What’s that? 2017 ended a week ago?
I don’t know about you, but I spent December freaking out over my thesis while continuously not doing anything to further it while stress-eating chocolate after a day of cleaning toilets and questioning my life… What? You didn’t do that? Well, this is awkward.
Travelling the world is often presented as a thing of glory and glamour. With instant media and popularity of the picture format, we often only see the end product of a long journey – a pretty photo, but nothing that happens on the backstage. I have never shied away from sharing all my mishaps and misadventures, so I thought it would be fun to follow suit (of various bloggers) and count down my worst travel moments of last year. Well, maybe fun is the wrong word for it. But what else are you supposed to do with your worst moments than laugh at them right on their ugly face?
So here it is, in no particular order: the bad, the badder and the baddest – my worst travel moments of 2017.
You blocked me on Facebook, and now you’re going to die be publicly shamed
Before I jetsetted to South America, I spent two weeks exploring Portugal. It was the first time I had been on a solo trip for almost a year, and remembering how difficult it had been for me to find friends in Myanmar, a secret part of me was scared to go. Soon my fear subsided, though. I made friends with the Brazilian girl working the reception, and the next day I joined her and a Canadian guy on a day trip to Lagos.
It was one of the most perfect days I have had while backpacking. We shared stories and took pictures of each other with the famous white stone and blue ocean on the background, absent-mindedly picking bitter oranges from the trees as we strolled. The Canadian was fun and full of adventure, and the Brazilian sweet and friendly. She said she was from Sao Paulo; she said I should visit her when I got to Brazil, said that she could take me to her parent’s place by the sea.
A couple of days later I got on Facebook to send her the pictures I took that day but couldn’t find her. I messaged the Canadian, asking if he could still see her profile. He said he did. I had to conclude that she had not only deleted me but also blocked me, and I spent days mulling over whys and feeling sorry for myself for being such a despicable human being that no one wanted to spend time with.
Of course this passed quickly. The unfortunate side effect of travelling is having a very fluid circle of friends – if you can even call someone you got wasted with one night a ‘friend’. Travel friends come and travel friends go, but you don’t have to be a dick about it, Marcela.
Read more: Sunday Postcard from… Lagos, Portugal
Adventures in the visa land
If I had made a list like this for 2016, top 1 would have without a doubt been ‘I got robbed‘. Even though I didn’t lose anything I couldn’t replace, it took a lot of time to get everything back in order. Because I had to renew my passport as well, I didn’t get it early enough to apply for a Brazilian student visa in Finland before heading to London for the holidays. I had emailed the embassy beforehand, though, and made sure I could still get the visa as a foreigner.
But bureocracy slapped me in the face with a wet fish. Turned out that I needed to get all my Finnish documents notarised – which meant physically sending all of them back to Finland. If any of them would get lost on the way, I wouldn’t get my visa on time. And using the postal service during the holidays? I was petrified.
Two weeks later and 70 euros poorer, I finally received my Brazilian visa on a Friday. My flight to Portugal was on Monday. Talk about perfect timing.
Read more: I got robbed.
Wishing upon the wind
Did you know you can hangglide over Rio de Janeiro? If you just heard that for the first time and you’re me, you likely just screamed a little and booked a ticket to the city immediately. First time I visited Rio last year, I only had two days to spare, so when we got to the end of a long line of patient hanggliders waiting for the wind to change, it was now or never. And I waited. And waited. And waited.
You see, in order to jump off a mountain succesfully, it is important to have the elements on your side. When you go hanggliding, you have to jump against the wind in order to not sink immediately after take-off. This specific day the wind had decided to stubbornly blow to our backs. I watched two people succesfully launch themselves into the air and five times that number abandon the line one by one as the hours ticked on. But I couldn’t give up. After a while I was the first in line, and I stood there side by side with the instructor, strapped onto a hangglider and looking down at rain forest 600 metres below. And we waited.
I am not scared of heights, but standing on the edge like that, adrenaline wearing down your veins for hours, that’s nerve-wracking. It makes you reconsider whether jumping down a mountain is a good idea, after all. Your knees are weak, hands clammy. The only thing worse than doing something scary is having to wait for it to happen.
After three hours the wind finally shifted and boy, was I glad I hadn’t given up! Flying over Rio were some of the best six minutes of my life. (Even though I had I Believe I Can Fly stuck in my head on an annoying loop for the whole time.)
Camera disaster #1
As soon as I made the decision to focus on photography more seriosuly than before, photography gods decided that was going to be a pass for them. They teamed up with the gods of weather and humidity and attacked my camera gear with vigour. Luckily (?) I only lost one camera.
