Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Everyone has a bucket list - but how 'bout an "unbucket" list?

You don't have to be careful of cattle in Malawi - just ants.
These days, everyone seems to have a travel bucket list of places they want to go/experiences they want to enjoy.

But not every experience you have while travelling is an enjoyable one. In fact, if you travel enough, you're probably going to be able to easily put together an...


These are my top 12 "do not repeat if possible" travel mishaps. Maybe you've experienced some of them - or maybe some of yours are even worse.

Anyway, without further ado, in no particular order are my "Infamous Top 10."

1. ANTS, PART 1. Sleeping with ants in a schoolyard in Malawi, Africa. This was during a 40-day overland trip through Africa, where we bush-camped most of the way. We'd crossed the border from Tanzania into Malawi, but weren't going to make it to the campground at Lake Malawi by nightfall so we got permission to pitch our tents in the schoolyard of a small town. Bad move. There were ants were so tiny, they could slip into the tent no matter how tightly the zipper was closed. They didn't bite - but crawled all over, inside our ears, and you could hear them communicating, a constant tinny humming noise enough to drive anyone mad. It was like a horror movie where a villain tortures you using ants. The school doors were unlocked, so many of us in the group moved inside to sleep in a classroom, it was that bad.

2. ANTS, PART 2. Pitching a tent right next to an army ant nest without being aware of it. This was funny - but only because it wasn't me standing in the next. We'd pitched our tent in a compound near the border of Tanzania and Malawi and my ever-present travelling companion, the Divine Ms. K discovered we had to move the tent - and was attempting to do so. However, they were crawling up inside her long pants and biting her - and they sting like hell! - so there she is in broad daylight shucking her pants and swatting ants with the help of one of the other women on the trip. A few locals walking by the compound found it quite hilarious to see this white woman doing the "fire-ant two-step." (Good thing she was wearing underwear...)

The Andes are gorgeous - but beware of altitude sickness.
 3. PERUVIAN MOUNTAIN HIGH. Not advisable to get THIS kind of "high" - altitude sickness in the Andes at the start of a four-day horseback ride through the mountains from lodge-to-lodge. Headaches, diarrhea, a few other symptoms, all unpleasant. Not unusual for many at high altitude/thin air, but not to be trifled with. I actually had to be taken back down to Ollantaytambo, a small village, to recover for a few days. And drink tea made from coca leaves (yeah, the same plant that cocaine comes from). Tasted yucky. I eventually caught up with the trip at the fourth lodge. Mountain Lodges of Peru did a great job looking after me, though.

4. DRINKING FROM THE ZAMBEZI. Back to Africa again. If you go whitewater rafting on the Zambezi and fall out (not unusual in 25 km and 20 rapids), be sure to keep your mouth closed. DO NOT swallow any water if you can help it. I did - and about 36 hours later, I was sicker than I'd ever been in my life, it was coming out both ends for a few days, then I had to recover from dehydration. Missed a scheduled canoe trip along a calmer portion of the river. Guess I'll just have to go back to Africa some day...

5. DID YOU GET THE FOOTWEAR MEMO? If you're told to wear sturdy footwear for a three to four hour hike along a coastal path in Wales, wear it. I did - but someone else in our group did not. One couple had proper hiking boots, apparently - but didn't want to get them wet. Doh! Why bring them, then? Instead, their feet got wet and beat up, wearing what were essentially loafers up and down a trail full of switchbacks and small footbridges with plenty of muddy patches. Then they whined about it. Double doh!

6. DON'T GO IN THE OCEAN WITHOUT A WETSUIT. If you're going to practise wet entries into a kayak - or even if you're just horsing around - in the Pacific Ocean, even close to shore off the coast of Alaska wear the wetsuit. I didn't, I got hypothermia and had to cancel the week-long kayak trip slated to start the next day. On the positive side, I got to see my first wild grizzly bear and several black bears up close. As well, and probably more importantly, some odd readings at the Wrangell hospital prompted me to get some tests done in Vancouver and I found out I had a bicuspid valve disorder in my aortic valve. I was born with it and didn't know. It meant that eight years later I was prepared for the open-heart surgery I had to undergo to fix it.

7. IF THE FISH SAMOSAS TASTE "FISHY" THROW IT BACK. I didn't eat the bad samosas at a market in Lilongwe - but someone very close to me did. And got as sick as I did from drinking Zambezi River water. Not fun. Especially when you're bush-camping and using "long-drops" for bathroom facilities. (At least when I was sick in the campground in Victoria Falls, I had access to real toilets.) I ate some samosas from the same market - but not fish. I was fine.

8. STAY OFF THE WHEEL! If you have bad knees like I do, try to avoid getting stuck on top of the wheel seat when you have to trade in a flight in a plane for a three-hour van ride down dusty, bumpy dirt roads in Ecuador. Not fun, pure agony, I didn't think I'd ever feel good again. It took a few hours for the aches in my knees to go away after unloading. Next time I'll get aggressive and grab any seat away from the wheel. If I ever have to ride a bus in Ecuador again, that is.
Heath River is a great place to see parrots - but it's not Manu.

9. HAVING A TOUR COMPANY PULL THE PLUG MID-TRIP. This happened in Peru. I spent a week in the Andes, horseback riding and visiting Machu Picchu, and I was supposed to spend the second week at Manu National Park and visit one of the world's best parrot licks. However, when I got back to the hotel in Cuzco, G Adventures, the company I'd made a down-payment to told me I was unable to get there due to complications with the airline that they'd contracted to fly us in there. Or some such rot. Now I'd arranged to pay 50 per cent of the trip cost and work the other 50 per cent off via a contra deal (I was giving travel writing and photography workshops at their Vancouver store for $150 a class at the time), but I suspect the person who approved that had since been told they'd goofed, and that the deal had been nixed at the head office. (I found this out after.) At the time, it left me stuck either getting a refund for the trip and hanging around a hotel in the Andes for a week or taking a less expensive, less promising but similar trip to Heath River. I chose the latter, expecting a partial refund on my return but when I got back I was told I had no money coming back. My 50 per cent deposit for one trip had become full payment for a lesser trip. Given all the circumstances, and the way my contact was acting (and she left the company shortly after that), it sounded fishy to me. I've never been a big fan of that company ever since.

10. LEAVING YOUR CAMERA AT HOME (DOH!) I once took a great four-day canoe trip on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, in Alberta, which is home to Spirit Island - one of the most photographed spots in Canada. I can't remember if I realized that was part of the trip, or not, but I chose NOT to take a camera because at the time I was working as sports editor for the Alaska Highway News in Fort St. John, B.C. and I wanted a complete getaway from anything resembling work. That meant I wouldn't be taking any photos, since I did that pretty much seven days a week at my job. It also meant I had no photos of one of the most special places in Canada. And a few years later when I started freelance writing, I really wished I'd taken some photos of the trip. Maybe someday I'll return via a cruise on a tour - but it won't be same as doing it by canoe. And I certainly won't get any of the unique shots I could get from sitting in a canoe, paddling around the island.

Ready for a lake cruise?