Category Archives: When things go wrong!

A Beer, a Chica and a Hospital

A beer, a chica and a hospital.

Where: Mendoza, Argentina

When: December 2010

How Bad: 5/5

This particular episode of the ‘when things go wrong’ category started with just one innocent beer! Chilaxing in the hammock in the garden of Hostel Lao, soaking up the Mendozan sun, I had been planning a quiet night. Christmas was fast approaching and I had recently started to miss home. I had looked into flying home for Christmas, but these options were not financially viable.

The garden at Hostel Lao

The garden at Hostel Lao

Sunset in Mendoza

Sunset in Mendoza

Mendoza is Argentina’s most famous wine region and most of my days/nights had been spent sampling the local delights. Malbec was the specialty and hostel Lao had free Malbec every night!

But tonight I was going to be strong. I wanted to resist the temptation of that red, fruity tasting beverage and get an early night in.

The gentle swing of my hammock was abruptly halted. “Hey dude, whats happening?” a familiar voice said. “Fancy sharing a beer with me?” To this day I still can not remember the guys name. We had partied the previous night at the hostel and like most people I meet on the road, I just referred to him as mate because I forgot peoples names as soon as the introductions had been done.

My obvious answer to his question was “Sure mate”. What could be the harm in sharing just one beer? As others may know, one beer is never just ONE! It leads to another, and another and another until the time comes when you think ‘lets get smashed’. Our afternoon beer session attracted the attention of others. They wanted to join the fun. By early evening when the free wine appeared we had a nice little drinking posse made up of backpackers from all over the world. The ones I can remember were Jodie & Amy from New Zealand, George & Nicola (doctors from England), my ‘mate’ and a few others.

A plan was hatched, we would go to the Irish bar down the road from the hostel to continue our festivities. Fran who worked in the hostel wanted to join us after his shift finished. The bar was packed, mainly with locals and we had to push our way through to get to the bar. Getting served at the bar was n’t a concept Argentine’s warmed to. As in most foreign countries it was all about table service. So fighting your way to the bar in true English style did n’t go down to well. By this time I was sick of beer, it was time for rum and coke and i’d noticed they served Captain Morgans. My favourite!

Me and the hostel Lao crew. (German, Fran,Me,Maurizio

Me and the hostel Lao crew. (German, Fran,Me,Maurizio

This was the night I introduced Captain Morgans to Fran from the hostel. I did n’t know it at the time but this night would be the start of a truly great friendship between Fran and I. He also developed his infatuation of Captain Morgans and coke on this night. Fran also played another key part in this whole story. He introduced me to a college friend of his, a local Chica called Egle. We hit it off straight away and as a bonus she could speak English, but sadly Egle and her friend were leaving for a club to meet other friends. She invited me to come. I had a dilemma. Stay with my new friends and continue the party, or ditch them and go with Egle into the unknown. I think most guys would choose option 2. And so did I. Like a lot of people I drink harder when I’m nervous and in unfamiliar company. This was the case when we reached the club. I hit the rum and coke hard and it was n’t long before double vision set in. I tried my best to dance it off but this was after all a result of drinking all afternoon. If you have read my other posts in this category you might notice a worrying trend. Alcohol, females and problems!

Finally the end of the night came. I now have a very hazy memory of the following events and had to later rely on Egle’s interpretation of events.

For some reason I did n’t want to take a taxi and suggested we should walk. I can only think I was worried about feeling sick once inside the taxi. So we walked. And from what I know now it was a long walk. Luckily Egle lived near to my hostel so I would n’t be alone for long. We said our goodbyes and swapped details.

Now, the next set of events are truly a mystery to me even now, nearly 3 years on. I must have walked the wrong way towards my hostel. Apparently where the following situation happened was very near to a club with a bad reputation for fighting. The only slight memory I have of it is being punched to the floor, followed by a series of kicks to the head and abdomen. I don’t remember my attackers or their reason. The next vague memory I have was someone picking me up and putting me inside of a car. This happened to be a policeman and he kindly took me to the local hospital. I think I was unconscious at some point. I do remember having stitches sown in at hospital though and I definitely remember having to drop my pants to receive an injection in the ass. I was informed I had a fracture to the nose, a 2 inch gash above my eye and a chipped tooth. Great news!

After I was all patched up, I was taken to the police station to give my recollection of events. One of the police officers could speak a little English and he translated my story to the office clerk writing it all down. My statement was presented to me in Spanish. When I queried it the officer informed me “You are not in your country, you are in Argentina, you sign” I had enough by this time and the pain killers were in full effect. I just wanted my bed.

