28 Apr

Remember That Time…We Got Soaked Over 50 Cents?

Now that we’ve returned home and have settled back into our routine lives again we find it funny how our travel stories keep coming up. Invariably one of us will look at the other and say ‘Remember That Time…’ I thought it would make a good series; a way to tell these small stories that take us back in the blink of an eye.

My mother always told me that I shouldn’t cut off my nose to spite my face. I’m guessing that this is one of those times I should have heeded her advice…

We ran out of the expat bar in Amman, Jordan and jumped into the first cab we could see. With the rain coming down like it hadn’t since Noah built his Ark we didn’t stop to first inquire about the price as we normally would.

The cab set off down the road and then I asked how much to our hotel on the other side of town.

He quoted some ridiculous fee that was twice what I was expecting.

I acted suitably outraged and said that there was no way that it should cost that amount.

He explained that he worked for the bar and this was the fee that he was required to charge. I looked over and realized that he was very well dressed for a local taxi driver but I still thought we were being taken.

I countered again with a fee half his asking price. He wouldn’t budge.

Believing that if you’re in, you’re all in I demanded that he pull the cab over immediately and let us out.

This will usually do the trick and the stalled negotiation can continue.

He pulled over, let us out, and drove away.

And there we stood in the pissing down rain, in the middle of the night, with no other cabs in sight.

As we walked passed where we had started to a taxi stand another 2 blocks down to hail a cab, we realized that we had indeed cut off our noses to spite our faces…over 50 cents.

 

 

21 Feb

Remember That Time: We Realized We Would Never Make It As Drug Mules?

Now that we’ve returned home and have settled back into our routine lives again we find it funny how our travel stories keep coming up. Invariably one of us will look at the other and say ‘Remember That Time…’ I thought it would make a good series; a way to tell these small stories that take us back in the blink of an eye.

We got our Vietnamese visa from an agent in Bangkok, Thailand about 6 weeks before we planned on being in Vietnam. We didn’t know where else we might be able to get it and so pretty much guessed at how long we would take through northern Thailand and Laos to get there.

Vietnamese visas are strict. You must declare your entry date, may not arrive early, and must leave 30 days after entry. It cost 1350 Baht or about $44 each.

At the time that we received the visa we had not yet booked flights. Jason was pretty good at the whole booking flights over the internet thing by now so he had his eye on a number of possible flights and, when one came up that looked good, he booked it lickety split.

It was about a month later, while we were in Laos, that he checked the tickets and realized that we were booked to leave Vietnam 31 days after entry…a day later than allowed.

Yep, checked, double checked, counted out the days…one day late. Shit.

We briefly looked into changing the ticket; the non refundable, non changeable ticket and then thought ‘meh…how bad could it be?’.

We arrived at the airport super early, dressed in the best clothes we had; not wanting to leave anything to chance and wanting to appear like the ‘good travellers’ we were. Our plan was to play it cool; don’t point out the visa error; and maybe even act surprised if they noticed.

Right away, at the check in counter, the attentive agent noticed that our visa had expired the day before. We looked at her and immediately confessed that, yes, we had accidentally booked flights a day late…so much for our acting careers; over before it’s begun!

She pantomimed/explained that we couldn’t have a boarding pass and instructed us to leave our bags and go to speak with the immigration officer. In retrospect that’s exactly what you should do; leave your bags unattended in a foreign country with a strict drug policy while you go to discuss your invalid visa. Not. So. Smart.

We found the agent and presented ourselves. What a sorry heap of nerves, anxiety, and fear we were. So much for playing it cool. I was sweaty, shaky and red as a beetroot as we pantomimed/explained our situation and how sorry we were to have made such a stupid, rookie mistake.

He was gruff, if not slightly amused, as he called over another agent and began talking on the phone to someone I assumed was his supervisor. There was a lot of tsk-tsking and stern looks before he explained how lucky we were and how kind he was being as he waived all fines and signed the all-important document that would allow us to retrieve our bags and a boarding pass.

