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••• The International Writers Magazine - 22 Years on-line - Hacktreks Travel

Stupid Things We Do On The Road.
• Peter A. Carrigan

It is those first 48 hours which are the most dangerous time for travellers. When you'll get ripped off, lose your keys, suffer gastroenteritis and do something stupid.

Rookie travel errors

I've done some stupid things in my time, never mind the first 48 hours.

I shouldn't have slapped (in a blokey way) the New York City police officer on the back as she stepped up to the counter at the 7/11 on 3rd Ave that Friday night. Nope, that was a dumb thing to do.

I should've worn shoes when I left my camper van one fateful night in Sao Paulo after curfew. Yep - shoes would've been handy!

It finally dawned on me that I was in the wrong poker game, when a revolver was placed onto the card table in a bungalow I had found myself one afternoon in beautiful Buddhist Bali.

On reflection, those fellas I shared backyard beers with in southern Thailand, with their singing and platitudes about internationalism may well have been affiliates of Jemaah Islamiyah, even though they were drinking beer.

I regret not taking that side trip to the Galapagos Islands and certainly regret eating everything on site one Eid al Fitr in Damascus's covered market, when I spent that night driving the porcelain bus.

I also regret jumping the turnstiles on the Paris Metro, befriending a bearded German guy and stealing the bottle of wine, because I never did make it to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Still haven't!

But the most stupid thing I've ever done on my wonderings is to place my man-bag containing my passport on the luggage rack aboard the Arlanda Express. I can still feel the utter chill, the twisting knife in the gut, the kick to my head when I realised, just as I was stepping onto the escalator up to the departure hall of Stockholm airport. 

The ramifications of leaving your passport on a train are huge, immediate and humiliating. The hangover of that New Year is still with me a decade on. It is no longer mentioned in polite circles, but when I think of it, like now, I feel soooo stupid. I mean really stupid. Every traveller knows to keep their passport on their person, in their pocket, down their shorts. 

I couldn't board my flight, rebooking cost £80. Penalty for not collecting my rental car, the week's rental, £250. Bolt cutters to break the lock on my suitcase. Lock £5. Two extra nights accommodation in Stockholm £140. Emergency passport £50. Replacement passport £150 (cost increases for replacement).

Another really stupid thing I did one morning when first in Brazil was to leave my camper van early in the morning for a run along the lake shore, not far from Florianopolis. Towards the end of the run I stopped by a kiosk hopeful for a coffee, where fishing boats were readying for the day. As an inquisitive soul, I made my way to the dock side, then stepping on board, agreed to try my hand on the lake with the captain. But what did I know, I don’t speak Portuguese.

Skimpy cotton shorts, stained yellow t-shirt and a Cruzado note in my pocket. How stupid was that. The boat crossed the lake. A long way. Dropped me off amongst a few buildings made of dark, heavy wooden slabs built on an incline, sticky mud underfoot made my trainers stick and squelch. A curtain of rainforest hemmed the hamlet to the lake shore. The boat left. The captain pushed off, he waving and smiling, me thinking, ‘He’ll be back soon’.

Not speaking Portuguese I had no idea of what was going on. Why wasn’t I part of the crew? Would the captain be back in 30 minutes? Did he drop me off to make room for cargo? The day moved on. It was dank in the lake shore settlement, a rotting musk came in waves. I sat on a bench at a table. I walked the 30 metres along the shore line. Looked into the forest for exotic Brazilian sloths or colourful toucans. The forest canopy slumped in dawn mist as if it had played its last. A green desert, devoid of life.

At some point, it was early, I had been up for hours, I was fed extremely tasty spiced shrimp, red sauce and the cerveja began to arrive. I had more shrimp, cerveja and walked along the shore. The forest glowed under the noon sun, gnarled branches stretched wide, liana vines anchored the immense balloon of foliage, which was threatening to burst out as the tropical sun’s energy zapped it into life, colour and noise.

There was no sign of any boats, the lake was still, a glassy plain. The lake bed stony, I didn’t swim. I was silent. I smiled sadly, was I marooned?

I wasn’t marooned, a little drunk maybe, just stupid. The boat captain had scooped me up from the dock, a fat dump grouper, I jumped straight into the net. His side business, I suspect, was carrying tourists to experience a traditional Carijo fishing village.

The sun held in the sky, but it would soon begin to flip. I had sparked a few conversations with my hand animations and now wore beads. My cash was spent, the captain returned and I smiled the grin of the stupid tourist. Disembarking, sun burnt, with a toddle and waddle I walked back along the dock to the camper van.

© Peter A Carrigan 12th March 2021

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