Crazy Sh!t We Didn’t Tell You About

You know about the gorillas. You know about how we fell in the giant gutter. You know that a girl we were trekking with almost died on the Perito Moreno glacier. You may even have caught the bit about how I ended up bloody after I got tripped by a puppy in Negril when we decided to run in the rain together.

Not the dog who tripped me. This one was my beach buddy.

Not the dog who tripped me. This one was my beach buddy.

But in addition to all of those stories, there are several we didn’t tell anyone about while we were on the road, simply because we didn’t want the folks back home to worry about us, or try to tell us we should come home immediately, or think that we were crazily accident-prone and stupid (which may be true, but we didn’t want to hear it). Now that we’re home safe and sound, we figured it would be alright to reveal some of these heretofore secret mishaps. (Spoiler alert: we survived them all.)

The first of these happened on our first day of the trip. Seriously. We got off the plane in Buenos Aires, went to our hostel, dropped off our bags, went for a walk, and then it happened. We got mugged.

We had asked at our hostel before we left if La Boca was an okay place to walk around, and were assured we’d be fine. So we headed over toward the Boca Juniors stadium and entered a little park, where Pierre started taking pictures. There were couples canoodling on benches nearby and lots of other people walking around, so we didn’t feel at all threatened. Then, as we were walking closer to the stadium behind a pair of kids who appeared to be all of about 12 years old, we were completely caught off guard when the kids suddenly whirled around, started waving a giant stick in the air, and shouted in Spanish for us to hand over the camera. It felt like an absurd dream, and I think both of us initially wanted to laugh at these little people trying to be criminals. The urge to laugh quickly vanished when the stick hit Pierre in the hand — hard — and we realized that they were serious. Rather than risk having our heads bashed in, Pierre handed over the camera and the little fuckers took off running. I looked down at my purse, which held my own camera and a wallet, and thought to myself how stupid they were for ignoring that potential goldmine.

We went to the nearby park office, where a friendly older man (who had witnessed the whole thing) called the police for us. A woman from Paraguay who worked in the office told us of the myriad crimes that had been committed in the park recently: plenty of other robberies, an attempted kidnapping, a stabbing. We were livid. Who in their right mind would ever tell foreigners it was safe to walk around this neighborhood?! I was ready to kill the woman from our hostel. And a quick Google search of “La Boca dangerous” reveals horror stories worse than ours (for instance: these).

When the police finally showed up, my Spanish skills were put to a serious test. Not only was the accent different from what I was used to, but the officers spoke at lightning speed and with lots of (what I assumed to be) cop slang thrown in. I did my best, and ultimately we did manage to file a report at the local precinct, though it took almost the entire afternoon. While we were waiting our turn to file a report, a female officer escorted me to the bathroom, where I heard her shout as I was closing the door, “don’t close the door!” I quickly figured out why: I was locked in. (Yep, pretty much the worst day ever.) While I awaited my rescue, I tried not to freak out while also trying to hold my nose and not look too closely at my surroundings — let’s just say it was one of the worse restrooms I’ve encountered in my life. After another officer managed to spring me from my confinement, I was finally able to report our story to the cop at the front desk, who took down every word and appeared to be all of 15 years old. Shockingly enough, we never did hear back from Buenos Aires’ finest (*sarcasm*).

Police Report from Buenos Aires

Our least favorite souvenir: The police report from Buenos Aires.

So now you know why we don’t have many good things to say about Buenos Aires (or Argentina, for that matter). It’s impossible to go through an experience like that — especially on the first effing day of your long-awaited trip! — and not have it color your impression of a place more than a bit. Since then, we’ve heard several accounts of people who were also crime victims there, or who at least felt that it was a sketchy, uncomfortable city that did not at all live up to their expectations. “Paris of South America,” you say? Only if you imagine Paris without the good food, clean streets, vibrant culture, and beautiful buildings!

Our second bit of real excitement came in our next country, Chile. While we were in the Atacama desert, we rented a couple of bikes and rode out from San Pedro de Atacama to the Valle de la Luna to watch the sunset (and take some spectacular photographs).


Just before sunset.

