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Thursday, September 8, 2016

My Worst Travel Experiences




On my previous post about traveling alone, I've mentioned that my purse was stolen in Buenos Aires, and said it was probably the worst thing that's ever happened to me while I was on the road.

Uh.. That's actually..... debatable.

Even though I did lose about 500 USD, my credit cards, ID, and phone, and I felt completely violated... there were actually a couple more "unspeakable" incidents that never made it to this blog... and i didn't write about it then - for several reasons. The biggest of which is that I didn't want anyone to worry about me, especially my family.

Why write about it now? Well - I guess I thought maybe people could learn a thing or two from what had happened to me. I used to have a little shame or embarrassment about it in the past because I wanted to encourage people to get out there and see the world, or at least get out of their comfort zones ---- NOT scare them away.


Looking back though, I guess they weren't THAT scary anyway. And if anything, I'd like to make sure that everyone understands that with good preparation, a proper mindset and sheer willpower (OK, and maybe a little bit of luck), there's always a way to get yourselves out of danger. 

THE ONE ABOUT THE ABOMINABLE AUSTRALIAN BOGAN



I was in Uruguay doing the backpacking route down the coast of the country jumping from one beach to the other when I came across a really nice and fun hostel by the shore.

It was one of those places where everyone that was staying there just became quick friends because of how the bar and the lounge was set up. It was conducive and encouraged "participation". 


In my dorm room of 6 beds, I only had one roommate -- The Abominable Australian Bogan (AAB). Huge guy, about 6 feet 5, a little older, but with a young spirit. 

Him and I hung out by default, just to keep each other company. We joined the other hostel guests for pre-dinner drinks down by the lounge, but decided to do dinner somewhere else.

We walked a little bit, found a nice restaurant, had a great dinner, great conversation. He even paid! Said he really appreciated the company. I thought it was sweet.

OK I would like to make it clear that there was absolutely NO flirting involved here. Not on my part, at least. And IF he was (and I doubt he did), then I never picked up on it.

In fact, when we went back to the hostel, him and I hung out with different groups of people. I went over to the young exchange students, and he went over to the adults. He must have turned in early because I didn't see him for the rest of the night. 



This was my crowd at our hostel under the moonlight in Punta Del Diablo, Uruguay

I came back to the room, he was still awake, just playing with his phone. I said hi, talked his ear off about this young college dude that tried to hit on me just then, and we both laughed about his failed efforts with me.

Everything was completely platonic, totally friendly.

Until a few minutes later when the lights were out and we were both just fiddling around with our gadgets that he freaking crawled onto my bed, and said something lame like - "So I want you to show me your blog from your iPad."

"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?" I yelled as he sort of tried to maneuver his way on top of me.


He was like, "Come on, it will be fun."

Thank goodness for the little self defense trick I learned from one of my friends --- I was wearing a little hair tie on my wrist, attached to a key. I call this move, the "Deadly Key Fist". (I wrote about this on my Self Defense Article)





I slipped the key into my fingers and aimed it (sharp edge) at his eye and said,
"I swear to GOD, Dude, if you don't get off of me, I will fucking stab you in the eye! I'll do it!!! Get off of me!"

He went a little cross-eyed as he tried to focus on the sharp weapon about to poke him in the eye, and then backed off.

"Awww Really?" he said as he jumped out of my bed, laughing to himself - I think to mask his nerves or shock. 


"Oh my God, Abominable Australian Bogan! Jeezas!" I said to him angrily, but he said nothing. He just went back to bed as if nothing happened.

I, on the other hand, packed my stuff with lightning speed, and dashed out of that room. I went down to the receptionist and said - "Listen, I cannot stay in that room. That dude is an asshole. You need to put me in another dorm."

The receptionist, seeing my disheveled hair and wild eyes, looked like she wanted to say something or ask what happened... but I stopped her and said I just would rather not talk and just to please give me another room.

She didn't say another word and handed me another key.

I left before anyone in the hostel even woke up, to catch my very early bus ride back to Montivideo... Thanking my lucky stars that I didn't use that hair tie to pull my hair up that night.




