Sandy highlights some of the travel ‘horror’ stories that we have experienced on our journey to date.
Since Halloween is just a few days away, we are featuring some of our own travel horror stories. OK, these are not really ‘horror’ stories, but they are more like situations that we have had where there were hang-ups, lack of information or things just got really uncomfortable. As you will see as you read below, others fall into the category of highlighting our own ignorance or stubbornness during a given situation.
Because the focus of our trip has been on education, we have not told some of these stories before now. So here is a peek at some of the difficulties we have encountered while Trekking the Planet.
The Loo in Honolulu
In February, Honolulu, Hawaii, was the first stop on our journey and after being at sea for five days from San Diego, California, we were excited to arrive there. We had the entire day in Honolulu so our plan was to take care of some business in the morning and then visit tourist sites in the afternoon. We disembarked as soon as we could and headed to the post office to send some items home that we already did not need. We figured that it would be cheaper to do so here while we were still in the United States. After this was done we found a Starbucks and did some Internet work on our laptops.
After finishing a grande mocha, I needed to go to the bathroom. I walked through Starbucks and the neighboring Jamba Juice and saw no evidence of a restroom. I asked the Starbucks cashier if they had a bathroom. “Oh,” he said, “We don’t have one and the closest one is on the second floor of the Macy’s across the street.” He pointed out the front window to across the street from where we were standing. I went back to Darren to tell him I would be gone for a few minutes. Then my adventure began.
With my iPhone in hand, I went out of the Starbucks building and walked up the street, looking across it for the Macy’s building. I went one, then two, then three blocks with no sign of a building that said Macy’s on it. Confused, I turned on the map on my phone and began searching for Macy’s. It showed that there was one right next to my location but would not provide the street detail, as the tall buildings were preventing that data from downloading.
Getting increasingly desperate, I gave up the search for Macy’s and looked around. I was in an outdoor mall area. I noticed a McDonald’s. When I entered that building a large sign was posted that stated that no restrooms were located here. I spotted another Starbucks. No luck there either. I was beginning to wonder if people in Honolulu even went to the bathroom! At this point I turned around and started back towards the original Starbucks location where Darren was waiting.
My phone showed me getting closer to the Macy’s location but still provided no street detail. When I arrived at the intersection about one half block from the Starbucks, I turned and looked down that street in the opposite direction. The Macy’s was there! I walked very quickly towards the building. Upon entering it I remembered that I needed to go to the second floor. So I found the escalator and was soon was upstairs.
A quick glance around the floor was rewarded with the sight of the restroom sign. I wanted to break into a run, but instead casually strolled over there. My happiness turned to despair as there was a long line of women waiting outside, above a sign stating that these facilities were for the use of Macy’s customers only. Ignoring that, I got into line, telling myself that it was almost over, and proceeded to wait impatiently for my turn. As I moved up in line, my phone buzzed. It was Darren texting me, wondering if I was OK. I texted him back, “Long story but I am fine; be back in 5 minutes.”
Finally, my turn came and I went quickly downstairs and on my way back to the Starbucks, just half an intersection away. I found Darren and relayed my story. He was happy that I had found a restroom, as he as now needed to use it. So we packed up our laptops and went back to Macy’s…
The Bungle in the Jungle
To date, we have traveled over 10,000 miles by train, through Australia, Asia and Europe. One of our first journeys was from Singapore to Butterworth, Malaysia in early April. It turned out to be more than we bargained for!
As we traveled through Malaysia, about two hours into our train journey, the train suddenly began to slow down and then came to a halt. We were in the middle of the jungle in the blazing midday heat and humidity. There were no announcements made but eventually we learned that the engine had failed. Not only that, but it was a new Chinese engine and none of the train staff knew how to fix it.
After two hours we were towed back to our last station. By the time we got started again we were at least 3 1/2 hours behind schedule. We tried to confirm this with the train’s staff, but any inquires we made were only received with friendly but noncommittal responses. When the train arrived in Kuala Lumpur a few hours later, we inexplicably sat there for almost two hours before leaving again. The train was nearly empty after leaving Kuala Lumpur so we were able to stretch out across the short two seat rows and try to get some sleep. It was uncomfortable and the night passed by slowly as we slept in fits and starts.
At about 3:45 am the train made yet another stop. Headlights from a car turned on from our side of the train and two women got out. They got into our train car, full of energy and with their cell phones in hand. As the train left the station they received what seemed like an endless stream of texts and calls, all with their ringers on full blast. Their ringtones and giggles made it impossible to for us to sleep. Finally, at 4:47 am the train arrived in Butterworth, just a few minutes short of being 7 ½ hours late. Once we arrived at our hotel we climbed into bed and slept until early afternoon.
The Mouse in the Guesthouse
When we were in Laos in April we visited the remote northern region of Phongsali. During this time we took an abbreviated trek (because of the rainy weather) and visited several schools in the area. Our next destination was the city of Luang Prabang and we booked a three-day river excursion to take us there. Our boat was leaving from the village of Hat Sa, which we reached via a 12 mile (20 kilometer) dirt road. Our trek guide drove us to the end of the road, where we could see a series of bamboo huts next to the Nam Ou River. It was about 1:00 pm and our boat was scheduled to depart at 7:00 am the next morning.
Before leaving, our guide introduced us to the guesthouse owner where we would be staying that night. We noticed right away that the term ‘guesthouse’ was probably overstating things. We climbed up a ladder to a story above the owner’s small store and residence. There was a balcony with two chairs and a table. Behind it was a door with a padlock which opened to a bamboo floor with some blankets thrown on top. There was no windows or light inside. It was hot and there was no breeze. We wondered how we were going to pass the 18 hours until the next morning.
