I was writing some comments on a fellow bloggers post recently and it got me thinking about some of the misadventures I have had travelling over the years. When writing a travel blog you normally focus on all the good things that you have seen, eaten and done, but over time it can be quite amusing to think about all the mishaps, near misses, accidents and disasters that have happened along the way too!
Here are some of my more memorable recollections where things did not quite go right……
UNITED KINGDOM 1994
On my first day in London, August 1994 prior to the first IRA ceasefire on August 31st, 1994 there were IRA bomb threats in “The Tube” (metro system) that basically closed the system down. This caused chaos and ultimately resulted in me walking around instead of taking the train and getting hopelessly lost and drenched by rain in the city. This was my first ever trip overseas! I almost wanted to go home straight away…luckily it didn’t deter me and 18 years later I am still travelling around the world….no terrorist is ever going to stop me doing what I love!
The bomb threats turned out to be just that and there were no bombs but these things have to be taken seriously as the IRA had exploded many in the UK before. Getting lost actually created it’s own adventure and apart from a deep voice beckoning me down a dark alleyway “hey mon, you want some drugs?” and being drenched I saw a lot on the streets of London!
The adventures of backpacking around Egypt with no agenda:
Bloody hell not terrorism again!
As I arrived in Cairo a bomb went off killing about 6 German tourists (again an incident on my first day in a country!), then a few weeks later at the Temple of Hatshepsut nearly 90 people were killed in a machine gun attack….I had been there just 2 days before. Sometimes timing and sheer luck are on your side. This was a long time before 9/11 and terrorism has always frequently been around but many people kind of think it is a more recent occurrence. In the case of these incidents people outside of the country knew a lot more about it than those of us backpacking around. My family and friends had a traumatic couple of days before I found a phone where I could call home (by the time I found any details on this I was out camping in the desert and heard about it from a fellow traveller). These days this type of thing would be plastered across the internet, newspapers etc but even though it wasn’t that long ago mass communication was only in it’s early stages.
He gestured to cut my throat….
Walking through a village on the outskirts of Luxor, minding my own business, a local ran towards me, I thought here we go another person going to ask for Baksheesh. Instead he did something quite surprising, he started to make a gesture that he was going to cut my throat! As he got closer he soon realised I was much bigger than he was, and when I stood my ground, with a very angry look on my face and made the same gesture back at him he suddenly hightailed it out of there! Crazy stuff! I wasn’t going to hang around though just incase he came back with the rest of the village and burning torches!
“Australi, not Israeli” and why a Kangaroo impersonation possibly saved my life!
At a road side stop in the middle of nowhere deep in the Sinai Desert a discussion with some local Arabs suddenly got out control and quite heated, I said I was “Australi” and they thought I said “Israeli“, everyone around the table jumped to their feet aggressively, I stood up to defend myself (once again I was much taller and bigger than them luckily), but they were going on about me being Israeli! I soon realised what had gone wrong, so I impersonated a Kangaroo hopping about! Suddenly everyone was laughing and the situation was defused…phew!
After travelling in Jordan, I returned to Egypt by high-speed ferry to the port of Nuweiba. The customs official at the port said their was an issue with my visa (I knew there wasn’t as I had visited the Egyptian consulate in Aqaba, Jordan the day before) but for a “fee” the problem could be rectified (i.e. pay me some baksheesh). I flatly refused and caused a scene! It wasn’t that much money but I had very few Egyptian Pounds on me, just enough to get a mini-bus to Mt. Sinai and for accommodation/food. So he grabbed me and locked me up in a caged cell!
I sat in that damn cell fuming for about 2 hours, each time he asked if I would pay I flatly refused! After a while I realised I was not getting out of there in a hurry and started to have thoughts about the movie “Midnight Express“. OK, OK time to pay….hated it but it got me out of there! Unfortunately I then only had enough money for a bus to Cairo (back then ATM’s were not readily available there), so I missed out on Mt. Sinai (a major regret). As I was sitting on the bus waiting to leave the customs guy got on board…I thought are you F***ing serious, what more can you want? Turned out he was going home and caught the bus to the next town or whatever….he just smiled at me as he walked past!
Struck by an AK-47
Back in Cairo, after the terrorist attack at the Temple of Hatshepsut most tourists had left the country so you really stood out as a foreigner. As an outcome of this soldiers were out on the streets and were really keeping a lookout to protect us. One saw me looking for an ATM or a bank to get some cash, in his haste to help me he ran over at full tilt calling out to me. As I stopped to turn around, he slammed into me striking me with the AK-47 he was carrying! Ouch! Luckily the thing didn’t go off, but I had heard a rumour that many of these soldiers didn’t actually have any bullets in their guns due to one falling asleep on duty and shooting himself in the foot!
