My worst travel moments of 2016
I promised it, and here I deliver- The worst travel moments of 2016.
2016 was a great year for travel for me and don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually complaining. I’m aware these are all first-world problems that I have the privilege of experiencing. I just want to highlight the fact to all my family and friends who think my life is an all-inclusive Sandals package that they’re sorrily mistaken.
So let’s take a look at what the hell went wrong.
1. Highspeed motorbike wreck + a tryst with healthcare in the Philippines
I’ve never driven a motorbike before. I also have a penchant for being slightly reckless, a bit of a daredevil, and a fondness for going fast. I have an unhealthy lack of fear is basically the short answer here.
So that day on our (the motorbike gang’s) way back from Nacpan Beach to El Nido I went into a corner far too fast (see above mention of unhealthy lack of fear) and laid the bike down and into a barbed-wire fence.
It didn’t really hurt, but I was cut up, bleeding profusely from a few gashes, had my hair caught up on a spoke, and was trapped under the motorbike.
Everyone I was with and some locals that happened to be in the general vicinity all helped lift the bike off of me and get me out. One of which loaded me up in his motorbike trailer and took me back to El Nido to go to a clinic, I didn’t get his name but I couldn’t thank him enough.
We got into El Nido and of course since it was Sunday night the main clinic was closed. So he brought me over to another clinic that was open.
Being that it was only staffed by volunteers all they could really do was clean me up and give me a tetanus shot and send me on my way. And guess what? Everyone else in there? All motorbike-related injuries #partyattheclinic.
The next morning I ended up going over to the clinic and getting 3 different sets of stitches by an awesome doctor who was so concerned as to how to sew the wounds so that I wouldn’t have weird scars. I told her it was okay, I mean I, after all, I am a weird scar. Thankfully, it wasn’t too much of a bad accident, otherwise, I could have ended up a lot worse.
Side note: After returning home I have found a good-sized bald patch on my head. Like scalped bald.. my only guess is that it’s from this calamity.
I’m normally a pretty healthy person, I really am. I rarely get sick.
However my kryptonite? Dry as fuck air. You know, as in dry 0.00001% humidity air.
If I delve into the driest of the dry destinations I normally will end up with a sinus infection. It usually sounds much worse than it actually is but it still sucks nonetheless.
But this one, this one was different. Not because of where I was at or what I was doing (I was on a 3-day tour of Salar de Uyuni, thanks for asking) but because it lingered on and on and on…. which makes a perfect segway to:
3. A Peruvian Tooth Abscess
I work in dentistry, I should know better. But what I
thought hoped was the last lingering bits of a sinus infection I developed in Bolivia was actually my tooth abscessing.
I’ve never experienced an abscess before, and I won’t be the only person to tell you this but; this was the WORST pain I’ve been in throughout the 30 years of my existence. Of course, when did it actually turn into a full-blown abscess? About 4 am the day I was going to Machu Picchu.
So I was left with a difficult decision. Do I A) not go to Machu Picchu and go back to Cusco and find a dentist (mind you, I was there in the height of tourist season and when I purchased our MP tickets online 2 months prior they were nearly sold out). Or B) Still go to Machu Picchu despite the fact I’m in the worst pain of my life, be an asshole all day, piss and moan about my tooth most of the time (ok, mostly to myself in my head), and then deal with it the following day?
I chose plan B and I can’t say I regretted it. I definitely would have regretted missing out on the wonder of the world to go to the dentist, but was it a win? Not really.
So naturally, I just said a bunch of cunty things all day, saw an amazing site, went back to my hostel, and took an ice-cold shower, not by choice and to Tay’s amusement which she Snapchatted my entire tirade to the world in a hostel in a town ironically named Aguas Calientes (if you haven’t figured out, that means hot water in Spanish) then went to bed.
The next day didn’t go without a hiccup…. (see next section for what happened to us trying to get to Cusco). Finally, after traveling for what felt like an eternity to get back to Cusco we found a dentist to get my tooth out.
So to fast forward, 3 hours, 2 dentists, and the maximum dosage of Epinephrine (yes, Epinephrine is the limiting factor in dental local anesthetics), and 30$ later I was walking out with a blood-and-gauze filled smile and tooth #15 in hand.