Arriving back at the hostel caused quite a stir. The police officer escorted me inside and explained to Mike the owner what had happened. He was truly concerned for me and could not do enough to help me. I was due to check out this morning, but in this state I did n’t want to go anywhere. Unfortunately though the hostel was fully booked for the night. My options were to find another hostel, book a bus to my next destination or sleep on the hammock which Mike had kindly offered. None of these appealed to me in my dazed state. Luckily though another option was presented to me. Fran had just arrived to start his shift. He was in total shock at what had happened to me. He insisted I stay with him and his family for as long as was necessary. The next thing I know his Dad his at the hostel to take me to their home. I can not explain the how this kind-full act made me feel. I had never met Fran’s family and I only briefly knew Fran though the couple of weeks I had stayed at the hostel. These kind people were going to take in a complete stranger and treat me like one of their own.

I stayed with my ‘new family’ for nearly a week. They fed me and helped me in more ways than one. Fran would come to the hospital with me to translate for check ups and help with the necessary paperwork I needed for my Travel insurance.

During this time I learnt to value something else from my travels. It was n’t all about seeing and doing cool things, it was all about interacting with local people and discovering how warm and kind they could be. This experience will be one I remember for the rest of my life. For both the bad and for the truly amazingly kind act from Fran and his family. I even made the local paper and a journalist regularly stopped by the hostel to get my personal account.

As a result of this I was able to go home for Christmas. The insurance company were excellent. They covered all my expenses back to the UK. Before I left I experienced one more unbelievable act of kindness from Fran’s family. They invited me to a family Assado (Argentine BBQ) at their home. For anyone luckily enough to experience an Assado, you will know what a treat it actually is. If you like meat then you will be in heaven.

Me and my Argentinian family

Me and my Argentinian family

I spent Christmas at home and returned to Argentina on the 20/01/11 to continue my adventure. I have since been back to visit Fran and the rest of the Hostel Lao crew on numerous occasions. I will be back there again later this year.

A few days after the incident

A few days after the incident

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The Day I woke Up In a Favela

The day I woke up in a Favela

Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When: September 2010

How bad: 3/5

I had been travelling solo for 4 months when this story took place. I had spent 2 months in Africa and was now into my second month in South America. One of my best friends had flown out to meet me in Rio de Janeiro for a 3 week holiday and to celebrate our 30th Birthdays together. Our plan was to travel along the Brazilian coast all the way to Iguazu falls on the Argentine/Brazilian border.

On our first proper night we had decided to attend the Favela funk party that is organised by all the hostels in Rio. “Lots of single girls” was the sale pitch used by the guy at the hostel that flogged the tickets. WE WERE SOLD!

A Favela is a Brazilian shanty town, usually perched on the side of a hill looking down across a city. These places are not safe, especially for foreigners and are home to the poorest people in the area. Drug gangs run the show and violent clashes with armed police are a regular thing.

A Favela in Rio de Janeiro

A Favela in Rio de Janeiro

The Favela funk party was thankfully not quite as dangerous. Strict security and a VIP area only for foreigners  made even the most fearful of souls feel at home. A bus picked us and most of the other guests in the hostel up. We joined the rowdy and packed bus full of tipsy backpackers. You could tell this was going to be a good night. The journey took around 40 minutes to reach the venue and the tour guide gave us one valuable bit of advice. The bus leaves at 4am, if you are not here we go! The area around the venue was best described as chaos. It was called a favela funk party because it was supposed to imitate a traditional favela party and it was also located next to one of Rio’s Favelas.  Hundreds of drunk people filled the streets, a mixture of locals and backpackers.

The venue was huge and from what I remember the music was a mix of western pop and Reggaeton. Not really my cup of tea. We decided the best thing to do was to get smashed and seek out some girls. Beers turned into Rum & Cokes which again changed to Vodka & Redbulls. By this stage I think the correct term to describe our state was ‘wasted’. It was time to hit the dance floor. We tried and failed miserably to dance like the locals and the only thing that surpassed our failings was our poor attempt to chat up the local girls. Neither of us knew any Portuguese so we relied on our slightly better Spanglish to impress the ladies. We were failing! A new plan was needed. My friend decided the old ‘nick a girls hat and wear it’ trick was the way forward. It worked. She thought it was funny, and so did here friend. We were in.

Favela Funk Party

Inside the Favela funk party

We danced with them making time for several more trips to the bar for refreshments in between. Soon the night was at an end. The security ushered everyone outside and the chaos was once again upon us. Everyone was piling into their buses and making their way home. Accept for us that is. We were talking with our new ‘friends’. I use the phrase ‘talking’ lightly because it had similarities to a conversation a couple of 2 year old’s would have.