Since I knew I would spend a lot of time in January doing as the fish do, I had bought a cheap, sturdy waterproof camera off eBay. I’d like to repeat that – a waterproof camera. It survived all of two and half trips into the kingdom of Triton before giving up on life on a snorkelling trip in Paraty. Whatever. It wasn’t a great camera anyway. *pouts silently in the corner*
Camera disaster #2
You would think that after my back-up camera failed, I would have nurtured my main baby even more carefully. Ha! Last year was not great for my poor Olympus. It returned from South America scratched and battered, sand from Huacachina stuck on its lens and the latch that guards the battery completely torn off. In addition, it went through a healthy dose of humidity on the Iguazu Falls, where 100% air humidity and incessant rain ensured it was one zap away from short-circuiting the whole system. Not even all-mighty rice could help it. Fortunately I found an old man in a nameless shop in Rio de Janeiro who managed to clean it and save my baby. This meant, though, that all the pictures I have from Rio are taken on my ex’s blurry iPhone. Seeing my travel friends’ DSLR shots of sunset of Pão de Açúcar makes me so mad.
Read more: Iguazu Falls: The Ordeal
It’s raining cats and dogs
In 2017, I spent five months living and studying in Southern Brazil. I stayed in a pousada recommended by the university, and OH BOY was that a bad idea.
I didn’t mind it when the inside temperature rose up to +30 degrees during the hot months, although it made my morning yoga sessions slightly annoying. However, when winter came and the outside temperatures dropped to +6 degrees, and my room was colder than that… Yeah, I did not enjoy that.
Then there was the shower. I suffered cold water for a month before finally overcoming my Finnishness and complaing to my landlady, who instructed me to first turn on the water full blast, then gradually start turning it off until it turned hot. Because cheap Brazilian showers only have one tap. (In a country where 60% of the people I met were studying to be engineers, how is a design like this this even possible?) So I enjoyed my hot water with the complimentary blue sparks that sometimes jumped from the exposed wires above the shower head – until I didn’t. In June – winter in Southern Brazil – hot water decided to not show up for work ever again.
Then I found that my cap in the wardrobe had got moldy. In fact, everything else smelled a little strange, too… Oh, actually, everything I haven’t touched in a week is now moldy. Bye Paolo Coelho, bye bandana, bye Instagram-girl-running-into-the-sunset-esque frilly top. Even the table and the plastic curtain were moldy.
All this could have just been a short anecdote of living cheap in Brazil if it hadn’t been for the demon. Sometimes at night I would wake up to creaky, slow footsteps above me, heavy enough to dent the ceiling where the mystery crawler stepped. But there was no other room above mine. I used to joke to my neighbours that there is a ghost living in my ceiling.
But one morning, as I opened the door to my room, I found a big fat tomcat sitting pretty in my wardrobe. He shot outside as I slowly moved my gaze towards the ensuite. Dirt and trash littered the floor. A shy ray of sunshine peeked through the ruins of my ceiling. The bloody cat had fallen through, leaving me no choice but to change rooms for my last week in the pousada. (At least my new room had hot water…)
However, out of the two options recommended by the uni, the other one was even more of a nightmare, so… yay?
My mouth is on fire and everything hurts
If you have followed me over the past half a year, the chances are you are already so sick of hearing about my teeth that you feel like you suffered through gingivitis yourself. It was horrible. I flossed and brushed and washed my poor mouth, hoping it would just go away, and spent the evenings holding water in my cheeks because it was the only thing that alleviated the ache even a little bit. Even smiling and talking started to hurt. I realised that there was no way out – I had to go to a dentist. In Bolivia.
I’ve bungee jumped, hangglided, hitchhiked, gone on dates with strangers and rode motorbikes but damn, none of those things were as terrifying as laying in a dentist’s chair as an old Bolivian man who didn’t speak a lick of English stuck needles into my mouth. I stared at the butt galore that is Latin music videos that was playing on the TV and hoped that I would still have 32 teeth after the treatment ended.
I treated myself to an ice cream afterwards.
(Gingivitis did go away for a month and was replaced by a cold that lasted for the rest of my trip. Because South America just doesn’t love me back.)
Read more: Sunday postcard from… Oruro, Bolivia
The laundry lady conspiracy
In a world where children starve and grandmas get scammed out of their retirement funds by malicious telemarketers, I am still bitter about the sweater that the laundry lost in Sucre. I spent 45 minutes of my day arguing with the laundry lady in Spanish – 45 minutes that I could have spent taking pictures, eating cake or eating more cake. (Sucre is the chocolate capital of Bolivia.) In the end, I had to return to the hostel empty-handed and defeated. But god damn, that shirt was so comfy.
