When recalling a night spent in Cusco, Peru while I was travelling recently, I couldn’t help but think “wow I did some risky stuff when I travelled”. That time in particular, I was probably quite lucky that nothing went wrong. After reading this article on SMH, it reminded me again of some of those situations.
I can’t relate to the parts about drugs, but this part of the article did hit home – “People ride on the roofs of buses because it’s fun, and nothing will go wrong. Probably. They take rides in dodgy boats, because what choice do you have? They hang out of train doorways, they cling to the back of taxis. They do all these things that they wouldn’t do at home because overseas you can, and you want to, so you do.”
The night in Cusco aside, I can think of two times where I took risks because I found myself in a situation where I didn’t have much other choice.
The first was in Venezuela, towards the end of 2011. I had been travelling with a friend, but was on my own again after we wanted to see different things, and was heading for Choroni on the Caribbean coast. I had booked a bus ticket from Merida to Maracay, where I planned to change to another bus to Choroni. When I arrived at the bus terminal in Merida, the ATMs weren’t working. I was running low on cash, and had been told that there weren’t ATMs in Chorini, but wasn’t too worried as Maracay was a much bigger city. I figured there would an ATM at the terminal there.
The long distance bus trip went smoothly, despite the freezing aircon on Venezuelan buses, and I arrived in Maracay early in the morning. The first thing on my “to do” list was an ATM search, but after a decent time spent wandering around, I couldn’t find one in the terminal. Eventually, I approached a woman who worked at one of the bus company ticket offices. When telling this story, I often credit the Spanish skills I built up for saving me in this situation, as she couldn’t speak any English.
I explained that I needed to get a bus to Chorini, but needed to go to an ATM first to pay for my hotel. Her fist suggestion was taking a taxi to Chorini, which was much faster than the bus, and they could drive me to an ATM first. I didn’t want to pay for a taxi, as the bus was about one tenth of the cost. Her next idea was storing my bag in her office, while she took a taxi with me to the city centre to go to an ATM. After locking my bag in her office, my thoughts went to if I would ever see it again, while she was questioning me on whether I had enough money to pay for the cab. I assured her that I did, and she flagged one down.
Crossing my fingers and hoping for the best, we made small talk during the short trip to the centre. When we got there, she made the taxi wait, and stood guard while I withdrew money. Despite having no idea where I was, the trip back to the bus terminal seemed slightly more relaxing. Her questions revolved around whether I was planning to come back to Venezuela, while I took comfort in the fact that it seemed like we were heading in the direction we came from.
When we arrived back at the terminal, she got my bag and walked me over to the bus I needed to take to Chorini. With nothing more expected than an appreciative thank you on my part, she was gone and I was on my way. In hindsight, I could have planned a lot better, but was lucky to find someone so helpful. And to top it off, when I arrived in Chorini, it turned out the info I was given was old, and an ATM had recently been installed!
The second time I relied on slightly questionable transport to get me out of a sticky situation was in Costa Rica in late 2012. I had planned to stay a few days in Jaco on the Pacific coast, but decided to go somewhere new and headed to nearby Playa Hermosa.
The day I was leaving, I had an afternoon flight to Miami, and had planned to take a bus from Jaco to San Jose, and get off at the airport. My side trip to Playa Hermosa didn’t change much, I would get a taxi back to Jaco in time to make the bus to San Jose. The problem occurred when the owners of the place I was staying were nowhere to be found when I needed to leave, hence no one was around to call me a taxi. After ringing the bell multiple times to get their attention and walking to the main road to try to flag one down both failed, I headed to the nearest hotel I could find to see if someone there could call one.
The girl at the desk was very helpful, and promised me a taxi straight away. About 5 minutes later, a blue, unmarked car showed up. Taxis in Costa Rica are red, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that this was a friend of hers, not an authorised taxi. I weighed up my options for a few moments – I had no idea how else to find a taxi other than walking back to my hotel, and I was running out of time to make the bus to make my flight. Despite knowing it went against everything we were advised, I agreed to go with him after confirming the price several times.
As we headed toward Jaco, I once again found myself hoping for the best. Given there was only one road, I at least knew I would be able to tell if we went the wrong way, and was prepared to jump out of the car if I had to. It turned out that I didn’t have to worry too much as I arrived safely at the bus terminal a short time later. When we got there, he offered me a lift to San Jose for a much faster trip, which was above my budget even if I didn’t want to go any further than I had to in a dodgy (but utlimately successful) taxi.
The moral of both stories? Better planning would have prevented these situations. But as Ben mentioned in his article, there is a certain feeling of invincibility when you travel. It may not have been something I did on my first or second trip, but after travelling for awhile and gaining confidence and experience, the thought of “it will be fine!” definitely applied.
As for the night in Cusco, that is another story for another blog!
Note: stay safe when you travel! Stick to official taxis and don’t take rides from strangers.