When this happened an Egyptian businessman walked over, yelled at the soldier and asked in perfect English if I was OK and what was happening. We both explained it was all fine, he sent the soldier off, then escorted me to a bank, and personally spoke to the bank staff telling them to look after me! Yay, I thanked him and I had money again!
The Hissing Women of Alexandria
For the first couple of days in Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt all these attractive local girls kept hissing at me when I walked past. Again this was after the terrorist attacks and there were few foreigners about. I was starting to get a complex, why did they hate me so? Later in a conversation with a local I found out something quite startling, that hissing apparently meant they liked me! Ha! Something I wish I had known previously!!!
Despite all these misadventures in Egypt it was a classic journey and for an archeology and history buff a trip of a lifetime!
Broke and Broken!
I was in Flores, Guatemala and had spent a great day in the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. The next day I wanted to take a boat trip up a river to an isolated Mayan ruin in the jungle (can’t remember the name of it today), but I did not have enough cash to pay for this trip and I could not get any money out of the one and only ATM machine in Flores, nor would banks accept the ample Mexican currency I had on me (oh for some US dollars)! I only had enough cash to get a ride in a mini-bus and return to Tikal, which was OK as there were more remote areas I had not yet explored. So off I went to Tikal again. One brief moment up on the “Bat Temple” spelt near disaster for me…..I slipped on some moss and fell over 6 foot down on steps and rubble, smashing my hand, arms and legs on the way!
When I hit the bottom, although stunned I noticed one finger was pointing the wrong way and I was in a lot of pain. I tried to snap the finger back in place but it would not go. I went into shock! A German couple helped me get up and I sat somewhere with my hand in a bag of ice and waited for a while for a mini-bus to make the 2 hour trip back to Flores and get to a hospital. Now Central American hospitals are not where you want to be but I had to go!
Upon arrival I went to an emergency room, blood and mess all over the floor, this didn’t look good. I was ushered into a treatment room and before I knew it I was having needles prodded into my hand, fingers being snapped back etc and a brace was on my hand and wrist. Turned out I had dislocated the finger, broken a knuckle and snapped a ligament along with other minor injuries to my body! Luckily a camera in my cargo shorts pocket took the brunt of the fall or I would have possibly broken a leg too! The drugs they gave me wiped me out for a few hours, next thing I know I am in my hotel (somehow in a daze I had told the German couple where I was staying). They came to my room to see how I was, I will always be thankful to them. Unfortunately I never got their details or even got a chance to buy them a beer!
The Guatemalan Doctor could not speak English and I could not speak Latin Spanish but he did a good job. It took six months of seeing a specialist back in Australia and doing rehabilitation before my hand would work properly again, but they praised the work of that Doctor and said I would not need an operation to repair the ligament, it had healed itself. Amazing! Unfortunately this incident cut short my trip in Guatemala and Mexico (it was too difficult to go climbing around old ruins and temples, plus the pain was too great and I didn’t want to use the painkiller prescription they gave me in Guatemala as I had been told back then many experimental drugs were tested in Central America – upon return to the US before going back to Australia I went to a Pharmacy with that prescription, they got out a huge book and could not find it listed anywhere….hmmmm), but what an adventure (I managed to get a travel article published on this incident in the Herald Sun Newspaper from Melbourne, Australia in 1999)!
My girlfriend at the time did not want to eat street food in Chang Mai in Northern Thailand so we ate in the hotel. Big mistake as I always eat street food (you can see if it fresh etc). A few hours later I got violently ill, for 3 months I was incredibly sick with full on severe salmonella poisoning (tends to kill small children and the elderly). Back in Australia I had to be put on the Health Board Warning List (lucky I am not a Chef or I would not have been able to work) and had to take tests every 2 weeks for those 3 months. I was so sick and lost almost a quarter of my body weight in a very short time. It took 3 years to fully get over that and I have had digestive irritation ever since due the damage done to my internals (thankfully minimal today – time heals all)! The joys of travel hey?!
Bulls on Parade
We were about to set off in Mokoro’s (dug-out log canoes) into the Okavango Delta for a night of wild camping and wildlife viewing. I got a call of nature and ducked off to the nearby trees. I came back around the corner to be faced by a random bull that had wandered into the area and the rest of my group on the other side of it. He looked pissed and charged at me! I grabbed my bag which happened to have a sleeping bag in it, and quickly put that between myself and the bull, he hit it with full force but the bag absorbed most of the shock (knocked me back a fair way though)!