Who needs a passport anyway?
Despite all the horror stories I’d been told, I had survived my third visit to Rio without being robbed, mugged or sold to an international circus. I was changing hostels to spend my last days exploring Vidigal, a pacified favela near the oceanfront, so I grabbed my wallet from my locker to go down to the reception and pay. For a split second I stopped to hesitate before putting my lock back in place without actually closing it. It was a cheap, plastic trash from a pony club I had loved as a kid, and lately it had had the nasty habit of randomly changing one number of its combination or just refusing to open without major force and a sacrifice to pagan gods. So I left it unlocked.
When I returned, I saw the door swinging open. The lock was gone, too. I dashed to the locker. Relief washed over me when I saw that my laptop and tele lens were still untouched, but the feeling was soon replaced by cold anxiety when I realised that my money belt was gone. My money belt, which at the time was home to zero cash but one passport.
I asked a passing backpacker to get my travel buddy from the lobby. Leaving the locker now that anyone would have access to my valuables seemed too risky. I stood by the open locker as he went down to the reception, where a man was just handing in my money belt. He said he had found it in the bathroom right next to the lockers.
Relief, again – my passport was still inside.
In the end we concluded that someone must have seen the opportunity and grabbed it to check if I had any spare cash floating around, then heard someone coming and hid in the bathroom. The hostel staff reported that a Norwegian that had checked in earlier and paid for two nights in advance had just left with all his belongings. I hope that karma got back to him.
I should probably start chronicling everything my poor passports go through. It is a lot.
Bonus story: My locker was also broken into in a hostel in La Paz, but fortunately nothing was taken. Again, they must have been after cash. Hostels are supposed to be safe places for like-minded travellers to get together and enjoy a foreign landscape, and it sucks to learn that some of your fellow globetrotters are not as scrupulous as you’d wish. There is a reason I am staying in a hostel – nicking money off a budget traveller is just rude.
Aaaall by myyyyseeelf…
Oh, here’s another funny story about my crippling loneliness. *cue crickets* Uhh, anyway.
After I separated from my previous travel buddies, I headed off to La Paz on my own. I spent the first night hanging out at the hostel bar feeling like a stranger to everyone I met, and once again I started to doubt whether I was really fit to travel alone. When I had travelled with my ex, I had felt lonely, too, with the extroverted English backpackers he liked to hang out with, but it had beaten being completely alone. I was standing there in the middle of the bar with a caipirinha in hand, feeling like I had been isolated from the rest of the world.
The next day I met Maren, a tall Dutchie with the truest mermaid hair I had ever seen, and Brittany, a small, blonde American. When they mentioned a glacier tour they were taking the next day, I jumped at the opportunity. Friends! Finally!
I booked the tour through the agency at the hostel – which, by the way, you should never do since they tend to be expensive and often don’t provide any additional value compared to their competitors. They swore up and down that we would be on the same tour.
Come next morning and I stumble downstairs about two minutes late, swearing at my shoes that seem to only co-operate never, and I find everyone gone. The travel agent informs me that I was on a list for a different bus which would pick me up any minute now, and not to worry, I would see my friends at Chaltaya.
I think there is no tension to build here. You can all guess that my bus never reached theirs. I arrived at the glacier at the time they were leaving it, since my bus had been late and on top of everything was a full-sized one. They pointed out their minivan and said it wasn’t even full. We hugged, and I enviously watched as their small van started back down. The gravel road was barely wide enough for a small vehicle and the road was full of sharp turns, verging the edge of the cliff, and all I could think of was I don’t want to die aloooooone.
But hey, at least I got to experience 5435 metres of altitude, so that was neat.
Having wirtten all this down, I am so, so glad that this is the worst of it. Even with everything I lost – belongings, friends, sanity – what I gained this year surpasses all the ugly moments tenfold. When I was writhing in pain on Salar de Uyuni, I still loved every moment of it. When I was lonely, I could look at myself and feel proud at how far I had come all by myself.
I think it is important to be honest about all sides of travelling. Portraying travel as some all-around cure or a reckless escape from everyday difficulties is so problematic since ruined expectation truly have the potential to spoil your holiday. Travelling is not always relaxing, eye-opening or even fun – but even in the worst moments it is still life-changing. And hey, at least you come away with a good story.
What was the worst thing that ever happened to you while travelling?
PS – I am currently planning content for this year, and there’s a poll on my Facebook page that lets you vote on what kind of posts you’d like to see. Go vote and comment here!