I tell the story light-heartedly but let me be clear; I don’t think it’s a good idea to screw around with visitation or immigration policy in any country. The rules are clear and it’s not hard to follow them. You can be sure that, from that day forward, we double and triple checked absolutely every entry/exit plan we had. It’s just not worth the risk.

25 Jan

Remember That Time…We Visited The Dead?

Now that we’ve returned home and have settled back into our routine lives again we find it funny how our travel stories keep coming up. Invariably one of us will look at the other and say ‘Remember That Time…’ I thought it would make a good series; a way to tell these small stories that take us back in the blink of an eye.

I’m not one to believe in ghost stories, or think that my ancestors are looking down on me. I have a pretty pragmatic view of death and will be utterly surprised if I ‘wake up’ on the other side. I am fascinated, though, by cemeteries and the lengths to which people will go to honor and remember their loved ones.

La Cementerio de la Recoleta in Buenos Aires is a grand display of love, and worship, and wealth.

Ensconced within the tony Recoleta neighborhood, hidden behind high walls, it is a city within the city. City blocks, stone streets, narrow alleys and plazas mark the landscape and live up to the name City of the Dead.

In this city the streets are not lined with houses, and driveways, and green lawns; but with mausoleums, and tombstones, and statues honoring those that rest here.

It is truly a sight to behold. We wandered for hours, checking out all the nooks and crannies, reading the inscriptions and poking our heads into open mausoleums to see stacks of coffins inside! It was, at times, a little creepy but more-so it was fascinating to think of the time, and energy, and money that went into these final resting places.

There is a reminder of this grand cemetery here at home. From the window near the front door of our apartment I can look out to the biggest cemetery here in Victoria, the Ross Bay Cemetery. It is a beautiful, parkland-like setting on the edge of the ocean; in fact, local lore says that high tides and storms have been responsible for sucking caskets out to sea…that was until they shored it all up a few years ago and wrecked the ghost story-telling potential.

Housing many local founding fathers (such as Sir James Douglas and John Dunsmuir), Canadian icons (Emily Carr and Billy Barker) and historical figures (Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie and Nellie Chapman), it is the perfect place to take a walk..and we do often as we cut through on our way to the grocery store.

It is old; just as old as La Cementerio de la Recoleta; opened in 1873, and is showing it’s age with many of the tombs covered in moss, or caved in but it is no match for the grandest cemetery in Argentina. Don’t tell those resting there though…they have an ocean view and are proud of it!

06 Dec

Remember That Time…Creepy White Guys And Surprise Soup

Now that we’ve returned home and have settled back into our routine lives again we find it funny how our travel stories keep coming up. Invariably one of us will look at the other and say ‘Remember That Time…’ I thought it would make a good series; a way to tell these small stories that take us back in the blink of an eye.

I should have known the day was going to go downhill as we passed the creepy, white guys in the ‘lobby’.

It had been a long day on the bus and we had arrived in Kon Kaen (in central Thailand) late in the afternoon. Planning to stay only one night we sought out a cheap place to sleep.

Looking around at the old, wooden walls and floors I could see what Lonely Planet described as ‘past glory’. And it did indeed look past but, when you’re looking for cheap; beggars can’t be choosers. And it was cheap…150 baht…about 5 bucks.

Ten minutes later and we were hauling our bags back downstairs. The room was as creepy as the white guys in the lobby and all I could imagine was the sounds of illicit sex seeping through the walls at all hours of the night. Some times cheap is just not worth it…so we hightailed it a few blocks away and spent more than double that at a business-type hotel! (My records show we spent 400 baht instead…about $13…price becomes distorted when travelling and we thought this to be an expensive hotel…I know, crazy!)

Hungry, tired, and cranky we set out to find a bite to eat. We didn’t want much…maybe just some BBQ chicken and rice (the popular local Isan dish)…but couldn’t find anything that fit the bill.