4. Here’s a First: Nicole gets in a Trainwreck!
So, that part I skipped in the preceding section #3? Here we go…
I wake up, still in pain from the ensuing explosion happening periapical to my stupid tooth #15 that at this point I will stop at nothing to get out of my head and head straight for the Aguas Calientes train station, on foot, of course.
Then we settle into our ass-crack of dawn train and I’m starting to doze off when BAM????!
Bags go flying off of shelves, the beloved coffee cart tips over and I’m jolted back awake. Clearly, we hit something (luckily not very hard, don’t worry no one was hurt). It turns out we ran into a parked car on the railroad tracks. Who in the fuck parks on the tracks?
5. Nicole passes out on a filthy bus station floor in Cusco
The same afternoon I was having my tooth extracted I also was slated to hop on a 17-hour bus ride to Ica, Peru. You read that right: seventeen. motherfucking. hours.
So to recap: after a busy day of excruciating pain, a trainwreck, two hours in a taxi from Ollantaytambo to Cusco, a 3-hour long extraction (trust me, both dentists about had their feet on my head trying to get enough leverage to get the motherfucker out…I warned them about the hooked roots), and a pharmacy run I was finally standing in the Cusco bus station awaiting the departure of our Cruz Del Sur bus to Ica.
And then it hit me, I was going to pass out.
I faint once in a great while (this year I’ve gone for the all-time personal record), and the majority of the time the series of events will be: suddenly feeling freezing cold but begin sweating profusely, extremely loud ear ringing, tunnel vision.
These all happen within a few minutes and that’s when I know I’m going down. So I looked at Tay and said ok, don’t freak out, I’m going to faint. I’m going to lay down on this filthy floor and I’m going to faint. See you in about 5 minutes.
I laid down on the floor, using my flamingo-decorated backpack as a pillow, and then woke up a few minutes later staring at a 1 cm thick sea of dust with tumbleweed-esque hairballs nicely scattered in said dust sea lurking under the seats in which Tay was sitting on. Soon thereafter I was on the bus with a frozen water bottle held against my face in all my filth…for the next 17 hours.
Don’t I make my trip to Peru sound just delightful?
6. No more wide-angle shots for you! Breaking my lens in Turkmenistan
Funny enough, this story also made it on my ‘top 10 in travel in 2016‘ but was more focused on how awesome it was to make it to the Door to Hell. So there I am fiddlefucking around in the pitch black on the side of Turkmenistan’s I’m guessing biggest tourist draw, the Darvaza Gas Crater, also known as the Door to Hell.
Before I knew it I was face down in the desert, I had tripped over a pipe sticking up out of the ground. My Rokinon 14mm is what broke my fall, and unbeknownst to me until I made it back to Alaska over a month later I had actually broken the lens and it was no longer able to focus. Needless to say, all my shots taken with that lens for the remainder of the trip are slightly out of focus (which I hate).
*I attempted surgery on my lens to recalibrate the focus ring, to no avail after I got home. It didn’t make it, I must have knocked something so out of whack internally that it was unrepairable. Thankfully it’s the cheapest lens I own (albeit being one of the sharpest and one of my favorites). I now have my new one in hand.
**I also found out my camera insurance doesn’t cover anything until l hit $500 in loss in the USA or $2,500 overseas. Yeah, I’m a rebel. I didn’t read any fine print.
7. Falling in a St. Lucian Sewer
In February I went to the Caribbean with my ex-roommate, her name is Mom.
We visited a number of islands on a cruise, therefore; we only had about 8 hours in St. Lucia. Every other stop I had carefully researched online and made our own travel plans for our day, except St. Lucia.
With its mountainous areas and winding roads, it’s tricky to knock out as much as we wanted to see in 8 hours. So for the first time in my life, I opted for one of the overpriced shore excursions.
About an hour or two in we were stopped off in a village, ex-roommate and I were walking down a dirt road, probably talking shit about the other near-deads on the shore excursion with us when…plunk! There I was with my right leg knee-deep in the open sewer and me holding my camera as high up as my freakishly long ape arms could extend.
Ex-roommate then says, “is that what I think it is?” Me- “Yup,” while simultaneously trying to waft my liquid-shit covered right hand in her face.
