More Travel ‘Horror’ Stories

Sandy features more travel ‘horror’ stories that we have experienced during our journey.

Back in October we published a set of our own travel horror stories. They are not really ‘horror’ stories, but are more like situations that we have had where there were hang-ups, lack of information or things just got really uncomfortable. As we end our journey, here are another set of stories where things did not quite go to plan.

If you missed the first set, click to read our travel ‘horror’ stories.

The Overflowing Matatu

Inside the matatu from our back seat

In October we spent a week in the Samburu region of north central Kenya. It is located about 230 miles north of Nairobi and it is a day’s journey to get there. To travel long distances in Kenya, locals take matatus or mini-buses. These are vans that have up to 14 seats. The first leg of our journey took us five hours in a matatu to the city of Isiolo. When we arrived there we asked around to find the second matatu that would take us the final 20 miles (35 kilometers) to our destination of Archer’s Post.

Two men offered to walk us a couple of blocks to where those matatus departed. There was a vehicle getting ready to leave and we jumped in to sit in the last vacant seats in the back of the van. As all the luggage space was full we had to put our bags on our laps. We thought we would leave shortly since we took the last two seats, but people kept piling on and we soon had 19 passengers crammed inside the vehicle. It was midday and very hot so we pried open the window next to us to get some air. We still were not close to leaving because the driver was now outside haggling about his payment with the man who had collected everyone’s money.

Sandy squeezing into the matatu

I tried not to think about the situation we were in at this point. We were crammed in the back of a van, bags on our laps, could not move and were getting very hot. If something happened there was no way we would be getting out very quickly, if at all. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths and tried not to panic. Looking at Darren I could see he was having similar thoughts. Neither of us are claustrophobic, but this situation was not feeling good to either one of us.

SEE ALSO: A Samburu Sojourn

Finally the driver squeezed into the van and we were off. I guessed that it would take about 30 minutes to travel the 20 miles. With my face at the open window I kept a gaze outside, taking in the fresh air and looking at the scenery. I tried to block out where we were and did not look inside the van at all. My legs were now numb because of the weight of the bags on top of them. I looked at my watch. Twenty minutes gone. It can’t be that much further now.

Darren and I made some small talk and tried to joke about the situation. I think we were both surprised that neither one of us was panicking. Finally, I could see the town ahead, down at the bottom of the hill. It ended up taking about 40 minutes, with the final few moments, as everyone slowly exited the van, being the most anxious. We both were very happy to leave the vehicle. We ensured that the other matatu trips we took were on vans that were not overloaded, which cost a little extra, but gave us more peace of mind!

The Van in the Mud

The muddy street in Debark, Ethiopia

While journeying in the northern part of Ethiopia during November, we traveled along the so-called Historical Circuit, driving on almost 900 miles (1,450 kilometers) of roads, with significant stretches on rough dirt tracks.

One of our longest days was a 160 mile (260 kilometer) drive, from Debark to Axum, with about 120 miles (200 kilometers) of it on dirt roads. Knowing that it was going to take all day, our guide wanted us to leave no later than 6:45 am. It had rained hard the night before and looking out at the dirt road running through Debark, we could see that it was very muddy. We were using a minivan (not a four wheel drive) to travel through Northern Ethiopia, something that our guide had suggested to save us some money.

We could see that our driver, Alex, was a little nervous, but we all got in the van and started off. Right away we could tell that it was not going to be easy to get down the main dirt (now mud) street. The van began to slip and slide uncontrollably right away. We inched our way slowly down the street.

At the end of town the road went up a steep hill. When we reached the bottom of the hill it became obvious that there was no way we could drive up that road with it being so muddy. Even as we tried to inch forward our tires where already spinning. The minivan was sinking in the mud, and so was our confidence, as we were in real danger of getting seriously stuck. Just ahead of us, a four wheel drive vehicle was having trouble on the hill and was now stopped as well. All we could do was wait.

