I’m currently writing this, on a flight from Brasilia to Manaus, with TAM Airlines. With the recent devastation with flights across the world with travel, it made me wonder about the good and bad things when backpacking. How many times, have you heard people, who had an initial worry of travelling a country, that it’s ‘completely safe’. Yet, I think for them to say this, is quite selfish on their own experiences. I think people who say this, are relating to their own experience, their own relief. Their relief is through what began with their initial worries, only to be overcome with the happiness of travelling, and how their experience went unscathed throughout. This is luck. It can happen to anyone bad luck when travelling. However, the ones who prepare, have a mental toughness about them or are just naturally lucky, overcome this.
I’ve been ‘travelling’ away from the UK now for almost 2 years. I’m currently 7 weeks into my trip into South America. This exploring trip isn’t finished, I still have 5.5 months to go, or thats the plan anyway. I was living in Australia for a year, so I was really emigrating, and not moving from place to place. Given these two different continents and their different experiences, I thought I’d again reflect back on my 9 months backpacking in Asia, and fill you in on some things that you may or may not know what things I had to overcome. Some of you will appreciate these difficulties, some of you may think there are worse things to happen, and maybe some of you may think there are worse situations to write about and may not declare these ‘tough’ times, given my whole reason for being in these current situations in the first place. Some of you may have had similar situations also.
Well, let me tell you, it’s easier to be a tough guy, in his/her own comfortable surroundings, with disciples routing your every move or word, doing the same thing, most days of your life – than it is to be on the road and to have to meet these kind of challenges. Why..?Let me explain after.
Here are several things throughout 10 different countries, in Asia, that were tough for me.
That first sketchy taxi ride in a complete foreign country – Thailand.
Okay, may not be high on the list, but I wouldn’t underestimate that feeling of discomfort when you arrive in a new country, for me, alone, knowing little about. You have all of your belongings and you are wired from a 20 hour journey, you want re-assurances at that point, you want your accommodation. My driver was a bit funny coming from Bangkok, his taxi not exactly in tip top condition and had no seat-belts. He didn’t know the address and had to ask someone. For a first timer, yeah even I got worried.
You are out of your comfort zone when you first arrive somewhere for the first time, this may be a far fetched feeling now for myself, but you have to make the effort and make friends. It’s easier than some people think, but you only know that when you get yourself out there, on your own and make it happen. This was another one for Thailand for me.
Motorbike crash – Koh Phangan
Having little experience on scooters/bikes, despite me riding them prior to this, I crashed down a sandy lane on this rotten road island. The only upside was I knew I was coming off when I was skidding, so I jumped off before I could crash on impact with the bike. I had a few burns and scratches, one notably the back of my right shoulder blade, which I have one and my favourite tattoo. The mayan calendar. The burn was quite deep and actually scratched off about an inch of the tattoo. The crash was the more scary part. Mentally, it shook me up and wasn’t the same on bikes until months after. I wasn’t great balance wise. I was given good advice from travellers and have learnt from it, but yeah, it was a wake-up call. Sorry mam, I didn’t tell you for obvious reasons.
Waterfall slip – Again, in Thailand, this time north of Pai.
This may sound clumsy, but it could have happened to anyone. I was attempting to short jump across a small waterfall, just like my friends had, when the rock had become more slippery due to the amount of wet feet crossing it. I slipped, but quickly thinking, lifting my heel up in a stop position to the next rock to keep me from falling further down. I would have certainly hurt myself, at the time, i thought alot worse. I couldn’t climb up due to the smooth formations of the rock and had a good friend pull me up. Doesn’t happen to many people, but I managed to overcome that. Lesson learnt.
Falling for someone you never thought possible, and being hurt so quickly – Laos.
Some of you may know who this is. Unfortunately things happen and we are not on speaking or contactable terms. But the vulnerability of us solo travellers is alot more than people at home or travelling together. I fell for someone so hard, everything I wanted and had in common, only for the universal rules of travelling to break that. We were both technically in the wrong, and still no true truce has been made (despite my persistent efforts!). As travellers know, its more intense when you like someone, 2 days is 2 weeks, everything you do, is together. Anyway, I know its happened to some of you before, and thats part of the life on the road. I’ve wrote about this before, so I won’t go into detail, but hell, its a tricky game, that takes you by surprise that you really don’t know how to react, well, at least the first time it happens.
Poverty – Vietnam
In Asia, and across the world, poverty is rife in developing countries. In Nha Trang, a family of a young women and three children were on the street, one of them barely a year old. My natural consciousness to help people came out. I bought water, fruit and other food for them, lying on the pathway. I wanted them to have a bed for the night, only to see my offer of 100 dollars declined by a local hostel owner. This was hard to see. Say what you want about homeless people in Asia, whatever the situation, It’s tough, and it’s a realisation that making a difference cannot be done overnight.
Wearing a politically motivated T Shirt in Myanmar
I don’t care what people may think, it takes some balls to do this. My own doing however. I was wearing a T-Shirt supporting the National League of Democracy, supporting the Burmese people. Local government workers such as police and banks, were against this. Nothing happened or came close to, but you do hear stories and I’m sure people against this would have looked at a ‘tourist’ or ‘foreigner’ and definitely disapproved. Also, police can have their own rules in continents like Asia.
Being Sick in Myanmar.
