The wonderful world of travel doesn’t come with a rule book. Well technically that isn’t strictly true as there is an endless array of guide books which cover just that, but there is so much room for interpretation, deviation and let’s face it, that’s really half the fun.
I like to know how others travelled through a country to put my mind at ease, help build confidence and so I don’t arrive totally wet behind the ears. However, after arriving I typically aim to put my stamp on the experience. That is when I’ve been known to take a walk on the ‘health and safety’ wild side. Sounds fierce right!
Travel Safety Fails
I think we’ve all had those moments when we consider the safety aspects of what we are about to do. When these moments of clarity arrive, I usually already know if I should or shouldn’t be doing it but sometimes it’s just a lot more fun to throw caution to the wind.
Throughout my 20 years of travel, I haven’t sustained any long term injuries, no lost limbs, never been arrested and not lost anything I wasn’t prepared to lose. Yes that right, even after working my way through nearly 100 countries I am still alive with a bag full of memories. Naturally, being wiser in years now I look back on a few and wonder what was going through my head.
Here are my nine top health and safety fails:
Bolivia – Where the wild things are
This one makes me question my own sanity, mainly because all the logical signs were there. Swimming in the same Amazon River where hours before I had fished for piranha and watched the guide pull live caiman from, wasn’t something I had even considered until it was a possibility. Even when the guide suggested swimming I knew it was a terrible idea, I knew there were caiman because I had seen them. I knew there was flesh eating piranha, because I had pulled them from the same river on a hook. So my thought process went something like this.
Guide – “You can swim here, it is safe, nothing pelegroso (dangerous)”
Me – “Um, what about the caiman and piranha? Won’t it be dangerous”?
Guide – “No, it is ok, no problem”. And with that he dived in
Me – “Oh ok then, cool.” And with that I dived in.
Obviously I survived unscathed but there were most definitely wild things which could have taken chunks out of me. I figured if a local was doing it I would be safe and to his credit he was right, but it’s quite a spooky feeling waiting to feel sharp teeth on exposed legs.
Japan – Attempting Mt Fuji during a hurricane
This is one of those times when I did actually stop to consider how stupid a situation that I was in was. The first time I attempted the daunting challenge of Mt Fuji I was leading adventure tours in Japan and we hovered at the 5th station under shelter as a hurricane spiralled about our heads. The winds teased us and the rains drove us further into the safe confines of four walls and a ceiling. Sadly the glory of summiting was not meant to be. I watched as climbers set off up the mountain, buried under a layer of GorTex and wishful thinking, only to reappear 30 minutes later with spirits crushed seeking refuge in mugs of hot chocolate. Although the night did not plan out as expected, I did take the bullet train to Mt Fuji Station one week later from Tokyo in order to plant my feet on the rough scoria at 3776 meters.
Thailand – Night diving with Moray eels
I love diving, especially night dives as it transforms the familiar world with sight, into a new playground without it. I had a wonderful night dive off the coast of Koh Phi Phi Island during a full moon where the dive master explained that Moray eels use our torch beams to hunt for food, but are not vicious. This is true as Moray eels would rather flee than fight, and traditionally only attack when their burrow is invaded or when people hand feed them. It didn’t bother me at all and for the most part I didn’t see them, but the times I quickly turned my torch to my side, I would see these lengthy eels darting off after being spotted. It was only later that I allowed myself to consider how many there may have been and how close they were. A fantastic dive though and saw a Spanish Dancer underwater which is perhaps my favourite of the sea creatures.
South Africa – Catch me if you can
This experience is hard to explain but is probably the most fearful I’ve ever been travelling, mainly because animals are unpredictable and humans can be fairly stupid. I was in South Africa and on a night game drive. It was pitch black and we were cruising around in an open-air 4×4 spotting some of the smaller wildlife such as chameleons, bats etc. All of a sudden the guide who was strapped to the front of the jeep like a piece of oversized bait became very excited and said he had spotted a cheetah. We drove off the main path, knocking down shrubbery and being hit by branches in order to keep up with the cheetah. When the driver managed to corner the cheetah, it began making screeching noises the way cats do when they fight in the wild. This went on for about 20 minutes and I can honestly say at any stage the cheetah could have launched forward and jumped into the vehicle. I think it was the fear of this, and our aggressive intrusion into its world which stopped me from enjoying the experience.