Luckily for me, there was a nice man on the corner who had seen what happened and whisked me over to a spigot and helped wash raw sewage off of me…what a trooper. From there I did the Charlie Brown walk back to the excursion shuttle van and trudged my stinkfoot on there. Then later that day in my glossy-shit-covered glory managed to miss the shot of the Pitons I wanted. Double-motherfucking-fail.
Falling down the backside of Chimtarga Pass Hiking Chimtarga Pass
I have been hell-bent for years to hike up and over Chimtarga Pass in Tajikistan. And well, it was the shortest route to get me from Bolshoi Allo Lake to Mutnye and further onto Alovaddin Lakes.
I gave Munira at ZTDA my trek route, and she suggested not to do Chimtarga citing that it would be very cold, possibly snowing up there, and just unpleasant getting up there all around. Munira was right.
That section of the trek sucked. Next time I will gladly go a longer distance to circumvent that pass. I mean, I’m glad I did it. At least I can say I did it, but there were so many points where I was saying fuck this I’m turning around.
It’s high altitude, it’s cold, it’s windy and it’s loose shale all the way up. It was like climbing a sand dune, every step you took you slid 3/4 a step back. Don’t get me wrong the view is stunning from up there, especially looking down in the direction leading toward Mutnye Lake. But getting up there wasn’t easy, getting back down- even worse.
So naturally, on the way down in the pitch black, I fell quite a distance down the side of Chimtarga Pass, coated my camera in a thick layer of dust, and blew out the ass of my pants. Pants I’m supposed to shoot for an Instagram client (I thankfully tracked down a needle and thread in Dushanbe and did a seamstress’s nightmare of a repair job).
Then further afield I fell into a stream which gave me my closest experience to a warm-weather version of an Olympic luge run, by warm I mean only by a few degrees warmer than what they luge at the Olympics.
The rock that the stream ran through was smooth and as I sailed down this stream gone summer luge I yet again (as mentioned in the St. Lucian sewer story) lifted my camera with one freakishly long ape arm and my Delorme Inreach with the other and just hoped for the best.
I eventually came to halt but with wet, blown out pants, wet hiking boots, but a dry camera and Delorme Inreach… look, Mom, no hands.
I’m not sure that the fall and the ass rafting through a rapidless shallow stream was a ‘worst in travel’ or a blessing in disguise because I think it greatly expedited the misery of the hike down.
9. Losing my Luggage from Panama to Ecuador
About an hour before I planned to leave the hotel in Panama City for the airport a huge storm rolled in. Being from Alaska I would like to refer to this as a hurricane because I’m not from a tropical place, but I’m sure it wasn’t quite that bad.
The streets were flooding, the wind was ripping a bazillion miles an hour, sheets of rain were falling from the sky, lightning, thunder, the whole 9 yards. Eventually, we found streets that weren’t flooded and made it to the airport.
Naturally, my flight was canceled after I had been waiting at the boarding gate. I was flying on Copa Airlines which I thought had one of the best ways of dealing with a flight cancellation. The woman working the counter took my old ticket and handed me a $20 food voucher and said go to the food court and go have a meal, come back in about an hour and I’ll have you re-booked.
I came back an hour later to not only find out I had been re-booked but re-booked to a direct flight to Quito and no longer had to make a stopover in Bogota. And my bag was to be moved to the new flight.
I landed at the Aiport in Quito around 1 am, waiting at the baggage claim to no avail. My bag clearly didn’t make it on. Then I had to wait in line behind half the flight that must have been in my exact situation coming down from Panama.
I was promised they’d deliver my bag as soon as possible to my hotel. So I left the airport by 4 am for my hotel in nearby Tababela in shorts and a thin long sleeve top and carrying only a backpack with my photography gear because that’s what my dumbass decided to wear on the plane that day. Clearly, we can see where my priorities lie.
My bag finally did get delivered at about 10 pm the following night thankfully. I had tickets booked out to the Galapagos the following morning and literally was preparing myself for going to any animal-lovers dream destination with nothing but a camera and the clothes on my back.