Finally, we happened on a corner with a few soup vendors. We pulled up a couple of low stools and headed to the cart to see what was on offer.

Thai food carts are amazing. In a small, hand pushed, cart the lady had a full kitchen going on where she could make salads and noodles and, her speciality, soup.

There were three huge vats of soup. One looked like a thick, pasty chicken noodley like soup, one looked like a rich beefy broth and I can’t remember the third. We ordered up a chicken noodle and a beef simply by pointing at the vats and went to sit. A few minutes later the steaming hot soup was delivered to us in huge bowls.

Mine was indeed a thick, starchy chicken noodle soup – a little bland but it would fill the hole until morning.

J dug his spoon into his soup and came up with a spoonful of chickens feet and blood cubes!

Chiang Mai Market, Thai Farm Cookery School-1

Yep, full on chickens feet, and more than one…it was a generous portion of skin, nails, tendons, and ligaments…yummy. Served up with a good dose of congealed blood cubes. That’s right; blood that has been drained into a flat pan, allowed to congeal, and then cut into cubes.

I looked over at the soup lady to see if she was stifling a giggle as we realized what we had gotten ourselves into, but she looked as nonchalant as ever as she served her next customer. This was not unusual to her and so why would she think we would be upset about it?

Jason was a real trooper here. Although he ate neither chicken feet nor blood cube, he did tuck into the broth and managed to get enough in him to fill his belly for the evening.

We eat soup often now that we’re home and we often chuckle to each other and say Remember That Time…

18 Oct

Remember That Time…I Thought It Was All Over Before It Had Hardly Begun?

Now that we’ve returned home and have settled back into our routine lives again we find it funny how our travel stories keep coming up. Invariably one of us will look at the other and say ‘Remember That Time…’ I thought it would make a good series; a way to tell these small stories that take us back in the blink of an eye.

I think striking is Peru’s national past time. It seemed as though there was always a strike, or the threat of a strike, the whole time we were there.

We had booked our Inca Trail trek months in advance and, finally, the day was approaching for us to set out. We’d been in Cusco for 4 or 5 days acclimatizing to the altitude and listening to various rumors about an impending transit strike.

The taxi drivers in the city were seemingly upset because the local police had increased the fines for drinking and driving beyond the price that the taxi drivers were wiling to pay. I know.

Busy Day In Cusco

There, as it is here in Canada, union members stick together and so the taxi drivers had the support of drivers from outside the city, bus drivers, truck drivers, delivery drivers etc. There was to be no movement of motorized vehicles during the predicted one day strike (sometimes they can go on for days as one did later on in our stay in Peru).

We were worried about how this would affect our scheduled trek when we received an email explaining that, due to the strike, we would be leaving at 10PM that night to sneak out of the city before the strike began.

We quickly packed our packs, made arrangements for our return, and met up with our trekking group at the assigned spot. We weren’t the only group leaving early that night as there were three buses lined up waiting to hit the road early. We all piled in and the little convoy got on its’ way.

All was well until we were about a half hour outside of town. We could see groups of men walking along the darkened roadway. They were making sure the transit strike was being observed and were going to walk through the night to make it to Cusco by morning for the protest.

Along the way they had set fire to tires and brush and were starting to block the roadway with rocks of all sizes (this is a technique we saw elsewhere in the country too – a crude, but effective way of stopping traffic).

It was eerie to catch sight of random figures in the bus headlights furtively running about. It reminded me of Halloween night a bit.

Suddenly there was a loud BANG on one of the windows of the bus. And then another. And another. And another. We were being pelted with rocks. The striking men were upset that the buses were trying to leave and they were going to let us know about it.

The guide yelled at us all to get down, for fear of a window being shattered, so we all hunched down and wondered what was going to happen next.

