Admit it: The best travel stories aren’t the ones where everything is amazing. No, the really interesting tales are the ones in which things go horribly wrong. So, as an antidote to all those perfect vacations you’re bound to hear about, we present a few of our favorite bad trips, bloopers, and blunders.
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK
We’ve weathered a few weird encounters. While snorkeling in the Galápagos Islands, we were wary of the hammerhead sharks in the water, but it turned out that the “cute” California sea lions were far worse. Apparently they thought we (dressed in wetsuits) were odd-looking seals going after their harem on the beach, so they pushed us out to sea — rather aggressively — using us as their personal pool toys. Not fun!
But Lizzy Waite’s experience was worse. Waite, of Brookline, N.H., says, “I was on a vacation to Málaga, Spain, and my dad and I decided to take a day trip to Gibraltar. While I was looking at the gorgeous view of Africa from the top of the rock, a Barbary macaque climbed on me. I was fascinated, enthralled at the scenery and at the monkeys that had congregated around us. I stood right next to them, failing to notice the ‘monkeys may bite’ sign posted nearby. While I was looking over the ledge, another monkey jumped onto me, making an ‘ooh, ooh’ noise. Too late, I realized what was happening as he grabbed onto my bicep and chomped down. Later, the tour guide told me he hadn’t seen a monkey bite in seven years. Just my luck!”
STORMY WEATHER . . .
Often New Englanders travel to enjoy better weather than we get at home. For Denise Frick of North Andover, that’s a rare pleasure. Her family vacations have featured a litany of weather woes, including a flooded hotel room in Punta Cana, a wind storm in Las Vegas “when they shut the whole strip down due to flying debris,” and a trip to Richmond, where there were flash floods and a citywide power outage. “We were out buying flashlights and candles, but it had rained so hard, there were huge holes in the road,” Frick recalls. “Of course, we hit one in our rental car and it caused a flat tire. My husband and sons changed the tire by flashlight in torrential rains. Turns out we also broke the axle, and it cost us $800 to repair it.”
Writer Sherry Shahan of Cayucos, Calif., goes hiking in the rain forest and kayaking amid glaciers in search of adventure, but got more than she bargained for while attempting to hike Mount Whitney in her home state. “Our group was caught in an exposed ridge in a deadly electrical storm at about 10,000 feet,” Shahan says. “One of the women was struck and knocked unconscious, lying in a river of red mud. Another woman got to her, turned her over, and dug mud from her mouth so she wouldn’t choke. Thankfully, she regained consciousness. Even with all the rain, I could smell her burning hair. She had black marks on her face in the shape of lightning bolts. A pack horse and mule were stuck by lightning and killed, the wrangler trapped beneath his dead horse . . . three women in our party were airlifted off the mountain by helicopter.” Shahan used the experience as background for her young adult novel, “Death Mountain” (Peachtree, 2007).
. . . AND STORM-TOSSED SEAS
A sailing trip in the Caribbean sounds idyllic, until you’re abandoned by your captain on a tiny island. Just ask Ed Wetschler of New York.
“Sailing in the Grenadines has always been high on my bucket list, so one winter I finally arranged a seven-day voyage from the south end of the Grenadines — Union Island — to St. Vincent aboard a skippered, 50-foot ketch. My wife and I spent a long day flying to Union Island via Barbados and a multi-stop puddle-jumper. The island was almost desolate: no real towns or resorts, not much vegetation or beach — just a landing strip with a dead goat, and a no-star bar-restaurant-inn where we spent the night.
Our skipper was supposed to meet us there the next morning. He was late. When he finally arrived, he quickly told us he’d been fighting with his first mate (who was also his mate), and they needed to patch things up, so he was not going to take us on our trip. ‘Wait a minute,’ I said as he climbed back into his dinghy. ‘What are we supposed to do here?’ ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I don’t know.’
We found someone with a phone connection to the outside world and called our yacht broker. Then we went back to the bar for a drink, where some guy asked me why we were hanging out there. I told him our story. Turned out he was the son of Johnny “Coconut” Caldwell, creator and owner of Palm Island, about two miles away. He invited us to stay there. We met Johnny Coconut and became great friends, and we stayed in a lovely cottage there for a couple of nights until our broker could get us off the island.” Ultimately, Wetschler says, “we were taken aboard a drop-dead gorgeous 72-foot sloop that sailed us around Guadeloupe, Isle de Saintes, and Dominica for the next few days. We fell in love with all those islands.”
HOTEL FROM HELL
We’ve stayed in some pretty sketchy hotels and hostels, but nothing comes close to what Michael McCarthy of North Vancouver, British Columbia, endured on a night in Nepal, “in the malarial lowlands just above the Indian border where the temperatures and humidity in the premonsoon period of May and June cause people to literally go insane and attack each other with machetes,” as McCarthy tells it. “The exact temperature eluded me because my expensive Swiss chronometer would not register above 45 degrees Celsius or 113 degrees Fahrenheit, and evidently, this day was much hotter than that. It even hurt to breathe, so I bitterly cursed the thick woolen sweatpants I’d donned in Kathmandu to cross the Himalayas. As far as sweatpants go, they worked. I was sweating like a vertical river.
“My companion, Lama Tenzin, and I arrived at a concrete cellblock cleverly disguised as a guesthouse — two stories high, encrusted with two inches of black soot, courtesy of the coal-fired kitchen belching in the back. There was no glass left in the windows, and someone had conveniently punched huge holes in the screen strung between the bars, so mosquitoes flew in at will. Soon we were being bitten like mad, sweating like condemned men, lying on filthy sleeping planks, moaning, and counting the minutes until our 7 a.m. flight left. All the children in the hotel gathered to watch the spectacle of a near-naked white man providing the entertainment of torment, a sight to be treasured forever. We were truly in hell.”
WHAT HAPPENS IN FLORIDA . . .
Catherine Marinis-Yaqub was thrilled when, as an intern for the Florida Department of Commerce’s Bureau of International Tourism in the ’90s, she was invited to escort two Australian journalists on a yacht trip on the Intracoastal Waterway. It was memorable, for all the wrong reasons. The first couple of days were wonderful, she recounts, “until we hit Port St. Lucie, where we were greeted by the outer bands of a tropical storm that was making its way north from the Keys. So much for sunny Florida and great photo ops!” Extremely high winds made docking the vessel a challenge. While trying to avoid crashing the boat into a post at Club Med, one of the journalists fell backwards and landed on his back, unable to move and howling in pain. “The over 6-foot-3 Aussie was no match for my small frame. I finally found help, the ambulance arrived, and five men carried him off the yacht. Off to the ER we went. Diagnosis: dislocated shoulder.
“When we tried to depart the following day, the yacht was dead in the water. An essential metal part had broken in half and we couldn’t get it replaced because stores were closed due to the Memorial Day holiday. As the storm intensified, we realized we needed to get off the water immediately.
“So we ditched the yacht, and I decided to drive us to Key West myself. We got a rental car, packed it up, and CRASH! We get hit by a Cadillac in the rental car parking lot.”
‘Thankfully, she regained consciousness. Even with all the rain, I could smell her burning hair. . . . A pack horse and mule were struck by lightning and killed.’
Thanks to a yacht that turned out to be a lemon, an ER visit, a tropical storm, and a crashed car, this trip will live in infamy at the bureau, Marinis says.
The moral: Maybe a bad trip isn’t so bad, if everybody lives and you end up with a good tale to tell.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.