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off the map

Livingston, Guatemala


It just got good.

We (just myself and Zack these days) worked our way to the little village of Lanquin, Guatemala. Way off the beaten track, but definitely worth the 3 hours on bad dirt roads from Coban. This place is amazing, complete with waterfalls and cascading pools, caves that go back for 3km, and even some untapped climbing potential.

We blew 3 days there, in a grass hut in a cow pasture, intending to head back to Coban and then bus it down to El Estor and onward to Livingston on the coast. But then, we heard about the secret back way.

Apparently, people had, in the past, come into town from the other direction over a series of unmaintained roads that weren't on any of the maps we had along. Others had left town for El Estor that way, with apparent success. No details were available though, as none of them ever came back. We're there!

First stop was Cahabon, a town remote enough that the sight of westerners is still novel enough to draw stares, pointing, and laughter. We stayed there for a day, and set the alarm for 2:45.

At 3:30am, we hit the road for what was possibly the most interesting travel day of my life. The locals head out for work at 4 in a series of 2 ton farm trucks. We hopped on the one that looked like it was heading the farthest out of town, and rode it as far as it would go.

The next several hours were spent alternately sitting by the side of the road in remote Guatemalan jungle, and standing inside or on the bumper of small pickups with up to 30 people in the bed. Eventually we hit the highway (also a dirt road, but straighter), and found a ride to El Estor.

28 Hours, 5 rides (one in a truck full of guys with shotguns), 50 miles, $2.50 not including room and board in Cahabon.

I'm in Livingston now, enjoying the Caribbean sun for one last day before heading back to Guatemala city and home.

permalink written by  Jason Kester on March 2, 2002 from Livingston, Guatemala
from the travel blog: Central America
tagged CertainDeath, HitchHiking, Adventure and BFE

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Monkey Bay, Baby!

Monkey Bay, Malawi


That's right, I'm in Freakin' Monkey Bay, and there's not a thing any of you lot can do about it. I hereby claim the place as part of the greater Kester empire!

There's too much happiness to relate from my perch here at the bar, so I'll give you the disaster story instead.

So after 12 hours crammed in the back of VW minibusses with 25 locals and their stuff, I pulled into this town for the first time. But I wasn't staying, so I jumped in the back of the last pickup headed out to Cape Mclear. Only maybe 15 of us, but no cage so it was plenty tight. And it was 4wd territory the whole way out.

Anyway, about 10k in, we're halfway up a long hill and the radiator finally gives out. No worries, right. We start rolling back to see what can be done, and that's when the brakes go. We pick up speed. People start hollering. People start jumping out. One guy goes over the hood is riding on it. I'm up on the rail, jettisoning my bag, when the driver cuts the wheel to the side. We slam into the hillside doing about 20, and I do my best flying leap over the side.

I land in a forward roll, and am up and scurrying downhill, expecting to see the truck cartwheeling towards me, but it has dug itself into the side of the hill and dispensed about half of its passengers off the back. Amazingly, nobody was seriously hurt.

But yeah, Cape Mclear made up for it all. Best place I've found yet in Africa. $1.50 for a room, $0.30 for a beer. Great beach and flat, clear, warm fresh water.

No worries.


permalink written by  Jason Kester on April 18, 2003 from Monkey Bay, Malawi
from the travel blog: Africa, 2003
tagged Pickup, Crash and CertainDeath

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More wackiness in the City data

Phoenix, United States


Dubai is not in the database. As in, the capital city of the UAE, probably a city we need. I've noticed a few other standouts that just aren't there in other places too. This is not good.

We're really going to need a way for users to add their own locations to the map. And while we're at it, we should probably add the concept of aliases for places we know about. The town of Abu Zaby shows up right in the center of Dubai if you zoom in on the map. It would be nice if our application knew they were the same place.

But wait, it gets worse! Cairo and Alexandria are missing too. The tiny oasis of Al Qasr is there, but the two largest cities in the country are just plain gone. Not acceptable. We're going to have to find a better dataset.

Oh yeah, I can zoom into my hotel in Cairo and see the name of the neighborhood. But the city is not there. And it claims that Italy, Russia and the Seychelles are in view!

Ah ha! Turns out in my initial import, I neglected to include capital cities!


permalink written by  Jason Kester on October 26, 2005 from Phoenix, United States
from the travel blog: Building Blogabond
tagged CertainDeath and Blogabond

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bull boy

Pamplona, Spain


Just a quick note to let you all know I'm still alive & no longer in danger of being trampled by livestock.