Chicas, Locals, Be a local

Mixing with the locals

By this stage my memory was hazy at best so I have to recall upon the events as my friend witnessed. Apparently our guide was frantically wandering around looking for 2 English guys that were missing. He found us! “Come on guys, we go. Take their cell number’s and call them tomorrow”. This did not appeal to us and my friend begged the guide to squeeze the 2 girls on the bus with us. “Impossible” was the reply. He eventually got fed up with waiting and the bus disappeared into the darkness.

Our new friends

Our new friends

We were now the only Gringos left and the severity of our situation was numbed by the alcoholic content in our bodies. We were 40 minutes drive from our hostel and we were in a somewhat sketchy place. We went to a bar across the road for another beer we DID N’T need!

The next proper memory I can recall is the next morning. It was like the opening scene from the Hangover movie. As my eyes slowly focused I felt disoriented. Where the hell was I? I did n’t recognize this ceiling. This was n’t my hostel. To my right I saw a girl. I remembered now, I had met her last night. Further to my right I saw a bed. To my left I saw my friend sound a sleep and next to him another girl. It then occurred to me that the reason the surface I was laying on was so hard and cold was because in fact we were actually lying on the floor. I thought this was a strange situation. Why on earth are we sleeping on the floor when there is a perfectly good bed? On closer inspection of the bed I noticed another girl sleeping. Next to her was a small child and next to her was a toddler. This was weird. As I surveyed the room I noticed exposed wiring hanging from the light going direct towards the light switch.

I woke my mate. “where the hell are we?” I asked. “Its bad, real bad” he replied. He began to tell me the full story. The girls felt sorry for us because we missed our ride home so offered to take us in for the night. But the problem was, they did n’t live in a regular house in a regualr neighborhood. They lived in a Favela, and deep inside a Favela. We had walked for 20 minutes or so getting higher and higher up the hill side until we had reached the very top and entered at best a basic looking home.

The view from the window

The view from the window

Our conversation had woken the others in the room. The strangers were all fascinated with us especially the small girl. The toddler started crying and it was nappy changing time. One of the girls said “comida?” I understood this as food. We looked at each other and nodded. They all the left the room locking us in from the outside. We began to discuss how we were going to get out of this mess and considered going out the window and making a run for it. We opened the wooden shutter and were greeted by the immense size of the Favela we were currently housed in. There was a 15 foot drop to the ground, we were well and truly trapped!

The girls returned with juice and hotdogs and now locked the door from the inside. I was surprised further when one of the girls produced a brand new Sony Vaio laptop and logged onto Facebook. How did they afford such things and how the hell did they have WiFi? It became evident why the door was kept locked. A mans voice was heard and the door was knocked. Was this a brother, father or even worse a boyfriend? I think we all agreed it was time for us to leave. The girls waited until the coast was clear and snuck us out through the door. We stayed close to the girls as we walked through the Favela. The locals all looked and starred as we passed by. It was a sketchy feeling. We finally reached the end of the Favela and a normal looking town emerged. the buildings had glass windows! The girls kindly flagged down a taxi for us and told the driver where we needed to go and agreed a price we were happy with. We were finally on our way home.

When I walked in through the hostel, the receptionist asked if I wanted to go on a Favela tour later that afternoon. I laughed and said I have just been. To this day this is still one of my favourite  travel stories to tell. Other backpackers always laugh at it. I know we were stupid and extremely lucky to escape unscathed. If it was n’t for the genuineness and kindness of the 2 girls we may have ended up in a real bad situation.

So my advice is, if you go to the Favela funk party,get wasted and meet a girl. Get her number and get on that bus! You may not be as lucky as we were.

The Beijing Bar Bill

Beijing

Beijing

The Beijing Bar Bill

Where: Beijing, China

When: October 2007

How bad: 4/5

This story takes place on my first ever night as a backpacker. Inexperienced, a little naive but full of enthusiasm for adventure. It all started at London’s Heathrow airport. My best friend and I were waiting to check into our flight bound for Beijing, the start of our year long round the world trip. Neither of us had done any real travelling, especially backpacking. We were both a little nervous and apprehensive at the thought of what we were about to embark on.

There was a bit of commotion in our check in line. The British Airways staff were frantically scouring the line looking for volunteers to give up their seat on the plane and take the next flight 24 hours later. Our turn came. The employee kindly explained the situation. The flight was overbooked by 45 people and they needed volunteers to forfeit their seat. For this inconvenience they would reward us with £475 compensation, a night in the Marriott hotel and 3 complementary meals. At the time this did n’t sound too appealing. I was nervous at the thought of going away for such a long time and I just wanted to get things underway as quick as possible. But my friend persuaded me, and once the idea had set in, I realized what a great deal it actually was. After all £475 would go a hell of a long way on a backpacker budget! That evening while we were enjoying our free meal we actually hoped the same situation would occur the next day.

