When travel goes wrong

Travelling is one of my greatest passions. It may end up costing you a house deposit, or your best childbearing years, but I think it’s a worthwhile investment on so many fronts. However, bad things can happen when you’re away from your usual nine-to-five routine. And when bad things happen and you’re a long way from home, it can be a daunting and helpless experience.

We never plan for bad things to happen, and that’s why travel insurance is a good idea. It’s a major pain in the ass if your luggage is lost, your passport is stolen, or you miss a flight. It means spending hours or days waiting around, wasting precious travel time.

However, those are not the worst things that could happen while travelling. Being hospitalised with an illness or a result of an accident can ruin a trip, as well as a bank balance if you don’t have travel insurance. Especially in developing countries, it’s important to be mindful of the water you’re drinking or the food that you’re eating, lest you end up on the toilet for days at best, or at worst, hooked up on a drip in a hospital where you can’t speak the language.

A run in with the local authorities is also not advised, even if it makes a good yarn many years down the track. Being arrested and thrown in a foreign jail would make for a unique travel experience, however there are countries where you definitely want to walk the straight and narrow, unless being thrown into a violent jail where you will be treated inhumanely is your thing.

Speaking personally, my bad experiences include being pickpocketed in Costa Rica, my hotel room being burgled in Honduras (and losing, amongst other things, 4 months of travel photos on my camera), my luggage not making flights, being dumped by a then-boyfriend, having fellow backpackers shagging all around me whilst I was trying to sleep, and being ripped off by numerous taxi drivers.

However my worst travel experience was while I was travelling alone around Lebanon. I was on a day trip to Baalbek, in the Beqaa Valley, to see the beautiful World Heritage Listed Roman ruins. Public transport in Lebanon is often by minibus, and it was on one of these minibuses, as I was making my way back to Beirut, that trouble struck.

baalbek lebanon

I was the only passenger on the minibus, and the driver, Bilal, a tall man probably in his early 20s, insisted that I sit with him in the front passenger seat. After repeatedly rejecting his offers of a seat for about 5 minutes, I gave in just so that we could get our journey underway and I could make it back to Beirut and then to Jbeil, where I was staying. That was a mistake.

Bilal suddenly turned off the highway and drove off road for a few hundred metres before stopping with my passenger door hard up against a small tree. After turning off the engine, he proceeded to stroke my leg and mutter things in Arabic to me. Needless to say, I was starting to run some defence scenarios very quickly through my head, as my heart was beginning to race away in my chest. The clearest scenario that I could imagine was using my years of martial arts training and attacking him with a punch to the throat. However, the thought of then trying to get out of the car, running to the road, and then trying to flag down a car and communicate with them in English when they could probably only speak Arabic seemed a bit risky.

As Bilal continued to touch my leg, my face, my hair, and then tried to roughly shove his hand into my jacket and down my top, I decided that my best defence was just to laugh the whole thing off, repeatedly brush his hand away, and say yellah over and over again – let’s go, c’mon! Thankfully, after what seemed like an eternity but was maybe only 5 minutes in reality, he was fed up with my refusals, started up the minibus, and got back onto the road. It was only when he picked up the next passenger, an older lady, that I finally exhaled with relief, safe and unharmed.

When I finally made it back to Jbeil, I told my new local friends about the ordeal. They were horrified for me but told me that, despite being dressed modestly, it was likely they thought I was sex worker due to being of Asian descent. Great! And it explained why I was propositioned another three more times during that short 7-day trip.

There are many ways for travel to go wrong. Many things can be covered by travel insurance, but the best thing to do is to be careful, look after yourself and your possessions, and if you come home without being sexually assaulted by a dodgy Lebanese minibus driver, then you’re doing well!

This post is modified from my original post on Laugh Lots, Travel Often

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Fun in the Filipino sun

For many years, I’d heard of the great diving in the Philippines – beautiful reefs, lots of fish, and loads of historical wrecks.  I recently managed to get there to experience it for myself, along with my brother, his girlfriend, and our mate Steve.