As far as festive festivals go, this one was pretty damn festive. First of all, you have no option but to party until dawn, as there is nowhere to sleep even if you wanted to. A typical day starts at 5pm with dinner and a bullfight. Then 12 hours of swilling sangria & calimotxo (cheap red wine & coke) with a few thousand wassailers in the street, then a quick run with some bulls to cap off the evening at 8am, and off to the park to sleep.

I'm now in barcelona recuperating, and I've got to say that I've never appreciated a bed quite as much as I do now.

Anyway, rockclimbing season starts back up tomorrow or so, so It will probably be a few weeks before I can check my mail again.

permalink written by  Jason Kester on July 11, 1998 from Pamplona, Spain
from the travel blog: Europe, North Africa 1998
tagged CertainDeath and SanFermin

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International Border Dispute

Copacabana, Bolivia


Fun fact: Thanks to some silly embargo dating from the Bush administration, Bolivia now charges Americans $135 to visit their country.

Fun fact #2: That´s not written in the Lonely Planet.

So here´s how you do it if you´re ever in the neighborhood. First, you argue with the border guard for a while. Then you go back to the Peruvian side and complain how the Bolivians are a bunch of idiots who want to extort 135 USD from me, and screw that, please stamp me back into your fine country.

Then you tiptoe your way back over to the Bolivian side, slip the guy a crisp new $20 bill and casually make your way to the nearest collectivo taxi headed into Copacabana.

Coming back, you casually peruse the fruit stands while your non-US compatriots make their way through immigrations, all the while being scrutinized ever more carefully by an angry looking guy in a uniform. Then you --HEY LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT BIRD!!!-- and you cheeze it across the border at full tilt and hope nobody starts shooting at you.

I didn´t like Bolivia all that much. It made me nervous.




permalink written by  Jason Kester on October 21, 2009 from Copacabana, Bolivia
from the travel blog: South!
tagged CertainDeath

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Nuqui, Colombia: Real info for budget travelers

Nuqui, Colombia


Nuqui is an amazing place, but it can be hard to pull off a trip there unless you really know what you're doing, or you have a LOT of money. Since there's not any good information on the web, chances are you won't know what you're doing. And since you're researching the place on the internet, we'll assume you don't have any money. Here's the info that I wish we had before we went.

Staying There


There are almost no cheap places to stay near Nuqui. It's a strange situation there. You see, the "Ecolodges" found it first, and have built these amazing places that you can't afford to stay in. The locals in places like Termales and Guachalito have since opened a few places of their own, but the only reference they have to how much a hotel should cost are places like "El Cantil", which charge $200US per night. So as a result, you can get a crap room in a little shack in Termales for $50US per night including meals, which the locals seem to think is a pretty good deal given the alternative.

More fun, the locals know that you got there on the 1pm lancha from Nuqui, and that the next lancha back doesn't go until 6am. Sure, you can walk up or down the beach, but the only place to go is to an expensive lodge. You're stuck, and everybody knows it. That'll be $50, please.

So here's where you're actually going to stay: Casa Jacky in Arusi.

Arusi is the last stop on the daily lancha that goes south from Nuqui at 1pm. Jacky is a really nice lady who has a little house with rooms you can stay in and a kitchen. She charges $5 per person per night for a room, and an extra $1.25 per person if you're going to cook in the kitchen. There's no restaurant in town, so you're probably going to cook most of your own meals, or arrange to have a local cook for you for about $2.50 per person.

Arusi is an amazing little town with a good beach and a great little river for swimming. The locals there are all super friendly, and chances are you'll be the only gringo in town for the entirety of your stay. You'll need to bring your water from Nuqui or boil it, or take your chances drinking out of the river. There are shops selling basic food to cook, but if you want anything besides potatoes, beans and rice, you might want to bring it with you. There's fish for sale (it's a fishing town after all), but even this is hit and miss, since some days nobody catches anything, and others all they have to sell is an entire 20 pound tuna.

There's a super helpful guy in Nuqui named Juan Maria, who has a deposito near the lancha dock and is an amazing resource for lost travelers like yourself. Seek him out and talk to him for an hour before you go, and any problem you may have had will resolve itself quickly. In our case, he hooked us up with all the info above, and even found us a lancha out to Arusi after the daily shuttle had gone.

