You’ve bought the expensive first aid kit. You’ve had all the necessary injections and now feel like a pin cushion. Your malaria meds are ready and waiting. Sunscreen – check. Hand sanitizer – check. You’re as ready as you can be to hit the road and explore foreign climes (if you are as organised as I am, anyhow). But travelling involves dangers that you never even considered. They’re unexpected and there’s no way of preparing for them, but they happen. I’ve been involved in my fair share of unfortunate incidents over the past 15 months….
I almost got trampled to death by an Asian elephant.
This certainly got my heart pounding! I was sitting on the riverbank in Thailand and watching the elephants at the Nature Park bathe themselves in the river. They slowly started to emerge from the water and head back into the field. All of a sudden, a young elephant turned 90 degrees and started running straight towards me. Elephants can run pretty bloody fast, by the way. I scrambled to the edge of the embankment and the elephant missed me by about a foot. Even a baby ellie can do a person a lot of damage. I never again took the placid natures of these gentle giants for granted.
My friend came uncomfortably close to being bitten by a highly poisonous sea snake.
Whilst visiting the beautiful Maya Bay off Thailand’s Andaman coast, we were forced to wade through a dangerously rocky shoreline from the longtail boats to reach land. We got there OK, found a blissfully perfect bay and spent a good hour enjoying the view. The way back was not so relaxed. Wading across the sharp rocks once again, the tide brought with it a little present. It was a sea snake, striped black and white and one of the most poisonous creatures to be found in the big blue ocean. The snake, carried along by the current, found itself wrapped around my travel buddy Kim’s leg. The horror! She started to panic but my repeated plea of “Don’t move! Stay completely still!” was heeded. The next wave came in and the snake was detached from her tense calf. We made it to the boat, and realised how close we had just come to disaster. We were on an island in the middle of nowhere with no healthcare options available. If Kim had been bitten, she almost certainly would have died. That’s a sobering thought. We needed a few buckets of Thai whisky to get over that encounter, I can tell you.
I kayaked along a dangerously swollen river with hidden whirlpools in Laos.
“There’s been much rain, the river is very high…”
“So, are you saying we shouldn’t be kayaking on the river?”
“Um, up to you.”
“Seriously, we don’t know if it’s safe. I’m asking you – should we kayak or not?”
“Up to you… Someone died in the river in April. Down a whirlpool. Last week I saw a 30 metre high tree sucked down a whirlpool.”
“Jesus! So you’re saying that it isn’t safe? It doesn’t sound safe!”
“…Up to you.”
Whilst in northern Laos I embarked on a two day trek in the mountains and stayed with a vaguely hostile local tribe. On the afternoon of the second day, I’d opted to kayak along a tributary of the Mekong River back towards Luang Prabang. But there’d been an unseasonable amount of rain in the area and the river was high and dangerous. Our guide was unhelpful and wouldn’t assist us with the decision as to whether it was safe to kayak or not. It was a health and safety nightmare. So, for some reason, we decided to chance it. We kayaked along a less dodgy part of the river and survived. A couple of whirlpools came our way but nothing major. We did feel a little relieved to get back on to dry land though. Oh, and a tyre blowing on our speeding truck on the way back to town was a bit scary too.
My leg got so infected in Asia I could barely walk.
I was hanging out on Koh Tao in Thailand having the best time. I’d befriended an Irish fellow named Neil who, true to form, liked a drink or two, and a tall, blonde Swedish guy called Erik. One evening, Neil suggested we try to drink an entire bottle of rum between the three of us, and Erik did his best to oblige. Cue drunken night out on the island, staggering home to my hostel at 4am with the two boys along a dark dirt track. Erik, in a moment of inspiration, grabbed me and picked me up. He subsequently tripped over his own flip flop and dropped me. I landed in a heap on the track, with my whole weight falling on the side of my knee. It looked pretty bad, so we sensibly headed to the 7eleven and bought ice to take the swelling down. I awoke the next day with a red raw knee which, over the next couple of days, got vilely infected. I used just about everything in my first aid kit, spent a small fortune on bandages and creams yet still the infection raged. It got to the point where I couldn’t climb stairs or the ladder on a hostel bunk-bed. Eventually in Hanoi, Vietnam I went to a decidedly dodgy-looking pharmacist who gave me a bunch of antibiotics and, despite my skepticism, they worked. Thank god they did. With nothing written in English on the label except that they could be used to treat Chlamydia, I was worried they wouldn’t do the job but my infection dried up and my leg was healed – bar an impressive looking scar which remains a year on.
I accidentally waded through crocodile-infested water in Australia. Oh, and trod on a snake.
Australia is a country where you can die at the hands, teeth or sting of its wildlife in a number of horrific and painful ways. Spiders, snakes, crocs, sharks, jellyfish (I could go on). I preferred to push these concerns to the back of my mind while travelling the east coast though, and not worry about it too much. This laid-back approach did cause me to put myself in danger a few times, but luckily I escaped unscathed. In northern Queensland myself and a few girls were hiking to a nearby creek for a swim, when we came across a small estuary we had to wade through to get further. We heartily made our way across, oblivious to any dangers. It was only on a horse-riding trip the next morning I saw the ‘Beware: crocodiles’ sign next to this same stretch of water. Oops. I also trekked up a small hill in Mission Beach, Queensland where I stepped on an unknown brown snake. Luckily the thing slithered away down the slope rather than try to bite my feet, which were helpfully exposed in flip flops. Double oops.
You know when you’re being really sensible using a condom with a new partner? Yeah, they break.
A big part of travelling is meeting new people, and a sideline of this is random romantic encounters, often with people you’ve only just met. It’s a bit of a ‘carpe diem’ mentality – you don’t know when you will ever see this person again so you kind of get thrown together. Being a well-educated English girl, I always do my upmost to make sure these encounters are safe (as safe as they can be).; Believe me when I say, the worst feeling in the world is having a contraception malfunction with a guy you hardly know. So be careful, guys and gals. Choose your partners wisely and don’t think Asian condoms are trustworthy, cause they aren’t.
I walked around a strange town in the evening. Hundreds of times.
As a solo female traveller who needs to eat of an evening, I’ve had to be out and about in a lot of strange places after nightfall. It’s kind of an inescapable risk if I want to get dinner. I’ve never had an issue while wandering the streets after dark, though. I make sure I look confident and like I know exactly where I’m going (even if I don’t). My advice is: don’t look like an easy target; hold your head high and seem disinterested in everything around you. It’s all you can really do to avoid any crazies coming after you. It’s worked for me.
Travel – it’s a dangerous enterprise. And these are only the incidents I deemed acceptable to post online. However, life is full of risks and part of the traveller mindset is ‘f*%! it, let’s just do it!’ It’s all well and good to be aware of the risks but there are some things you just can’t prepare for. A bit of common sense, travel insurance and a decent first aid kit go a long way, though.