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Special Feature from the Editor

5 Somewhat Unusual Travel Moments 2003-2016

by Matthew Thomas

Travelling is brilliant, as we all know, however sometimes there are little incidents, both good and bad in nature that make for amusing anecdotes and in a sense make the whole thing worth while. These may tell you something about the country you are in, its people, yourself, or may just be a good story to share one day. These are my top five.

5. Thailand – 2003

I wasn’t always the battle hardened, go to the West Bank by myself traveller that I am today, ahem. Back in my first proper tour in 2003 I did make an elementary error. In taking a taxi to Bangkok airport, I agreed a price upon getting in, as usual. The driver then said something else, I wasn’t quite sure what, but agreed to it nonetheless. I had unwittingly chosen to go the toll both route, almost doubling the cost of my journey. When I was pressed for the extra money to the agreed price, I was vehemently unimpressed and point blank refused. The driver then proceeded to follow me inside the airport and alerted the transport police. You may say that at this stage, having realised I probably had agreed to this, that I may as well have just paid up but I felt, rightly or wrongly, that there was a principle at stake. I was then ushered into an office and took part in a translator facilitated Mexican stand off style “exchange of views.” The upshot was that if I refused to pay then the driver would make an official complaint, and I wouldn’t be able to fly. So I paid up, somewhat reluctantly. Lesson learned.

4. New York 2005

New York City, 4th July 2005. What a day. The sun was shining and everyone and was in a great mood. I had spent the day with around fifteen people from my hostel, and our group probably included seven or eight different nationalities. Everyone was friendly and one has to say a little drunk by the end of it. In short, the perfect day on the road. Fresh from dancing to house music on the riverside by the Hudson and watching the fireworks, we quickly found out that it was not an all night party as such, and things wound down quite considerably. Now I should probably point out at this stage that drinking on the streets of New York is usually illegal, but it was very much tolerated on 4th July. We retreated to Central Park armed with beer and whisky and carried on the party. This was until two of the most enormous stereotypically white and intimidating New York cops pulled up in a squad car and made their way over to us, demanding that we put our hands where they could see them. This, and their guns, sobered us up pretty quickly and suffice to say our protestations about it being “ok” for most of the day carried little weight and we were all issued with $25 fines and had our details taken. I never actually got round to paying it mind you.

3. Nepal 2005

I was feeling pretty good on the last day of my trek around Kathmandu valley. It was a crisp early November morning, and myself and my intrepid guide were hiking through a hillside village when, at around 8am a searing pain came from the back of my calf. I had been bitten by a stray dog. I was quickly surrounded by seemingly the entire village and my guide, clearly a little anxious by this turn of events helped me to a village hospital, that in the circumstances would certainly do. The doctor who spoke English, gave me a tetanus shot and said I was fine and could go. I was not in anyway convinced by this – that dog could have had anything, so to speak. I insisted on returning to Kathmandu and bade a swift and slightly moody farewell to my guide (which on reflection was a little harsh) before finding the International Medical Centre which was handily located near the backpacker epicentre of Thamel. I was told that as the dog was “not observable” that I needed $900 worth of injections. Fortunately my travel insurance came through with the approval and everything worked out. Once again, lesson learned.

2.Japan 2014

Arriving at Tokyo Narita airport, and Japan Rail pass sorted out I set about negotiating the metro to Asakusa. Sitting in shorts with my usual ridiculous array of bracelets and most likely in sandals, backpack on the floor, and taking into account my quintessentially quite clearly non Japanese appearance, quite why a fellow traveller thought that I was the best person to ask directions to such and such a place I’m not really sure. Anyway I did my best to provide what I thought was actually a pretty decent answer in the circumstances, however nearby observers in the carriage clearly disagreed. Within seconds pencils and paper were being borrowed, diagrams and maps were being drawn out that were handed over to my fellow traveller with a far more thorough and in all probability correct answer to his question. The was my first experience of Japan. “This is going to be really good, ” I mused.

1. Bolivia 2014

My Spanish is passable at best – enough to book a bus ticket, maybe a room “con ducha” and order a meal. That said, when a man came on my bus to Tupiza from Potosi and explained something that, catching the gist, sounded like there may be a roadblock up ahead, few enough people disembarked to convince me to join them. All was plain sailing for a couple of hours until we hit the roadblock at midnight. The driver, clearly feeling a little bold made a play to drive through but thought the better of it as the men on the hillside, who must have been freezing despite their bonfires, stood up and threatened to throw rocks, so he wisely retreated to the curbside. Now I had a seat at the front on the top deck with plenty of room to stretch out so things could have been worse. However I was kicked out of this by the baggage handler so nonetheless made do with two seats to myself. The only problem with that was, no matter how I rearranged my coat and commandeered sheeting, I was always cold somewhere and on the odd occasion that I did drop off the bloke behind me kicked my chair. Throw in the increasing stench of two hundred people relieving themselves by the side of the road and you’ve got quite a pleasant situation. The riot squad finally showed up at 6am and dispersed the crowd with tear gas, and considerably more strong arm tactics. Watching them chase the perpetrators  into the hills and surrounding houses was an interesting experience. Having removed the rocks that were strewn out down the road we continued on through bright sunshine taking in gorgeous rolling hillsides of cactae against the backdrop of bright blue skies. It would have been a waste to go through these at night in any case.