To get to the Valle, we rode for a while along a fairly busy highway, used by trucks traveling the length of Chile. For some reason, it didn’t occur to us as we traveled toward the Valle that, if we stayed to watch the sunset, we would be returning to town after dark. I suppose we didn’t take into account just how quickly night falls in the desert, but let me tell you: it falls fast. By the time we got out on the highway, it was pitch black. We pedaled fast, but it was as if we were riding blindfolded. We had no idea whether there was a pothole, an animal, or a parked car ahead of us; we just had to keep our fingers crossed and hope that the way was clear. The worst part was that every few minutes, an enormous 18-wheeler would roar up behind us, kicking up rocks and huge gusts of wind as it passed. A few times, we were actually blown off the road and into the gravel on the shoulder. It was terrifying.

Our view as we rode back to town.

Our view as we rode back to town.

Luckily, Pierre suddenly remembered he had a small flashlight in his bag, so he got it out and held it on his handlebars so we would have at least a dim speck of light that could help prevent us from being killed. We occasionally were passed by others on bikes wearing headlamps, and felt ridiculous. Talk about unprepared! We breathed a sigh of relief when we finally saw San Pedro de Atacama’s lights in the distance, and hurriedly made our way back to the bike shop to return the rentals. Disaster averted (though we’re not sure how, since Pierre’s flashlight really wasn’t much).

While we’ve alluded to it before, I’m not sure we adequately conveyed the sheer terror that was experienced while on Burmese modes of transportation. Right-hand drive buses passing cars on the left, so the driver can’t see for himself whether there is any oncoming traffic. Rides up steep, switchback, half-constructed roads, where there are so many people in the bus and on the roof that the tire scrapes against the wheel well around every corner, leading us to earnestly believe that we are only moments away from hurtling over the (guardrail-free) cliff and plunging to a fiery death. Worst of all, though, was the taxi ride in Bagan. When I think about the scariest moment on the whole trip, that is the event that pops to mind because — machete-wielding gorillas notwithstanding — it is the moment where I felt the most out of control. As we started going faster and faster in that cab, and I felt myself slipping farther and farther down the bed of the truck (which had its tailgate down, mind you, meaning there was nothing to prevent me from slipping all the way off and splattering across the highway), I shouted at the driver to slow down. When he didn’t respond, I began frantically smacking the window of the truck’s cab, hoping he might remember that he actually had passengers in his vehicle. But he never noticed, and that was the scariest part. We were utterly at the mercy of a crazy person. When we finally, miraculously arrived at our hotel that night, I scowled at the driver and told him he drove like a maniac. He smiled broadly, revealing his betelnut-stained teeth, and let out a chuckle. He thought it was a compliment.

And, speaking of wild adventures involving vehicles, there was the time my safari vehicle driver in Tanzania tried to drive us all straight into a six-foot concrete ditch on the side of the road. There we were, cruising through a bustling Tanzanian town on our merry way to the Serengeti, when out of nowhere the vehicle veered sideways, aimed directly at the ditch at full speed. It took us a moment to realize what was going on, and then all the passengers screamed in unison as we saw the ditch looming just ahead. The screaming must have jolted the driver back into reality, causing him to slam on his brakes at the last minute and jerking us to a sharp halt. The jeep was left with its two front wheels dangling precariously over the ditch like they do in the movies, the vehicle rocking ever so slightly. We exhaled and then gingerly got out, while a crowd of locals ran over to help push the vehicle back onto the road.  I actually feel sorry for the driver, because he was truly apologetic and I think there was something physically wrong with him that caused him to lose consciousness for a minute. He also went home that night and we never saw him again. I don’t hold anything against him, but when I think back on it, we were amazingly lucky.

There were plenty more moments of excitement during the trip, but these are some of the most memorable. While they’re not necessarily positive experiences, we did learn from them (don’t go to Buenos Aires; don’t ride your bike after dark without a few lights; stick with a horse and cart in Bagan), and they did make our experiences that much more colorful.

And what is travel, after all, without a little bit of color?

1 Comment

  1. Ed
    August 8, 2012

    I figured that on a trip that long there must have been some unpleasantries–life is just that way. The night bike ride may have been worse in outcome, so thank goodness it was just this!


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