed our cocktails. A red plastic sand bucket filled with a murky liquid and a handful of straws. We had ordered one each.
When in Rome, right? Though, unlike what you might see in civilized Italian bars, we were sitting on a rug, toes in the sand, drinking a disgustingly sweet and enormous cocktail out of a children’s sand bucket on a small island off the coast of Thailand. What happened next was incredible. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of it.
What I do know is that the night was filled with swaying in hammocks, dancing with locals, exchanging travel tips with tourists from all over the world, and other such endeavors. I distinctly remember a French man licking my arm. The next morning, we remembered exactly how much fun a bucket of cocktails can be. The sun was brighter, too bright.
It was hot, much too hot. I was hungry, thirsty, and I had lost my favorite pair of sunglasses. Luckily, Thailand is smart enough to have a cure for this type of situation. I would have handed over my life savings for the ungodly goodness that’s perfectly packaged inside of a coconut. The locals know this and they were ready. $1.50 and two cold coconuts later, I almost forgot about the plastic bucket of regret I had cheerfully drank the night before.
As an experienced friend, I urge you to say no to sand buckets of fruity cocktails. But if you ever find yourself on the beaches of Koh Phi Phi, leave your sunglasses at home and go make a fool of yourself with the rest of the gringos. You’re sure to regret it.
15. Right Place, Wrong Time
This past June, while travelling in South America, I spent a week in the Galapagos, mostly on San Cristobal Island. I stayed with a lovely elderly couple who run a guest house. They speak very little English, and at the time I spoke very little Spanish, but we got by just fine. When it came time for me to leave for the airport, they attempted a final broken conversation with me.
But given my weak Spanish, I simply thanked them once more and went on my way. Little did I know what they were warning me. The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno was protesting that day, along with several other towns in the Galapagos. Stores were all shut down. No taxis or ferries were running, and streets were blockaded with people all shouting.
At first, this didn’t deter me. From one end of the town to the other, where the airport is located, is no more than a 20 to 30 minute walk. On the way, I met a group of French guys who were also heading to the airport. As we walked, it became increasingly difficult to get through, until we reached a point about a block from the airport, where the crowd refused to let us through, yelling “no vuelos”, meaning “no flights,” among other phrases.
One woman pulls us aside and tells us that they are saying, “No one gets in, no one gets out.” She also says that if we turn around and head back about six blocks, we can ask at the naval base if they would help us out. So we follow her directions. And when we arrive at the gate of the naval base, we explain the situation. They allow us in and give us a uniformed escort, who guides us through the base for about half an hour until we reach the other side of the airport.
So one side of the airport is the town, one side is the naval base, and the other sides face out into the ocean. When we reach the airport and cross the runway, we finally get inside the terminal, where a few dozen people are already waiting. There are, I believe, three main airlines that fly into the Galapagos: Tame, Avianca, and mine, LAN.
All desks for the airlines were closed when I arrived, as were most of the few shops in the terminal. One shop was open, selling snacks and beverages, and eventually some employees arrived to the counters. We were told that they couldn’t bring any flights in, because the protesters outside were threatening to storm the airport if they did.
All we could do was wait. The airport had no wifi, the shop sold out of water quickly, and there was no way out. On one side were protesters and riot officers, and on the other private naval property. So, we sat on the floor, read books, played cards, and tried to nap. Eventually, Tame announces that they are bringing a flight in, but all seats have been sold out.
Avianca, a few hours later, brings a flight in, also full. Finally, at around 5:00 PM, after seven hours in the airport with no way of contacting anyone or even drinking water, LAN brings a flight in. My original flight was to Quito, with a quick 30-minute stopover in Guayaquil. This delayed flight, however, only took passengers to Guayaquil, where there was then a six-hour layover until we could get on a flight to Quito.
On the bright side, Guayaquil’s airport did have wifi and water, so I could at least contact people and, more importantly, find out what the heck was going on. Apparently, wages in the Galapagos have been protected for a long time through legislation, to aid in conservation of the islands. This legislation was recently changed, bringing average wages in the Galapagos on par with mainland Ecuador wages, i.e. cutting them by 40%.
On top of that, there are five cargo ships that bring supplies into the island, but in the last few months, two of them had sunk, causing prices for necessary goods to skyrocket just as wages were plummeting. Prior to my experience, there were smaller-scale protests, but nothing major. Protests on San Cristobal and Santa Cruz on June 13th escalated, disrupting everything on the islands, and riot officers were called in to attempt to contain it, even utilizing methods like tear gas.
I could have had some idea if I had tried to understand my hosts and other locals I had talked to a little better. It was a heck of a day, but these kinds of stories always seem to be the ones I look back on and remember fondly.
16. From Coast To Coast
I backpacked from Cape Town to Cairo by myself using only public transportation, and it was incredible. Before I went, all of my friends and family told me not to go. They said it was too dangerous and thought something bad would happen to me. Ironically, I felt way safer in Africa than I do living in the United States, as well as in some other places I’ve traveled to.
I think a lot of people associate Africa only with safaris. However, there are a lot of other things to do. Some of my favorite experiences were rafting the Nile, trekking gorillas, swimming with sharks, going to music festivals, and enjoying lots of nice beaches. My favorite thing, though, was the people. Everyone was sooo kind and hospitable.
I often hitchhiked with strangers or enjoyed having coffee or lunch at locals’ homes. It was truly amazing. If you’ve always wanted to go to Africa, then take this as your sign and go.
17. Eat, Drink, And Be Merry
Now, I think this was the longest flight I have ever had in my life. It was from Paris to the Narita, Japan airport, direct. I’m a fairly comfortable flier. I had a routine and methodology to deal with long journeys, as you’ll soon learn. My compatriot, however, did not. He is a being of unconsciousness and only awakens when he needs to.
Lethargy is strong in him, and it’s both a help and a nuisance for me in equal measure at different times. In this case, it meant he had a delightful dream of floating and moving incredibly fast. Getting our connecting flight out of Charles DeGaulle Transfer lounge after purchasing enough smokes and nibbles for a reasonable journey, we sojourn to the plane and take our seats.
I find myself next to a Japanese man, a little brusque and obviously tired out on the aisle, with my friend at the window. Before the plane even takes off, both of them are basically unconscious and little old me is stuck in the middle. Oh joy of joys! After about 30 or 40 minutes, I’m kinda browsing the TV options, kinda looking at the live camera of the underside of the plane, and kinda reading.
A small thirst comes over me and I hit the call button on the roof. A cabin crew member comes up and asks what I need. I ask about the on-flight prices for drinks, just assuming it’s required. The lady laughs lightly and asks what I want, as drinks are included in the flight. Now, I’m not one to take advantage of an open bar policy, but I have about eight hours of this flight that I’m not prepared for.
So, at this altitude, I think a small bit of intoxication might make my situation more fluid. And if my row mates decide to wake up, I can share my lucid discoveries with them. So, a bottle of your best drink, please! I settle myself into a marathon of watching everything the plane has to offer as viewables, remembering to ding and request another bottle every 30 minutes without fail. This turned out to be a bad idea.
I’m onto my fourth bottle and my second movie when I’m reaching up to press the button and a crew member is standing beside me already, bottle in hand along with a small plate and tray of breads, cheese, and dips. The crew member proceeds to stand and talk with me for a few minutes, joking that I had Pavloved the crew and about my current entrapment between Sleepy and Snoozy.
He laughs and returns to the back before asking: “Sooooo, I should just keep ‘em coming?” I say: “Yes sir, and keep the bread flowing as well. Something’s gotta keep me right!” This went on for the entire flight, with occasional discussions with the steward of the movies and TV shows shown on the flight, chit chat about air travel in general, and pretty much at least one delightful conversation with each member of the cabin crew on that shift.
All the while, feeling full of sweet intoxicating beverages. This, of course, would have an effect for the rest of our day and night after arriving in Tokyo. I was the leader, the one who knew the directions we needed to get to our hotel. But now I was thoroughly, thoroughly intoxicated out of my senses. So you can imagine what kind of a reaction my friend had when he woke up…
18. Taking A Slight Detour
I was scammed today. And although I am an idiot for putting myself in this situation, I thought I should share this to hopefully warn others. I was approached while walking on the main tourist area of China’s Nanjing Road and was offered a massage. I said no, but the woman walked with me making conversation and I later agreed.
I got to the massage shop only 50 meters off Nanjing Road, and it looked okay. The masseuse left the room and then two huge thugs entered, blocking the door and demanding a ton of money. The talker, who was huge, one of the biggest guys I have ever seen, played both good officer and bad officer. “We don’t want to have to start punching you,” followed by “I am here to help. If you need to get some money, I will help with options.” I knew I was in some pretty serious trouble.
I didn’t say anything. I just got dressed while thinking about what to do. On reflection, this probably started to unsettle them a little. My options seemed to be: A) Try and fight them, and get the first hit in. Not a great option, as there were two of them and one was huge. B) Negotiate a lower amount. This is what I thought they were expecting.
Instead, I finished getting dressed without saying anything. Then, I got the most genius idea. I went up to the talking massive guy and said “You don’t know who I am. My father is a diplomat and knows President Xi. If you touch me, I will make sure you do not see the light of day for the rest of your life.” I then walked around him, opened the door, and left.
If he had so much as shoved me, I would have given everything I had to get out of there, but I had decided while I was getting dressed that these guys don’t want to beat me up and potentially seriously hurt me by accident. I was stupid, but I got lucky this time. Please beware of street solicitors selling anything for which they need you to leave a tourist area with them.
19. Goats Are The Greatest Of All Time
So last year I decided to leave my awesome tech job and see the world. It was gonna be great! I decided to go “wwoofing” (i.e. volunteer farming, the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). I ended up in the state of Oregon. While on the first farm, I had a cancellation as I planned on going to the state of Arizona next, but that fell through.
So I hurriedly looked for another farm to find work on. Searching the directory, I found one that claimed to be primarily a goat farm. That sounded interesting. Goats! Aside from silly internet videos, I had never actually encountered them before. I called up and the schedule was made to arrive in June. The following is the story of my experiences working with…Crazy Goat Lady!
Most people have heard of Crazy Cat Ladies, but she had no cats and only spoke of her goats. She is therefore known as Crazy Goat Lady (CGL). CGL is: 1) Extremely religious in the Christian faith; 2) Hates China; 3) Very controlling. THIS IS A REAL PERSON. The following exchange is my favorite out of any that I had with her during my entire time on this farm.
One day, I was just doing some cleaning around the yard and tidying up some things when CGL comes up to me. CGL: “Hey, so I was just listening to the radio and these people in the Middle East apparently took down a plane using an EMP. You know what these are?” Me: “Yeah, electromagnetic pulse, I know of them.” This is where she blew my mind.
CGL: “Well, you say that you are good with computers, so you can build one for me.” Me: “Wait…. what???” CGL: “I want one so I can shoot those government drones out of the sky so they can’t spy on me.” She forms a rifle shape using her hands and shoots to the sky where the government drone would be. I am stunned by the request.
This was by far the most ridiculous thing she has said so far on this adventure of mine. Me: “You want an EMP to shoot drones and planes out of the sky?! CGL, something that powerful is not just readily available to the average person. You don’t just BUILD yourself an EMP!” CGL: “Ahhh, you’re no help to me.” She then gives me the cold shoulder, waving her arms as she walks back in the house, while I am baffled.
20. The Lost Tribes Of Israel
I travel a lot and can’t always read the writing system or speak the language in the various countries I visit. The experience with this that I always tell people about is visiting my uncle in Israel. He’s one of the Jewish settlers on the West Bank, which is amazing and fascinating to visit, but they don’t exactly have English on the signs out there.
The first time I visited, we spent half our time at his village and half our time in Jerusalem. This meant that there was a point where we had to get from Jerusalem to the village, and we didn’t rent a car. So we rented a taxi through our hotel. We told them we were going to a Jewish settlement, but they gave us a Palestinian cab driver.
For those who aren’t aware, there is quite a bit of animosity between Palestinians and Israelis who live in those settlement villages, and a fair share of tourists like me have found themselves in serious danger over the years after taking a wrong turn or finding themselves with the wrong person. We told the driver that we only spoke English.
And this is me and my mother, two super-white American women. But the driver only barely spoke English. Okay. Well, we can deal, that’s part of travelling. And he told us he knew where he was going. We go through the checkpoint to the Wild West Bank (my uncle’s phrase) before we realize he’s relying on his GPS. And about fifteen minutes later, he starts swearing and turns his GPS off.
He then starts asking us for directions in broken English. And it’s at this point that the road signs are only in Arabic and Hebrew. We start getting nervous…for good reason. Finally, it comes out that we’re completely lost. In the violently contested West Bank. Two American Jews and a Palestinian. With a complete language barrier.
And we can’t even read the road signs. Again, we’re super-white. I had just turned 18. We’ve never been here before. We’ve seen tons of horrifying news stories about abductions and other horror stories that happen to people when they get lost in the West Bank. Eventually, we pull out our cell phones and call my uncle, who gives the man directions in what sounded like frustrated Hebrew, but might have been broken Arabic.
We put the poor driver through going into the settlement to drop us off. We gave him something like a 90% tip for his troubles. All turned out well and we enjoyed the rest of our visit. But I’m a fairly literate person. I had never been in a situation where not only did I not know where I was going, but I also didn’t know where I was. Nothing in that situation affected me more than not being able to read the darn road signs!
21. Bathroom Break
The sun is bright and delicate. The early morning shades of gold and yellow flow through the window and flood our entire room. The breeze is crisp and lingering, the kind that tickles your arms and tightens the skin on your face. The sound of birds chirping, the smell of bloomed flowers, and a tinge of salt water float into the room, reminding me that I am near the beach.
The air is warm. The constant breeze is a welcome break from yesterday’s stagnant heat. I am lying on top of the faded blue and gold sheets of our queen-sized bed. It’s 6:45 in the morning. I am waking up in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. The pages of my journal lift slightly in the breeze and make a faint fluttering sound. This is enough to lure me out of bed.
I will attempt to chronicle last night’s adventures before we begin our day. I grab my toiletries bag, a change of clothes, and open our door, which lands me directly in the communal area of the hostel. There is only one small bathroom on our floor. It doesn’t have a shower. I start my newly adopted daily routine. I brush my teeth with the remnants of last night’s bottled water, then wash my hands with cold cistern water that starts and stops sporadically.
I splash the cool water on my face and leave quickly, knowing that there will soon be a line outside the door. I fill a white mug with instant coffee and walk outside to the long picnic tables along the pool. A laptop plays Alexi Murdoch’s “All My Days” from the speakers behind the bar. The temperature is rising quickly. The morning breeze is beginning to settle and the piercing sun is already too intense for direct exposure.
A few minutes later, the rest of the hostel begins to wake and tanned bodies fill the yard holding plates of this morning’s breakfast: refried beans and scrambled eggs. After the rest of our group has a chance to stumble outside and take a few swigs of lukewarm coffee, we gather our belongings and pile into our silver Chevy Aveo. It is day seven on the road.
We have a six-hour drive back to Oaxaca City. We have settled into our assigned seats. Driver and navigator in the front, tasked with preventing collisions with the occasional cow, maneuvering around hairpin turns, and swerving around massive sections of missing road. The two anxious riders are tucked safely in the back.
This morning’s caffeine and last night’s mezcal demand that we pitstop for a bathroom break. An hour or so into our drive, we pull off at a small comedor. The front of a small home opens up to a wooden patio filled with plastic lawn tables. There is a large white sign hung from the edge of a dilapidated wooden shed. It reads BAÑOS in capitalized red paint.
We make our way over to the barely standing contraption. A piece of corrugated tin functions as a roof and a thin piece of wood stands in the middle, creating two small stalls. Each room has a lopsided light blue door that is hinged to one side. It costs five pesos to enter. A young boy collects our coins as we take turns in the rotted outhouses.
The door doesn’t latch, so it must be held shut by the bottom of the decayed and rotted wood planks. There is no toilet seat and the porcelain is stained black and brown. A light coat of red dirt covers everything. It’s a balancing act trying to hold yourself and the door. There is no light except for the streams of sun that make their way through the cracks and holes in the wood.
The corrugated roof creates small holes for the heat to escape; a strategy that sounds better than it works. The air in the stall is thick, hot, and muggy. The toilet is not attached to the ground. It leans a little to the left. There is no water in the tank, and it rocks slightly. The floor is dirt, gravel, and small bits of garbage. Mosquitos and gnats buzz in the shadows.
Once finished, the protocol is to walk over to a large drum perched directly on the edge of the grassy mountain. A small plastic bucket floats on the surface. We use it to scoop the collected rain water, walk back to the outhouse, then pour it into the toilet bowl. Manual flushing. There is no way to wash your hands, no sink and no soap.
An elderly woman in a floral print dress and a ruffled pink apron scoops and flattens fresh tortillas on a wood-burning oven just to our left. We order quesadillas. We are four curious and intrepid individuals traveling the beautiful back roads of Mexico. Four people that have been eating questionable roadside food from front porches and rolling carts.
Four people drinking coffee and tequila. Bathroom breaks have become a frequent ritual during our days on the road. We learned very quickly that the word “bathroom” in the backcountry of the Mexican desert really only equates to a semi-upright and stained toilet. What it does not mean is convenience, comfort, or relief. It’s a humbling experience when you are forced to walk into the toilet sauna, paperless, and regretting last night’s street tacos and Negra Modelo.