I was terrified and started to shake uncontrollably.

andes You see, I had been reading a novel called Death In The Andes that takes place during Peru’s Shining Path Rebellion, a time of great turmoil, political upheaval, and violence.

In one part of the story a French couple are on a bus traversing the Andes when it is pulled over by Shining Path members. The end for them is neither kind, nor swift, as they are killed by their captors. It is actually a great novel and, being based on true events, gave me a lot of insight into modern Peruvian culture…I recommend it.

This is what was going through my head as the rocks continued to pelt the outside of the bus. I had visions of the bus stopping, strange men boarding and marching us all outside to some unknown fate.

I’m serious. This is what I was thinking.

I, of course, didn’t think about the 15 porters and 2 guides sitting in the back of the bus who would have defended us and I didn’t think about the possibility of the bus not stopping.

Which is exactly what happened. That bus convoy was not stopping for anything, no matter what got in the way, and we just kept right on going at top speed until we were past the danger.

But, for a few brief minutes (that seemed like forever), I was sure that just three weeks into our trip that it was all going to be over.

31 Aug

Remember That Time…I Colored My Hair In Vietnam?

Now that we’ve returned home and have settled back into our routine lives again we find it funny how our travel stories keep coming up. Invariably one of us will look at the other and say ‘Remember That Time…’ I thought it would make a good series; a way to tell these small stories that take us back in the blink of an eye.

Call me cheap, but I color my own hair. I always have and luckily, knock on wood, it has never turned out disastrous. It maybe hasn’t always looked exactly how I wanted it to but, then again, I’m only investing $14.95 in the process rather than $70 – a classic case of ‘you get what you pay for’.

I had even done this previously on the trip…at least 5 times previously…and had had fairly decent results even though I often couldn’t read the instructions or didn’t have all the usual equipment.

It all came tumbling down in Vietnam.

There are no drugstores in Vietnam – it seems that anyone that has any space, and something to sell, just does. I found a place selling a few boxes of hair color, chose a box labeled ‘light brown’ and headed back to the hotel.

There were no gloves in the box and I can’t even remember if there were instructions but, having done this a million times before, I just set to mixing the various bottles and applying it to my head.

I thought it strange that my fingernails stained black almost immediately but put it down to applying color without gloves and thought no more of it.

The last time I had colored my hair (in Thailand) I had not left the color in long enough as I was afraid it would be too dark and it ended up fading out sooner than it should have, so this time I was determined to leave it in for the prescribed amount of time. I busied myself while I waited for the 45 minutes to pass (yes it takes that long….I have, ahem, some grey that needs extra attention).

I rinsed the color out of my hair, toweled it dry, and took the first look in the mirror to see how it turned out.

AAAAAAACCCCCCCCKKKKKKKK!

Uh oh...a little too dark!

It was black. Black, black, black! As black as any raven haired Vietnamese beauty I could see on the street. Really, really black. I cannot emphasize enough how black it was.

I was mortified but there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t risk coloring over it, and besides, what color would I use? I have a sneaking suspicion that every box of hair color in Vietnam, whether labeled black or light brown or blond or red, all has the same formulation in it. Black.

At home they say you shouldn’t wash your hair right after coloring it because it will fade…so I washed it, and washed it, and washed it. It didn’t look any duller at all. Still black.

I slowly realized that I was going to have to live with it. I was going to have to go outside.

Keep in mind – this in no way, shape or form looked natural. Some black lipstick and dark clothing and I could have passed for ‘goth’.

Eventually we made our way outside – I held my head up and faked confidence I didn’t have. I felt like everyone was looking at me and laughing. Luckily the sun sets early in Vietnam and, soon enough, I was comforted by a drape of darkness. But it would have to get light again at some point.

That mistake took forever to grow out. Normally hair color fades over time and grows out eventually. Vietnamese hair color is tenacious and sticky and, even after returning home, and coloring my hair a few more times I could still see traces of the black in there.

My father-in-law referred to me as his ‘Vietnamese blond’ – funny.