Greetings from the home base. It has been awhile since our last post and we are long overdue for an update and providing some closure to our trip notes. We have been back in the States for some time – regrouping and adjusting to our Seattle lifestyle – and of course, daydreaming about our next lap around the globe!
So here is the first of a few final posts on our travels until we head out again sometime in the future. We’ll tackle the ever popular subject of “What Went Wrong When You Were Traveling”. We have briefly covered this topic in an earlier post but continue to get questions on the topic so here we go!
Admittedly, our posts throughout the year tended to take a positive and happy tone – and why not? It was a pretty stress-free year of travel. We generally avoided “hot spots” so our itinerary took us to mostly safe spots. And the travel gods were with us; we never missed a flight or train, nor showed up to a hotel that didn’t have our reservations. We missed one bus and were forced to spend extra time in Megeve, France – not a bad place to be stuck.
But having said that, here are our top dozen or so challenging and negative experiences while traveling for the year:
The Thai Dog Bite Incident
By far this was the most challenging situation for us. During a couple weeks of sailing lessons in the Bay of Thailand, Susan was bitten by a stray beach dog. The irony of this happening while we were sailing was not lost on us. We encountered stray dogs while running or biking throughout the year – especially in Asia and South America. We had some uncomfortable encounters with security dogs in South Africa and aggressive farm dogs in Portugal. But we only ran into troubles in Thailand. The Thai dog put a 2 inch puncture wound in Susan’s calf. And because Thailand has one of the highest rates of rabies in the world, there was no choice to get Susan appropriate treatment which meant changing our agenda to ensure we would be in countries that had the vaccine. (Pooerer countries such as Laos, do not have a supply that you can rely on). But it turns out that Thailand actually has very good healthcare and clinics and a ton of the vaccine. We found the level of care there to be very good. It was also extremely cheap relative to the high cost of health care in the States.
A Nasty Wasp Sting in the Alps
While hiking through the French Alps on a trail that circumnavigated Mt Blanc, we left our windows open at our auberge one evening. It was a beautiful, crisp evening and the mountain air was wonderful. Around 3am, I woke up in incredible pain – just about at screaming level. Something had bitten me in the middle of my forehead. We are still not sure what it was but my assumption is some type of wasp. Being Europe, there was no ice available so not too much to do. I drained a bottle of whiskey after using a bit to clean out the wound on my head. Unsurprisingly, the next morning my forehead was swollen and I had a lump for a week. Not fun but as we have said, we didn’t run into many significant issues during our travels.
A Bad Slice of Pie in Pai
We loved visiting Northern Thailand – an addition to our Asia plans due to rescheduling because of the dog bite. Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, were great spots. Cheap, beautiful, exotic. The food was awesome. But we had a a bad meal in Pai, a remote backpacker mecca in the Thai hills. We both were violently ill for about 8 hours. Crazy ill. Unfortunately, the only way in and out of town is by bus – not the large Greyhounds with bathrooms – the mini-van variety packed with 13 passengers. We had a 6 hour ride with one bathroom stop the next morning – not ideal for those suffering from a bad case of food poisoning. We ate as much loperamide as we had and hoped for the best.
The Curious Indian Yoga Adventure
We were excited about a week at a yoga “retreat” that we booked in Goa after we spent a few weeks cycling in Southern India. We thought it would be just the way to unwind and stretch out some of the tired muscles. We booked through The Clymb which we used with much success to find some trips in South America including our Inca Trail hike and some trekking in Guatemala and Colombia. But we didn’t fully vet this one and were a bit oversold. The week turned out to be a bit of a gong show. Our beach accommodations were in an apartment block a 10min drive from the beach. The yoga was OK but outside next to a busy street in the morning. Our very nice Italian yogi was fired for some reason during the week. We had evening yoga sessions on a beach that was nice but a bit of a drive and filled with stray dogs which put Susan on edge. We also had a crazy dog staying with us at the accommodations that would constantly bark at us every time it saw us – which was often. The included massages were at some shady massage parlor (we passed on these after the first one). The owner got in a very heated argument with the staff one day that cast a very uncomfortable air about the place for the rest of the week. 1st world problems and complaints for sure but it was a wacky, uncomfortable few days under the Goa sun.
Hot and Bothered in Nicaragua
Dang it was hot in Nicaragua. Really, really hot and oppressive. We booked 2 weeks in the country without a lot of research and figured we would fill in the blanks when we got there. But things didn’t work out well for us. We found a great hotel in Granada – the main entrance city of the country that we enjoyed a lot but the rest of the visit was painful. My kite-boarding lessons were canceled because of lack of wind. We did some paddle boarding in Lake Nicaragua, but the extended heat wave dropped the water levels extremely low and most bays were a steaming stew of algae. We had to bail from a eco lodge because it was crazy hot – and too hot to sleep without AC and no power at night to run a fan. We booked into an Airbnb instead which was nice enough and complete with AC. But unexplained in the Airbnb listing, running the AC would cost approximately another $100-200 per day. In hindsight, we would have much preferred to skip the country and spend much more time in Guatemala which we loved.
