Travel can be incredibly hard. I know that statement smacks of a first world problem, and indeed a lot of people will dismiss the following post as middle class whinging. However, the truth is that on the road small problems can compound one another, and if you’re travelling alone, it can feel quite isolating. I want to tell you of a time when everything seemed to go exceptionally “tits up”, but after a little perseverance it ended up turning out far better than I could have imagined.
In the summer holidays of 2015, I went to Indonesia. I was a little rusty at first, but soon got into the swing of the backpacking life and fell in love with travel once more. I had just turned 30, and my parents had given me some money towards an open water scuba diving course. I dived in Bali and fell instantly in love with the serenity of the underwater world. So far, so good.
Next stop was Mount Rinjani on Lombok. The night before I was due to climb, I discovered my camera battery charger was broken. I debated at length whether or not I was fit enough to complete the trek, but decided to go for it anyway. It turned out I wasn’t, and had to skip the early morning 2am summit trek on day 2. However, as my tent companion “Insanely Fit Geoff” got up to go for it, I found myself awake and alone at the campsite, so I decided to try taking some starlight photos.
I enjoyed the rest of the trek. Mostly because it was downhill. My batteries (and legs) now fully out of juice, I sacrificed a day and a big wedge of my budget to get to the biggest urban area on Lombok – Mataram (as suggested by Insanely Fit Geoff). By now I was tired and a little jaded, but not fully travel fatigued.
Next stop: Gili Trawangan. Having booked onto my advanced open water diver course, I stopped by a small restaurant for lunch. My initial order wasn’t available, so I panicked and thrust my finger towards something else. If there was a film of my life, this moment of finger jabbing would be in slow motion… The fish soup I had ordered turned out to be made of DEATH FISH. But that wouldn’t become apparent for a few hours.
I then happened to bump into someone I had climbed Rinjani with, so we agreed to go for dinner that evening. What should have been a pleasant evening of travel story swapping became a stomach-gurgling churn fest with multiple trips to the bathroom.
This is where things turned ugly. I’ve been unwell before (including mumps and norovirus), and am a grown up able to deal with things independently. However, in the past, there was always the possibility of asking for assistance if I needed it. That night, I was truly alone. I rode the chunder express solo, and felt utterly alone and isolated. I was too weak to go out in search of any form of medical supply or fresh water (luckily I had bought a bottle earlier, but it still wasn’t enough).
My hostel happened to be next door to a mosque. Those places get pretty loud during Ramadan, as did the seemingly infinite number of cockerels in neighbouring houses. I dragged myself to reception at the first sign of light to ask them if I could stay another night (so I could remain curled up in the foetal position). Of course, there were no more rooms available.
I went back to bed and tried to call the dive centre to postpone my course. Naturally, my phone decided that was the time to stop working, and I had to drag myself on the 3 mile round trip to explain that I wasn’t up to diving that day. Thankfully they understood (my green expression spoke volumes) and they let me postpone at no extra cost.
By now, it was getting on towards mid morning, so rather than sleep, I had to bundle my things into a bag and set off in search of new digs. It being a Friday, there was almost no availability. Finally, I checked into a hostel (which turned out to be a hotspot for magic mushroom taking. My Indonesian host insisted I joined them one evening. I politely declined…) and collapsed into bed.
After a hellish 48 hours, I was fit enough to dive and fell in love with it all over again. However, on the last day the winds picked up and my boat ride back to Bali was cancelled (I wanted to take a boat to Komodo, but the end of Ramadan meant all the boat workers were on holiday for a week). The weather delay meant I had to stay one more night with the Indonesian hippies, though to be fair, I had grown quite fond of them by now.
Then, idiocy was piled upon misfortune. I went to get some cash out and managed to walk away from the ATM without my bank card. I only realised this when I tried to book a flight back to Bali online and went to pay. The card was gone, and I frantically raced back to the bank but the card had been swallowed up by the machine. The next day I had to go the long way round via the Lombok slow ferry. I was exhausted, moneyless and dejected.
I woke up the next morning in Ubud and assessed my options. By now, the previous week had taken its toll and all I wanted to do was give up and go back home (at the time I was living in Thailand). I was truly fed up. I went for a walk on the Campuhan Ridge and decided I would at least see if I could sort out a Western Union transfer. Back at the hostel, I worked out how to send myself money from my online bank account. However, it wouldn’t be processed until the UK banks woke up, which wouldn’t be for another four hours. I headed out to a monkey park to take my mind off it (which worked perfectly, because monkeys are great).
When I got confirmation of the transfer request, I strolled casually up to the high street to find a Western Union. Pretty soon, I found out that virtually every single one was closed – it was the last day of Ramadan and the banks were closing early. They would then be shut for five days. I practically ran up and down every street, growing more and more stressed out at every elephant-pants wearing 20 year old who all seemed to walk in super slow motion as they tried to ‘find themselves’. Finally, I found a guy who was still open… but his photocopier was broken. He had to photocopy my passport to process the transfer but couldn’t. I gritted my teeth and headed back out in search of a photocopying shop (same problem as the bank situation) and eventually thrust money into the hands of a tourist information centre secretary to copy the passport for me. Stress levels were at maximum.
So, no problem right? Wrong. The WU website had asked for just first and last name, but because my passport also featured my middle name, they wouldn’t process my transaction. The guy rang a lady in the head office, and she told me I had to go online and amend the transfer request. So, I sprinted back to my hostel, updated the request and sprinted back (he told me he would be open but I had lost my trusting feelings by this point…).
At long last, I managed to get my hands on some cash. 10,000,000 Rupiyah to be precise (far more money than I needed, but common sense had left me somewhere around Rinjani). Now I had the paranoia of having so much cash on me AND a serious body odour problem. Still, the glass of red wine I drank that night was like mana from heaven. So I had three.
A few more mishaps during the next few days left me at my lowest ebb. I was sick of being ripped off at every turn, of every plan falling apart due to factors beyond my control. I began to feel pangs of loneliness and yet was too weary to strike up conversations with strangers. Still, I was nearer the end of my trip and I felt I had to see it through. And so I found myself sitting on a bus bound for Banyuwangi, wishing that I could catch a break – maybe meet a like minded person who I could travel for a few days with, just to share my stories of misfortune…
And that’s when I met Martina. Without wanting to induce the same effect I had from the Fish Of Death, it was a life changing encounter that lead to the most incredible week of my traveling life. It also prompted this blog and our plans to travel together round South America.
I don’t for one second believe in predetermined fate – that’s just Disney nonsense. However, it’s clear to me that if any one of the above misfortunes hadn’t happened, my schedule would have been altered and our chance meeting would never have occured. Any one of the things that I documented above was eminently manageable, but their compound effect pushed me close to the edge. Yet with just a little perseverance, something life-changingly good was around the next corner.
If you find yourself in the mire of travel woes (or indeed any trying passage of events), try to push forward as best you can. It might just be the best decision you ever make.
Do you have your own story of travel woes that turned out far better than hoped? Share them below in the comments section!