By the looks of glossy travel magazines and flashy vacation websites, things can only go right on the road. But anyone who has practiced the art of travel knows it’s not always lollipops and rainbows.
The staff at The Travel Word has had its fair share of travel mishaps. But we’ve also had travel moments that have gone full circle – past ‘bad’ and all the way around to ‘good’ again. We found that some of our richest travel stories started with a mini-crisis and ended with a mega-experience.
Dog Teeth and a Wedding Tale
The sun was setting, the air was cool enough and I felt up for a lazy stroll before my evening cocktail. According to the faded sign, my bungalow was only 1 kilometre down the road, tucked away on a shaded patch of Ong Lang beach on Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island. Ah, vacation! I thought, as I waved goodbye to my motorbike driver and set off down the darkening road.
By the time I heard the first low growl coming from somewhere between the trees, it was already too late to call him back. “Nice doggy!” I repeated as I shuffled along, the air feeling both cold and sticky. Quickening my pace down the dusty road, the growling soon grew louder.
Turning to see what trailed me, I caught a first glimpse of my canine companions. Four angry guard animals licked their lips at my heels. “Aww, sweet puppies!” I think I cooed, wondering if my pulse had stopped.
Why hadn’t she taken a motor taxi? people might ask upon discovering my corpse. I wondered how the newspapers would put it: Terror in the tropics as tourist is torn apart. Or: Dogs dismember ditsy American girl.
Suddenly I heard the sweet sound of karaoke singing. The music seemed to be coming from the beach. Stumbling through the bushes without a flashlight I made my way toward the thumping beats of a house party, tripping over vines and coconut shells. Not far off, I could hear the angry barks of the dogs that still pursued me.
A festive celebration greeted me when I emerged from the trees, red-faced and covered in leaves. Everywhere there were people dancing and shouting and having a seriously good time. Three young Vietnamese guys staggered in my direction. The two dudes on the sides were barely supporting the middle one, who called out to me above the music. “Welcome to my wedding!” he slurred in perfect English as somebody chased the dogs away and I was handed a cup of rice wine.
Although I wasn’t crazy about almost being ripped to shreds by angry dogs, I was feeling 100 percent better by the end of the party. Sometimes getting lost isn’t such a bad thing and it makes for good story. Thirty years from now the couple will still be saying: “Remember that funny American girl who crawled out of the jungle with burrs in her hair – the one who crashed our wedding?”
~ Laurel Angrist, Editor, The Travel Word
Reservation Dining near Taos, New Mexico
On a recent road trip through southern Colorado and New Mexico, two friends and I took a wrong turn while looking for a restaurant in the town of Taos. The town ended abruptly, giving way to a narrow country highway. We passed a casino and realised we had stumbled upon a Native American reservation.
Stomachs growling for lunch, we were ready to turn around. Then, on the side of the road, we saw a homemade sign that said, Arts center. Food. Curious, we pulled over. On the patio of a house was a food cart manned by the family who lived there. It reminded me of many street-food experiences I’ve had travelling abroad, and of nothing I’d seen in the United States before.
The menu was a series of paper plate signs announcing the specialties. Frito Pie! Fried Tacos! We ordered one of everything. While we waited for dough to fry, a small girl gave us a tour of her living-room gallery and some of her yarn-and-Popsicle-stick art. Finally we sat down at a front-lawn picnic table with heavy plates of reservation-style fare in front of us.
The woman who had cooked told us about their food stand. “We show up at a lot of events, like sports games. This is how we fundraise for ourselves.”
So what does Frito Pie taste like? It tasted like Frito corn chips and canned bean chilli, with lettuce, tomato and shredded cheese for garnish. It tasted pretty good but very unhealthy. It tasted like the daily life of one of the most overlooked minority groups in the United States. It tasted like a very eye-opening road-trip experience.
~ Cynthia Ord, Newsletter Editor, The Travel Word
A Croatian Bus Trip, Un-ruined
I realised I’d made a mistake when the bus I was on pulled into the coach station. The same coach station I’d left some 45 minutes before.
The plan had been simple: I knew the hostel was on the other side of town and I knew that this bus went across town. All I’d needed to do was get on board and sit there until the bus came to the end of its route. Then I’d jump off, find myself a decent bunk and relax for the evening. Lovely.
What I didn’t account for was that the bus would turn around and come back via a slightly different route – just different enough to give the impression that it was continuing its transit, rather than returning to the bus station. In hindsight, the five-minute pause where the driver stopped the bus, opened the doors and looked expectantly at me in the rear view should have tipped me off.
So that’s how I found myself on the wrong side of Zadar, Croatia. The sun was going down and I hadn’t a kuna to my name. Well, I had notes, but to a bus driver that’s as good as not having any cash at all.
I decided to walk it instead and, as I soon realised, Zadar is a good place for a walk. A really, really nice place for a walk, especially if you’re a history geek like I am. It wasn’t long before I stumbled across the Kopnena Vrata – the old gate to the city – a massive and impressive stone edifice that straddled the road.
I pushed on, following the old streets as they led northward through the town, and somehow emerged from a throng of buildings into a Roman forum. It was ruined, of course, but so many recognisable structures remained. Huge chunks of masonry and ancient pillars covered the square.
I later found out that the forum is one of Zadar’s best-known attractions, but if it wasn’t for that botched bus trip I never would have seen it at all.
~ Paul Tavner, Developer, The Travel Word
Happy Homelessness on the Streets of Amsterdam
Last summer, some friends and I rushed headlong into the adventures of bustling city life in Amsterdam. CouchSurfing being the roof provider of choice, we sent out several requests and hoped for the best. As it turned out, the chances of finding an Amsterdam host in the high season are equal to those of finding a bank note on Main Street.
Given the situation, an offer to rent a private and central apartment cheaper than a hostel was a no-brainer. To soften the blow a bit, we did what any budget-conscious travelling students with an appetite for adventure would do – spent the first night out, wandering around the enchanting streets until dawn.
The next morning, we moved in. We loved what we saw with our swollen, half-closed eyes! An authentic, Smurf-sized studio that looked like the people who lived there had just left five minutes ago. It made us instantly feel like locals and became our base camp for the next two nights – until we got a message saying we had to move out. Immediately! Reasons unknown.
Fortunately, a different CouchSurfing host in Eindhoven (our intermediate stop on the way home) was willing to take us on earlier. We hitched a ride and met a bunch of wonderful people we spent great time with, but a good night’s sleep was still not on the menu. The apartment was located right above a nightclub on the longest party street in the Netherlands. We felt the low frequencies thumping in our chests with the force of heavy construction machinery until 3 a.m.
In the end, coming home felt quite nice. Would I exchange our adventures for a comfortable, clean, air-conditioned, incredibly dull and expensive hotel room? Never!
~ Jakub Riziky, Iintern, The Travel Word