We went to the dive centre of Puerto Galera, which was a 2 hour drive from Manila airport to the port town of Batangas and then a 1 hour ride on a bangka boat to La Laguna beach in Puerto Galera.  We arrived at our amazing resort, Out of the Blue, where we had a villa right at the top of the hill that had great views over Sabang Bay.

banca boatout of the blue resort puerto galera philippinesout of the blue resort puerto galera philippines

We didn’t dive on our first day there, but took the opportunity to unwind with cheap beers, mangoes, and massages.  One thing I didn’t expect was the number of older, foreign men with young, pretty Filipino women.  Call me naive but I had thought that this was a dive destination, not a seedy, girlie destination!

la laguna beach sunset philippines eating mangoes on the beach bikini bar sabang philippines

Thankfully, the diving was fantastic and it was well worth the trek here.  The diving was relatively easy here, with mild currents at most, but the reefs were colourful and teeming with fish.  We even saw a few turtles!

divers on a boat

On our last day in Puerto Galera, we took a day trip around the island in our own private jeepney, one of the flash buses common to the Philippines that were former US military vehicles.  We went to check out the stunning views from the mountaintop Ponderosa golf club, White Beach, and a lunch at Tamaraw Falls.

welcome to puerto galerajeepney philippines jeepney philippineswhite beach puerto galera philippinesview from ponderosa golf club puerto galera view from ponderosa golf club puerto galera drinking from coconuts tamaraw falls puerto galera tricycle philippines

After we’d had our fill of diving, we island-hopped to the premier beach holiday destination of Boracay.  I usually find top rated beach destinations a disappointment whenever I go on holidays because we simply have amazing beaches in Australia, but this was one beach that definitely lived up to the hype.  Walking across the beaches of Boracay is like a heavenly dip in powdery, silky soft talcum powder, and the water is a beautiful turquoise blue.

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Boracay is a fun holiday destination, with loads of restaurants and bars, sunset sailing, and checking out the local seafood markets.  We had one night out on the town with a pub crawl group, where we met lots of great fellow party people from the Philippines, the US, Saudi Arabia, and a few other Aussies too.

seafood markets boracay seafood markets boracay eating seafoodboracay beach sand sculpture dinner with friendssailing boracay sailing boracay sailing boracaysunset boracay beach sunset boracay beachboracay pub crawl boracay pub crawl

For great diving and beaching, and a cheap Asian holiday destination, I would definitely recommend the Philippines.  It’s a laid back country with friendly locals, and has the advantage of being an Asian country where English is widely spoken. I’m looking forward to heading back to the Philippines sometime to check out more of the country’s spectacular diving and beaches.

Powder and poutine

I made my first trip to Canada earlier this month, all for the eternal search for powder.  The White Russian and I were prepared to be slightly disappointed, after initial dumps of snow at Whistler Blackcomb earlier in the season hadn’t continued to the weeks immediately before our departure.  However it was a stroke of luck that the weather forecast changed as soon as we arrived and we saw 5 consecutive days of snow.

Whistler Blackcomb snow Whistler Blackcomb snow

With loads of fresh powder, the skiing was fantastic.  There ended up being 10 of us in our group, with some travelling from the UK to join us for some snow action.  We were constantly on the hunt for powder stashes, which we managed to find off piste and particularly some of the steeper black runs.

The visibility was fairly poor most of the time due to the layers of cloud that seemed to constantly sit at mid-mountain level, and then there were the snow flurries as well.  Sometimes you could barely see more than 10 metres ahead, resulting in some hairy near-collision moments.