Surfing


We were there for a week and didn't see wave one. But then we were in Arusi, which is pretty sheltered. There's a good looking left-hand point there that we noticed from the boat on the way in, but it must need a big swell because it was gone by the time we got settled in. Your best bet for surf info would be to talk to the El Cantil guys before you go. Beware though, that they're used to renting boards for $50/day and boat trips for $150/day!

Termales has boards that you can rent. At least we saw some kids playing in the shorebreak on a nice selection of shortboards and guns. No idea how much they want per day, but it's probably heartbreakingly expensive. If you're going there to surf for a while, it might be worth bringing your own.

Stuff to do


Termales has a really cool hotspring pool by a little stream. It's quite pleasant. Be sure to get there when the Ecolodge tourists aren't there or you'll be subject to a $5 entrance fee. Don't eat in the restaurant in Termales if you can avoid it, since they'll gouge you as best they can on the price.

The river in Arusi is good for swimming. If it's high tide, try to get somebody to canoe you up to a good swimming hole. Better still, wait for low tide and walk upstream a ways until you find a good deep pool. No crocs. No piranha. None of those scary little Amazon fishes that lodge themselves in your jimmy. Just cool clear water and maybe a few local kids to splash around with.

Getting There & Away


You have 2 options to get to Nuqui. You can fly or you can take a boat. In theory, ADA ( http://www.ada-aero.com/ ) and Satena ( http://www.satena.com/ ) fly there from Medellin. In practice, however, I never saw an ADA plane come or go. Satana flies Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, leaving Medellin at about 10am, then turning around and leaving Nuqui at 12:15. One way is about $80US, and you can generally just turn up at the airport in Nuqui and stand a good chance of getting a flight that day. There are also flights to Nuqui from Quibdo, but you really don't want to go there, do you?

The Airport is right in the middle of Nuqui, a few steps from the only little places to stay, and from the boat dock where you'll be getting a lancha to Arusi. Nuqui itself is not that nice. You can buy what you need there, and you can check email. But I wouldn't want to stay there.

There are two boats that go from Buenaventura to Nuqui: The Nuquimar and the Luchador. Both go out of the port called "Piňal", just before the bridge on the left-hand side as you're headed out of town in a taxi or collective. It'll be on your right just after the bridge if you want to stop your bus from Cali on the way into town. Both boats charge $45US for the 18-24 hour trip, and have tight little communal sleeping areas where you'll be overcrammed with other passengers for at least one night. You can sleep on the boat while you're waiting for it to go, and chances are you'll end up doing this since even the captain won't know for sure when you're leaving until the last minute. The restaurant across from the Nuquimar's dock is pretty tasty. In theory, one will go every few days.

Lanchas go up and down the coast around Nuqui each day, down from Nuqui at 1pm, back from Arusi at 6am. It's $10US per person each way.

Cash


You're going to need to take ALL the money you plan to spend with you in the form of cash. There are no banks anywhere on the coast, and the airline office at the airport can't take credit cards. If you run out of money, you're pretty much screwed. Take out piles of money and hide it about your stuff as best you can. Consider flying in since you're less exposed to robbery. Your fellow boat passengers are unlikely to be master criminals, but then you'll be spending plenty of time at the port and it's hard to watch all your stuff all the time.

Security


Columbia gets safer each year, but Choco is one of the provinces that seems to be taking its own sweet time. 3 days before we arrived in Buenaventura, a bomb exploded at the entrance to the port. A few days after we sailed, another cargo boat just like ours was boarded by pirates after leaving Buenaventura. All 20 passengers were tossed in the sea, and the pirates made off with the boat.

Everybody knows that you'll be carrying a ton of cash with you on your way to Nuqui. If there's bad people around, you'll likely be their target.

It's All Good


The Nuqui area is one of the most rewarding travel experiences you're likely to have in South America. If you do it right, the good will far outweigh the bad, which is why this document unfortunately needs to spend so much time dwelling on the things that can go wrong.

Don't worry. It'll go right. Have fun and let me know if there's anything I need to add to this little guide!


permalink written by  Blogabond Travel Tips on February 6, 2010 from Nuqui, Colombia
from the travel blog: Round The World Travel Advice
tagged Surfing, CertainDeath and OffTheMap

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Never Again!

Orlando, United States


I woke up hung-over again, and with no time to repack my bag. All I was able to do was grab the first set of clothes from the top of my rucksack and head out the door to get my taxi.