Let me tell you, it only takes one round of restroom roulette before you buy your own roll of toilet paper. We quickly fell into a routine each time we stopped. Stretch, remind each other to lock our doors and roll up our windows, take a minute to admire the landscape, exchange the obligatory remarks on the size and beauty of the mountains…
Then, pull a roll of convenience store toilet paper out of my backpack and tear off a handful for each person. I’m forced to ration in these situations, an awkward but necessary duty. Then, almost on cue, someone else from our group would hand each of us five pesos. We would walk to the outhouses with our wad of paper and necessary sense of adventure.
Sometimes, the facilities would be comically dangling off the edge of a cliff and other times they would be down a dirt path behind a small home. Stray dogs, small children, and fresh tortillas are always nearby. The bathrooms themselves became a novel attraction along our route. Each one with a personality. Each one teaching us a new lesson in survival and tightening the bond of roadside baño survivors.
A few days later, as I sat down in the Houston Hobby airport bathroom preparing for the second leg of our flight home, I realized that I had developed toilet anxiety. Instinctually, I reached in my pocket for toilet paper. For a split second, I was transported back to the dark stalls from the week prior. Then, I looked around and appreciated where I was.
The bathroom was bright. The door shut and locked. There was a seat. Extra rolls of toilet paper were stuffed into the dispenser. There was a shiny silver handle for flushing, soap dispensers at every sink, and running water, hot water, that gushed out automatically. I didn’t have to swat at insects or watch out for rusty nails sticking out of the walls.
There was no inherent fear that a strong gust of wind might send me soaring over the Sierra Sur mountains with my pants down. The bathroom had regressed to a quiet and predictable place. It’s easy to forget that the most basic amenities are actually luxuries. My emotional scars from roadside outhouses will soon disappear and I will once again expect bathrooms to provide a certain level of convenience. In the meantime, I check my pockets for pesos and paper.
22. A Touch Of Class
Coming home from a quick trip to New York, my flight was overbooked and they moved me to First Class to find a seat. It’s nice up in front with bigger seats, very attentive attendants, good free snacks, and free drinks. That last part was the problem, however. The idiots seated behind me started drinking even before takeoff and downed about seven mixed drinks each in just over two hours.
After the second drink, they got loud. After the third drink, they started describing their intimate romantic exploits. After the fourth, they started describing loudly what their romantic adventures with the flight crew and other passengers would be. Crude. Loud. And very explicit. This continued all the way until we landed, and the flight attendants kept serving them.
They even prompted them, frequently asking if they would like another. Disgusting. Really spoiled the whole “first class” thing for me. It was a terrible flight.
23. Long Distance Relationships
I have a travel-related problem. Over the last few years, I’ve been on a few cruises in the Caribbean and stayed at a resort in Jamaica. For some strange reason, whenever I socialize with people my age (I’m a teenager), I fall in love with a girl who lives hundreds of miles away. My last cruise through the Bahamas, I fell for a quiet girl who lives in Alabama.
She was taken when we met and I still contact her occasionally, though I kept my feelings to myself. Then, on my trip to Jamaica, I met this British girl who tried to skip the line to the water slide at the resort we stayed at. We talked more, played video games, and did plenty of other stuff, which of course, led to me falling for her. Like with the previous girl, I still keep in touch.
I guess Jacksonville just isn’t a place for me to find love.
24. Singing The Workin’ Man Blues
Background in a nutshell: my friend and I were just finished with a trip to the east coast of Australia and looking for work. We thought we’d find it quite easily, as we had worked on a farm before and believed we knew the industry. We drove around and asked on farms if they needed any help, basically. It turned into a month-long, 1,600 kilometer drive back down the coast until we found anything.
Here is one of the first things that happened to us, which set the tone for a frustrating three weeks of job hunting. Right when we started looking for work, a banana packing shed to the north of Cairns, in the so-called tablelands, told us to come back in one week when the work was to start up. So that’s what we did. We stayed outside a small town called Mareeba on a free campsite.
We slept in our car, obviously, with funds running low and boredom tormenting us. I don’t think I’ve ever spent any time doing less than that week in the tablelands. The highlights were driving around to see NO WORK signs outside of farms in the area and going to the pet shop in town to look at kittens. To shower, we had to drive all the way to a lake about 30 minutes away that had some facilities for swimmers.
Anyway, what happened after we came back a week later? The guy told us that there would be no work for another two weeks or more and to just come back every day at 6:00 in the morning, just in case there was something going on. I still remember his ugly face and the way he said: “Sorry to break your hearts, girls” with the weirdest smirk.
I’ve never wanted to slap anyone as much as this man. I suppose now a week doesn’t seem too long to wait for work, but at the time it felt like an entire era. Especially when thinking about the high cost of living in Australia. Let’s just say it was not a particularly pleasant experience, and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone else try and get a job in quite that same way…
25. The River Of Dreams
I was on a five-day rafting journey down Colombia’s endangered Río Samaná. The door of the large white van swung open with a loud thud, exposing us to the hectic scene outside. In a small enclosed front yard in the lush hills of Medellín, a crowd of people scurried around, stuffing gear in bags, prepping camera equipment, and hoisting kayaks onto the roof of a pastel yellow jeep.
Several photographers from Bogotá huddled on the steps of the messy house, watching a team of workers load dry bags into the back of the van. Victor, a smooth-talking French traveler, smoked and leaned on a shady wall. In the background, a herd of others ran around doing various tasks. There were two Chilean kayakers, an American, a Costa Rican, a support team of Colombians, and our group of five who just two months ago hadn’t the slightest intentions of ever coming to Colombia.
I planned the inaugural trip for newly-launched MadebyAdventure and found four others to join me in less than two months. Like the hectic scene unfolding in the front yard, the idea was borderline chaotic, but somehow advanced forward smoothly. With humble roots in internet forums and travel groups, the idea evolved to become a documentary filmmaking, conservation-focused, rafting expedition.
We crammed swimsuits, shirts, hammocks, and bug spray into dry bags, with Jules, our river guide and pioneer of Colombian whitewater, encouraging us to pack less and minimize clutter. Stuffing the last articles of clothing in a dry bag, I looked around the group imagining the upcoming week. I had no sense of what lay ahead, but had an innate feeling that we were about to embark on something special.
I could feel a change in the energy of the group as we converged on the river. Descending a bumpy dirt road, we parked the jeep on the roadside when the tracks became too steep, loading the week’s provisions on donkeys for transport to the canyon bottom. Already late in the afternoon, the sky overhead was dark with murmuring thunderclouds.
In groups of four and five, we trudged down the steep valley, carrying paddles, life jackets, kayaks, and heavy backpacks. Passing a few homes and a small school, it took over an hour on donkey trails to reach the roaring river bottom. At a turn in the trail, I gazed up the valley, captivated by the river. The air was rich with an earthy perfume, punctuated by the smell of sweat-soaked clothing.
A thin cable-suspended bridge spanned the river; a symbolic gate to the journey on the other side of the river. Vine-cloaked trees hugged each shore and the sound of rapids filled the air. The scene was Jurassic Park-esque. After trudging along the muddy donkey trail for another 15 minutes, we set up camp along the river amidst a bamboo stand.
Our group of 17 broke into smaller teams to collect firewood and string up hammocks before dark. Many involved had no experience setting up a jungle camp, so the scene was both unnerving and comedic. I struggled with the logistics of fitting four people under a small tarp and cringed at the number of questionable knots I tied.
With a large pot of stew on the fire, we sat on beachside boulders in near darkness, chatting quietly. Night comes early in the jungle valleys. The rising and setting sun enforce a strict circadian rhythm; a concept so foreign in the digital age. Swaying in my hammock, I drifted to sleep, wrapped tightly by the canvas and warmth of the heavy valley air.
The Río Samaná doesn’t show up on the radar of most tourists. Located in a region ravaged by pain from the Escobar era, the tributaries of the Samaná were mostly deserted until recently. Farmers, fishermen, and small-scale gold miners have slowly returned to the region, but the majority of shoreline is untouched. Except for Jules and Expedition Colombia, most people ignore the river as a recreational asset.
Our first day on the water found us maneuvering through tight channels and scraping over barely submerged boulders. Combining rafting and raft-pushing, the first few hours delivered the promise of adventure. Electric blue pools of water crept lazily though quieter sections of the river. Morpho butterflies, the size of small birds, flapped their fragile wings, bouncing gently through the air as if suspended by an invisible puppeteer.
On the rocky river bottom, fish darted in and out of sight, through refractions of light and gentle shadows cast by the canopy above. We stopped for lunch at the juncture of another tributary, basking in the sun on a huge boulder. The scene was surreal. People spread out across various boulders on the beach and napped in the mid-afternoon heat.
Several hundred feet above, a drone buzzed through the air, attempting to document the pristine place. From its source in the mountains to the relentless muddy rapids of its lower stretches, the scenery on the Samaná changes dramatically. Mid-afternoon on the second day, we experienced one of those drastic changes as we approached an inlet.
Like cream being poured into tea, the opaque orange waters of the Río Caldera swirled into the blue-green waters of the Río Verde. Separate at first, the two rivers, with seemingly different personalities, mixed in the turbulent waters, forming a new murky river. Muddied by human-caused erosion in its upper watershed, this new arrival seemed to snag a piece of life from the crystal river I had come to enjoy.
Throughout our four days on the river, we observed various threats to the river’s health, with increasing and cascading negative effects. First, small-scale gold miners, who dredge the bottom of the river, using homemade rigs, sucking and sifting for gold. Undoubtedly altering the immediate ecosystem, these sustenance miners operate in a minimally impactful way, by returning the silt to the river in an output hose.
Locals of the valley, they live with a respect for the river, jokingly referring to the river as “el patron” or the boss. Traveling further down the river, we encountered secret, unlawful gold mines. Often connected to paramilitary groups, these operations use a different technique which involves scraping entire shorelines with heavy machinery.
In search of greater return, they move hundreds of tons of material and destroy the first 10 to 20 feet of extremely biodiverse shoreline. We slept downstream from one such operation on the second night. Scrambling over a pile of driftwood, I side-stepped bustling ant highways to look for suitable trees to string up my hammock.
With a few remaining minutes of sunlight, I swam out to a large boulder at the base of a cascade in the river. With my feet in the foaming water, I watched lightning flicker in the distance and enjoyed a solitary moment on the river. As breakfast cooked the next morning, we tried our skill at mining using some hand tools left by recent miners.
Though futile, it was an enjoyable way to pass the time as we waited for the group to rally. By mid-morning, the group assembled around the waiting rafts. With the habitual helmet and life jacket check behind us, we jumped in the raft and slid into our self-assigned places. Around mid-afternoon, we approached a large metal bridge, rattling with the passing of heavy trucks.
Armed guards, scrambling from their post in the shade to watch us with great amusement, dropped one last rapid before taking out the rafts. We lunched on fried fish, plantains, and sugarcane lemonade in the shade of a local home. Worn down by three days of the expedition, we succumbed to the stifling heat of the afternoon and napped on the dusty patio of the front porch.
By the fourth day, the Río Samaná was picking up steam. Even in low water, the river was impressive, smashing against rocks the size of truck trailers, churning powerfully in some spots while drifting quietly in others. Known to rise and fall up to 30 feet in a day, I was content with the steady flow of the drought-parched river.
After steering clear of several large rapids, Lady Samaná flashed her strength. While charging one particularly strong rapid, our guide Victor took an errant paddle to the face and broke his nose. Screaming “Adelante! Adelente!” he urged us to shore where he spat out blood and held his nose in disbelief. After several hectic moments, the scene calmed down as he stuffed gauze into his nose to slow the bleeding.
Peering out from behind a massively swollen nose, Victor heroically climbed back in the raft and prompted us to continue. Like any good outdoor guide, he broke the tension by cracking a joke about the quality of plastic surgeons in Medellín, a mecca for implants and nose jobs. As the day passed, we portaged several more times to stay away from other dangerous rapids.
With sunset approaching, we pulled off along a rocky bank and began unloading the contents of the raft. Wrapping up our fourth day on the river, we moved and acted differently as a group. More confident and assertive than before, the group quickly and fluidly unloaded the raft, hauling the gear up a brushy hillside to a small grassy pasture.
While not a novel observation, I’m always impressed at how shared outdoor experiences can bond a group of people to one another. The final night setting up camp was markedly different from the first. No longer stressed and unsure of ourselves, we spent the last hour of daylight swimming in a nearby waterfall and picking fruit from a nearby citrus tree to make lemonade.
Stuffed with pasta and fried pork, we lounged around the fire sitting on logs, either laying in the dirt or standing in groups talking quietly. Eventually, flashes of lightning ushered us to bed. I climbed awkwardly into the top hammock of our double stack arrangement, standing on a mossy stone, falling precariously into the taut canvas bed.
The trees swayed gently with the approaching thunderstorm, rocking the hammock in an unpredictable way. A pleasant breeze circulated through the tarp enclosure, washing away the smell of moldy clothes and insect repellent. Some time in the night, a storm passed over, dumping a quick shower of rain, but I was too tired to notice.
Our last day on the river saw us rafting through the proposed home of the reservoir. “Here we would be 30 meters underwater” and “here we would be 60 meters underwater,” noted Jules as we paddled downstream. Despite being knocked senseless just an hour before, when we overturned and smashed into a rock, I couldn’t help but feel sad for the Samaná.
There is a complex irony in rivers like the Samaná. They are both bone-crushingly powerful and exceptionally fragile. With expectations or resilience, we pollute and trash rivers without a second thought. Unappreciative of their raw impact, we dam them for hydroelectric power and the recreational benefits that idyllic reservoirs present.
Throbbing lower back pain and bittersweet feelings framed my last day on the river. At noon, we took out at the exit flowage of an existing hydroelectric project. Escorted by a security guard, we hauled the gear up a steep embankment and loaded it onto the jeep waiting to pick us up. Rattling down a bumpy dirt road, we drove towards the small town of Narices for lunch and beers, leaving behind the mighty, but endangered, Samaná and a week of incredible adventures.
26. Found In Translation
About 10 years ago, I was traveling in the Czech Republic with my Austrian friend, Mike. I’m an American. We spent a few days in Cesky Krumlov. One afternoon, we decided to visit Zapa Bar for some late afternoon drinks. Why not? The place was understandably empty. Mike and I sat at the bar next to two very large muscled gentlemen.
In the far corner was an attractive woman and her long-haired boyfriend. We were the only guests in the bar. Mike introduced himself to the two large guys at the bar. Turns out they are fraternal twin brothers. They looked a lot alike. And they were HUGE. Neither Mike nor I speak Czech, so Mike spoke to them in German, which they spoke quite well.
I knew enough German to somewhat follow the conversation, but I had a hard time keeping up. I did glean this much: The two brothers were bodybuilders who were hoping to become the biggest twin professional wrestlers in the world. They wanted to travel to the United States and Mexico and get famous and rich. They had been practicing their pro-wrestling moves in Prague, but they wanted to break into the Big Time. Then came the twist.
During this conversation, the long-haired guy at the corner table started shouting at his girlfriend. She hung her head low and he ripped into her. His speech was clearly American English, probably California. He was very angry, yelling, “If you like them so much, why don’t you SLEEP WITH THEM? Huh? You IDIOT!” This went on for a bit.
I guess his girlfriend was looking at the wrestling twins. I mean, who wouldn’t? They looked amazing! And stood out quite a bit in the crowd. Now, this guy was on a jealous rant. He must have thought we four only spoke German. We four kept gabbing in German until the twins could stand it no more. They told us in German that they had to resolve the issue. And they knew just what to do.
They walked over to the corner table and spoke in pretty good English: “Excuse me, madam. But is this man troubling you? Is there a problem? Do you need help?” This shut up the long-haired jerk really fast. The woman mumbled some kind of “No thanks” and the twins returned to the bar with us. The rotten boyfriend awkwardly sipped his drink.
Mike and I talked quietly in English. What if this guy was a psycho? What if he actually hurts her? She is very far from home and likely stuck with this potentially dangerous monster. We agreed to split any expenses she may need: lodging, airfare home, whatever. We could easily afford it. So Mike calls out to their table in his perfect English.
He goes: “Excuse me, madam, but if this man is troubling you and you need any assistance, my American friend and I can also help. If you need to stay somewhere or need airfare to get home, we can help.” The long-haired boyfriend started to twitch. Just as he was about to unload on us, the Czech twins turned in their chairs. One glance at them and hairy boy shut the heck up.
The girlfriend again mumbled an awkward “I’m okay,” and then they left. I hope things turned out alright for her. But the lesson is this: never assume no one speaks English. There’s an awful lot of us. Even gigantic Czech twin brother wrestlers!
27. Knocking Some Cents Into Him
A friend from Ontario, Canada that I was traveling with told me that “95% of Canadians are the friendliest and most polite and down to earth people you could hope to meet, but the other 5% are totally freaking insane.” I’d been in Canada for nearly a year and we had left Vancouver to go picking cherries in the Okanagan valley in the interior of British Columbia.
The first day had not gone well. It took five hours for us to get a ride south out of Penticton where we’d got off the Greyhound, during which time I trod on a cactus. The first night in Oliver, we got dropped off at a campground about five kilometers out of town and ate a jar of peanut butter that had melted in the heat of the day with the blunt end of a pencil.
