I was skimming through some questions Johnny Jet sent me in preparation for appearing in his Travel Style Q&A section when I came to that one. My worst travel moment? A montage of hideous memories flashed through my mind.
There was the time Rich and I went camping in the Peruvian Amazon, 18 miles by canoe from the modest comforts of our base camp. The jungle was alive with mosquitoes, fire ants, caimen (an alligator-type reptile), monkeys, and, as the guides casually mentioned while starting a cooking fire, probably bushmasters, the incredibly aggressive, poisonous, 14-foot snakes that are attracted to light and heat.
Then the big storm hit. In moments all the humans were huddled together inside the leaky tent, water dripping down our necks to pool on the floor. Just when I though I couldn’t feel more miserable, one of the guides said, ““Don’t go out of the tent tonight. But if you do, there’s a machete by the door. Use it.” Immediately I pictured myself standing outside in the torrential downpour, machete in one hand, flashlight in the other, trousers down around my ankles, fending off a ravenous bushmaster. The guide added helpfully, “If you just have to take a leak, we have plastic bags.” That was at 6:00 pm. It was a long, long night.
But did that really trump the horror of getting stranded alone in the middle of the night in a very dubious New Delhi neighborhood?
Rich and I had taken the overnight train down from the Pakistani border, and hours before our scheduled arrival time in New Delhi, the train lurched to a stop and stayed there. Rich stumbled out into the corridor to ask someone where we were. “Delhi,” the man said. Rich burst back into the compartment. “We’re here! Get your stuff! We have to get off!” Three minutes of mad scrambling and we were out the door, running down the corridor and leaping off the train.
It was only then that I noticed there was no sign marking the station. Were we really in Delhi? I looked around for someone to ask, but the platform was deserted except for a dozen people sleeping curled up under what appeared to be burlap sacks, and a few glowering youths leaning against the back wall. Then Rich said, “Do you think we left anything behind?” And before I could say “Who cares?” he had jumped back on the train and dashed up the corridor.
And that, of course, is when the train took off. Yes, that was definitely among my worst travel moments. You can imagine my relief when Rich reappeared and made a flying leap off the train onto the platform. And the station did, in fact, did turn out to be in New Delhi, although nowhere near the downtown area we actually wanted.
But how to choose the very worst moment? What about the time we were on a small, private plane in Mexico, and I looked over to see a plane exactly like ours that had crashed and been dragged to the side so we could take off? And who could forget that toilet hut in rural Guatemala, the one that was so gruesome I simply threw away my shoes afterwards?
Bad times make for good stories. Nobody wants to hear about the connections we make with ample time, the flawless white sand beaches we stroll upon, or the bartenders who really know how to fashion a dry martini. As delightful as such experiences are when they happen to me, I find telling those stories to others tends to elicit yawns and snores. But we all love listening to tales of disasters averted and challenges overcome. There’s nothing like a narrow escape for reminding us how sweet life can be. So ... worst travel moment ever? I’m still not sure, but I think it might have something to do with white sand beaches and a perfect dry martini.
What's your worst travel memory? Your best? Are they one and the same?
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I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and my home state of California. Right now I'm on a Nutters' World Tour seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and wacky food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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