Avoiding Elephants while Cycling in India
Biking for a couple weeks in Southern India was an incredible experience and a full-on assault on all the senses but it was not without its challenges… and obstacles. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are filled with beautiful rural spaces with all sorts of exotic animals including tigers, elephants, and bears. With some experienced wilderness guides, we got to get close to a few in Periyar National Park. While cycling however, our local guides were a bit less experienced in the wilds and more adept at urban pursuits and the arts of persuasion. They were so persuasive, in fact, that they talked a number of soldiers to allow us to cycle through a tiger and elephant reserve. We didn’t appreciate the gravity of our adventure until we tried to exit the park and were accosted by a number of upset and frightened military officers at the other end of the reserve. We were all lined up against a wall and were subjected to a number of stern warnings and reprimands. Admittedly, we didn’t follow the whole conversation because it was not in English and there were 3 wild and angry elephants a few hundred yards from our discussions (elephants kill many in their area every year). We were lucky to get our bikes and guides back…and avoid the elephants.
Disgusted in Pataya
Two hours south of Bangkok is one of the worst cesspools in the world. Pataya is a thriving city that grew from a US air force base back in WWII. It is now one of the sex capitals of the world filled with Western lowlife sexpats. Seedy, shady, filled with the lowest of the lows – it is a place to avoid – there is really no reason to be there. We were based in a marina 20 miles south of the city and well out of the grime. But after Susan was bitten by the stray dog, we were forced to hop a bus every day for a week to visit a clinic for daily cleaning of her wound (you can’t stitch an animal bite because of infection). While the clinic and personal were great, the trip there was always an adventure and the clinic was always filled with drunk Russians with head wounds or broken bones. Stay away. (The silver lining was catching an all female Black Sabbath cover band in the city center).
The Epic Battle with Fed-Ex
I will reiterate again that these are mostly 1st world problems here so we took them all with stride. As strategy that many extended travelers take is to have the home team ship clothes and gear to them in certain locations so they don’t have to lug them around the world. We spent most of our time in warm weather following the sun but we had some climbing and cooler weather hiking plans in South America so we had friends ship us a box of appropriate gear to our location in Buenos Aires. That was a mistake and Argentina is probably the worst country in South America to try and ship belongings – their imports rules are brutal. We spent hundreds of dollars and many hours trying to secure our box from customs. We eventually ran out of time and gave up but we did spend months calling and e-mailing FedEx for resolution and were absolutely shocked by their support and customer service. We are firmly in DHL and UPS camps now.
A Week Delay at the Cusco Airport
Cusco is a great city. It is the gateway to Inca Trail and the Sacred Valley as well as many other locations in Peru. But the airport is tiny, crowded and stressed. The good news is they are building a new international airport that will allow folks to fly directly to the city and not requiring a transfer in Lima. But unfortunately, they are developing it in the middle of the beautiful Sacred Valley. Progress. A day before we were set to leave, a plan skidded off the runway and closed the airport for a number of days (no one was hurt). We spent 8 hours at the airport because communication and crisis management is not so organized in Peru. We didn’t mind the extra few days in the city but we spent another two full days waiting and expecting earlier flights out. All that time in Peru and we still never managed to eat a BBQ’d guinea pig so we definitely have another visit in our future.
Bumped off the Bike in Cartagena
Cartagena is a beautiful Colombia beach town with much history – a Spanish outpost, a pirate’s lair, the setting of famous literature. Young backpackers love the crazy beach scene that the offshore islands there offer. After a couple months in Peru and Colombia, we enjoyed the wide streets and ocean boardwalk for early morning runs and evening strolls. One day, we decided to grab a couple cruiser bikes from our hotel and take a short ride to the beach. On a one-way street, half-way to our destination, a car pulled out from the left on one-way road and ran into me. Luckily, it was a relatively low-speed incident and the only thing that got banged up was the bike. After some shouting in English, I noticed the two occupants were dressed in military garb so we just quietly went on our way.
A Domestic Dispute Intervention in Cusco
More drama from Cusco. A minor incident for sure but as we have stated before, we had minor bumps along our way. When out for an evening stroll on the outskirts of the city, we encountered a couple young folks in a heated debate. The man started to get physical with a women and young child – kicking and punching. With others, we expressed our concerns and demanded that he stop. The women took the opportunity to leave quickly but the man followed her – continuing to berate her. We followed them for 15 minutes or so until we arrived a square with policemen and we were able to get them involved.
Avoiding the Duel in Bogota
We did have some concerns about visiting Colombia. We were both well read on the subject of drug violence during the 80’s and 90’s. Our preconceived notions were completely changed after spending a month there and the country ended up on our top 5 list for sure. But the first week-end in Colombia, we spent a couple nights in a dingy part of Bogota. Not a big deal but not the most comfortable environment. During an afternoon stroll, I encountered a scene that was straight out of a James Bond film. A motorcyclist jumped off his bike, pulled out a handgun and ran right by me chasing another man. I didn’t hear any shots so it may have been just a bluff charge.
The Messy Aftermath of a Bike and Truck Collision in Uruguay
We had a great visit in Uruguay. There is not much going on there but there are a couple hopping cities and a surf scene on a few beaches. We rented a car and had a great road trip around the country for a week or so. But on the last day and on the way to the airport, we encountered a gruesome scene on the highway. A tractor trailer ran over a couple road cyclists – it was a quite a mess and a bit unnerving as we were only weeks away from a couple of months of cycling later in the year.
We were both surprised as we compiled this list that many of the incidents occurred in South America. We loved our time there and ended up spending three months exploring the region when our original plans didn’t even include a visit. We’ll be back.