Whistler Blackcomb snowboard Whistler Blackcomb snow Whistler Blackcomb snow Whistler Blackcomb snow Olympic ringsWhistler Blackcomb gondola

We decided before we arrived that one of our snow days would be a onesie day.  I came prepared with a suitcase of onesies for everyone.  Needless to say, we drew a lot of admiration (or was it just curiosity?) on the slopes that day!

snow animal onesies

Being my first time in Canada, I was eager to try the poutine, Canada’s (un)official national dish of chips, cheese curds and gravy.  We even found a version with pulled pork!  Absolutely delicious.  Some of the other delicacies we found on the slopes included a Mexican bulldog, which consisted of a frozen margarita with an upturned Corona.

frozen margarita corona cocktail poutine pulled pork toffee applescheese fondue

All in all, Whistler Blackcomb was a fantastic mountain, with some really long piste runs, lots of light and fluffy powder, some challenging steep terrain, fairly fast moving lift queues, delicious selection of food at the restaurants, and lots of friendly faces and smiles (a lot of them Australian!).  It would probably be some of the best skiing I’ve experienced.

On the way home, we spent one night in Vancouver, wandering around Gastown, Chinatown, and the shopping along Granville Street.  Thankfully I had lots of room in my luggage after clearing out all those onesies!  We also had brunch at the Granville Island Public Market, where one could easily find themselves spending hours ogling at all the charcuterie, cheeses, cakes, seafood and fresh meat.  We got a tasty selection of cheeses (ossau iraty, comte, epoisses, goats cheese), some wild boar proscuitto and duck proscuitto, and a flavoursome duck and fig pate.

pasta Vancouver Granville Island markets charcuterie Vancouver Granville Island markets Japadog Japanese hotdog Vancouver

As we were leaving, we were already discussing next year’s overseas ski trip!  It’s always good to have the next trip to get excited about.

The Australian Outback

My company was nice enough to recognise me amongst their “top 5%” of high achieving employees in the business last year, and as a reward around 30 odd of my colleagues and I were invited on a trip to Uluru with our partners at the end of October.  It was my first time to the Australian Outback, seeing red dirt, and visiting the iconic Uluru or Ayers Rock and The Olgas or Kata Tjuta.

Of course it was pretty damn hot out in the desert, and I was actually surprised by the amount of vegetation in the outback.  I had just assumed that the desert was just a vast expanse of nothing but red dirt!

We did a sunset tour of Kata Tjuta, and went for a short hike to see the formation up close.

 

During our visit, we also did a sunset visit of Uluru or Ayers Rock with glasses of champagne, a sunrise view of the rock again from a different angle (early start but well worth it!), the Sounds of Silence dinner where we had a buffet dinner under the stars and the full moon.  A wonderful way to see the outback.

 

 

 

Similan Islands diving

After many years of hearing that the Similan Islands in Thailand were a must-dive destination from my diving friends, I finally managed to make my way there this month.  It was pretty late in the season, which was beneficial in getting a half-empty (or is that half-full?) liveaboard boat and a cabin all to myself, however the weather was starting to turn slightly foul, with cloudy skies most of the time and lashing rain on occasion.  The glimpses of blue sky were very welcome.

Similan island white sandy beach

The diving was quite easy, although there was often a bit of current at the sites to keep things interesting.  The visibility ranged from 20-40 metres and the water temperature hovered around 29C, which made for easy and comfortable diving.

I love seeing big stuff and colourful reefs, and the sites here were not disappointing.  The coral growth on the reefs was looking pretty healthy, apparently making a good recovery after the tsunami of 2004.  The reefs attracted loads of colourful reef fish, which in turn attracted some bigger fish such as trevally and tuna.  On one particularly memorable dive we saw a majestic manta ray that slowly checked us out, before turning around to swim past us again, then swimming off into the blue.

Liveaboard diving is a continual cycle of diving, eating, sleeping/reading, diving, eating, more sleeping and reading.  The diving can get a bit tiring at the end of the day, but it’s definitely worthwhile.  We even checked out one of the white, sandy beaches of one of the islands, which had the whitest powdery sand I’ve ever seen.  It felt like I was standing on a large strip of flour!

White sandy beach at Similan Islands

Thai fishing boats