Everyone on the other side was laughing at me! Ha yeah big joke…suddenly the bull turned and went for them! So funny, people running all over the place, jumping in canoes, back into our truck etc. Ha when the shoe was on the other foot they were not so brave! At least I stood the damn thing down…El Toro! Unfortunately one of the local canoe poleman up in the truck threw a huge rock or something at it, hitting it in the head and stunning the poor thing. We all got in the canoes and got out of there. The next day upon our return it was there again but we all gave it a wide berth!
Nearly drowning in the Zambesi!
My mate and I had never been white water rafting before but hey this sounds like a great idea. Lets do it on the Zambesi River in Zambia where half the rapids are classed as Grade 5 (Grade 6 is apparently “unrunnable”)! End result boat flipped many times, but on the worst one I remember being hit by my friend from the other side as the raft flipped, his helmet smashed into mine and his full body weight dragged me under the water, I swallowed a lot of river water. I came to the surface coughing and gasping, but was immediately being kicked by others who were panicking, then being hit by oars and swallowing a lot of water again! Other people were trapped under the raft. It was freaking chaos!
I had enough being kicked in the nether regions and struck in the face and despite the guides pleas I let go. Ah peacefully drifting down the river….until BAM! Slammed into underwater rocks, my arm was bleeding (um ok there are crocodiles in this river) and I had a huge lump on it….luckily not broken. Suddenly I was being dragged into another raft with another belly full of water. What a nightmare! I eventually got back to my own raft with my friends, they were all pretty badly shaken up. We were cautious to avoid the 3 massive whirlpools that were next – not sure on their correct name but to me they were the “3 Widows of Death“! Having said all that it was awesome fun even if I did nearly drown! A number of people were quite sick a day later from swallowing the water, luckily I avoided that mess!
Terrorism Once Again and a Killer Dust Storm…….Sigh!!!
On my first full day in India I woke up to find that up to 8 terrorist bombs went off in Jaipur. Many people died or were injured as the bombs on bicycles were mostly in market places – a terrible event. Bloody terrorists! I was in New Delhi a long way from Jaipur but I was going there a few days later. They put a curfew in place in Jaipur and security was heightened around India. Once again I was in the right place at the right time….or was I?
Later that day I was exploring New Delhi when a great windy dust storm hit the city, closely followed by a heavy rain storm. The sky went dark so quickly. Myself and about 20 locals all ran for shelter in a government security shelter. Rain was coming in sideways, all of us were more or less drenched and freezing!!!! Electrical wires were sparking all over the place – yet strangely we were all laughing! It was a pretty funny situation all these people under a tin roof and the streets around us in chaos with sparks flying!!! Later in the day it was sunny and hot as hell! It turned out to be the worst dust storm in 10 years and sadly at least 5 people were killed by it in New Delhi that day! Again luck was on my side I guess and luckily no further terrorist activity occurred within India during my visit.
Floods in Hoi An
Hoi An is a very nice town on the coast of Central Vietnam. It has lots of old buildings, temples etc. and is set along a river and close to the sea. Although it hadn’t rained all day everyday, some of the streets of the old town were flooded, one I walked along was high and dry in the morning, upon my return in the afternoon it was under water! I was glad my hotel wasn’t right on the river, although later that night the water had crept up to and past the hotel (not very deep though – waist to chest deep in some parts – in 2007 it was up to 2 metres deep)! It turned out that the nearby hydroelectric dam was full from all the rain, so the Government simply opened the gates and flooded everything down river…..I woke up the next morning to water at the doorstep of the hotel (nice of them to warn the town)!!!
To get around the hotel arranged for boats to ferry guests to/from areas of the town that were flood free (this was a strange highlight of my stay – boats everywhere, streets flooded – quite surreal). It was quite the adventure the whole experience! The next day the flood water had receded to half the level and was dropping fast. I had planned to go further south to another town, but alas heavy rain and floods in that province has resulted in drownings etc. So I decided to exercise caution and go north to Danang where it was not flooded but more of that in a future post.
These are just some of the things that have happened over the years, but no matter what these types of unexpected incidents add a touch of adventure to travel. As the Egyptians say “That which does not kill you only makes you stronger“. All said and done in all my travels around the world I have only ended up in hospital once and only gotten really, really sick once too, so not too bad at all! I look forward to what might happen on my next journey! 😉