10. Getting scammed by a car rental in Puerto Rico
Before the cruise, I rented a car with this company and had no issues. After the cruise, we rented a car from the exact same place for the final 3 days so that we could drive across the island and spend the last bit of the trip in Cabo Rojo.
When picking up the car and doing the look over I pointed out scratches on the front left bumper. I was assured that the scratch wasn’t big enough to note.
So we left the car and then guess what? Upon our arrival to drop the car off and head to the airport I’m informed that I will have to pay 300-some dollars in repairs for this scratch on the front left bumper. What in the motherfucking fuck?! I argued which was essentially pointless at the point.
I finally filled out the stupid paper with exactly what went on and left on the shuttle to the airport, while calling my car insurance guy to tell him how I was getting jerked around. Then, of course, we get to the airport in San Juan, and our flights been canceled.
Luckily we were put up in the hotel in the airport and were given food vouchers to cover us until we were able to depart the next morning. And after a few months of fighting my credit card and car insurance fought off this little scam. Don’t worry I still loved Puerto Rico, in fact, that was my only negative experience there.
11. Obliterating a tire in Oman
The second morning in Oman there we were, me Dan and Jeremy blasting down a dirt road in the ass-end of nowhere when I completely destroyed one of the tires by running over some giant rock that I didn’t see but everyone else did. Like shredded it to pieces.
Dan pulls out the rental contract and it’s some ridiculous sum of money to return the Landcruiser sans one tire, so we ended up planning on going and picking up a tire at a shop.
So there we are on some dirt road in the middle of nowhere while I stand there and have two guys change a tire (yes, I do know how to change a tire). I think this is probably why women drivers are frowned upon in some countries. Don’t worry, that last statement is sarcasm people.
12. Getting too turnt on the flight to Tucson, hungover road trip to follow
When Lex and I are egging each other on at an airport bar in Anchorage, ordering double shots of Maker’s and Grant is the voice of reason you know the next day is going to be a nightmarish hell.
The next day was just that. Of course, I had to drive while these two hungover asses slept most of the way to Tucson.
Have you ever drove from Tucson to Las Cruces? If you haven’t, for the love of god just don’t. If you have, I’m deeply sorry. It’s the longest, flattest, most boring drive you’ll ever do. It’s the epitome of hopelessness. I think the actual drive was far worse than the hangover.
13. Firing the Ass-Man in Russian
When I was in my initial planning stages for Tajikistan I wanted to do my Fann Mountains trek completely on my own. Munira had offered the arrangement of a donkey and man (the man to handle the donkey and the donkey to act as a porter). I politely declined.
Fast forward to my actual trek which started from Marguzor Lake in the Haft-Kul area and I begin making my way up and through Kiogli Village.
After about the 6th offer for a donkey, I finally thought, okay maybe I’ll hire one… You know, it’ll help the village, it’ll help a family… So the next guy who asked I said yes. Put it this way: It didn’t last long.
He kept on insisting that I should accept a leg rub from him because it was good for me and would prevent me from getting leg cramps. This is what all I gathered via the Russian I had learned prior to the trip, my very limited knowledge of Tajik, and generalized hand gestures.
Of course, his grabs for this “cramp curing, health-benefiting massage” almost always headed straight for my far upper thigh, near my hip flexor, you know- right next door to your vagina. To which I’d begin slapping his hand away saying ‘nyet, nyet, nyet!’
Then let’s not forget that about 3 hours into the hike past the village he would begin hissing and clicking at me any time I veered off of what he deemed ‘the trail’ in the exact manner he’d hiss and click at his poor donkey. I felt so sorry for this donkey by the end of the day.
Then he began in Russian to tell me that I was stupid for drinking so much water and that I should only drink choi (tea) because it was healthier than water.
Also when we’re passing through one settlement in the Tavasang Pass later that day he’d go up to women and yell CHOI, CHOI, CHOI! in the most guttural sounding, rude manner I’ve ever heard.
I don’t think that’s cultural, I think he’s just an ass. No one else I met in Tajikistan approached others yelling CHOI, CHOI, CHOI! Everyone else did a civilized ‘Salaam Aleykum, choi lootfan‘.
Needless to say in no time I was firing him in broken Russ-jik-lish. Yes, I did pay him for his time. Do take note that this was really my one and only bad-ish experience in Tajikistan.