Neither of us had cooking gear, utensils, a tent, or a sleeping bag. Just beach towels and spare clothes. I remember lying back wearing all my clothes at once like the Michelin Man, watching pine trees making dark silhouettes against the stars and satellites crossing the sky. We got a half-day of work harvesting cabbages, which involved repeatedly hitting yourself in the leg with a big knife until you were wearing red socks. More bad news was on the way.
We then found out that we’d missed the picking season at the south of the valley and would have to head back up north of Penticton to pick things up. The next afternoon, we’re sitting on the roadside in Oliver next to the exit of a carpark for a small park, trying to get a ride north. But mistakenly, at the time we believed that big backpacks would put people off from picking us up.
So we had them sitting maybe 10 feet behind us on the grass, along with our only water container, which was a used and beaten two-liter mineral water bottle. While we’re watching the road, a dark brown car pulls out of the car park and stops next to the exit. The door opens. I look back and see a fairly frail-looking guy in his 70s get out and calmly walk over to our backpacks and stuff.
This guy then proceeds to pick up the water bottle and start walking back to his car. Thinking he made a mistake and assumed that it was trash and was cleaning up or something, I called out “Hey, that’s our water bottle!” But he just kept walking straight ahead, and gave us no reaction. “Hey! What the heck?” “Dude that’s our only water!” But he doesn’t falter or even so much as turn his head. I got into panic mode.
So we both start running over towards him, but he’s already gotten into his car. While I’m running round the front of the car, he stamps on the gas. I go straight up onto the hood and roll over to come down with my feet on the ground on the driver’s side. During this time, he tries to punch me out of the window while I’m falling past. I made eye contact for a brief moment. I’ll never forget the crazy and angry look in his eyes.
He then burns rubber down the road while my buddy hurls rocks at his back windows. Unfortunately, he missed with all of his throws. We both got dehydrated that evening and the next day, having no money to buy a replacement drink or water container and only being able to drink when we were near a tap using hands or an empty tin can we found.
The most plausible explanation we could think of for him taking it was because the bottles are worth 10 cents when deposited at the local recycling centre. Things were so bad we ended up shoplifting some food from the supermarket when we got to Penticton, out of desperation, and being too young and stupid to have any better ideas.
My buddy gave up on the trip the next day and hitched back home to Ontario. I lost contact with him shortly after that. But my luck would change for the better the day after. I had decent work for most of the rest of the time I was in the valley. For those of you wondering, the Okanagan valley where this all took place runs north-south from the US border about 200 kilometers or so north.
28. From Hollywood To Bollywood
During my travels, I discovered a small Indian town that celebrates Charlie Chaplin’s birthday as a holiday. Apparently, 40 years ago, a doctor from Adipur saw Charlie Chaplin’s movie The Gold Rush. During a tough period in his life, he found a way to forget his troubles and connect with a person who was providing laughter therapy to the world for a long time.
Dr. Aswani loved the movie so much that he saw four consecutive showings of it. When he returned home, he founded a Charlie Chaplin Club, and decided to celebrate his birthday every year. It soon became a bigger and bigger event. Since then, people of this small town of Bhuj parade around dressed up like the famed comedian and celebrate his life and legacy.
29. Drinking The Night Away
A few years ago, I went and visited Amsterdam for the first time and met a couple of guys at the hostel I stayed at. We were searching through the supermarket for some drinks prior to going out, and we spotted something called Amsterdam Maximator. With a solid 11.6%, that seemed like a wise choice for our budget-conscious minds.
Before loading them in our cart, a man approached us and warned us “Do not drink that, whatever you do.” Naturally, this intrigued us. We pulled six off the shelf and made our way back to the hostel. After powering through all six within the hour, darkness quickly took over. I came out of my blackout in handcuffs somewhere outside the city limits and learned later that my other friend decided to pull his pants down and take a poop in the middle of the red light district.
I have not been back to Amsterdam since…..
30. The Tricks Of The Trade
I, as a single female, recently spent a good deal of time in Mumbai, India. Here are the tips I came back with for anyone thinking of embarking on a similar journey. If you unwittingly walk into the middle of a slum and feel scared, just pretend you’re Jessica Jones and up the attitude to “screw with me and I cut your head off Kali style” levels.
At the same time, know that there’s probably nothing to be afraid of except your own ego. If you order a salad, you better like your iceberg lettuce wilted and your service incredulous. Salty lime and soda is an unlikely savior in the dusty humidity. Tastes just like a margarita without the side order of disastrous life choices.
Make up an imaginary husband to pull out whenever you get propositioned. Mine is called Roman. He works in espionage and his hobbies include knife throwing and saving kittens from trees. I’m just on my way to meet him, actually! What a coincidence. Also, forget about fresh air. It quite simply doesn’t exist there.
Don’t even bother trying to walk on the pavement. Walk in the road. The cars will stay away from you as long as you act like you’re meant to be there. Trust everyone, but also trust that everyone is hustling to survive. Just like you. When crossing the road, DON’T EVER STOP. Never hesitate, never doubt. Just walk like you’re Beyoncé and become part of the exhaust fume river.
Don’t wait for a gap unless you like staring at traffic for five hours straight. Close your eyes if it helps. Don’t throw a tantrum if you don’t find Didier, Lin, and Kavita sitting at their favorite table at Leopold’s (Shantaram reference). Always accept the offer of chai with new friends. Eat all the street food! It is worth the interesting digestive experience that will surely follow.
Most importantly, keep your heart open, your bag closed, and your hands clean!
31. Seeing Red
Norwegian Airways sucks. I arrived at JFK International in New York last night, an admittedly close 45 minutes before my departure, ready for a red-eye flight to Oslo. I get there to find out that the flight is delayed…until NOON the following day. Weirdly enough, the flight still appears to be leaving on time when I check its status on Google.
Anyway, the Norwegian Airways customer service employees insisted that I return at 8:00 in the morning the following day to get on a new plane to go to Oslo, which would depart in the morning. I return to the airport 10 hours later, and check in at 8:00 for the first flight out at…..1:00 PM?!?!?! Why did they have me and everyone else come in five hours early for no reason?
They also don’t print new boarding passes, or identify the new plane clearly. This, combined with the Google weirdness, has me very sketched out. By the way, it’s now 2:00 in the afternoon on the day of the new flight, and we haven’t even boarded yet. It’s a 17-hour delay and counting, yet all they’ve given me so far by way of compensation is an 18-dollar meal voucher.
Right now, my recommendation is to never fly with this airline. I’m probably going to end up abducted by aliens at this rate.
32. Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Sri Lanka
So this is the travel story of my trip to Sri Lanka. First Stop: Negombo. Negombo is a small fishing town near the Colombo airport. It is closer to the airport than Colombo, as well as cheaper and quieter. That makes it popular among tourists who want to rest before or after the long flight. There are a whole bunch of fun things that people can do there.
A few of the things that you can do there include: 1) Visiting the fish market! The main fish market is located only a few kilometers south from the town and it’s a very interesting place to visit; 2) Relaxing at the beach; and 3) Drinking a tropical fruit shake at this nice family-run business near the Negombo Beach Park.
They have the largest variety of fruits that I have ever seen in Sri lanka. My next stop was Anuradhapura. The ancient city of Anuradhapura is one of the most impressive places to visit in the entire country of Sri Lanka. After you get a ticket for $25, you can visit numerous Buddhist stupas and historical sites in the area.
I personally recommend doing it with a local tuk tuk driver who knows the place well, but you can also just get a map and rent a bicycle. We arrived in Anuradhapura in the evening and started our tour at 8:00 in the morning the next day. We visited 16 sites with a very nice local tuk tuk driver that we hired for 2,500 rupees (the equivalent of about $20).
I enjoyed learning about the sites around Anuradhapura so much that I actually mapped them out for an online blog when I got home, along with some explanations and tips for future visitors. The best way to reach Anuradhapura is by train, but you can do it by bus as well. It’s about a five or six-hour ride from Negombo, Colombo, and Gampaha.
From there, I continued on to Dambulla. We decided to explore Dambulla with a local tuk tuk driver (for 2,000 rupees) and by 7:30 we headed towards the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. We bought tickets (for $30 each) and began climbing up. The way up took us about an hour because there was heavy tourist traffic, but it was very nice overall and we enjoyed the view of the Boulder Gardens beneath.
The whole visit at the Rock was about two and a half hours in total. After Sigiriya, we continued to the Pidurangala Ancient Forest Monastery, which is conveniently located on a nearby mountain. They charge an entrance fee of 500 rupees, and for that you get to climb on the mountain and see a few Buddhists and a beautiful view of Sigiriya.
I’ve read that some people go only here while visiting Sigiriya because they find the main site overpriced. I don’t recommend doing so because it’s not the same experience at all. On our way back, we stopped again at Sigiriya for a brief visit to the museum. It’s not a must-see place to visit, but if you have already paid for the ticket then you might as well use it.
The only thing that I personally found interesting there was a 3-D simulation of the Fortress. After that, we stopped for lunch at Chooti, a local restaurant that had all of its walls covered with recommendations of foods from all around the world. The food there was very good indeed. From there, we went back to Dambulla for a visit to the Rock temple.
We paid 1,500 rupees for tickets and headed up to the temple. You can visit the huge Buddha for free. After about 30 minutes, we arrived at the temple. Inside the caves, there were numerous Buddha statues and it is all quite impressive. Our next stop was Kandy. We headed from Dambulla to Kandy by bus and the drive took us a little more than two hours.
After arrival, we dropped our bags at the guest house and continued onto the Royal Botanical Garden with a tuk tuk. I must admit that I’m not a big fan of botanical gardens, but this place is nice and impressive. The visit there takes about two or three hours. The next place on our list was the Temple Of The Sacred Tooth.
It is believed that Buddha’s tooth is buried in this temple, and therefore it is one of the most sacred temples in all of Sri Lanka. Our visit to this temple was quite short, just one hour in total. But if you want to see the smaller temples and museums around it, the visit can take longer. After the visit, we exited through the rear exit and walked a few hundred meters to the Red Cross hall, where we watched a Cultural Dance Show.
We got 5:00 PM tickets from our guest house owner (for 1,000 rupees) and enjoyed the nice one-hour show. The hall was full and most of the places were reserved for groups. So if you ever go, try to arrive at 4:30 to secure reasonable seats. You can buy tickets on the spot. The next stop was Adam’s Peak, in Sri Pada. There are few routes up Adam’s Peak.
We chose the regular Hatton route, which starts at Nallathanniya. We headed there with the 8:45 train from Kandy to Hatton (two and a half hours) and then took a local bus from Hatton to Nallathanniya, also known as Delhousie (two hours). We got a nice room at the Punsisi guest house. It was a tall building with a green sign, and it was a very good place to stay in.
It was not the cheapest option, but not too expensive either. And clean! At 2:15 in the morning, we headed towards the Peak. We climbed slowly and it took us a little longer than three hours. The climb wasn’t easy, but I think that anyone in a reasonable amount of shape can handle it. We’ve seen locals of advanced ages do it just fine.
A few useful tips: 1) Nallathanniya and Delhousie are the same place. It can be confusing because Google Maps calls it Nallathanniya and the local bus has a sign of Delhousie. Don’t let this throw you off. 2) Take warm clothing to wear on the peak. The wait for the sunrise can get cold. I had a softshell and a hat, and it was good.
Thin gloves can be nice for holding the metal bars when climbing. You can get them for 100 rupees before you leave town. 3) Have small bills for the stops during the climb. They don’t always have change. 4) Go down slowly and try to absorb your steps with your muscles. Keep the pressure off of your knees, or otherwise they will hurt for a while afterwards.
5) Ask about the checkout time in your guest house. Our check-out time was 11:00 sharp, and that was perfectly fine for us. An earlier checkout time, however, might put you in a rush and change your whole experience. Our next stop was Mirissa Beach. After the climb to Adam’s Peak, we headed towards the south. We got back to Hatton on a local bus and made it on time for the 13:30 train to Colombo Fort.
We arrived at Colombo at 20:00 and stayed there for the night. The next morning, we took a train to Weligama and, from there, we continued by tuk tuk to Mirissa Beach. You can do this trip with a local bus as well, if you so choose. Mirissa Beach is a great place to relax on a sandy beach. It is also a good beach for surfing, and there are daily whale-watching boat tours departing from there each morning.
The beach line has a wide variety of restaurants, and many of them offer fresh grilled seafood in the evening. Our next stop was Unawatuna Beach. Unawatuna is located five kilometers south of Galle, and you can get there from Mirissa by grabbing the local bus to Galle or Colombo. This is about a 40-minute ride in total. This small town is a very touristic one.
It’s more crowded than Mirissa, and I think that Mirissa Beach is nicer but Unawatuna offers much more things to do. Here are a few examples of what Unawatuna offers: 1) Diving. There are several diving centers in Unawatuna. From what I read, the diving sites are not amazing, but it’s still nice if you love to dive. 2) Surfing.
Unawatuna Beach is not a surfing beach, but you can get surf tours there. 3) Jungle Beach. About 30 minutes’ walk from the main beach, partly via jungle trails, there is a small and beautiful beach. In the early morning, the water is crystal clear and snorkeling is fun. You can also get your own gear while there. There are relatively many corals and fish at that beach.
The beach is also accessible by tuk tuk or boat. 4) Handunugoda Tea Estate. The place offers a free and very nice tour in a real working tea estate. They show you around and explain about the different plants and production processes. The tour is totally free and they don’t even allow you to tip your guide. If you really want to, you can leave a tip in the tip box in the end.
So what is the catch? Actually, there is no catch except for the expensive prices they charge on the tea that they are selling at the end of the tour. Even though they don’t push you to buy their tea, you will probably want to. Just be aware that the prices there are high relatively speaking, compared to the real market price.
You can get there with a bus and a tuk tuk, or just by a tuk tuk if you so choose. This is a 15-minute ride. 5) Visiting Galle. Galle is a large city located just five kilometers from Unawatuna, and visiting it can make a great day tour. Besides the famous Dutch Fort in the city, you can also go to the nearby local market, or just walk around and explore it.
Just be careful because there are tourist traps around this city. 6) Relaxing at the beach and eating in the local restaurants. This is what most people do there, and this is awesome. Have fun! Unwatuna was our last stop before heading back home. I hope that you found this travel story useful and I invite you to use these tips as much as you want when planning your own trip! Before I end this rant, here are a few final, general travel tips I’d like to share.
1) Accommodation Prices. Sri Lanka is relatively expensive. Most budget rooms cost about $10, so nice guest houses cost around $50 and hotels can cost around $100 to $300. 2) Food prices. A meal in a local restaurant costs only about two or three dollars. The same meal in a tourist restaurant will usually cost double, and western food can easily cost about $10 per meal.
Along the beach, many places offer seafood barbecue, which costs about $15 to $30. Keep that all in 3) Transportation. You can get anywhere with trains and local buses, which are all very cheap. But the infrastructure in the rural areas is not very good. Tuk tuks are good for short rides, and they cost about 50 cents per kilometer.
The exact cost can be more or less depending on how long the ride is. A longer ride usually means a cheaper rate per kilometer. 4) Rental cars with a driver. Many tourists choose this way of transportation in Sri Lanka, because it’s comfortable and relatively affordable. Prices tend to start at about $50 a day, in my experience.
5) Medicine and Hygiene. Sri Lanka is not “as bad” as India as far as the government’s public health maintenance is concerned. The water in most places is relatively clean. You still want to drink only bottled water, though, if possible. And the streets are relatively clean as well. You can find the updated health information on the CDC website.
6) Last but not least, Communication. Wifi is available in most tourist places and guest houses. A SIM card with a 5GB data package is also pretty cheap and pretty readily available for all tourists to purchase upon arrival. You can get one for less than $10. Just don’t buy it at the airport, because it’s extremely expensive there. You can buy the Visa to Sri Lanka online for $30 or at the airport for $35.
33. Ice Ice Baby
This is the story of the time when my friends and I almost got stuck in a frozen river with our canoe. “Okay, paddle! Paddle! Paddle! Ooompf.” The ice let forth a long and creaking groan as our canoe slammed into it yet again. I watched, fascinated, as cracks shot out from the point of impact, breaking forth a few more chunks of ice to float freely along the side of the canoe or to lie atop the hard surface of the river like crystal debris.
My body, in sharp contrast to the freezing air surrounding us, was on fire. My arms and my torso strained and burned with every stroke. Even my toes, wiggling their solidarity to my body’s effort, were toasty. “Again! Back paddle!” The paddle pushed against the water, moving us back a few meters. “Go! Go! Go!”
With a strain and a viking-worthy battle cry, we reverse the momentum and fly forward to ram into the ice again. The ice’s groans and creaks, alongside our laughter and cries of effort, snapped through the otherwise winter-silent air. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so good! Snuggled up on the couch with our steaming cup of cocoa and a tail-wagging golden retriever months earlier, me and Megan chatted about the things we could do in Guelph.
Megan, a shockingly giving and emotionally buoyant girl, was my second couch-surfing host in town. With a mutual thirst for adventure and good memories, we were determined to go out with a great story of each other in our minds. “We could go canoeing. Although it’s kinda late in the fall for th-” “You have a canoe?!” I blurted, amazed.