SEE ALSO: Seeking History and Religion in Northern Ethiopia

There were large tractors along the side of the road that were doing road construction. When those workers showed up to begin their day, the line of cars waiting to go up and over the hill was keeping them from doing their work. So a tractor began towing cars, one by one, up the muddy road and over the hill. Our turn came after we had waited for about 90 minutes.

The road out of town was much better so we were finally on our way. It took us about 10 hours to cover the 160 mile distance on one of the roughest roads we traveled on throughout our entire journey. Part of the reason for the slow going was continual road construction. Several times we had to wait to have the road cleared before we could continue.

The Final Yard

Climbing along the ledge on the way to Petra, Jordan

We were drawn to trek in Jordan because it offered a unique and off the beaten path way to get to the ancient city of Petra. For four days we would be making our way to Petra along the mountains on old Bedouin trails. I can hike all day on well-established trails. When the trails are rocky or faint I have more trouble. And I don’t do well with heights and sheer drop-offs.

The trek had aspects of all these things that were challenging for me. On the second day, there was even some climbing involved, as we were each helped up the side of a cliff by our guide. The fourth and final day we hiked towards Petra. We were excited to reach this ancient city; I was looking forward to completing the trek and the accomplishment of achieving all the challenges presented by the trail.

The trail through the rocks with large drop offs on the right

We entered Petra from the west side, walking along a nice path with newly manicured steps. We climbed up and had fantastic views of the mountains all around us. As we continued hiking, the trail seemed to end and turn to rock. It went up and around a ledge with a large drop-off below. My heart sank, but I kept moving.

All of a sudden the trail looked impassible; all I saw was a giant rock ahead. There was no apparent way to get around it. Our guide had moved ahead of us and was standing at the edge of the rock, ready to help us move across it. There was a small ledge underneath it that I could not see, along with hand holds on the top of rock. Below was a drop off of several hundred feet.

One at a time, we made our way across the ledge. Since the ledge was out of view and about the width of my hiking boot, I jammed my feet in and slowly slided them across, holding on to the rock hand holds. As I felt my way with my feet, our guide stayed next to me, spotting me in case I slipped and fell. I had to concentrate on what I was doing to not lose my nerve while negotiating this treacherous portion of the trail. After what seemed like forever, I was finally across the rock and back on firm soil. My knees were shaking as I took a moment to collect myself.

SEE ALSO: Discovering Jordan Off the Beaten Path

First views of Petra's Monastery

I was starting to wonder if this back entrance to Petra was worth the trouble. A few minutes later we turned another corner and couldn’t believe our eyes as we were face to face with The Monastery which looked like a structure from another world. The Monastery, the largest building in Petra, is 154 feet (47 meters) wide and 167 feet (51 meters) tall. Located at the other end of Petra from the iconic Treasury, The Monastery is a building that few people have time to see. Being there with no crowds was an experience that I will never forget.

The Vampire Bat

Rows of hammocks set up for the night

When planning the Amazon portion of our journey, Darren wanted to really get away and find a remote place to stay. During his research he found such a place, an overnight boat journey each way and over 200 miles from any city. It looked to be pristine and have many opportunities to trek and see wildlife. So we decided to go.

Getting there was quite a journey we had to buy hammocks for the 17 hour overnight trip on a public ferry. Even though we got there four hours before departure it was already full and we hung our hammocks on what seemed to be the last two spots. It was hot and the engine rumbled so it was hard to sleep in the thick humid air but somehow we managed to get a few hours of rest.

By the time we arrived at Xixuau in the late afternoon on the next day, we were pretty tired. Our room had a comfortable bed and mosquito net. At dinner several of us who had just arrived asked about the net and the bug situation at night. We were told that the net was not necessary to protect us from mosquitoes but from vampire bats! We were instructed to be sure and use the net to keep them out. It was still very hot when we went to sleep so I slept with on top of the sheets with the mosquito net securely around the bed.

I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. When I turned on my headlamp I was shocked to see blood covering the bottom quarter of the bed, as well as all over my foot. Slowly I realized that I must have been bitten by the bats. I felt nothing because we discovered later that the bats have a painkiller in their saliva, as well as an anticoagulant, which is why I bled so much.

