Every once in a while, I look back at my travels and think of the moments that have changed something in me. Moments that have put me face to face with my deepest insecurities, helped me accept that I’m just passing through this world, and in some ways, made me stronger. Many of these moments are the kind that left me scared shitless, before moulding me into the person I’m constantly evolving into.
Read ‘My Worst Travel Memories‘ (part 1), and behold, more confessions of this not-so-brave girl:
Home alone in Quito, Ecuador
I was both excited and terrified about my first trip to South America earlier this year. Ecuador, though it doesn’t have as notorious a reputation as some of its counterparts, has its fair share of scary stories, especially in the capital city of Quito. So like I always do, I booked an Airbnb, the home of a lady who’s been living in the city for the past few years. When I landed past midnight and just about managed to find her home in a dark alleyway in the artistic neighborhood of Guapulo, she told me she’d be traveling out of the city the next morning – so I’d be home alone – in a city, country and continent I had just set foot on, where people only speak Spanish.
I contemplated checking out and going to a hotel, where I could atleast reach the staff incase of an emergency. But the house, with a view on Cayambe volcano, was so beautiful that I decided to stay on. I figured I’d do some research online, get a local SIM card and be okay. Except that the following morning, I managed to drop my phone in water (you don’t want those details!), phew. So I spent my first day in Quito, disconnected from everything and everyone, not knowing a soul in the city, not sure what areas were safe enough to walk around in, with solo travel butterflies punching me in the stomach.
But after a few hours of moping around, I got my act together, opened myself up to the kindness of strangers, found my way to an electronics market, bought myself a cheap phone with a local sim, and decided to take the city head on. Thus began my love affair with Ecuador!
Also read: My First Impressions of Ecuador
Mugged by a cabbie in San Jose, Costa Rica
An incident that really shook me up last year. After traveling safely and adventurously through some of Central America’s more notorious countries (like Honduras, labelled ‘the most violent place on earth’), I had pretty much let my guard down in Costa Rica. On a hurriedly hailed cab ride to the airport to impulsively catch a flight to the Pacific Coast, the cabbie and I chatted like long lost friends. Closer to the airport, he told me we’d get stuck in traffic so it’s better to drop off a street before and walk; I agreed without thinking twice.
When we arrived, I paid him and got off the cab, only to see him grabbing my small bag – the one with my passport, laptop and everything precious – asking for more money or he’d take off with it. FCUK. I had the equivalent of 50$ in my pocket and gave it to him, shivering at the idea of being left alone without my valuables. In retrospect, there were a lot of hints I didn’t catch; he asked me if I had family in the country, or if I had a local SIM card – pointed questions that should have made me wary. I felt shaken up for days, refused to trust anyone else I met along the way, and found solace in places crowded with other tourists, much unlike my usual travel style.
It really wasn’t about the money I lost, but the trust I lost, and it’s taken me months to rebuild it.
Crashing my Macbook in Kutch, Gujarat
As a digital nomad, my Macbook Pro is my lifeline. On a lazy afternoon in Kutch, I managed to trip over the charger and drop my laptop while it was on – and was left with the ugly blue screen. I was days away from the nearest Apple centre, hadn’t backed up my data in months, and the idea of having to fork out cash for a big repair or a new machine was scary for my petty bank balance. I decided to take a much needed (partial) digital detox, worked out of cyber cafes and borrowed iPads, even blogged with my iPhone.
After hopeless trips to authorized centres in Bombay and Colombo, I finally managed to replace my hard disk in New York, lost a ton of photos and notes, and learnt how hopelessly dependent my lifestyle is on technology.
Altitude sickness (scare) in Nyerma, Ladakh
On an impulsive flight to Ladakh last month, I totally underestimated the altitude in the Trans Himalayas. Just after I landed, I was scouting the market in Leh to pick up a local SIM card, instead of getting a ton of rest and drinking a ton of water. By the time I reached Nyerma, a little village an hour from Leh, I felt a slight headache which turned into a slight fever and the chills by the evening. The nuns I was living with, could only tell me to get rest; I tried calling the altitude sickness helpline to no avail; I phoned a friend to look up the symptoms online, who confirmed that I should panic only if I have trouble breathing.
Then I started imagining the worst case scenarios: my SIM was still inactive; how would I walk the distance to the nunnery in the middle of the night if I had trouble breathing? I was fine by the next morning, but I felt utterly alone on that first night.
Lost in a forest with a repulsive guide in the Dominican Republic
While hiking in the remote reaches of Valle Nuevo National Park, my local guide began with harmless flirtation, which quickly turned to lewd remarks (“I’ll come to your room and keep you warm at night” kind of remarks, eww). We were deep in the forest, around two kilometers from the nearest signs of civilization.
“No molestar por favor” (please don’t bother me) usually works in situations like this, but it didn’t with him. So I took to silence. I had two choices: put up with his harrassment and hope to reach back in one piece, or run (tase him?) and definitely get lost alone in the forest. I chose the former option, and have never been happier to get out of a beautiful old forest.
Skidding off a bicycle in Umbria, Italy
I skidded off a pebbly slope while cycling downhill on the countryside of Umbria, and bruised my arms and legs. No big deal, but the scary part was realizing that the bike handle had turned in a strange tangent and I couldn’t fix it; who knows how many hundreds of Euros I’d have to pay if I had broken the bike?
Luckily, Youtube gave me a quick and easy fix – and I was pedalling soon enough to get myself a gelato and recover from the fall.
Also read: Living With an Italian Artist in Umbria
“Random” security screening at Honduras airport
Those “random” airport screenings are never really random, are they? For some strange reason, I got on this “random” advance security list at Honduras airport; they embarrasingly took me aside, and scanned every single part of my body and belongings, including the keypad of my Macbook! I had nothing to hide, but it was still scary to go through the process. I can’t imagine the plight of the people who stay longer on that list.
Stalked in Lalibela, Ethiopia
The one thing I hated about the Ethiopian countryside was that every other conversation seemed to be aimed at asking for money, directly or in an elaborate way. Atleast 4 kids in different places told me a sob story of how their football tore, and asked if I would consider buying them a new one. Then on the streets of Lalibela, a teenage guy randomly started talking to me, said he was a budding musician, actually started singing songs to me as we walked, and insisted I come meet his mother at their house! I had to cook up a story about how my friends were waiting for me back at the hotel to get rid of him.
A little while after I reached back, I saw him from the balcony of my room, chatting up the (non-English speaking) ladies at the reception area of my hotel. That moment sent a chill down my spine, and I barely managed to sleep that night.
Also read: My First Impressions of Ethiopia
Stranded at an obscure bus stop in Costa Rica
Manuevering rapids on a river to live with a remote indigenous community of cacao farmers had shot my adrenalin pretty high. On the evening I got back on the mainland, the river had flooded and I had to wade through knee deep water to get to the only bus stop for miles. I waited almost till dusk, only to hear from locals that after the flooding, no buses were likely to head this way. In the middle of nowhere – with no cell phone connectivity and no way to go back to my indigenous friends – I went into a state of near panic. Seeing my plight, a small shop owner asked me to wait for a few hours till he could shut his shop and give me a ride to the next town, where hopefully I could find a different bus.
Luckily, as I waited, a delivery truck showed up at the shop, and happened to be heading in the direction I needed to go. So that’s how I rode out, in the back of the truck, under a fading red sunset sky, with the wind in my hair, through remote Costa Rican villages. Pura vida!