After taking a five minute walk up and down the dirt street we climbed back up the ladder and spent the afternoon looking down at the activity around the village and the river. We realized that we had not asked about the bathroom so Darren climbed down to inquire. There was no bathroom at this ‘guesthouse’ but the store two doors down had one we could use for 3000 Kip (about $.40 USD). Frustrated that we would have to pay each time to use the bathroom, we waited until dark. We then walked to the edge of the bamboo structures and used a natural bathroom there.
Since there was no restaurant, we were at least able to get some hot water from the owner so we could make some instant noodles for dinner. As soon as it got dark all the bamboo buildings switched on their satellite televisions. The loud sounds of the various shows blared into our open balcony area. To make matters worse, as we slept that night on our ‘bedroom’ floor, we could hear mice scurrying around the outside walls. Needless to say, we were ready to board the boat right at 7:00 am the next morning!
The China Price
In early June we had a 48-hour stretch in which we took a 25-hour overnight train trip and followed that with two flights, with an overnight in between, in order for us to get from Tibet to Kyrgyzstan. Just before the second flight and after only 3 ½ hours of sleep, we were craving coffee. We found a place at the Urumqi, China, airport with some of the best coffee we had tasted in months. When we got the bill we were shocked to find that two cups of coffee had cost us the equivalent of about $27.00 USD!
Normally, we would have done more due diligence to inquire about the cost before we sat down but two days of nonstop travel does that to you sometimes!
The Surging Locomotive
While in Europe from July to September we traveled primarily by train. It was a great opportunity to see the countryside, meet other people and to work on our laptop computers, including writing our Destination Dispatches and editing videos. We rode a variety of trains, from the sleek ICE and Eurostar carriages in Germany and Italy, to much older cars in Poland, Serbia and Romania. We were always very happy when our seat had an electrical outlet because this meant we did not have to rely on our limited battery power when using our laptops.
When we boarded the train for our six hour journey from Cluj Napoca to Gura Humorului, Romania, we were pleasantly surprised to find power in the old train carriage. As soon as the train left I plugged my laptop in and began editing a dispatch. To my surprise, my touch pad was not working, even though I had just used my laptop earlier that morning in the hotel. I tried running diagnostics, rebooting the laptop and even using my iPhone to do a 3G search on the problem to determine if there was some type of solution to apply. Nothing worked. Imagine using a laptop with only your keyboard and you could see I was getting nothing done without a touch pad!
It was not a total loss because a mouse could be plugged into the USB port. However, we had just sent our portable mouse home with our daughters in August because we had not used it during our entire trip and wanted to lighten our load. I began to contemplate going through the remainder of our around-the-world journey with my laptop in this condition. Extremely frustrated, I powered down my computer and decided to read a book.
Darren, who had been helping me with a solution to my problem, decided to turn on his laptop so I could use it. He plugged it into the train outlet and began to experience the same problem with his touch pad! I immediately rebooted my computer on battery power and the touch pad worked! So the culprit was the power, which we figured was not within our computers’ specifications and was causing the touch pad to shut down. Needless to say we were much more careful about power on trains going forward! Fortunately both our PCs have no lingering effects from this power episode!
The Crooked Driver
Anyone who travels extensively probably has a taxi rip-off story. Although we try to stay away from using taxis, they can not totally be avoided, and we have had our share of taxi overcharge experiences during this journey. In Laos and Uzbekistan we had some taxi drivers who tried to charge way more than the going rate. Taxi overcharging is one area that is a hot button for me. As you will see, the taxi overcharge situation we found ourselves in while in Romania was partly due to my stubbornness over just a few dollars.
We had read that Romania is notorious for overcharging taxi drivers. In Brasov, our hotel was about four kilometers from the train station, and since we were arriving at 10:00 pm, it not prudent to walk. I emailed the hotel in advance and asked about the taxi situation and the approximate cost to be driven from the train station. They responded that it should cost between 7 and 10 Romanian Lei (about $2.00 to $2.75 USD) and that I should try to use a specific taxi company as the others tend to overcharge. They also offered to call a taxi for us once we got to the station if I called them first.
Upon arriving at the train station a little before 10:00 pm, we went out to the front of the building where there were a line of taxis. I did not see any that were from the company that the hotel mentioned, but decided to go to the lead taxi in line to inquire about the cost anyway. He wanted 15 Lei (about $4.25 USD) to take us. Even though it was only about $2.00 USD more than we had been quoted, I dug in my heals and tried to bargain a lower cost with him. He refused to budge on the price. We went away towards the train station entrance and decided to call the hotel. The phone rang and rang and no one picked up. We waited a few minutes and tried the hotel again. Still no answer.
At this point the 15 Lei cost did not look so bad, so I went back to the taxi row. The driver I had spoken to had left and the new lead taxi driver now wanted 30 Lei (about $8.50 USD) to take us to the hotel! I told him that this was totally unreasonable but he insisted I would have to pay it. So we left and tried to call the hotel again. There was still no answer.
It was 10:30 pm now and, not sure what to do next, we went back to the taxi line for a third time. The same lead driver was there but I noticed another taxi across the street displaying the company name that the hotel had indicated. Although it was dark, it looked like someone was sitting in the car. I walked across the street while the lead taxi driver was hurling insults at me in a language I did not understand. When I reached the taxi I asked the driver how much it would cost to take us. He said, “Oh, that’s not far, how about 10 Lei?”
We quickly jumped in the taxi and were soon at the hotel. The receptionist was waiting outside, wondering why it had taken us so long to arrive!
With every little mishap that we have experienced, there have been more than an equal number of amazing stories of assistance we have received from total strangers while on the road. Stayed tuned to learn more about the ‘Kindness of Strangers’ in the coming weeks!