“Why didn’t you say you had a canoe? Let’s go canoeing!” We threw on the gear we’d need to survive the freezing temperatures. In my case, this meant all the clothes I owned. Then we each grabbed an end of the canoe and carried it to the river. A crisp, beautiful, and peaceful glide past leafless trees and the occasional bank-dwelling nature-lover.
That’s what we were headed out for. And we had it, for a few minutes. Then it all went wrong. We glided up stream, past a few joggers and a cute couple. And then we came to a fork in the…river. To our left, a wide-open and clear path. To the right, a peaceful and glassed over backwater stream with chunks of wood sticking up through the ice.
“Shall we?” I asked, indicating the road less traveled. Megan shot back a whimsical grin, a shrug, and a “let’s do it.” In hindsight, I have no idea how we made it out of that situation alive. But I’ll cherish the memory of that adventure for as long as I live.
34. Getting Political
I was shaken down and tricked by the crooked mayor of Iguazu, Argentina. Picture a small airport in the middle of a jungle on the Brazilian-Argentinian border. I jump on a minibus with other tourists to bring me to the town of Puerto Iguazu. Just outside of the city, a roadblock is set up. We come to a halt, and a young, semi-attractive woman hops into the van and demands a 20 peso ($1.50) “tax” be collected to “improve the roads.”
There is grumbling on the bus. I think all of us intuitively knew that we were merely being shaken down. I briefly considered refusing, but the idea of standing up for what was right versus the small amount of money saved was outweighed by the strategically placed officers lounging around outside. Drawing the ire of “law enforcement” in rural areas of the world just isn’t a recipe for a fun travel experience.
But there is no way this is lawful, right? Certainly they made the amount per person small for strategic reasons, as it’s easier for most of us to merely go along with it. For sure if it had been $20, there would be far many more objections. Me amongst them. I arrive at my AirBnb in this humid, tropical town and relate the events to my host, who merely laughs, assuring me that it was a recent invention by the mayor.
The policy is completely unjust in the eyes of most experts in Argentinian law, and apparently almost all of the money collected ends up in the mayor’s pockets. Although some does trickle down; to his mistresses. The surest way to get wealthy in Argentina (and all of South America) is to get a political post with influence. And I somehow know that, despite our taxes, the roads won’t be any better next time I visit…
35. Dress For Success
I have a travel story about one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life. Back in 2012, I went to a summer camp in Europe with my classmates from my high school. The place that we stayed at for a month was in Oxford, England. It looked like a town for students from all around the globe. English people had a lot of events and trips planned for us, from speed dating, to Stonehenge, to London, aaaand cross dressing.
Yes, you read that right. Let’s get right down to the point. Everything started with this crossdressing event made for the campus students. All boys had to dress as girls, and all girls as boys (which was easy, c’mon). Most men stayed stoic and refused to participate. You can include me in that group. But then, a Turkish girl, whom I was attracted to, came by with her group of Turkish friends, including some guys.
They all tried to dare us to try crossdressing, but no one accepted. However, I challenged them and said that if they showed up to my door dressed as girls, then I will dress up too. I thought for sure that they wouldn’t do it, since they were all devoutly religious. But, to my surprise, they did it! Afterward, all the ladies of my group prepared me, including the teacher who came with us.
So I went to this event, and all the women took photos and posted them on Facebook. When I came back, my entire high school knew about this stuff. It basically trashed my reputation for a while. And I did not get the girl. So, what do you think, people? Maybe it is not the worst embarrassing moment in history, but heck yeah it was embarrassing for me!
36. Plunging Into The Unknown
Costa Rica was the destination. I am not entirely sure to this day how the idea even materialized. May have been the fascination with the hot springs, waterfalls, cafe leche, dirt roads, and surfing. It seemed like the perfect mission for a bored, salty 24-year-old and his 30-something-year-old “big brother” type figure. But one thing is clear no matter where the idea came from: The minute we discussed this adventure, we knew that we had to make it happen.
The agreement on the destination was immediate and solidified with a high five and a bro hug. We came to an agreement on one golden rule. If we were going to spend the money to explore Costa Rica, then it was going to be on our terms. This meant NO travel books, NO touristy tours, NO time wasted on our iPhones drooling over Instagram photos, and, of course, lots and lots of cafe leche.
I have honestly spent more time planning a fourth-grade sleepover than I did planning this trip. That is what made this trip so special. For us, less was definitely more. Uncertainty was what made the experience fun. Days later, the tickets and a Costco-sized bottle of imodium were purchased, as each cup of cafe leche was gastrointestinal roulette.
Trip run-down: San Jose to Playa Negra. Five days. One lousy Korean Jeep, Deet (a highly recommended staple for the jungle bugs), a compass, and a road map. Touchdown in San Jose, Costa Rica. The jet lag disappears immediately for us and as everyone is grabbing their bags to seemingly begin their own adventure, impatience is evident on everyone’s face.
Except for the two grown hillbillies in the back. We grab our bags and begin high-fiving and repeating, “HOW FREAKING GREAT IS THIS MAN?!” Always with the high fiving and realizing how great everything truly was. Stuart is a guy you just want to high-five. And we hadn’t even left the tarmac yet. Costa Rica was going to destroy any and all expectations.
“Costa Rica” was no longer just mere words spoken in conversation. There was something so liberating about being thousands of miles from home with no plan. It was simple. If it looked cool, we were going to fit it in. If it was whack, we ditched it. Day One. We leave the airport, and jokes about the humidity immediately turning us both into sweaty messes ensue. Laughter. High fives.
We arrive at the thrifty rental place to pick up our shifty little Korean box of trash. It was the cheapest 4×4 we could find, and it actually turned out to be pretty durable. This sweet, mustached, chunky man named Dennis checked us out and actually mapped out the directions from the rental place to the backpackers’ hostel we were staying at that night in San Jose.
We didn’t even bother mapping the directions out from the rental place to our hostel. We literally just called the dude we were staying with and handed the phone to Dennis. Didn’t even say hello. Stu dialed the number, someone on the other line said “Hola,” and we both looked at Dennis with a “you’re up, man” look all over our faces. Bags in the back. Car in reverse.
Rubber barks on the pavement as we leave the rental place’s parking lot and careen into the insanity of San Jose rush hour. One more simultaneous “HOW FREAKING GREAT IS THIS?!” for good measure before Stuart has to focus on all of the vehicles that are blatantly disregarding all traffic laws. Every confused and poorly planned traveler needs a “Dennis.”
That chunky sweetheart got us to our first destination timely, unscathed, and without making one wrong turn. We roll up to the curb outside our destination hollering things such as, “YOU’RE THE MAN, DENNIS!” or “THAT OLD JOKER WAS ON POINT!” We slammed the Jeep into park. Bags unloaded. We were met at the front door by our hosts and shown around the house.
A quaint little white two-story house with a tall rusty gate separating the driveway from the sidewalk. We’re led through the living room, where a pale, bleached blond “Scandinavian” looking backpacker sat on the floor. His movements, eye contact, and total lack of facial expression made me think to myself “this dude is without question on the run for turning someone into a lampshade.”
I toss my bag on our cheap bunks. We grab a quick empanada dinner at a nearby cafe. Time to head back to bust out the map and get a game plan for the morning. The next day, the adventure continued. The bags remain packed for our true destination, Playa Negra. Day Two. It was still dark outside. A cool breeze sneaks past the slats of our window and slaps my face.
Sounds of car horns loom in the distance. I look at my watch. It’s 4:30. “Man, I have to pee!” I make my way to the bathroom across the hall from our room. Door’s locked. Lights are off. I lightly rap at the door. I hear an almost whisper say, “Just a minute.” I head back to my room and wait another 20 minutes before I hear the man shuffle from the bathroom.
“That was definitely the Scandinavian lunatic,” I cautiously think to myself while shaking my head. I wake Stu. We quickly clean up and plan to hit the road before daybreak. Thankfully, our route was literally one of two highways to choose from. Our master plan was to just head west. We figured we’d hit the ocean some time later today.
Remember, no plan equals no pressure. The host happened to catch us at the door and give us a couple of vague landmarks that would reaffirm the fact that we were indeed heading in the right direction. We take off in our Korean Jeep and took all of about 10 seconds to genuinely figure out the kilometers per hour to miles per hour conversion.
Silence loomed in the cab as we were trying to make up what we both knew to be some nonsense conversions. Stu turns to me with a reaffirming tone, “As long as we don’t drive like idiots, dude, I’m sure we’ll be alright.” He hung a cheap compass from the rearview mirror. Stu puts on his green bandana to cover the top of his head.
His cool alter ego always blossomed after putting on that cap. You get to be a confident guy when you sport a cap like that. It got on my nerves, but I loved it. We threw up some devil horns. Let’s roll. As the sun was rising and we quickly escaped the concrete jungle of San Jose, the open roads of Costa Rica were unbelievable.
Bridges stretching over lush, thick jungle canopies that would eventually wind into single-lane highways that cut right through the heart of the jungle. Rickety cargo trucks loaded down with livestock. Passing cars doing four times the speed limit (whatever that was, it seemed fast though). Old toll booths where the employees became our impromptu tour guides anytime we questioned the direction we were heading in.
Run down roadside cafes with chunky local women lined the interstates. We were the only gringos on the road and there was something so satisfying about that realization. We started flipping through radio stations to fill the occasional silence. They were mostly in Spanish, but every once in a while a Creedence Clearwater Revival song would play.
And whenever a CCR tune would start, multiple unwritten rules would apply. The conversation would cease, the volume would crank up to eardrum-shattering levels, Stu would tighten the knot on his smelly bandana, all four windows would roll down, and everybody sings darn it! According to our hostel host, the halfway point to Playa Negra from San Jose was a “large bull structure.”
I’m serious. In between the CCR, high fives, and total disregard for traffic laws, there appeared a large steel bull to our left. “Well, I’ll be darned!” Time to stop for a fill up on petrol and some cafe leche. We switch drivers, stretch, and continue westward bound. The lack of specific direction on this trip was very 19th century.
If one has ever driven through Costa Rica, one of the first things you notice is the amount of schools and, consequently, the amount of school zones that require a slower speed limit. But when there is a school zone literally every couple miles that are not always clearly marked, decreasing to the necessary speed immediately proves impossible.
After we unintentionally blow through our sixth or seventh school zone, the situation got sticky. We are waved down by a Costa Rican traffic officer. A tall man in a white and blue uniform wearing sunglasses approaches the driver’s side of the vehicle. I roll down the window and shut off the Korean Jeep. In very broken English, he asks, “American?” We reply: “Yeah.”
He says: “You go too fast in that school zone, 70 or 80 kilometers per hour.” We say: “Really? No kiddin’!” No matter what country you are pulled over in, the responses are the same. He continues: “Traffic tickets for foreigners mean you are to go back to San Jose with fine.” A “What the heck?” look is now on both of our faces.
We had made it this far and now we have to turn back? More comments are exchanged between Stu and the traffic officer in very broken English and Spanish. Stu finally interprets that the officer wants cash. We were being swindled out of 80 dollars US. He gladly accepts the money and sends us on our way. “Man, screw that guy!” Stu says.
“I know bro!” I say in agreement. I turn on my blinker and merge back onto the single-lane highway. To this day, I sincerely believe that if it weren’t for Stu radiating an uncomfortable level of bandana confidence that would make Donald Trump incontinent, we would’ve been thrown into a van and taken to a San Jose holding cell. Love you, bud.
We are now officially off asphalt and now on only dirt roads. No more landmarks. No road signs. Windows up. CCR cranked. We stop at least three times in little shops that littered the road to ask for directions. Most of the locals don’t speak English. They just point west on the map. Good enough. Let’s roll. We spot poorly manicured soccer fields for neighborhood children to play on.
Little ramshackle of a pizza shop. Small grocery store. Many dogs in the street. We stop and phone our second host, Manuel. He is polite and speaks with a thick French accent. Since there were no road signs pointing us in any such direction, he says it will be easier to just travel from his house on his bike and meet us at the soccer fields.
“Stay put Adam, I will be there shortly on my bicycle,” he says with his elegant French accent. Coming down a hill on the dirt road to our immediate right is a bearded man, bronzed, with beach blond, shoulder-length hair. We exchange greetings and he asks us to follow him to the bungalow where we are staying for the remainder of the trip.
We were led down an even worse dirt road that clearly had been worsened with a recent downpour. Divots and potholes. Stray dogs, bird-sized flies, and territorial roosters follow the Korean Jeep with looks of uncertainty regarding its cargo. The property was enclosed with a large iron gate. Car in park, packs on back, we were shown around the lush property.
Four bungalows with restrooms and a kitchen with seating in the middle that Manuel used to serve his guests breakfast from. It exceeded any expectations. After judging the state of the nearest town, I figured we would be lucky to have indoor plumbing. Manuel didn’t waste any time. He asks if we would like to see the beach. Absolutely.
He leads us down a little-known path because Manuel is not a fan of paying to experience the beach. He tells us on the way that he visited here from France over 10 years ago and fell in love. Ditched the rat race in Paris and made his way to Costa Rica, where he fathered two kids and opened a bed and breakfast. The dude was rad.
Rode his bike everywhere and lived life the way he wanted to. He was one of those human beings you come across and, after conversing with for a short period of time, momentarily pause and mouth to yourself in a low, terrified whisper, “Yep, my life is dog poop.” We climbed over bushes, held barbed-wire for each other to get through, and slid around on very unstable trails.
Stu looks back and mouths “The heck?” I shrug. Keep moving so Manuel doesn’t think we’re little American weaklings. We walk another 150 yards through grass and dirt trails before a small bar on the beach appears. “Holy cow,” Stu and I say to each other almost simultaneously. Before us was crystal blue water that barreled beautifully before crashing the base of the wave and eventually closing out and repeating after a few moments of calm.
We probably stood and watched in awe of three or four gorgeous waves making the way to the beach before snapping out of our trance. We frolicked in gorgeous water like morons for the remainder of the day, dodging surfers and filming in the water. People stared. We surfaced and high-fived. This went on for the next two days.
Wake up. Eat breakfast with Manuel. Head to the isolated beach. Play in the waves, and cafe leche. Can’t ever forget the precious cafe leche. Days Three and Four. But there was a secret reason for this trip. On March 1, 2014, my older brother Jordan had tragically and senselessly passed at a very young age. And I knew this trip would provide a perfect stage to honor his life as my brother and best friend.
He was cremated, so I was able to take two or three handfuls of his ashes with me. There was no definite plan as to where exactly I was going to spread these ashes, but I knew I would know in my gut when the time and place was right. Granted, I would have to decipher if that gut feeling wasn’t in fact a cafe leche descending colon beatdown or not.
We decided to ditch the beach for a day or so and take off to a nearby national park. I knew this would provide a perfect opportunity to spread my brother. We load the trusty Korean Jeep bucket, ask Manuel for a few directions, none of which make any sense, and take off to the town of Liberia. We just head north, assuming we’ll know where to turn when the time comes.
Engine turns over, Spanish music playing at a low volume from the speakers, the smell of body odor, and a slight queasy feeling overwhelms me from a toxic combo of cafe leche and humidity. Two Imodium and one dramamine washed down with lukewarm water. Stu with a distant stare on his face. This humidity wasn’t going to take my partner down.
I shove water at him. Time to move, kiddo. The road to this national park could not have been worse. I don’t say that lightly. It was obvious that a heavy rain went to town on this dirt road. Turns out that massive potholes that could high center the Korean Jeep and loose dirt that provided poor traction were not the best combo. Lesson learned.
We got there and it looked like an entrance to an animal cage at Jurassic Park. Just waiting for some large jungle beast to come streaking down from the brush and rip the door off the hinges. As we continued up the road, we were really putting this Korean Jeep to the test. It was getting insane. The hood of the vehicle was occasionally picking up and smashing back down due to the depth of the potholes.
At one point during driving, I literally skidded to a stop, threw the Korean Jeep in park, and yelled, ”This ain’t freaking worth it man!” Time to change drivers. Stu makes it the rest of the way, narrowly missing overturning the Korean Jeep. We park the car and head into the ranger’s station, joking that if we had indeed flipped the Korean Jeep, we would’ve just called sweet chunky Dennis to pick up the wreckage.
We laugh and enter the ranger station. Yes, we enter this very old rickety structure known as the “ranger station.” It was clearly a former barn or possible house of horrors. Scythe on the wall. Posters from the 1950s. Smell of mildew. Peeling paint. In the middle of this poorly lit room sat a cluttered desk with a preserved snake in a jar and an old wooden chair behind it.
Amazing location to be tied up and have your arms hacked off with a machete by a dude in a gimp mask. “Hello?” I asked. No one was inside. We waited on the porch for 10 minutes or so until a man appeared in dark green fatigues. He spoke broken English and his frequent smile revealed a right gold incisor. “Okay, Cap’n Jack Sparrow, got it.”
We asked him for a map of the park and he stated that it was in our best interest to keep away from the volcano at all costs due to its recent activity. The nasty little pirate tooth appears again. I was initially pretty upset that we were going to be unable to make it to the volcano, because I was considering it as a possible location to spread my brother’s ashes. But we continued anyway.