THE ONE ABOUT THE JACKASS COUCHSURFING HOST NINCOMPOOP


When I went to Rio for the 2014 Rio Carnival, I couchsurfed at this place in the center of Rio, owned by 4 Brazilian guys. They were, apparently, the premiere Couchsurfing Hosts/Spot in Rio. I had to "apply" to surf with them by submitting some kind of essay about myself and what I could "contribute" to the group -- as apparently they were hosting a whole bunch of people, and I was fighting for my spot.

Really.
I know, right?


To my defense, they had about a million excellent reviews, and the idea of coming into Rio with a whole house full of surfers/travelers really appealed to me, especially since I was traveling alone. Which is why when they "approved" me - I was over the moon excited! It was such an ideal scenario, coming into Rio for the Carnival with an instant group of friends!


THIS was the apartment. THESE were the boys, their friends, and the surfers.

Well, when I arrived, it was all I ever imagined and more. I got there, and already there were about 12 people in the apartment, already drunk, giving me hugs and shoving caipirinha's in my hand! It was a shock to my system - but it was Carnival, and I was out to have a great time!

I think there were about 6 or 7 of us Couchsurfers in that apartment. All girls from different countries, all single, all cute.


Hmm...

4 Brazilian Guys who opens their apartment up for female cute Couchsurfers only....


That should have already tipped me off right there.

The boys who lived there will each have one girl in the room, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and the rest will sleep in the living room in either the hammock or pull out couches or extra mattresses.

It was, in essence, the ULTIMATE Couchsurfing Experience.


I was assigned to one room - and yes, you guessed it, it was the Jackass Nincompoop's room.

It was fine at the beginning. He seemed nice, very respectful, kind, and super accommodating. 

Slept the first night fine, woke up to follow Bloco's the next day (Blocos = Samba Moving Street Floats), stayed up till 2am in Copacabana, drinking and partying with the rest of Brazil.

It got ugly when we all went home to crash for the night.

What I didn't realize is that the Jackass Nincompoop (JN) wasn't just drunk, he was high out of his mind -- and I'm not even sure what kind of substance he was on, but he wasn't all there.


I was already on the floor on my mattress when he came into the room and plopped onto his bed. All of a sudden, I felt his hand rubbing my back - and it wasn't a very "friendly" rub, if you know what I mean.

"So... How are you..." he mumbled.

I moved his hand away from me and said - "I'm good, JN. Just trying to sleep. Good night."

But - he did it again. This time, he started touching my hair, too.

"So... How are you..." he said again. I don't know what his problem was as I was sure he knew more English words than that.


I took his hand away again and said, "JN, you don't want to do that. Trust me. We're friends right? Let's just sleep. We had a long day. Boa Noite."

He started massaging my back again and said, "Why... Friends can have fun, right? I was nice to you, right?"

OK he wasn't getting it, so a little more forcefully, I threw his hand away from me and said, "Dude! STOP IT. No!" --- I think it's important to note that at this point, my free hand had already found its way into my bag and on my pocket pepper spray.

I looked at him and he was totally out of it. Drunk or stoned or high - whatever it was, he didn't look right.

He kind of stumbled out of bed and left the room... my hand still gripping the pepper spray. I was nervous - but I think I was more annoyed. Sooo annoyed at myself for being naive enough to land myself in that kind of situation.

I calmed myself down for a bit and just tried to go to sleep.

But JN came back about 15 minutes later. Plopped himself on the bed. His hand went and rubbed my back, and said....

"So.... How are you...." as if nothing ever happened. I swear, I thought I was in the twilight zone.

"Jeezas Christ, Jackass Nincompoop!!!! What the fuck is wrong with you???" I yelled, and I stormed out of the room.

Obviously, I couldn't sleep after that, and the wheels in my head were turning. I was formulating a plan to get myself out of there.


Now - THIS is when Travel Magic Happens.


About 6 months prior to that, while I was staying at a hostel in Rome, I met this Brazilian guy, George.  We were roommates, spoke only long enough for us to add each other on Facebook (as travelers usually do), and went our separate ways. We literally only spoke for 2 seconds. Our relationship after that was just "likes" on each others photos on FB.

Well, when he found out via my posts that I was headed to Brazil, he shot me a message and very kindly offered for me to stay with him and his partner for when I went to Rio. He did warn me that his house was about an hour away from the main city via the Metro, but wanted to put it out there anyway.

I told him that it was so very kind and sweet of him to offer, but that I already found accommodations in the city --- however I would love to see him and hang out!