Myanmar has no general hospitals. Only 3 months in, I fell sick hard, instantly thinking mosquitos and their diseases they carry had got the better of me. Turned out it was Flu/ Run down and Food Poisoning. 3 days I was in bed in Inle Lake, which all but took my time up there. Strong Burmese antibiotics knocked me out. I even called a doctor out due to my worry. Again, first time, Myanmar being Myanmar and not accompanied with the western facilities some other places in Asia preserve, I was natural to worry. An experience to forget but definitely stronger from!
Stephen Ashton, NYE – Koh Phangan , Thailand.
This tragic and devastating event took place in the early hours of 2013, in Thailand. A fellow Brit who i didn’t know, was shot accidentally in the side, after Thai Gangs had let loose on Haad Rin Beach. My involvement was like other fellow travellers, carrying Stephen to get help, not knowing what had happened. We thought he had been stabbed. We carried him to the nearest clinic, still awake I believe at this point. I don’t want to go into further details from what I saw due to respect to him and his family, but unfortunately Stephen passed away soon after despite medical attempts. Something obviously I’ll never forget witnessing. No-one can prepare you for this. RIP brother x
First entry into Malaysia, KL
A 4am landing into the capital from the Indonesia made my efforts to get to my hostel even more stronger. Tired and into an unknown country, I was pulled over in a taxi, byt several men on scooters. These guys, wearing no uniform, claiming to be cops. They insisted on inspecting every little item I had including alot my phone, camera, passport etc, keeping hold of them for two long for my liking. Even my taxi driver was worried. My initial reaction was to either run, or assault, both of which would have been stupid, as I would no belongings given their control of them. Even for me, I thought I was getting done, or least bribed or robbed. Turns out, nothing happened. I still don’t know HOW or why it didn’t happen. This unfornately gave a bad taste of Malaysia for me from the start, somewhere I won;t be naive and think its a bad place, just when I was there, it wasn’t my best times travelling.
Three’s a crowd in India.
Travelling with a fellow Brit, a journey from Mumbai to the North West of India, Rajakstan, things became a little sketchy also. First, the guy I was travelling with, his wallet mysteriously went missing, only for our insisting commotion and discussions with the driver it magically re-appeared again, (our thoughts someone took it, then put it back after realising this wouldnt blow over). A local Indian climbing up to a German girls sleep cabin’s , whom at that time we didn’t know, and acting as if he were her boyfriend. Only for me and my travel buddy to drag him down in shock and disgust to prevent what would have potentially been a invasion of someones space nevermind what else. Toppled off with the dope smoking driver, hammering the roads more than I’ve ever seen at the time we had 16 hours to go, that even then, at that point after close to 50 bus journeys in Asia, I felt unsafe. It was that bad, and given everything else happened, we got off at the next stop point, arriving luckily an other travel destination we could explore. Phew.
Close to fists in India.
Now travelling with this same German girl and an Irish girl, we had found a spot to have some $2 rum in Pushkur, where it is illegal to drink alcohol. A small bunch of backpackers including ourselves, happily entered a Indian bans bar/home. His creepily insistence on walking my travel girls home after they wanted to sleep, came with a warning from me. He didn’t take kindly to this, even though it was clearly obvious I said it in a friendly/joker way (an example of loss in communication, clashes of cultures), forseen this guy wanting to fight me. My reaction was a calm and witty one, offering him out and knew I had the better of him, if unfortunately it would come down to it, only for us to be separated. His threats and my realisation was that I was a foreigner, he wasn’t, and soon I could have been the one on the backfoot. Doesn’t matter if you can fight, or hard, or you think you are, many would keep their mouth shut in somewhere like India, and maybe I should have been less happy to oblige with what might have escalated, but to have the confidence and to do that, well that’s kind of tough in itself. Maybe a bit stupid too I’ll admit.
Sagada Caves, Philippines .
Even though by now I was 8 months into my travels, I had another unfortunate slip on the way back to the entrance of the caves. Despite me and my guide, climbing depths in the Sagada caves which would be illegal in many places in the world, and me being barefoot, I managed to slip on some very smooth (again) rock. Luckily I was only a couple feet high and landed in water. But the quick cry of my Filipino guide with the word ‘Shit!’, didn’t give me any confidence in that split second realisation of my fall. Despite this, we had climbed to rock formations which were alot tricker, including being neck deep with rocks inches from our heads and climbing through and back up this cave adventure, being far more dangerous. Accidents happen I guess. Got away with this one two.
To whoever is reading this, like I mentioned you may not agree with these being ‘tough’ compared to other scenarios in the world or maybe your travel experiences. But I think, for the ones who have travelled longer than a vacation period, you will appreciate, these kind of things take you off guard, you are unknown to how to deal with them, and you are not in your comforts of homes. I’m sure and know there will be worse horror stories than these, of course there will. I’m not crying a river here, travelling extensively and especially alone, similar things are part of the trip. You are at more risk than others and you have to deal with them how they come.
So my point is, to the people who haven’t had any difficulties of travelling, and are saying its completely safe. You are wrong and naive. It may be safe to travel when your wits are about you, but how about If me and my friend weren’t there on that bus in India? Would that be another rape that happened there? Or what about if you were dancing on Haad Rin beach, like I was, and you were stood next to Stephen Ashton, would you be here now reading this?
Take a moment, and re-phrase what you tell people. This isn’t to scare people off travelling, its to be honest. If you going to try re-assure people, simply say, what has happened to you. And if you haven’t had any troubles, then say that. Don’t summarize your experience on what will happen for others.