The ranger spoke of waterfalls, hot springs, and enough streams to keep us entertained. We made a donation to the park, grabbed our gear, and headed out. Stu makes a cafe leche port-a-potty pit stop before embarking on our first trail. The natural beauty of the place was breathtaking and picturesque. Lush forest canopy, deafening sounds of wildlife, and sounds of rushing water all simultaneously clashing and overwhelming your senses as you attempt to digest it all.
We hike across streams that require us to remove our shoes due to being rained out. We pick out landmarks to remember for the trek back as we make our way to our first stop: the waterfall. It wasn’t until a few miles into our hike and plenty of “Pretty sure we’re going the wrong way, bro,” before the deafening sound of the water stopped us in our tracks.
We had reached the waterfall. We spent 20 minutes or so walking the very slippery rocks that bordered its tide pool, watching the stream end and fall over its jagged edge, playing in its cool water and snapping some memorable photographs before deciding that we had better continue moving onwards towards the hot springs.
As we were getting ready to leave, I made a huge realization. I realized that this was where I needed to spread Jordan’s ashes. It was perfect. I rationalized the location with the fact of how much of a struggle it was to reach this point in time. Treacherous roads that were at times impossible to navigate, let alone drive a vehicle on. The difficulty of maintaining the correct direction utilizing only a physical map and compass.
Having to become shoeless to cross multiple streams, and finally being unable to hike to the volcano where I initially wanted to spread his ashes. Those characteristics of the trip so far, I soon realized, were the best metaphor for dealing with his passing. Deplorable and senseless events inevitably occur in life and you can’t prevent them.
It’s how you digest, learn, and grow from them. We slowly head back to the Korean Jeep, tired and exhausted from hours of hiking and the relentless humidity. Cap’n Jack Sparrow waves us off from the porch of the house of horrors. Bags in the hatchback. The engine turns over. 4×4 turned on. Down the treacherous trail once again.
After two hours of driving, we reach our bungalow once again. Manuel is sitting on the porch of the kitchen, drinking coffee and using his laptop. Tiki torches illuminate his face. “How was it, guys?” he asks, almost surprised that we made it back unharmed and that Stu didn’t roll the Jeep over at the summit. “Amazing, man,” we reply, completely exhausted.
Door unlocked. Bags dumped at the foot of our bunks. We sit on the edge of our beds and reminisce about the day until we fall asleep. “Night, Stu.” “Night, buddy.” It was our last day in Playa Negra before having to catch a red-eye in San Jose to head home. We decided to take a few moments to go back to the serene beach for one last sight of the incoming tide we both knew we’d miss so much. It was time to leave.
Hugs and pictures with our host Manuel. Bags back in the trusty Korean Jeep that we were all but certain would have broken down by now. We thought the drive home would be the hard part, but it was actually one of the best parts of the trip. CCR occasionally blared in between the Spanish music. We stopped way too many times for cafe leche, and were given an excellent opportunity to reminisce one last time before leaving this place.
It was at one of these roadside cafes that I informed Stu that he should probably lose the bandana. Its stench was incredibly vile at this point. We laughed, popped Imodium, and paid the tab on what was our last cafe leche stop. We spent the next 24 hours in airports on the trip home. Exhausted. Our colons in knots.
We get home and land in Sky Harbor. His ride picks him up first as we wait on the bench outside of the United Airlines arrival terminal. We give each other one more cheesy high five. “How freaking great was that?” I ask Stu as he gets into the passenger seat. He replies: “Pretty darn great, dude.” Couldn’t have said it better. What an experience!
37. Unlocking Their Secrets
So I’m staying at my regular, respectable chain hotel in Los Angeles last year. I leave for the day, check my door, all good. I come back, though, to find the door unlocked. I don’t keep valuables in the room, so I’m not panicky. But I am definitely a bit concerned. The front desk has security come up, who finds that the battery in the door-lock has run out of energy.
He replaces it, and all is well again. Clicky goodness. And it was kind of them to comp a night’s stay for the week. Leaving that aside, though, why would a lock fail in the “unlock” mode? One can still leave from the inside. I would hope it would stay locked; requiring security to override, if anything.
38. An Unexpected Journey
When I was in my last year of film school in Los Angeles, I decided to quit prematurely and see if I could get a job on The Hobbit. Yes, I’m a total geek. I learned how to write Elvish when I was 12 years old or something like that, because I had been obsessed with the books for so long. I bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand and somehow managed to sit down with the art director’s wife and Daniel Reeve, the guy who did all the Elvish calligraphy.
They told me that my Elvish was great and that they would look into it. Yay, dreams come true! Or so I thought. Peter Jackson had an ulcer and the production went on hiatus, during which time I decided to buy a camper van and explore New Zealand. The first day on the road, I fell off a cliff while trying not to get swept off into the ocean.
In the process, I broke my arm, twisted my ankle, and bruised my other knee. And that was the end of my The Hobbit production dream. I went on to work around New Zealand for a bit, then used my remaining funds to circumnavigate the globe, finally landing back in Los Angeles to finish school a year or so later.
39. A Story With No Direction
This summer, my mother, brother, and I took a trip throughout Central Europe. When we were in Warsaw, my brother wanted to go see the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Poland’s capital city. Armed with a map and plenty of daylight, we went out to find that building. As time passed, we got lost. My stubborn brother did not want to ask for directions from the locals.
This frustrated my mother and me so much. As we were trying to figure out what was the name of the street, we were standing around confused. Just then, we hear, “Do you need help?” We all turn and see a business-looking man walking up to us. My brother refused his help, which earned him a glare from my mother and me.
After we told him a resounding “yes,” we told him which building we were looking for. The man kindly pointed us to the direction, then went on his way. We followed his directions and soon ended up in front of the Palace of Culture and Science. Thank you kind Polish man for going out of your way to help us out. No thanks to my brother!
40. Lost And Found
So this happened a few years ago when I was 18 years old. It was my first year out of high school and I had worked enough to go to Turkey for five weeks. I had caught a plane down to Bodrum for a few days of drinking on the beach. I got there and walked to my hotel. When I was checking in, the guy at the front desk asked for my passport.
So I went to pull it out of my bag, and my heart nearly stopped. Nothing. It was gone. Naturally, I freaked out a bit, called my mum, worked out what I had to do, and proceeded to start drinking at 8:00 in the morning because there was nothing I could do until I flew back to Istanbul. This was all fine, until I tried to get on my plane back to Istanbul.
As I’m walking through the gates to board the plane, I’m stopped by two guards. Big guards, with big scary-looking machinery. They ask for my passport, which seems to be the only thing they know how to say in English. When they realized I didn’t have one, they started yelling in Turkish at me, all while pointing their very large arms in my direction.
I just about pooped myself. Luckily for me, a girl ran over from behind the desk and translated the whole issue for me. She told them I was going back to Istanbul to get an emergency passport and all. This apparently satisfied them, because I made it out alive. Moral of the story: don’t get your passport lost. And pack a fresh pair of underwear everywhere you go!
41. Figure-ing It Out
No other feeling quite compares to that of walking down the streets and being struck to attention by a work of art. It could be a beautiful statue or a horrific sculpture that incites conversation and awe. It is remarkable how these creatively designed statues and sculptures make a city unique. After “Wow!” the first question that pops into my head is, what inspired the sculptor to come up with this magnificent piece?
There are seven times in particular when statues have given me this kind of reaction during my travels. Let us discover the stories behind each and every one of them. 1) Christ the Redeemer. When you think of Brazil, one of the things that undoubtedly pops into your head is this statue. The Art Deco statue overlooks the city of Rio de Janeiro.
The Christ the Redeemer statue sits atop the Corcovado mountain. It is a model of Christ with His arms extended, forming the shape of a cross. Some argue that it is Christ extending His arms for a hug. The monument came to be as a symbol to counteract what followers believed was increasing godlessness in the country.
In 1920, they chose Brazilian architect Heitor da Silva Costa’s design of a statue of Christ. Initially, the design was that of Christ carrying a large cross on one hand and a globe on the other. He eventually settled for Christ with arms extended, noting that He should face the rising sun. He imagined the statue to be the first thing the residents saw emerge from the darkness at dawn.
At dusk, the city dwellers would have a view of the setting sun as a halo behind the statue’s head. Hug or cross, the Christ the Redeemer statue made it to the Seven Wonders of the World list in 2007. The statue has endured wind and rain and undergone several restorations. Christ the Redeemer was illuminated to mark the 2010 FIFA World Cup and to commemorate the victims of the November 2015 Paris attacks.
2) The Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty is an enduring icon of freedom, located on Liberty Island in Manhattan, New York. Its full name is “Liberty Enlightening the World.” The statue is that of a robed woman, representing the Roman goddess of freedom Libertas. She holds a torch on her right hand above her head.
On her left arm, she carries a tablet inscribed with the date of the US Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) in Roman numerals. At her feet lie the broken shackles of tyranny and oppression. One foot is raised moving forward. It was a gift from the people of France to the United States, given to mark the 100-year anniversary since the declaration.
French sculptor Frederic Bartholdi designed the statue. French law professor and politician Edouard Rene de Laboulaye inspired him. Laboulaye had proposed that a great monument should be presented to the United States. This would be done to celebrate the abolition of the slave trade and the union’s victory in the American Revolution.
Laboulaye hoped that the statue would also have an impact on the people of France to fight for their democracy under the repressive monarchy of Napoleon III. Lady Liberty was the first thing that immigrants saw in the second half of the 19th century coming by boat. The statue has undergone some reformations since its 1886 dedication.
Its seven spikes on the crown represent the seven continents of the world, depicting the universal concept of liberty. 3) The Shoes on the Danube Bank. The Shoes on the Danube Bank in Hungary tell a moving story. The sixty pairs of shoes honor the Budapest Jews who were ordered to take off their shoes before being shot into the river.
This happened during the Arrow Cross terror in WWII. The memorial was erected on April 16, 2005. It was created by film director Can Togay, and the shoes were designed by sculptor Gyula Pauer. 4) Kindlifresserbrunnen, aka the Child Eater Fountain. This horrific fountain sculpture is seated above ground with a baby half stuffed in an ogre’s mouth.
It has a sack filled with three more toddlers dangling over its shoulder. The sculpture is one of the oldest fountains in Bern, Switzerland. It was built in 1546 and no one really knows the true story behind it. A number of speculations have come up because of this. The main ones include: People believe that it serves as a warning to the Jewish community who lived there at the time. This is due to the yellow-pointed Jewish hat the ogre wears.
In another theory, the ogre represents Kronos, the Greek Titan. Kronos eats up all his children to keep them from taking over his throne. Otherwise, it acts as a lesson to disobedient children. Disobedient kids get to be eaten by the monster. This. isa clever way for parents to keep their children in line. This monster sits undisputed in one of the best travel destinations in the world. It has terrified kids for over 500 years and remains unchallenged to date.
5) The Sculpture of Non-Violence, also known as the Knotted Gun. The sculpture really sends a very powerful peace message. This was a creative work of art by Carl Fredrik Reutersward. He created it as a memorial tribute to John Lennon. It was to honor Lennon’s vision of a world at peace. At the time, John Lennon was a public advocate of non-violence and peace.
The legendary singer was shot and lost his life in 1980 outside his home in New York. The Government of Luxembourg later donated the bronze sculpture to the United Nations headquarters in New York. It has since had replicas in the Olympic Museum, Lausanne, and Peace Park, Beijing. 6) Manneken Pis. The Manneken Pis statue may not be majestic, but it sure gets many people to stop and stare.
The peeing boy is a bronze fountain statue located in Brussels, Belgium. It is about 24 inches tall. Hieronimus Duquesnoy created its original version in 1619. The current one dates back to 1965. Manneken Pis is arguably the most dressed statue. He is adorned in assorted costumes per week. His wardrobe is managed by a non-profit organization that reviews submitted clothing designs annually.
There are many stories about the inspiration behind this statue. Some include: A tourist dad who lost his son in the city. He received help from the residents. As a token of appreciation, he had the statue built. Or, during a siege of the city, a daring boy saved the residents from a bombing by peeing on the explosives. Whichever story tells the tale best, the Manneken Pis is definitely one statue you would not want to miss out on.
7) “Break Through from Your Mold.” This statue undoubtedly speaks to us all. We all have something that we struggle with to reach our full potential. It could be fear, illness, or anything else that holds us back. The bronze wall sculpture is an inspiration by itself. Its creator, Zenos Frudakis, said that the sculpture was about the struggle to achieve freedom through the creative process.
It is located at 16th and Vines Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The journey to freedom is illustrated through four statues. Another interesting thing for people to discover is in the background. A cast of coins that represents the relationship between art and money and numerals for his birth date. Which of the aforementioned statues do you find most appealing?
42. A New Lease On Life
Not everyone can travel the world due to different reasons. However, many people have the opportunity to travel the world, yet hold themselves back and stay in their comfort zone. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel, but I too held myself back. That is, until my tipping point hit me. And it hit me hard. Here’s the story of how it all happened.
On the seventh of June, 2011, I was on my way home from work like any other day. I was working for an electrical company in the United Kingdom, and I was on my way to becoming a fully qualified electrician in 2012. My current life plan was to work really hard, gain as much experience as I could, and one day open up my own company.
But what happened to me on my way home that day changed everything. I was driving down the road into my village, the same road that I had used every single day for the past two years. At the end of this very straight road, there is a long sweeping left-hand corner. And on that corner, there is an entrance to a quarry.
On this day, as I reached the corner, a car suddenly pulled out into the middle of the road. It was so sudden that I had to make a split-second decision to either hit the car or swerve out of the way. My body flung the steering wheel to the right while braking heavily, missing the car by just a few millimeters. I missed the car, but I was still traveling at about 40 miles per hour.
I veered off the road, hitting the gravel as I completely lost control of the vehicle. Skidding across the ground at high speed, a wall took the car from under me and redirected it straight into a tree, causing a sudden stop. I was violently forced forwards and was greeted with the welcoming white flash of the airbag, and then total silence set in.
I sat there for a few seconds, which felt like minutes, waiting to feel pain. But none came. I ran my hands down my legs and gathered my senses. I was very lucky to have been wearing my work gear, which included huge steel toe capped boots and built-in knee pads along with my seat belt. These things undoubtedly saved me from further serious injury.
I began to climb out of the driver’s side window and stood on top of the now crumbling wall. I looked behind me and I was shocked to see a 40-foot drop down to a small stream. At this point, my neck was getting tighter and tighter and it really started to hurt. My dad flew up the hill and started the process of sorting things out, which was pretty simple as the girl knew she was at fault and was more shaken up than me.
I will never forget the look on her face as I was heading straight for her. We left the girl with her boss from the quarry and headed to the hospital for a cautionary X-ray. After a week of whiplash and sleepless nights, I had fully recovered with little to no lasting injuries. But what did last was the new feelings and thoughts that the experience had put into my head.
The crash made me realize how life can change in a matter of mere seconds. As cliche as that may sound, it is 100 percent true. One second of difference in the timing of the crash could have been devastating, and these thoughts began to change my entire mindset about life. Over the coming months, I had made the decision that I wanted to travel the world.
Over the next year and a half, I knuckled down and began to really think about what I wanted. I finished my apprenticeship and began to work as many hours as possible. In the process, I started saving as much money as I could. I had a great payout from my car insurance and £3,000 for my whiplash and loss of earnings.
My bank balance was looking good and the summer of 2012 was going great. I began researching everything to do with backpacking the world. However, I was still holding myself back. I had everything ready from the backpack to the money belt. Money sat in my bank account, yet something was still holding me back. That thing was fear.
I kept researching until, one day in late September 2012, I had an awful day at work. I drove home, got straight onto my computer, and booked a one-way flight to Bangkok, Thailand. The thought of arriving in Bangkok was freaking me out a little bit and, over the next few weeks, I came across a company called “Thai Intro,” which was a tour group that got like-minded backpackers together and provided a one-week tour of Thailand. Perfect.
Before I knew it, November 5th rolled around and it was time to say goodbye to everything I knew and step into the unknown. Knowing I was about to join a tour group of like-minded adventurers put my mind at ease somewhat. However, this was still a huge step for me to take. If you had asked me back then “Do you think you will be traveling for years to come?” I would have laughed at you.
However, four years into my travels as I write this post, I cannot begin to describe how travel has changed my life. The people I have met, the experiences I have had, and the stories I can tell for years to come have flipped my world upside down. I now have a new passion for making travel videos on YouTube, along with running an epic travel forum where a community of explorers can come together and seek out the ultimate travel advice.
43. Maid Of Honor
We’re staying at a perfectly decent chain beach hotel on the east coast of Florida, sleeping in, drifting in and out, enjoying the sounds of surf. Come the late morning, we hear a knock on our door. Someone wakes us up, shouting: “Housekeeping!” This is odd, because we put the Do Not Disturb sign out in the morning. Another knock, “Housekeeping!”
Then, the door starts to unlock and open. “Hey!” We scramble for clothes and ask for privacy, which is graciously granted, thanks. Once dressed, I check the door. Yep, the Do Not Disturb sign is still sitting perfectly prominently and visibly on the handle. I have no idea what that whole thing was about. Just a very friendly maid, I guess.
44. Tricks Of The Trade
I recently visited Italy and, amongst other places, I visited the Vatican Museum. While I was suitably awed by the magnificent statues, busts, and glorious artwork, others felt the need to have a more personal experience. It is there that we encounter our protagonists. They consist of members of a female middle-aged Asian tour group.