Sadly the offer was not up for grabs the next day. We boarded our flight and started our epic journey around the world. The flight was long and I struggled to get any sleep. We finally arrived into Beijing early the next morning and swiftly made are way to our hotel. We had decided long before we left the Uk that our first night would be spent ‘flashpacking’ in a 5 star hotel to deal with the effects of jet lag. After getting our heads down for a few hours we headed out into the chaotic metropolis that was Beijing. After eating in a cockroach invested restaurant we both felt the jet lag kicking in once more and decided an early night was called for. But before we had chance to walk the 500 yards or so to the hotel we were stopped in the street by two pretty young Chinese girls.

Tiananmen Square, Beijing

Tiananmen Square, Beijing

Their reason for interrupting our leisurely stroll was because they wanted to practice their English. Not a problem we both thought, what could possible go wrong? The four of us chatted away in the street for ten minutes or so until one of the girls suggested we all go for a coffee. This did not appeal to me in the slightest. Coffee I thought, caffeine was the last thing I wanted in my blood stream. I was ready for bed and the sooner the better. My friend suggested going for a beer, which the girls loved the idea of. This is where the problems started. “Yes” one of the girls replied, “I know a nice bar just round the corner”. The next thing I knew we were being dragged off by hand to the bar.

The girls chatted to the barman in Mandarin and they secured us a table in a private booth. My friend and I ordered two beers and the girls, two glasses of wine. I must admit it went down pretty well and I was ready for another one sooner rather than later. The next thing I knew, a selection of nuts and other savory snacks appeared on our table. It was normal the girls replied. As the alcohol flowed and blurred our senses a bottle of wine was ordered. Now a quick social beer was turning into something of a session. That bottle soon disappeared and another was ordered. By this stage I started to worry about how much this was all costing and asked my friend to go to the bar to find out how much a bottle of wine was. 75 Yuan was the price advertised on the board, about £8. Not too bad we thought.

My friend playing pool with one of our new 'friends'

My friend playing pool with one of our new ‘friends’

We chatted some more, played some Pool and by the end of the night we got through 4 bottles of wine, 4 bottles of beer and 2 bottles of water. It had actually turned out to be a pretty fun night. This backpacking life was going to be awesome I thought. It was time to settle the bill. We had a rough idea of how much it was all going to cost (£55) and we just about had enough money to cover it and what we thought was a nice tip too. How wrong were we. To our horror and amazement the bill stated well over 7000 Yuan. This must be a mistake, they must have the decimal in the wrong place. This was working out at over £700!!

We showed our disgust towards the bar staff with a few choice words in English and pleaded with the girls to explain this must be a mistake. We asked how much the wine was, and the barman pointed to the price board. At closer inspection the bottle of red wine we were drinking was in fact priced at 750 Yuan not the 75 we had thought. The tiniest 0 was placed next to 75. This meant a bottle wine was about £80! The reality set in that we had been well and truly scammed.

We talked between ourselves what are options were. We could try and do a runner, just pay with the money we had in our wallets or pay the ridiculous bill. We decided the first option was not a possibility. We were in a strange city, jet lagged and pretty drunk. Plus we had both seen the movies about Chinese gangsters and what they did to those who crossed them. The second option seemed our best bet. But the bar staff were having none of it. They insisted we had to pay the full amount or the police would be called. After some time contemplating it we reluctantly gave in and decided to settle the bill, which I had to pay on my Visa card. It hurt, and to be totally honest, I just wanted to go back home where bad things like this did n’t happen.

We woke the next day hoping it was all a bad dream. But it was n’t and our hangovers did n’t help with matters. The only positive thing we could take from the whole episode was the money we had lost was covered by the money we had gained from British Airways. And we would never be so easily conned again on our trip!

Even to this day, 6 years on, I still have trouble initially trusting locals when i’m travelling. It is a shame because interacting with the locals is a big part of travelling, but at the same time I am more street smart, less naive and a much stronger person for it.

These things happen!

When things go wrong

In this section I would like to share some of my ‘not so good’ experiences from my travels. My aim of these posts is to show others that travelling and backpacking is not always fun and occasionally things go wrong. But despite these accounts I am sharing, they have never once put me off from picking up my pack and heading off into the unknown. I am a strong believer in any experience, good or bad are a positive things and will ultimately make you a stronger person.