Well - in my desperate moment, curled up by the hammock after the gross incident with JN, I sent George a message. I said something like, "George, I know this is completely last minute... I need your help. It's a long story and I will tell you all about it when I see you - but if the offer still stands, can I please stay with you? I cannot stay here anymore..."

And without any questions or hesitations, George just said - "YES. Stay here with us. I'm coming to get you."


My Brazilian Angel.


This is my hero, George!

May I please reiterate that at this point, I had only met George that one time in the hostel in Rome, 6 months prior, and we hadn't spoken to each other apart from him offering his home to me.

And so no matter how horrible my experience was with JN, George and all his kindness, just made EVERYTHING worth it.


I stayed with George for the rest of my trip in Rio, going back to the couchsurfing house only to hang out with the girls that I met, JN completely oblivious to the fact that I had moved out.

I spoke to one of the 4 guys who was living there and told him about what JN had done. He was livid! I told the girls about it, too, and they told me that something similar had happened to a couple Chilean girls that came in previously. Apparently, JN had tried to get one of the girls in bed, and when she refused, he basically kicked both of them out - saying they don't have room for them anymore.

What a dick!

I was mortified, thinking again how lucky I am that I had George to save me.

In defense of the other 3 boys - who were all completely different from JN, when they found out about the incidents, they totally slammed JN, apologized to the girls and to me on behalf of JN's behavior... And I found out a few months later that they kicked him out of the apartment. 


LESSONS LEARNED


1. Whenever one finds oneself in compromising situations (like examples above), one MUST be firm in saying "NO" or "STOP". One must be strong, and never be afraid to show strength or fight back if necessary. 

2. Will never again stay in a "Mixed Dorm" hostel, unless I had no other choice. 
(On a side note: I did end up staying at a mixed dorm by accident when I booked a room via AirBnB recently in Manhattan - but my roommate was a little person, auditioning to be one of the Elves at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. It was, apparently, his lifelong dream to be one. 




I know we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I think he was pretty harmless. There was a twinkle in his eye....)

3. Will never underestimate the power of good self defense. Will continue to carry defensive weapons like pepper spray, and/or deadly key.

4. Will always remember to ask for help, when needed. 


I have completely put these incidents behind me. I'm actually still really good friends with one of the 4 dudes in Rio - Obviously not JN - and we just roll our eyes when we talk about it. Considering the fact that their apartment was very small and there were about 12 people in the house at the time that JN tried to harass me, we both agreed that I was in no real danger because anyone could have woken up to seize JN if anything were to have happened -- assuming of course that I haven't already beaten the shit out of him.

Did I mention I was a boxer?





And even in the hostel with the Abominable dude... The hostel was small, the walls were thin, packed with people... I could have easily been able to produce a bloodcurdling scream to alert anyone within 3 miles of us, if he continued being a stupid imbecile.

So - these were definitely nerve-racking experiences, with a danger level of - I'd say 2 and a quarter stars out of 5?

Were they awful? 
Heck yeah.

Did they turn me off from traveling alone or CouchSurfing or staying in Hostels?

Eff no.

If these were some of my worst travel experiences, then I'd say George coming to rescue me was one of my best. It just really proves that sometimes, the brightest light appears even in the darkest moments. I have always believed in the magic of kindness, and it manifests in the times you need it the most. At least it has for me, on many occasions.




I was practically a stranger to George, but he took me in at a moment's notice... and so even if I was still really peeved off by JN, George's act of genuine goodness really touched me, and it turned my experience around... That when I think of Rio, I think of him, and it makes my heart happy.


I think it was my chubby friend, Buddha, who said - life is neither good nor bad... it just is. (Not sure if Buddha actually said that, but let's just go with it)

Perhaps I shouldn't look at these as my worst experiences - but rather just see everything that I've been through as a collection of experiences that make up my so-called life. 

I learn more when I stumble... and my joyous and most grateful moments often happen after terrible times of despair and gloom. 

At the end of the day - I keep moving forward... as we all should!

I have lived to tell these tales after all...
(Mom - if you are reading this, don't freak out!)

I sincerely hope that none of the things I wrote about has put anyone off from traveling or taking an adventure. Things happen, you get challenged sometimes, and you deal with it. You move on.

If you're not convinced - next week I'm writing about my FAVORITE travel experiences, and I'm sure I'll change your mind. :)

Aloha!