It was somewhere past the Lacoon, one of the many cherub statues which are gathered in the museum. I took a quick glance at the exhibit. After all, seen one magnificently carved white marble cherub, seen ’em all, right? I started to move away to the next exhibit when the group of Asian women pushed past me to excitedly stare at the statue and discuss it.
Now, the statue is anatomically correct in all particulars, and it seemed as if the teeny, tiny private part was of great interest to the members of this group. The three women gathered around while the fourth lined them up for a photo. And then, it happened. One of the women placed her hand on the statue. The 2,000-year-old statue located just past the “DO NOT TOUCH FOR ANY REASON” sign, written in about 76 different languages.
Not content with just touching, she lovingly circled the teeny, tiny private part with her hand and grinned happily while her friends all smiled and posed for the photo. I fled, horrified at what I was witnessing. Sadly, I’m sure the staff must have seen worse. Seeing that was quite a shock, and is now all I can think of when I recall that particular stop on my trip.
45. Money Talks
I’m visiting the United States from the United Kingdom. During my visit, I was walking along the sidewalk in a large city. All of a sudden, there’s someone playing the blues nearby, so I stop to listen. Just then, a big car pulls up alongside me, rolls down its window, and a guy shouts, “Put a dollar on that!” at me. I was very confused.
Me: “What do you mean?” Guy: “Put a dollar on that!” I assume that he must be asking me to donate a dollar to the musician on his behalf. So, expecting him to pass me the money, I say: “Where’s the dollar?” Once again, the guy just screams: “Put a dollar on that!” I asked him one last time to clarify what he was trying to say, but he declined to do so and just repeated his same request once again.
So I started walking away. I’m not putting a dollar of my own money on music I don’t particularly like, just because some guy yelled at me to do so. If that’s what he had in mind, I was not interested. As I’m walking away, the guy shouts at me: “You stupid foreigner!” and then drives off. I still have absolutely no idea what this whole thing was all about. What was supposed to have happened here??
46. Road Trip Gone Wrong
About six years ago, my family and I went on our first trip out west from Pennsylvania all the way to Washington, making many stops in between. We had just recently gotten a new RV, which we had only taken on a short weekend trip before this long journey. On our third day into the trip, we had already made it to Wisconsin and we were just driving down the highway like normal.
Suddenly, we hear a loud noise, sort of like a thud. My dad, who was driving at the time, went to turn on the backup camera to see what happened. But it wouldn’t turn on. It confused the heck out of us since we had no idea what it was. We just knew that the noise came from the bottom of the RV. Then, my mom looked out the rear window of the RV and water had splashed up over it.
This made it hard to see out of it, but we could see a spark trail being left by the RV. Luckily, there was a rest stop within a mile, so we pulled in there to investigate. When we got out of the RV and went to the back, we nearly screamed. We found that our entire freaking exhaust system fell off the catalytic converter and everything.
Keep in mind that this was a brand new RV with less than 1,500 miles on it. We took the RV into a shop and they were absolutely amazing people. They took a new exhaust off a new truck on the lot to get us moving quicker. They told us if we could make it to our destination to send them a postcard telling them we made it.
Having a hole in the fresh water tank made everything horrible for the trip. We had to flush the toilet with water from a gallon and we could only stay at campgrounds with water hookups. We were supposed to get a new tank halfway through the trip, but it was never shipped out to Washington.
47. Crossing That River Jordan
Last year in June, I got married to the most beautiful girl in the world. Her name is Shweta. She is a cabin crew working for Etihad airways. As her profession suggests, she is extremely fond of traveling and uncovering various parts of this beautiful world. Before I got to know her, I was quite a boring person whose life just revolved around the seven-kilometer distance from the recording studio to my home.
So three years into our relationship, she finally managed to plant the seed of traveling into my life. Thank Heaven for that! It has been an absolutely amazing experience so far that has enhanced my life in so many ways. I never would have gotten to explore the places and things that I have in the last few years if not for Shweta. I owe a lot to her for doing this.
Also, she being a member of a cabin crew gets me tickets to a lot of places for very cheap prices, so that doesn’t hurt either. Last year in November, I visited the United States of America for the first time, in spite of the fact that my brother had already been living there for almost 11 years now. She consented to accompany me and only then did I agree to take the trip.
And that’s how my traveling adventures began. It was a life-changing experience. We then decided to travel to explore more places in the world, as I had started enjoying this whole unknown concept of “traveling.” I am an audio engineer by profession, and God knows when we are busy it can get so hectic that we have to remind ourselves by alarms to even shave.
I was engulfed with tedious work for India’s Star TV’s The Voice season 3 as Project Manager (Post Audio) through the first four months of the year. While I had done my tiny bit of research on destinations suitable to visit in May, I came across a post on Instagram about Jordan. It was a no-brainer, and we had instantly decided to select it as our holiday destination.
We decided to visit on the fourth of May, as I had a break and Shweta too had five days off from her hectic schedule. Extremely excited, I reached the airport on the night of May 3rd. To my horror, I was informed that the flight I was to board was full. And as I had a standby staff ticket, I had to miss it. I was utterly disappointed as I was really looking forward to this.
And to add to it, I had lost money over the prior bookings that I had done. We were heartbroken, but we didn’t give up the idea and decided to travel next month instead, when Shweta again had a five-day break. After a long month of patience, I got a flight to Abu Dhabi (where she lives) on June 2nd, and I decided to spend three days there before our scheduled vacation to the unknown country of Jordan.
The day arrived. We packed our bags and were on our way to Amman. Finally, it was happening. We landed in Queen Alia International Airport in the city of Amman at exactly 12:55 in the afternoon. We were warmly greeted by the Immigration officer. I was absolutely flabbergasted at how handsome the men were and how beautiful the women here were.
Every person had that specific common color of eyes, the sharpness of the chin, reddish skin, and a thick Arabic accent. We quickly completed our formalities, claimed our luggage, and headed straight to buy a local sim card for our phones at the airport terminal. From the prior research I had done, I was very well informed that the public transport in Jordan wasn’t really great, so I had booked a car rental through RENTALCARS.COM.
It was an automatic Chevy Cobalt, which I had booked for a total of four days. With a complete Insurance plan, it had cost me around 17,500 upees. Honestly, this decision turned out to be the best one we made, as it allowed us to save a lot of money over local and intercity transport and also gave us a great deal of flexibility in our timing during the trip.
Also, the car was in mint condition and was super comfy. The airport is about 40 kilometers away from downtown Amman. Cars in Jordan drive on the right-hand side of the road, unlike in India, so it took me some 30 minutes to get used to it, as I was used to only ever driving in India. The speed limit in Jordan is typically 100 kilometers per hour, and it is even 11 kilometers per hour in some places.
Soon I got the hang of the mentality of local drivers. I realized that it is nothing different from India. The local drivers in Jordan are as indisciplined as those in India. No lane discipline, no turn indicators, honking was common. We decided to directly drive to our first location, i.e. Amman Citadel. As soon as we entered the city, it felt somewhat like Shimla.
I thanked my instinct for booking a larger car with more engine capacity, as I realized that the roads were too steep to climb for small cars. The traffic in Amman is completely mad! Just like in Andheri (Mumbai), or maybe worse due to steep roads. It took us around an hour to reach Amman Citadel. It was beautiful! Absolutely grand!
I was totally surprised at how precise and on point, the architecture was in the year 332 BC! Amman Citadel is a historic site with great importance, as many different people and cultures occupied it until the Umayyads, after which the city became nothing but a pile of ruins. The important sites at the Citadel are the Temple of Hercules, the Byzantine church, and Umayyad Palace.
In addition, the view of the city is also great from up here. Next, we decided to go to the Roman Theatre. I took tons of pictures at that beautiful location. There is a way to walk down from the Citadel. It’s quite a long walk to the bottom. And then you have to climb those stairs back, too, which is a bit of a challenge. In total, it amounts to almost 65 floors of steep climbing.
After a while, the heat was too much for us, so we decided to take the car to the theatre. This was a very bad decision. The road downwards is a steep spiral slope. The width is so much less than any road I’ve ever seen before. I’m guessing it’s only a truck’s width. And there were cars parked on both sides, narrowing the road even further. And to top it all off, there was two-way traffic.
Furthermore, finding a suitable parking spot in Amman is nearly impossible. After roaming the streets for 15 more minutes, luckily we found a spot nearly 600 meters away from the theatre. Until now, I had clearly gotten an incomplete idea as to how undisciplined the locals were when it came to parking their vehicles.
It was complete and utter CHAOS. The Roman Theatre was superb, though, so it was all worth it. It was the 9th of June and we were lucky to be there to witness the 20th anniversary of the coronation of the King of Jordan, Abdullah II. It was an event of national importance, and many locals were seen carrying Flags of Jordan in celebration.
Little children had their faces painted with the national flag. We also witnessed an airplane show. Unfortunately, the heat was still too much to bear. So, after a while, I decided to go local and actually try the Keffiyeh, a local scarf that practically every local wears. I got one right across the street for just seven Jordanian dinars. I then learned how to tie it from the shopkeeper, who was a very sweet and helpful person who spoke broken English.
I suggest everyone try to use the Keffiyeh. It’s super comfortable and cool. By now, we had realized that driving in downtown Amman isn’t a great idea. So we decided to go and explore downtown on foot. On enquiring about places to eat, the locals unanimously suggested a place called Hashem Restaurant, so we headed over there. Hashem, to my surprise, was a vegetarian restaurant.
They had only three things on the menu: Hummus, Falafel, and Mouttabal. We ordered hummus and falafel to share. MAN, OH MAN. IT WAS HANDS DOWN, THE BEST HUMMUS AND FALAFEL THAT I EVER HAD. Despite being the non-vegeterian carnivore that I am, I really didn’t miss meat at that moment because this food was so incredibly good.
Next, we walked up to the famous and the most happening part of Amman, Rainbow Street. It was something like the Koregaon Park of Amman. In the short time that we spent there, we had seen enough to realize that smoking was extremely common in this culture. I’d estimate that approximately four out of every three people in Jordan smoke. Thus, there is shisha available practically everywhere.
Rainbow Street had restaurants, bars, shisha cafes, cars driving with loud local Arabic songs blasting, young students, street music, etc. Good vibes, basically, and all of the sights and sounds that you’d associate with that kind of an atmosphere. It looked absolutely amazing. Finally, we had stayed there so long that it was almost 9:00 in the evening.
So we decided to call it a day and started driving over to our accommodation. I had booked an Airbnb at Mr. Shareef’s place. There was a wedding hall right opposite our room. Luckily, there was a wedding happening there that night and we were lucky to witness a real Jordanian wedding firsthand. Once again, beautiful music and great vibes. Day One was a win.
My itinerary for Day Two initially seemed a little too overambitious, and that was one of the main reasons why we decided to start the day extra early. We woke up at 6:30 in the morning. It was super pleasant. Mornings in Jordan are the best that I’ve ever seen, from the standpoint of the weather. A nice hot shower and the natural cold breeze can totally rejuvenate you.
We thanked Mr. Shareef for his hospitality and started out to drive to the next unexplored destination that we had selected, the historic town of Jerash. Jerash is around 55 kilometers from downtown Amman and takes slightly longer than an hour to reach from there. The drive to Jerash is quite scenic and the highway is in great condition.
We reached Jerash at around 8:15 in the morning, which was pretty early considering that the site only opens for visitors after 9:00. So to pass the time, we decided to have breakfast at a local restaurant right opposite the car parking area at the visitor centre there. We had fried eggs, cheese, fresh orange juice, and, yet again, the local staple, Hummus.
I still wasn’t over Hashem restaurant, and the food here was decent, but nowhere close to what we’d had the night before. I was surprised when the bill for the above food came to a whopping 25 Jordanian dinars. Just a day before, I had paid only two Jordanian dinars for a meal that was way better and way bigger. This was my first encounter with the famous expensiveness of life in Jordan.
We walked through the visitor center where there were souvenirs on sale, as well as local clothing shops. We stopped at a shop and I got a few things for my mom there. Like any other tourist place, the shopkeepers will try to rip you off and it is up to you to bargain. The guy quoted a price for me of around 26 Jordanian dinars for two items, which I later got for just 12 Jordanian dinars after a little bit of bargaining.
Jerash is another city of historic importance. It is also nicknamed Pompeii of the East. It is a blend of Greco-Roman and Mediterranean Arab culture. Yet again, I was astonished at the precision and skill of the ancient architecture here. For a moment, it takes you back to how it must have been back then. As per historians, the city apparently flourished till the early ADs.
And, unfortunately, it all came to an abrupt end in the year 750 AD, when the earthquake of Galilee destroyed large parts of the city. Later, in the 16th Century, Ottomans also settled here briefly. Important sites worth visiting at Jerash include Hadrian’s Arc, the Oval Plaza, the Cardo Maximus, the North Theatre, and the Temple of Artemis.
An important thing to remember here is that this is a huge site and requires a lot of walking and climbing again. The heat gets to you, so make sure you are well hydrated and have had sufficient breakfast before coming here. It can’t be done on an empty stomach. We finished all of the sites in Jerash by around 11:30 in the morning, and so we decided to bid goodbye and move on to the next destination.
The next destination just so happened to be my most looked forward to stop on this trip, the one and only Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is on the western border of the country, almost 95 kilometers from Jerash. It’s a comfortable two-hour drive, but the highway after a while isn’t great and the roads are smaller. Nonetheless, it’s a fairly easy trek to make.
On our way to the Dead Sea, we were out of drinking water and so we decided to get water on the way. While a 1.5-liter bottle of water had cost only 0.35 Jordanian dinars in Amman, the same size bottle of water here was being sold for 0.80 Jordanian dinars. Also worth noting is that nowhere in Jordan is there ever a marked price written on water bottles.
The merchants probably make the price up once they see you and try to predict how much they can get out of you. As a result, I strongly suggest you buy water at Amman itself, as it is considerably cheaper as compared to the other places. At around 13:45, we reached our destination. I had made a reservation at the Ramada by Wyndham through Agoda.com. While initially, the hotel staff couldn’t find my booking, after struggling with them for 45 minutes they finally gave us our room.
We freshened up and decided to have lunch outside. There is a small mall called Samarah Mall at the Dead Sea, where we found some local restaurants. We decided to have lunch outside and not at the resort, as we were looking for something authentic. And with prior experience at resorts, we were sure that the food would be expensive and not authentic.
So we stopped at this mall to have lunch. I was charged two Jordanian dinars just for parking my car. That’s when I got the idea that maybe with this being a tourist destination, everything could be expensive. We went to a local restaurant on the ground floor and the owner offered us two sample bowls, one Mansaf and one Mandi. We finalized on the Mandi and ordered one.
I’ll be honest. The Mandi was below average and tasted bland, almost horrible. We were famished, however, so we just dug into it without complaining. It cost us 12 Jordanian dinars. I was shocked and disappointed. The feeling of being ripped off isn’t a nice one, as I learned the hard way. Anyway, the cosmetics made from the salt and mud of the Dead Sea are super famous.
I decided to buy some for my mother. It was off-season and every shop had a 50% off sale. We got two soaps, two body scrubs, and two face masks for a total of just 60 Jordanian dinars. We returned to the resort at around 3:00 in the afternoon. It was still super hot. Ramada has its own private beach behind the resort. Towels, showers, shacks, and everything are available there for guests.
We decided to let the sun go down a little and then headed to the Dead Sea beach. It was 4:30 in the afternoon or so, and we decided to take the shuttle to the beach. The beach is only 750 meters away from where we were staying, so you can choose to either walk or take the hotel’s shuttle. Given how much we’d already had of the heat, we opted for the short shuttle ride over more walking.
We took our towels and reserved our shack. The view was beautiful. The Dead Sea has only one source of water, i.e. the River Jordan, which was flowing right beside our shack. I didn’t take a photo of it as it looked quite uninspiring, maybe like a small stream which I later learned was surprisingly the only source of water into the sea.
The mud on the beach is supposed to contain a lot of minerals and medicinal properties. Everyone applies the mud on their entire bodies before washing it off in the sea. There was a mud pool specially made by our resort, and we too coated ourselves with mud completely. Due to the dry weather in Jordan, my skin had cracked in places.
My entire body was burning and itchy. The sea lies 398 meters below sea level. It is called by its name because it has no form of life in it, due to its crazy 34.8% salinity level. That is almost 9.5 times that of the ocean. My entire body was itching and I decided to wash it into the sea, totally forgetting about the salinity level.
One can easily float on this water due to its high salinity. It’s a wonderful experience. As soon as you get into the water and lie down, the water actually pushes you up. It feels as though you are sleeping on a bed. I was literally surfing the internet while lying down on the water and floating without any effort. It takes an effort to drown yourself here.
I decided to take a shower, which was thankfully available on the beach itself. While showering, a small drop of water entered my mouth. Holy cow! That was the saltiest thing that I had ever tasted. I thanked myself for not opening my mouth accidentally in the sea. It’s indescribable: the salinity, the itching, and the burning. You cannot spend more than 25 minutes at a stretch in that water.
After having a lot of fun at the beach, we returned to our room and took a more thorough shower. We had learned after our afternoon’s experience that finding authentic good food in this area would be a distant dream, and so we decided to eat at the hotel. We had a great poolside dinner that included grilled chicken with pickled vegetables.