14. Puking all over myself at a Bishkek nightclub
Oh my gosh, PEOPLE! I was so excited to be around people, which is totally unlike me. I’d spent a month solo traveling through Tajikistan and a brief time in Kazakhstan.
But this, this felt like I was being adopted in Bishkek. So naturally after dinner that night a handful of us decided to go out to a shisha bar afterward.
Of course, since I lack self-control and hardly had drunk a drop of alcohol in the preceding month I overdid it. I overdid it in a wild mixture of beer, vodka, and shisha. I had had Okroshka for dinner earlier, do you know what Okroshka is? No, you probably don’t.
Let me take a hot minute to introduce you, okroshka is a Russian summer soup. It usually has chunks of ham, onions, potatoes, eggs and is spiced with dill. Did I even have to mention the dill? It is Russian after all. This is all mixed into a broth of kefir mixed with water. If you don’t know what kefir is, it’s milk-based. Yeah, I went out drinking after a dinner of essentially milk soup.
THIS WAS A HUGE MISTAKE.
Give it a couple of hours and I’m puking a milky mixture of beer, vodka, and dill down the front of myself. Actually, the dinner and the drinking weren’t a mistake, my delayed thought to grab an empty beer mug to puke in was a mistake. It didn’t hit me that puking in a mug was much better of an idea until like heave #5.
But I’m a champ, I went to the bathroom, cleaned myself up, and carried on as nothing happened. Finally, I got jammed into a cab with everyone else and it was very clear how much a disgusting pukey moron I am, and the driver gave us a more than jovial “Welcome to Kyrgyzstan!” I don’t remember that part. However, I do remember drunk me thinking showering fully clothed was a great idea. I at the time didn’t think rinsing my clothes with soap was part of the grand plan so I woke up to disgusting milky-puke scented clothes.
I’m not even sure if this ranks even as a ‘worst in travel’ so much as just being a drunken blunder. A big self-inflicted night at my own idiotic mercy.
Hi, I’m Nicole and I’m a fucking child.
15. A 28 Hour Layover Thanks to American Airlines
On my way home from Ecuador this summer I was supposed to have a quick 1.5-hour layover at LAX. But no, could my life ever go that smoothly? FUCK NO!
Our plane got held on the runway at LAX for over an hour because the plane that was at our gate was unable to leave because it was an international flight and one of its idiot passenger’s bag made it onto the plane but the idiot human the bag belonged to didn’t.
And in this case, probably thanks to fuckhole terrorists, an international flight can’t take off until the now deemed ownerless bag is removed.
So THAT is why I missed my flight back to Anchorage.
But no, it doesn’t stop there. We make it over to the service counter and there’s a line out the door. It took us three hours to get up there for re-booking. I’d have re-booked over the phone but I had already looked and there weren’t any available flights to get us back to Anchorage that day.
Not even via Seattle or Portland and I knew for damn sure I wasn’t going to be paying for a hotel that night and I was going to wait in that line to get a hotel voucher. Three hours later I made it to the counter where the one poor early-twenties looking kid was busting his ass getting people re-booked.
Through all the yelling and screaming directed at him over things that were no fault of his own, he was working through the seemingly now never-ending line. Even with the cunt, for the lack of better words, that was a few people behind us in line who kept marching up there to the desk and yelling at the poor guy as he was helping other people who were very obviously there before.
How he kept his cool, I’ll never know. All I do know is he needs a motherfucking raise and a promotion somewhere where he doesn’t have to be verbally abused several times throughout one shift by nasty bitChes like that lady.
I do not feel bad about calling her a cunt though, she was probably the rudest, meanest person I’d ever seen, and all directed toward someone who was just trying to do his job and help. If someone needed reaming it should be whatever moron decided that only one staff member was ample for the service desk at one of the busiest airports in the country on the 4th of July weekend.
So my 1.5-hour layover turned into a 28-hour layover.
But hey, it’s not all missing teeth, stitches and drunken debauchery: This is the first year I have not shit my pants while traveling
Yeah, you read that right people, I did NOT shit my pants this year. This happens at least once a year normally. This is a huge step for me, HUGE.