SEE ALSO: Trekking in the Remote Amazon Rainforest

Feeling lightheaded at the sight, I woke up Darren and we decided that I should walk to the bathroom, which was outside and about 20 steps away, to clean up my foot. As I washed off the blood, it struck me how far we were from any medical care. My mind raced as I remembered what I learned about rabies as a child. Was I at risk now from being bitten by this bat? Would the trip be over because I needed to get medical attention? The remainder of the night passed slowly as I could not sleep at all.

Later we were able to get a message to our family doctor, using a satellite up link, to obtain his recommendation on treatment. He felt, since we were not in an urban area, that the bats would not likely be carriers of rabies. Therefore the risk of infection was very low. We breathed a little easier but have kept an eye on the calendar until the two to 12 week incubation period is over, which was the first week in April.

If you want to see a (warning: rather graphic) bloody picture of my foot, that we took for our doctor, click here.

The ‘Special’ Bus

Standing room only on the bus with my hiking boot in our faces

After we completed our final trek in Torres del Paine we spent the night at a resort hotel deep inside the national park. We had purchased open-ended bus tickets to get back to Puerto Natales, where we had left our luggage and where we needed to go to catch our ferry through the Chilean fjords the next day. The bus to Puerto Natales left everyday at 1:00 pm from the Visitor’s Center; we were told all we needed to do was show up and get on. Our hotel agreed to take us to the Visitor’s Center, about eight miles away.

We reached the Visitor’s Center at 12:35 pm. The parking lot was empty except for a tour bus. After about ten minutes another bus pulled up from a rival bus company, indicating a destination of ‘Especial’ on its front window. It was now 12:50 pm and we were getting a little nervous. I went up to the bus driver from the rival company and showed him our tickets. Between my limited Spanish and his little English, he indicated that we were supposed to go on his bus and he would take us to another location where we would meet our bus at 1:30 pm. On my ticket it indicated that there was a pick-up time for my bus at that very location at 1:30 pm so I figured that this made sense. We put our backpacks in the bus storage and boarded the bus.

It was 1:10 pm before we started moving. I looked at my park map and saw that it was a winding dirt road to the location where we needed to be at 1:30 pm, making me anxious about connecting with the bus. Sure enough, the trip was slow going, not only because of the road but because the tour vans in front of us kept stopping for pictures. Since it was a narrow dirt road, we also had to stop (and sometimes back up) to allow oncoming traffic to pass.

SEE ALSO: The Final Trek: Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park

Finally we arrived at the transfer point at about 1:40 pm. We were relieved to see our bus there but noticed that it was almost entirely full, with more people putting their luggage in the side storage areas. As soon as our bus stopped I jumped out while Darren agreed to retrieve our backpacks. I was able to get the last two seats, about two rows from the back, on the new bus. When Darren finally boarded the bus he had both backpacks with him, as the side storage was full. So we crammed the packs into the area above us, my hiking boot hanging in our faces.

The bus was absolutely packed. People were standing in the aisles, from front to back, as we set off again on another twisting dirt road. Most people had just finished trekking and had been camping so it soon became apparent that they had not showered in several days. One person standing in the aisle right above us was especially fragrant, and, with his arm stretched out to hold a bar above him, we got the brunt of the odor. We both leaned toward the open window next to us gasping for as much fresh air as possible. Would it be like this for the entire two hour trip back to Puerto Natales?

After about 20 minutes the bus made one more stop in the park which was at its entrance. We saw another bus from our company there and those standing were able to transfer to that vehicle to get back to Puerto Natales. Our trip back was much more comfortable and breathable.


2 Responses to More Travel ‘Horror’ Stories
  1. Abe Peters
    May 20, 2013 | 09:07

    Oh Sandy. I find these reports very, very exciting. I don’t know how you can remember so much; guessing you made excellent notes. Amazing with the amount of luggage you could carry.
    You have my admiration!
    Abe

    • Darren and Sandy
      May 20, 2013 | 13:23

      Thanks, Abe! Glad you enjoyed the story! Sandy

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