They also provided us with shisha. It cost us 17 Jordanian dinars.While initially I thought we wouldn’t manage to complete our Day Two checklist, we finished it rather comfortably, and not even as exhausted as the previous day. An eventful Day Two had ended and we were smiling as we fell asleep. Now it was time for Day Three.
I had already anticipated this to be one of the most hectic days. Was it going to be worth it, was the real question. We had decided to go to Wadi Rum today. Wadi Rum is located in the south, very close to the famous town of Aqaba. As it is almost a five-hour drive, 345 kilometers approximately from the Dead Sea, we decided to start our day super early.
Breakfast was included in our package at the Ramada. For 5,500 Rupees per night, a resort with a private beach, buffet or a-la-Carte poolside restaurant, and a never-ending breakfast buffet, the Ramada is totally worth it. Breakfast starts as early as 6:00 in the morning at the Ramada, and we were one of the first groups of guests to have it that day.
As the drive was going to be a long one and with a deadline of reaching Wadi Rum at 11:30, we did not have the liberty to make too many stops. We moved on to our next destination and for a thrilling long drive. I was totally looking forward to it. The highway connecting to Wadi Rum is called the Desert Highway for obvious reasons.
The drive is one of the most scenic drives in the world. Miles and miles of uninhabited desert wilderness on both sides of the road. For someone traveling from India, this is a rare and refreshing sight There are government check posts at regular intervals on the highways in Jordan. The officers are super polite and extremely helpful.
Halfway through the drive, we were left with almost a quarter tank of fuel, but we still decided to refuel our vehicle. Fuel in Jordan is quite expensive. There are two grades, Petrol 95 and Petrol 90. They go for one Jordanian dinar and 0.78 Jordanian dinar per liter, respectively. That is almost 100 and 78 bucks per liter. A full tank with a quarter tank remaining cost us 28 Jordanian dinar.
Onwards into the drive, the scenery started getting better. Beautiful stone mountains on both sides were a treat to watch. The road for most of the drive was in excellent condition, with a 120 kilometer per hour speed limit, as it was a newly constructed road. Work on the road is still ongoing and there are various detours and single lane patches which slow you down a bit, and are quite annoying.
We reached the Visitor Centre at Wadi Rum at around 11:45 as scheduled. We had no prior bookings done and thus had to do something about it. One cannot use a regular sedan to enter Wadi Rum, as there are no roads but a total desert terrain. An SUV with 4×4 drive has to be rented. There is a fixed price mentioned on the information board and thus it isn’t possible to be cheated or overcharged.
There are various one-hour, two-hour, three-hour, four-hour, and full-day eight-hour packages, and you are free to choose any. We chose an SUV with a driver for the entire day (eight hours) for 80 Jordanian dinar. The SUV can take up to six passengers and costs the same no matter how many you take, so if you don’t mind sharing the ride you can find many tourists at the visitor centre and you can share the total cost.
We found three young travelers from Spain. Their names were Alberto, Miguel, and Laura. Thus, our cost was a meager 16 Jordanian dinar per person. Once you have paid for your ride, you have to follow the driver in your own vehicle to Wadi Rum village, which is around eight kilometers away. There is a huge parking space there where you park your vehicle.
There is no space for suitcases in the SUV, so it is advisable to carry only essentials and a pair of extra clothes in a backpack. Make sure you buy water bottles here, as the cost is double once you enter the desert. The cost of a bottle is 0.50 Jordanian dinar for 1.5 liters in the village. The five of us left onwards into the desert. The scenery around was so unique.
Never in my life had I seen so much beauty around. There are various sites in Wadi Rum and the driver takes you around each of them: Lawrence of Arabia Spring, Khazali Canyon, Burdah Rock Bridge, Mushroom Rock, the Alameleh Inscriptions, Jabal Ram, Jabal Umm Dami, etc. These are just a few of the sites which our young Bedouin driver Sami took us to.
If you have seen the films The Martian and Lawrence of Arabia, you will totally relate to it. These movies have been entirely shot here. The place actually seems like a different planet altogether. Visiting sites at Wadi Rum requires a lot of walking and, more importantly, climbing difficult mountains. Make sure you wear comfortable clothes and suitable footwear.
If you have a foot or knee problem, this place is seriously difficult and wouldn’t be fun. My smartwatch clocked 16 kilometers and 173 floors of elevation at the end of the day. Just saying! The sunset at Wadi Rum is incredible. The orange sunburst makes the whole desert look prettier. I took some incredible pictures of the scenery on my cell phone.
After sunset, if you wish to spend the night, there are innumerable Bedouin camps where you can experience the authentic Bedouin lifestyle and cuisine. The cost is 25 Jordanian dinar per person, which includes dinner and breakfast. There are some other extremely expensive luxury camps (almost 150 Jordanian dinar per night), but we instead opted for a cheaper, more authentic camp.
The Bedouin camps aren’t really comfortable, as the bathrooms have limited water. There are very few phone charging points too. Dinner was Chicken Kabsa made in the traditional underground oven called Zarb. It wasn’t great, but not too bad either. The night sky was absolutely clear and we decided to stargaze for a while after dinner.
The extremely long drive and time in the heat finally got the best of me at this point. I collapsed on the bed and fell asleep almost instantly, but extremely content with a feeling of achievement. I started my fourth day in Jordan early. I had already envisioned that there wouldn’t be hot water in the morning, so I had taken a shower the previous night.
My poor wife had to take a cold shower in the already cold desert morning. Breakfast was a humble spread of pita bread, jam, breadsticks, cheese, olive oil, and the regional herb Zaatar. Herbal tea was served along with this. We bid adieu to our camp and were dropped back to the village at around 8:30. Our next destination was going to be Petra.
Petra is 105 kilometers from Wadi Rum and the drive is very scenic. You drive on the King’s Highway, which was supposedly a trade route in the olden days. It took around an hour and a half for us to reach Petra. Petra has been considered a UNESCO heritage site since 1985. It is also part of the new seven wonders of the world.
Naturally, we were super excited to see this heritage site. Considered to be made by the Nabataean Rulers, it sure is pretty old. As we entered the visitor center, the first thing we noticed was the humongous map. It was clear that this was going to be a day full of physical activity. As per the map, our end destination, the monastery, was around eight kilometers ahead.
We started walking with our head gear on and water bottles stocked. Almost a kilometer into our walk, the road further led into a natural canyon. The path was surrounded by large mountains on both sides providing natural protection from the sun. It was incredible. Then came Day Five. Finally, it was the day to go back home. We got up late.
There was a local bakery and sweet shop called Sanabel. I packed assorted Baklawa for friends and family. We packed ourselves two Shawarma sandwiches for the road, and we were off to the airport. The airport is 205 kilometers away and is a three-hour drive. Before reaching the airport, we refueled the car one last time.
After reaching the airport, we returned the car to the rental. For one last time, I got myself a cup of Arabic coffee, looked at the high-flying Jordanian flag at the airport, and bid this beautiful country goodbye.
48. An Offer You Couldn’t Refuse
It’s easier to get an English teaching job in the far Eastern world superpower of China than it is to get an interview to flip burgers at your local American McDonald’s. All you need is a bog standard degree from any university and you’re set. Even a Level 2 plumbing NVQ certificate from your community college would probably suffice.
The Chinese hiring managers aren’t really overly bothered. They only want a pretty western face to parade around the school in order to please parents who pay lots of Yuan for their kids’ English education. None of the formal certifications that so many teachers and would-be travelers pay copious amounts for are actually needed in most of China.
Thus, the idea of a guaranteed job in a faraway foreign land spoke volumes to me after graduation. Without having to speak the language or enroll in any type of pre-course, it seemed like an opportunity too good to turn down. Working in a kindergarten, teaching little kids the alphabet whilst experiencing a full Chinese cultural immersion–it sounded like a breeze.
But that was the problem. It was too easy. I spent most of my 10-hour days being a spare part, thinking about all the time I was wasting when I could be traveling, exploring, and learning how to speak the language. The initial novelty quickly wore off as I became bored with the very long work hours and lack of actual teaching and mental stimulation.
It felt like my main task was to perform daily dance routines that Chinese children are subjected to every morning. In the schoolyard, I had to lead over 100 kids in some kind of crazy routine which was a hybrid of the Macarena, the Hokey Pokey and skanking out to dubstep. I didn’t recall signing up for Strictly Come Dancing Asia.
I mean fair enough, I do like the occasional fist pump, but the strange routines just became way too much. Within three weeks, I’d had enough of the dancing life and boredom of sitting around as a spare part in the kindergarten. Life in the 10 million people strong city of Wuhan soon became a chore, and I needed something more interesting.
I applied for dozens of other jobs throughout China in different institutions–universities, teaching centers, high schools, etc. None of the potential jobs really excited me that much. Until I made one discovery. I came across an interesting ad for a tutoring role in a neighboring province. Surprisingly, it offered half the working hours of my current kindergarten, yet double the wages.
And all it involved was to privately tutor two young kids. Oh yeah, and it also came with a free apartment and all bills paid for. Did I mention the personal chauffeur too? This job seemed totally unique. I daydreamed about the possibilities of such a luxurious life, but soon came to the harsh conclusion that it was probably way out of my league since I’d had no real prior teaching experience and didn’t speak a word of Chinese.
Still, I thought it was worth a shot, as I was due to be kicked out of my flat in Wuhan for departing the kindergarten. I was within hours of booking a flight home to surrender to the ultimate foe of a nine to five graduate job, when, to my amazement, I received a response from the dream job and they seemed really keen to speak to me further.
A Skype interview was arranged for the next day. I was overjoyed, but I was also slightly worried as one of the prerequisites for the job had been a “London accent,” something we Yorkshire folk surprisingly lack. I frantically rehearsed my Danny Dyer impression over and over again. Don’t judge me! He just springs to mind as the “go to” Cockney accent.
Astonishingly, when it came to the interview, they didn’t pick up on my broad Yorkshire undertones as I rambled on about teaching techniques that I’d Googled an hour before. They seemed very impressed and, by some kind of miracle, I’d managed to wrangle a dream job out of the rapidly evaporating embers of my China adventure.
Tutoring two young children in their parents’ house for two hours a day and a lot of money, “an absolute piece of cake!” I thought to myself. Hit the jackpot here, pat yourself on the back “my san.” Praise be to Danny Dyer and his band of merry cockneys; watching The Football Factory so many times as a kid had finally paid off!
Transport would be sent to Wuhan the next day to collect me for the seven-hour journey down to Hunan province. I’d been expecting a laborious train journey down, but these guys were more than happy to pick me up in a car. I said my goodbyes to everyone in Wuhan and, before I knew it, I was on my way to take up this obscure role as a private tutor for quite an absurdly high amount of money.
I already had my eyes set on a new iPhone and a snazzy camera. Upon arriving in Hunan, I was confused as we drove straight into a large gated industrial complex, which was surprisingly protected by camouflaged guards, all of whom were armed to the teeth. I was a little bit alarmed, but I just shrugged it off. You know, it’s China, isn’t it? They like building gates, walls, and stuff.
For all I knew, there could have been some pesky Mongolian conquerors lurking about those parts. But when we drove further into what seemingly felt like a fortress, I got a sinking feeling. It dawned on me that I was just slightly out of my depth. The driver told me that the children’s father, or the “Big Boss as they call him, owned this entire enormous complex.
Within his grounds, I was told he had a private zoo, restaurant, hotel, lake, football fields, a huge car garage, and round-the-clock security patrolling the perimeter. Initially, I was pretty overwhelmed and confused as to why on Earth he had chosen to employ me. This Big Boss fella must have a lot of money to invest in his children’s education, yet here I am, the newbie teacher who couldn’t speak the slightest Chinese.
Surely he could have found a more suitable candidate, right? During my briefing, I learned that his kids were due to be sent to Harrow, a renowned upper-class public school in London, where the likes of Winston Churchill previously attended. This was contrary to my preconception that I’d be helping out here and there with teaching the children of a well-off middle-class family.
Instead, I was tasked with prepping the likes of the Chinese Richie Rich for his future at one of Britain’s most elite educational institutions. Just a little bit of pressure then? I soon had the pleasure of meeting the infamous Big Boss. We were lavishly wined and dined in one of his immaculately furnished buildings. My common as muck working class eyes had never set upon anything like it.
Huge exotic paintings adorned the walls with sculptures and other kinds of artifacts that I don’t even know how to describe making up the rest of the decor. This was wealth on such a ridiculous scale. I felt that I was among royalty. It gradually became clear that he had easily amassed a greater volume of money than most people could save in 100 lifetimes in China.
Strangely, I could sense an air of tension in the room even before I’d taken my seat at the dinner table. There I sat in silence, looking pretty gormless in my tattered travel worn t-shirt alongside the bunch of smartly suited up managers. The Big Boss sat at the helm of the table, next to a translator who was there purely and solely for my sake.
Whilst tucking into my hot pot, it suddenly became incredibly difficult to handle my chopsticks in a room with such an unnerving and serious atmosphere. It seemed as if nobody was allowed to speak unless the boss spoke to them first. I just kept on wanting to crack a joke to lighten the mood, but I wasn’t too sure everyone would appreciate the one about a man from China who wasn’t a very good climber.
The managers, who were spread out around the table, quietly ate their food until the Boss decided to address them. At that moment, they would have to drop their chopsticks at once, stand up to attention at a breakneck speed, and bow their heads whilst solemnly listening to his every word. It was much akin to a mischievous child getting a good telling off from their angry father, however, these were meant to be grown men.
Managers in his company, for that matter! Yet in the presence of the Boss, they were all degraded to a seriously low level of servitude. These men weren’t even allowed to drink their drinks unless the Boss was drinking at the same time, or toasting them with his very own special glass that was thrice the size of everyone else’s.
It somewhat resembled the fancy chalice the greedy bad guy chooses in the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I couldn’t decide whether I approved of this culture of endless and sometimes irrational respect that the Chinese aristocracy seemed to advocate towards people who have amassed enormous wealth. Obviously, it was really interesting to observe, but I couldn’t help thinking how much it echoes the mindless obedience and subordination of one’s self, somewhat reminiscent of the way in which so many people are duped into holding a hereditary monarch, dictator, or even a celebrity like Justin Bieber in such high esteem.
Already, I could see that the Boss similarly commanded his own strong cult of personality within his realm. I snapped out of your typical everyday philosophical analysis of contemporary hierarchical structures in society and carried on drinking more and more of the limited edition 30-year-old fine French beverages. Eventually, after shouting at the managers, the Boss turned to a very intoxicated me and started to lecture via the interpreter.
I was pretty out of it, but I remember him stressing the fact that my loyalty, dedication, and character would all be rewarded in due course. He told me that I was now a part of his family as well as his friend, assuring me that he would look after me accordingly whilst promising a bright future. I just smiled and nodded like the Churchill Dog as my eyes became heavier and heavier with each glass of liquid I was forced to gulp down as he ended every sentence with a toast.
These toasts varied between the potential benefits of working for him or to the fulfillment of my duty to teach his Oxford and Cambridge-bound kids the highest standard of the Queen’s English. This made me chuckle since I knew the kids were going to be learning the finest Yorkshire dialect and end up at Leeds Met if I had any say in the matter.
After the food, he gestured to the door and I was ushered down a long corridor to see where all this food and drink had spawned from. I felt like I’d just walked into a little French winery. There were bottles upon bottles shelved up in the exotically lit room. Apparently, according to the Boss, everyone from Europe was a seasoned connoisseur, so I spent a lot of time pretending I knew which of the bottles were more prestigious by giving them a ridiculously fake nod of faux-enthusiastic approval.
Little did he know that my knowledge of such beverages stopped quite abruptly at that familiar cheap student-friendly bottle of rose I used to buy from the corner shop before a night out. A couple of days later, once I’d got over the bad hangover, I decided to Google the city I lived in, along with the name of the Boss’ company. I couldn’t believe what I found.
The first three results were posts on English Teaching forums from a guy called David. Apparently, he was the teacher employed there before me. I was startled to see that he had posted several rants and stern warnings that no English teacher should take this job. He went on to describe the Boss as nothing more than a “mobster” whose whole business is based on “corruption, expulsion, crime, murder, and intimidation.”
Adrenaline began soaring through my veins as I read David’s words. “Mobster”? “Intimidation?” I didn’t really know how to react. Part of me was quite worried, but I was so captivated by the prospect of working within such a kind of organization. Was I working for the Chinese mafia? I was pretty excited that I had the chance to pretend I was part of some sort of movie-esque syndicate myself after spending nearly every day of the summer watching The Sopranos box set from start to finish to pass the time.
Just swap pizza for noodles, and I was nearly there. I read these posts with a pinch of salt anyway, as it was clear David had some issues with receiving his last payment from the company and I could sense the clear bitterness in his tone. I convinced myself that he must have been exaggerating. It was clear that the Boss wanted to do things right this time, instead of going through the same problems which arose during David’s employment.
Thus, I was spoiled rotten. Every day for a week, I was blind intoxicated whilst “teaching” his kids. I was quickly drinking all the contents of his cellar along with pretty much all the seafood that China had to offer. I felt like a king. All the employees tended to my every need and there was nothing else that I could really want in life.
The teaching was also incredibly easy. It was only two hours a day and involved really basic stuff. I quickly started to forget about the negative posts I’d read about the criminal element of the Boss’s business. When I did think about what I had read, at this point I usually resorted to doubting the claims, since everybody there seemed so nice.