India – It doesn’t rain it pours
The Indian monsoon is something quite spectacular to see. It rains so intensely it’s as if the water is leaping out from the earth up towards the heavens. The only thing that drowns out of the rain are the screams of excited children with no shoes and free entertainment. I caught the trailing end of the monsoon after being caught out in a fresh juice shop in Pushkar, Rajasthan. The skies opened up, a downpour ensued and as the streets flooded and blackened I found myself trapped.
Now I would never go bare foot when walking on the streets in India. They are literally covered in animal pooh, rotting food, dirt, urine, faeces, and god knows what else, so when I say the streets blackened as the water rose, you can imagine what I mean. After 45 minutes and as many juice refills as I could take, the water was still a foot and a half high so I decided to make a dash for it which meant wading through liquid treacle. The whole time all I could think was that I would never swim in the River Ganges, yet here I was up to my knees in filth until I jumped on the back of a passing cart and paid him to take me back to dry land. Not one of my finest moments and one which warranted the combination of soap, hot water and heavy rubbing when I got back to the hotel.
Bolivia – Things that go bang in the dark
Before visiting the mines in Potosi I stopped at the miners market which sells coca leaf, drinks, snacks and sticks of dynamite (obviously). I’m pretty sure most people who visit the mines on the gringo trail buy dynamite to set off with the miners deep inside the labyrinth network of underground caves. It sounds like fun and they must know what they’re doing right? The problem is there is so much room for error when lighting off explosions underground in a country where health and safety is already an afterthought. So the miner showed me where to put the stick and which direction to run to afterwards, gesticulating with hand movements and misunderstood Spanish words. I lit the stick and ran around the corner waiting for a huge bang and the swarm of charged dust particles before emerging from my hiding place. The explosion had done its intended job and blown a deeper hole in the rock face, the miner seemed happy and I had ticked something off my bucket list that I didn’t even know existed until 40 minutes earlier.
Peru – Drunken fire walking
I was on a 3 day rafting trip down the Urubamba River in Peru with a team of travellers out for an exciting time. We had set up camp for the night near a small town which sold alcohol. Naturally we bought bottles of unidentified whiskey with those cheaply printed labels which makes it look like it was brewed in a bath tub. We sat around the fire drinking, talking and laughing, topping up the fire as and when it needed. The finale of the night came when faced with a shortage of firewood; we laid an entire tree trunk across the fire and waited for it to ignite (which it never did). Naturally it was a great idea to take turns walking barefoot across the tree trunk whereby falling, meant falling onto a bed of hot embers. Once we worked out that we could all walk across, we set new challenges and began to dance across. Thankfully none of us fell in but I tell you, it was mighty close. You’ll all be pleased to hear we woke up with dirty hangovers the following morning!
Flying with Air India
Apart from the return flight, my only flight with Air India was interesting. Firstly I noticed that things looked dated and unclean, handles were broken and rough patch-up jobs were everywhere. What I remember is when we were speeding down the runway, the plane was shaking like never before, overhead compartments were flying open and baggage was falling down. Ultimately, once a plane has left the ground there is an enforced commitment to the airline whereby it’s too late to put your hand up and ask to leave but let’s just say, that was the last time I flew with Air India.
China – Sir step away from the vehicle
To be fair I had cycled my bike home after a few drinks more times than I could count and I didn’t think I was going to get that drunk (I did really) so nothing was out of the ordinary. I remember leaving the bar and putting my feet in the pedals. I remember hitting the top of the hill and racing down with the wind in my hair as I had done so many times, and I remember suddenly launching off the bike, hitting the ground and thinking “That wasn’t supposed to happen”, getting up and cycling home. It wasn’t until the following morning when I woke up with sheets covered in blood that I said to myself, “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have cycled home last night”.
So there you go folks, am sure there are many more examples I’ve forgotten and also that they’ll be many more to come!
Happy travelling folks!