Were you left wanting more after the last article on the world’s most dangerous adventures for backpackers? You’re in luck! Here’s part 2, with some more gut-wrenching and tear-jerking tales of life on the road.
During my travels, I, like many others, encountered a number of savage beasts. These do not include the unusually large winged beetle in Guatemala that my girlfriend at the time inadvertently brought home in her backpack. Both my 6’4 built-like-a-brick-shithouse roommate and I were too terrified to approach it, so the lady, standing all of 5 foot nothing, ended up killing it with a wedge-heeled sandal. So much for the patriarchy, but I digress.
I encountered both the following savage creatures in Thailand. The first is pictured above. At the time, I was living in a tent on a picturesque beach on Koh Phangan and felt more or less invincible. Once again, I was wrong. One day I woke up sweating and hungover as usual, but there was something different about the situation. An unfamiliar weight lay on my forehead, even heavier than the cheap beer I was normally exuding from my pores. I initially managed to brush it off and tried to go back to sleep.
Gaining consciousness a few minutes later, I realized what kind of creature I had been sharing the night, or at the very least, the early afternoon with. I have few recollections of this moment, but I would be surprised if I had not shrieked like a horrified 8-year old schoolgirl while trying to escape from the tent as quickly as possible. My next memory, seeing that the monster had latched on to a pair of my shorts, was throwing the item of clothing as far into the jungle as I could. It turns out these guys can actually put you in hospital, so I actually got off lightly. I never again slept in that tent though.
My next major adversary appeared in Pai, Thailand, a village in the mountains which I call home. Earlier in the day, I had my first ever wisdom tooth removed, which was actually a surprisingly smooth process and cost me no more than $15 USD. This was, unfortunately, the highlight of my day. The worst part of having my wisdom tooth out was not being able to smoke or drink for 48 hours. So, I lay down in my hammock with some painkillers and a good book. Almost as soon as I had settled in for a nice read, I saw a creature moving in the bushes. It slowly revealed itself to be a snake. Eyeing it intently, I remained still until it was within a foot or so of my hammock. To complete the day, I was facing a monocled cobra.
I moved to get out of the hammock and in response, it did whatever flappy thing cobras do with their cheeks is. I’m not sure what the motion is called, but it’s quite terrifying. After staring each other down for a few seconds, it understandably decided I was not a tasty-looking enough target, and it slithered on back into the jungle. Another crisis averted.
Moral of the Story: Just stay home and watch Game of Thrones
The Fountain of Death
Every well-informed backpacker knows it’s a bad idea to drink the tap water in most developing countries. Although some countries may be worse than others, travel guides generally warn tourists against consuming unfiltered water, tap water or unchecked ice. I have no source to back me up on this, but I think Indian tap water may be the worst of the bunch.
After a delicious but apparently noxious crab dinner in Goa, I lay heavily convulsing in my bungalow. I had somehow forgotten to buy bottled water and was between constant diarrhoea and searing stomach pain becoming quite thirsty. In fact, I was parched. Unable to move far enough to buy drinking water, I decided to do the unimaginable: I drank Indian tap water.
The following 24 hours are hard to remember and even harder to describe. The undercooked crab, while formidable, was no match for the unfiltered Goan tap water. I believe I suffered severe hallucinations, quite unrelated to Goa’s regional delicacies, in addition to sweats and chills. The pain was such that I must have cleansed the negative karma of several dozen previous lives, in addition to those of my neighbours who were unfortunate enough to suffer through the noise. Although I could try and describe the substances I secreted from my body during this time, I believe this would be beyond the ethical guidelines of this or any other publication.
Thanks to what must have been a benevolent beach-sprite, I survived the ordeal. On the other hand, I never looked at a tap the same way again. However delicious the sparkling water dripping into a cheap hotel room sink in the developing world may look, don’t drink it. You have been warned.
Moral of the Story: I think we can all do the math here
Guatemala, Mexico’s southern neighbour, has a particularly charming public transportation system. These camionetas, affectionately referred to as Chicken Buses by tourists due to the fact that they often transport livestock as well as human passengers, are wonderfully colourful if an uncomfortable way to move around the country. They are basically souped-up, discarded American school buses that transport their passengers, human and/or animal, to their destination as fast as their 70’s diesel engines will take them.
In the flatlands of Guatemala, the trips aren’t too harrowing, although the bus shakes and shudders as if its bodywork is ready to disintegrate. This all changes once you get into the country’s western highlands, on your way to the largest city of the area alternately referred to as Quetzaltenango or Xela. I lived there for a few months while carrying out research for my bachelor’s thesis, and over the weekends, we’d frequently take trips to Lake Atitlan for a bit of a break.
These chicken bus rides can be stomach-churning, the ancient American yellow buses careening through the mountain roads at speeds exceeding a hundred kilometers an hour. The bus is often centimeters from plunging several hundred meters into a ravine on roads rarely equipped with side rails. However, none of the local passengers seem to mind, quite happy to nod off on your shoulder, perhaps drooling slightly onto your shirt.
While uncomfortable, the trips are rarely boring, as there are a number of entertainment options onboard. The first and most noticeable is the Reggaeton pounding from the aging, crackly speakers, which is sure to, if not amuse you, at least keep the blood streaming to your head when the G-forces threaten to overwhelm you.
Chicken buses also offer a wide array of shopping opportunities. At every stop, vendors will crowd onto the bus, selling any manner of refreshments including bananas, nuts, cold drinks and tortillas. The true stars of the show, however, are the preachers. These brave and pious men board the bus at regular intervals and give sermons that can last up to an hour. The sermons, while not fiery enough to wake most local travelers, are a fascinating insight into Guatemalan culture, and offer a grim warning not to partake in any unwholesome behavior.
Of the many chicken bus rides we took, one in particular springs to mind. Winding down the volcanic mountain roads which lead to Lake Atitlan, the bus suddenly screeched to a halt. Everyone stood up and peered out of the window to see what was going on, and it was not a pleasant site. A large tank truck, according to its markings containing something particularly flammable, was teetering on its edge, held back only by another truck which was trying to haul it back onto its wheels. With no way to reverse back up the hill, we were stuck.
Our fellow passengers, who had mostly slept through the preachers’ sermon, suddenly burst into fervent prayer. Although not a religious man myself, I felt inclined to join them. It took a good hour of frantic prayer, but the transport truck and its explosive contents were finally hoisted back into their correct position, and, breathing a sigh of relief, we were able to continue on our way unimpeded.
Moral of the Story: Have you heard the good news about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?
Whew, that was it for Part 2 of the World’s Most Dangerous Adventures for Backpackers! The author is currently in Tanzania, and will most likely be getting into all kinds of scrapes and tricky situations for your reading pleasure alone!