However, it all went downhill fast. During the next two months, several events unfolded which really served to reinforce these accusations as fact. Firstly, I had a driver who would take me to work, shopping, or anywhere I really desired for that matter. He then mysteriously disappeared without a trace one day. I asked my new Chinese assistant, who interestingly was a Mormon, what had happened to my driver.
Mr. Mormon looked at me worryingly and told me that I wouldn’t be seeing my driver again. Fair enough, I mean he did drive like an idiot and always played Chinese EDM at an unbearable decibel level in the car, so I wasn’t overly bothered. I truly didn’t think there was anything overly sinister going on just based on the news that my driver was no longer available.
Mr. Mormon had studied in Australia for several years and was mostly a serious guy who hated the Chinese government and the way in which the country operates. Religion is frowned upon in China, so it’s actually considered quite edgy to be a Christian there. So I guess, in his own right, Mr. Mormon was a bit of a little rebellious holy hipster. Ironic, right?
One night, we had dinner together and I decided that I wanted to delve deeper into the goings on in China as a whole, along with the Boss’s business. Mr. Mormon glanced around the empty room, double checking that there was nobody around. He then told me in a quiet and nervous tone about the Tiananmen Square Massacres decades ago, as well as the executions of thousands of students and how corrupt the Chinese government actually is.
It sounded terrible. I knew about the student uprisings, but it had totally been swept under the carpet in China and little is even known about what actually happened in the West. Eventually, he got onto the subject of the Boss himself, giving me his own perspective on the Boss’s business and lifestyle. With huge compounds selling his product in nearly every Chinese province, the powerful Boss had a history in the national forces, but now apparently was running his own industrial company, employing thousands of people nationwide.
With his father being high up and well connected within the Communist Party, the Boss was able to rise to such prestige through the omnipresent corruption that exists within that country’s government. He used each of his industrial compounds around the country as a headquarters where he would run his under-the-table activities from.
The structure of the organization was somewhat similar to the old Chinese feudal system. This was even more chilling than it sounds. In this system, the Boss acts like the almighty Emperor, with everyone paying tribute to him. He ran his business militaristically. The staff was all ranked simulcast to that of an army.
If workers did not meet sales targets or were underperforming in any way, they were severely physically punished or humiliated by being disciplined in public. This guy was a God in his own little corrupt mini-state. Everything revolved around him. His brigade of servants tended to his every need and his foot soldiers carried out his dirty work.
You had to be worthy to be in his presence. Most employees never even saw the man. But if you happen to bump into him and speak when not spoken to or commit a trivial error, he would see to it that you were suitably punished. As I was being told about all of this, I realized what Mr. Mormon meant when he said that I wouldn’t be seeing my driver again.
Had it been my fault? I’d made a comment prior to the driver’s disappearance about how he had been late picking me up for class on a couple of occasions. This was the truth. I didn’t want my employers to think it had been me slacking.Maybe this was why I wouldn’t be seeing him again? It became clear why the Boss’s complex was surrounded by armed guards.
I began to understand why grown men would quiver in his presence around the dinner table. At first, it seemed so ridiculous to me that this rich businessman demanded so much respect and honor, but now it was absolutely clear that he was much, much more than that. Apparently, the authorities had probed and apprehended the Boss before.
But when you’ve got a lot of cash in China, the authorities aren’t a problem for you. When the boss was taken in for being part of a football betting scandal and for the disappearance of a young footballer, the many serious charges that were levied against him all amounted to nothing when it came to actual punishment. And one of the charges involved him burying someone alive.
Yea, it was that bad. It’s worth mentioning that the Boss owned a couple of football teams in China, so game fixing wouldn’t have been too much of a problem for him. What I quickly came to understand is that there seemed to be two types of officers in China, the ones who don’t care and the ones who can be bribed. It also dawned on me that the Boss must have racked up a nice little tally of competitors, unruly workers, and dissidents in his time.
It was shocking to hear all this about a man who had been so nice and warmhearted to me personally and had left me wanting nothing. I began to feel quite anxious as I realized I was teaching the kids of such a powerful man who was responsible for terrible things. The next few days were strange as I plodded along with all this information in the back of my mind.
No longer could I smile, carry on, and pretend that everything was normal. Not even the copious amounts of intoxicating drink at my disposal could really reverse the knowledge of what I had been told. Then, a few days later, I experienced a brief glimpse of the Boss’s tyranny for myself. An English-speaking manager from the International Sales Team forgot to take me out for dinner.
I wasn’t fussed. I didn’t even know he was supposed to be taking me out for dinner. Whatever, right? However, the Boss was more than bothered. According to Mr. Mormon, he was so bothered that he put the well-respected manager in his private holding cell with scarce food and water provisions. Yeah, this was a new revelation, the Boss had his own holding cell for bad employees.
What the heck? Maybe I was just used as an excuse to punish the manager, and he had in fact done something else to upset the Boss? I kept on telling myself that this must have been the case. Surely a slap on the wrist could have sufficed for not taking me out to dinner. I felt really unnerved and guilty to be indirectly responsible for somebody suffering such misery.
I really didn’t like it one bit and made Mr. Mormon send the manager a sympathy KFC bucket when he finished doing his time in the Boss’s “big house.” I mean, what else could I do in that situation? Call in a Red Cross rescue mission? I didn’t exactly have too much say in the matter. I’d been looking for a fun adventure when I came to China and, by all means, I’d had some great times.
However, I never expected to be embroiled in the darker side of the country’s underworld. The further revelation that a state-run labor camp existed within the city limits, on top of everything else that Mr. Mormon had told me, really brought home for me the brutal nature of the Chinese government and the pressing issue of corruption in Chinese society.
I began questioning the ethics of working for a man that pretty much went against everything I believe in in terms of morality and ethics. He just wasn’t a good bloke and once I became aware of his true colors, no amount of oysters or sauvignon could hide what he was. He’s a prime example of the corrupt capitalist ruling elite bourgeoisie in modern-day China.
The seething irony astonished me: The country’s ruling party is labeled as “Communist,” yet people like the Boss live a polarized life of unimaginable luxury that your average Chinese person could never even dream of. In order to stay on, I tried convincing myself that being able to work within his operations was a unique firsthand experience of how the ruling classes operate in China, along with an exciting look into a hidden world and underground enterprise.
At least that’s what I thought I’d keep telling myself until perhaps one day my new driver would disappear after forgetting to pick me up. You know, maybe the kindergarten dancing gig wasn’t so bad after all…
49. Wanna Fight About It?
It was three days after recovering from food poisoning (and losing six kilograms in the process). It was also three days after getting third-degree burns on my leg from a failed firejump, and just after getting the worst ever sunburn on my back. I find myself on the beautiful island of Koh Phi-Phi in the lovely nation of Thailand.
I thought it would be a fun and relaxing time. It’s almost the end of my trip and I’m a bit bummed that I haven’t seen any of the famous Thai kickboxing yet. As luck would have it, that night I meet an English girl who’s telling me about a Thai kickboxing stadium on the island there. The way she describes it, it sounds really cool.
Also, she continues, they invite tourists to fight too, and if you fight three rounds with someone you get a free drink! Apparently, people just go there to have a bit of fun with their mates and, if it gets a bit rough, the referee steps in, so it’s all good. Girls do it and all. Sounds awesome! We head to the place and the moment we walk in, they put on the song “Eye of the Tiger” and hold up a sign saying “Fight 3 Rounds, Get a Free Drink!”
Well, with a combination of the energetic song and my stupidity, I immediately put my hand up, not even 15 seconds after walking into the arena. Perhaps I would have been better off to observe for a few rounds first? Pffft. Knowing what you’re getting yourself into for is for cowards. The referee gets me to jump into the ring. I soon regretted this choice so badly.
He needs a challenger for me. He asks the audience. No one moves. He asks again. A rather huge-looking dude puts his hand up. Uh oh, he doesn’t look fun to fight. Oh well, it’ll be fine… right? Wrong. There are some people on before us, so I get out of the ring and go over to the dude for a chat. At this point, I had never boxed in my life and had never really seen it on TV either.
I approach the guy and realize that this guy is freaking huge‼! I’m starting to second guess my decision. Not having had any experience boxing, I ask the guy, “So what are the rules of boxing? Where are you allowed to hit the person? Guessing you can’t hit below the belly button, right?” His strange response made my blood run cold.
Him: “You lie.” Me: “Huh?” Him: “You lie.” Me: “What? No. I’ve never done this before. I’m just here for some fun. So what’s the objective? I know you’re meant to hit the other person, but how do you know if you’ve won?” Him: “You lie. You’ve done this before.” Me: “What? Nah. Seriously mate, I’m just here for some fun. What are the rules?” Him: “You lie.”
At this point, I realize that apart from being absolutely huge, this guy is a total tosser too. I’m feeling less happy about my decision to fight this guy. I realize we’re not getting anywhere in the conversation, so I just say, “Righto, but just watch my leg because it’s covered in burns, and my back too from the sunburn.” No response.
By now, the guys before us have started their match. They are two Swedish guys and they are kicking the absolute daylights out of each other. I’ve never seen anything like it. This is full on! They successfully beat the living heck out of each other for the three rounds, then they leave battered and bruised. Next up is the Thai guys. Holy cow!
These guys looked like they were trying to end each other’s lives‼ At one point, one guy had the other on the ground and was repetitively kicking the heck out of him while he was lying on the ground and barely moving. The ref must not have liked this, as he picked up a large metal plate and whacked it down with all his might over the head of the guy dealing out the beating.
The guy dropped unconscious immediately. That sort of thing could easily end someone’s life… and that’s from the referee! “What the bloody heck have I got myself into?!?” The bout finishes, so it’s my turn. I sure as heck don’t want to be here, but hey, I’m in it now. They give me a head protector thing and gloves. No mouthguard. Darn.
I’m standing there gingerly. I’ve got a leg wrapped in bandages from the third-degree burns, the worst ever sunburn on my back, and I’m looking extremely frail due to the six kilograms I’d lost from the food poisoning. There are a few hundred people in the arena and everyone is chatting, as you do. The other guy steps in. People continue chatting.
He takes off his T-shirt. Sudden silence. This guy is freaking ripped. To date, he is still probably one of the most muscular people that I have ever seen in my life. I’m not exaggerating. HE WAS FREAKING HUGE‼! Here we have this absolute monster, and then there’s me who’s never boxed before in his life and in the worst health that I’ve ever been in.
If there was any doubt before as to whether or not I wanted to be here, it was pretty certain now. I really, really didn’t want to be in the ring right now. Oh well, I’m in it now. Can’t back out at this point without looking like a total idiot. Anyway, he knows I’ve never boxed before, so he’ll go soft… right? Wrong. The round starts. Dinnnggg.
He immediately runs to me and hits me with a combo to my face, followed by a huge right-hander that sends my head backwards, almost level with my shoulders, knocking me to the ground. The ref counts. I pick myself up. The ref keeps counting. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure he was trying to stop the fight, but I’m one determined little guy with more pride than brains.
I get up, only to be followed by another volley of blows to the face. It doesn’t stop there. Next up, I’m getting powerful kicks to the face, roundhouse kicks, jumping back kicks, flying sidekicks; all to the face. I haven’t yet hit him once. The first round ends. I go to my corner, feeling very much worse for the wear. Someone gives me some advice, “Doesn’t matter what you do, just keep your guard up.”
Then, the 30-second break is over. Round two. He gets straight into it again, using me as a human punching bag. I remember the advice, yet my arms hang at my sides and my face is taking the full beating. Does this jerk not realize by now that I wasn’t joking about never having boxed?!? The round continues on in this fashion, with me just getting the absolute brains kicked out of me.
My face is nicely smashed up and I’m spitting out blood. Come the third round, I haven’t touched him once and I think I should probably hit him. I know this means moving forward towards him, but my brain won’t allow me to do this. I want to get away from this guy, not get closer! Well, if I can’t step in closer to him, I need to just jump into him.
I wait till he’s back away from me, then with all my courage I run towards him, jump majestically into the air, and sail towards him with my fist extended, hoping to connect with him. It backfired spectacularly. He’s unfazed by this and just holds his ground. He punches out as I come down, his fist connecting with my flying face in the middle of the air.
The fight ended with me not touching him a single time. Even without knowing the rules, I could make the assumption that he won, not me. I ended up with two black eyes, smashed-up lips, and a broken nose. I can only hope that his knuckles were sore! As it turned out, my nose continued to have a constant slow bleed for the next three years; constantly filling my nose with dry blood that I’d have to pick out every two hours.
Plus, it also had a slow leak into the back of my throat; causing me to cough up blood regularly throughout the day for the following three years. Fortunately, that’s now stopped. Anyway, I got my free drink, but had a headache like you wouldn’t believe, so I couldn’t drink it anyway. Not one to hold a grudge, I go over to the dude to have a chat with him, but the jerk had already left with his girlfriend.
What a dufus! I don’t want this all to get in the way of a good night, so I clean all the blood off my face and go out feeling like quite a loser. Walking down the street, lots of people came up to me saying; “You’re the guy from the kickboxing, right?!?” “Yeeahhh…” I’d reply, embarrassed and dejected. They’d say: “That was awesome‼”
I’d reply: “What?? Really???” After a few such comments from various people, I recognized one of the Swedish guys from the early fight and he approached me. He comes up to me and says: “Can I have the honor of shaking your hand?” I said: “Um, yeah… but why?” He goes: “Because you are the absolute bravest person I’ve ever met. That was just unbelievable.”
I go: “Well not really. I’m not much of a fighter, I didn’t hit him once!” He goes: “Do you know who that was?” I go: “No.” His answer floored me. He goes: “That was the heavy-weight Tae-Kwon do champion of Sweden!” Not knowing how to react, I go: “Oh.” The Swedish guy then says: “He’s a total jerk. I can’t believe he did that to you. We want to teach him a lesson but no one will fight him. I’m a professional fighter and there’s no way I’d fight him. But you… you just went in there! I couldn’t believe it! That’s the bravest thing I’ve ever seen‼”
Hearing those words made that the proudest moment of my life. 61 kg and in a frail state, with no fighting experience, fighting a 90 kg + guy that even a crazy professional fighter wouldn’t fight. Getting some more swing in my step after hearing that, I continue my night and have a fun night out. Come 3:00 in the morning, I’m sitting on the beach with a few hippies in a circle playing guitar and singing Kumbaya.
After a while, I see a guy approaching in the dark. I realize “Oh, it’s the guy from the fight.” I go to invite him over, because for some strange bloody reason I don’t have a grudge against him. But as soon as he sees me approaching, he gets a look of panic in his eyes, turns around, and sprints up the beach in the opposite direction. He then trips over a rope, scrambles up again, and continues sprinting away.
What the heck?!? Did this guy think the hippies would gang up on him? Total Class A1 idiot. Still, it made for the proudest moment in my life.
50. Magic Bus
I’ve been all over the world, including a few times to South America. My mates and I have always felt as safe as we could possibly hope for given the places we traveled. However, it all came crashing down one day. We took a seemingly innocent bus ride across Guatemala; here is the story of what happened that day.
I will never forget a single one of the details. We are sitting on one of those miserable 10 to 12-hour bus rides that all backpackers eventually take when traveling across undeveloped nations. Half of the people on the bus are just like us, wide-eyed kids traveling from around the world and laughing about how great life is.
Then, halfway through the trip, the bus suddenly comes to a stop and three guys with machine guns come running onto the bus. At this point, we are all freaking out, thinking, “This is where we lose everything that we own.” However, it soon became clear that the three guys weren’t trying to swipe anything. They were yelling in Spanish and demanding to know if there were any Israeli backpackers on the bus.
As it turned out, there were four Israelis (two guys and two girls) on the bus. Not sure if it was dumb luck or if someone had tipped these guys off that they were on the bus, but this is where things started to get crazy. After some yelling and shoving, the two Israeli guys are dragged off the bus and we can only sit there looking out the window as these two guys are being shoved across a field and out of sight.
The two girls that have been left behind on the bus are having a full-blown meltdown and are crying as they watch their two guys get forcefully led away. Honestly, you can’t really imagine how helpless you can feel until something like this happens. About five minutes after these guys disappeared into the distance, we can hear the rapid fire of several shots.
Obviously now everyone on the bus has the image of the guys getting shot going through their minds and we are all on the verge of either crying or pooping ourselves, because what the heck can we do about it? We are in the middle of nowhere in Guatemala. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the fear that I felt that day or seen the pain and anguish that those two girls were displaying.
Another five or 10 minutes go by and suddenly out of nowhere the two Israeli guys, totally white-faced from fear, come running back onto the bus! We are all rejoicing as the bus driver starts to drive away and we can’t help but ask the two guys what the heck just happened?! The two guys explained the incredible story. They thought they were being led to their doom, when suddenly one of the rebels handed over one of the weapons to them.
Turns out these Guatemalan rebels had Israeli-issued machine guns and they kept jamming and the rebels didn’t know how to fix them. Knowing that most, if not all, Israeli men are required to serve in the military, the rebels knew these guys would know how to fix the guns when they jammed. The two guys fixed the machines, hence us hearing all the shots, and were sent back to the bus.
I don’t think we even said another word for the rest of the bus ride, we just sat there exhausted as if we had just run a marathon.