When I'd changed hostels I thought I had it all worked out so perfectly: I had just three sets of clean clothes left, which was exactly correct, so I didn't need to do any laundry before the journey home and I had all the clean ones sitting at the top of my bag for easy access.

I had even gone as far as thinking that the Cuba t-shirt might not go down too well with the US authorities, and nor might the Che Guevara one; so I'd put the Cuba one to the bottom for changing into after my overnight flight and the Che one on top, for wearing the day before I left. That's how organised I was when I moved hostels. Unfortunately I'd been a bit too hung-over and lazy to change the morning before and it was only on the way out the door I realised that I hadn't wanted to wear the Che t-shirt that day. I thought about going back in and rummaging through my bag to change, but then I thought ''This is ridiculous, surely nobody could really care about a t-shirt?" and decided it was more important to get to the airport on time.

At Panama airport I was subjected to the most unpleasant and high security experience since Heathrow Terminal 5 at the start of the trip over a year previously. It was all long queues and aggressive-looking security staff. After the X-ray machine and metal detector, I was just about to pick up my cabin bag and walk away, when a large aggressive security woman shouted at me in an American accent. Sir! There is a knife in your bag. You will have to hand it over. I knew I didn't have a knife in my bag, so I said that I didn't think there was one. She didn't like that one bit: Sir, there is a knife in your bag and you will hand it over. I tried saying that I really didn't think there was, but she walked towards me and, after looking at the X-ray screen, pointed at the side pocket. In here. I opened it up and saw my corkscrew, which I suppose does have a jaggy bit on the end, but it would never have occurred to me to move it from my hand luggage. I took it out to show her and started to say It's not a knife, it's just a corkscrew but she interrupted and said Sir you cannot take that on board. Hand it over. No please. No thank you. And no sign we were in a nice third world country or Latin America.

I said goodbye to my beloved corkscrew and carried on, depressed, for the next stage of this nightmare journey Joanne had booked for me. The original plan had been to fly from South America, but it would have cost something ridiculous like two or three hundred pounds more, one way. Then we thought I could fly from Central America, which was much cheaper, but it looked like all of the flights transit through the US, which I wouldn't have worried about too much, but with all these fascist policies that were brought in on the back of 9-11, it meant that, strictly speaking, you can no longer transit through the States: everyone has to go through immigration, presumably so everyone is thoroughly checked out. In fact, recently they had introduced another hurdle, to wit, everyone has to have a visa – or a visa waiver – even including US citizens coming home, I'm told.

Still, it was the cheapest way of getting home, so I thought I would put up with the extra inconvenience, and had applied for and printed off the pre-filled visa waiver form. As a last twist in my journey, Joanne had discovered it would be considerably cheaper to land in Belfast, and take a budget carrier from there to Glasgow, and there was one flight a bit too soon after I landed, or else I'd have to wait at the airport for most of the day. It was going to be a horrible journey: Panama to Orlando, a couple of hours wait before flying to Newark, more waiting before the overnight flight to Belfast, then the whole day in the airport before a 50 minute flight to Glasgow. But we had no money left, so it had to be the cheapest option.

When we landed in Orlando, the entire atmosphere was tense and aggressive. Even the people cleaning the toilets before you go through security were scowling and staring at everyone; I'm tempted to say that they were all agents, paid to glean what information they could while terrorists still have their guard – and their pants – down. Maybe they were, or maybe they just hated their minimum wage jobs and all the people that dirtied their toilets.

If I thought the toilet cleaners were scary, they had nothing on all the staff in the immigration hall. Everyone looked very serious. And the queue was long. This was going to be a very long wait. Having travelled through several Communist dictatorships and a few highly militarised countries, this was the most blatant display of control and power I had witnessed on the trip; and certainly the most intimidating, which I suppose it the largest part of the intention. Standing in the queue I felt like I was in some dystopic science fiction story. A video screen at the front of every queue on a loop repeated the message that America is a fantastic country, full of lovely happy genuine, generous people, and above all it is a friendly and welcoming place; meanwhile - I can't remember if it was another screen, PA, or just a notice - informed us of all sorts of rules and regulations. Actually I think it must have been an announcement as I remember that being on a loop as well. It told me things like if I did not obey every command given to me by the immigration officer I was in breach of US law; if I did not answer every question he asked me completely honestly (whether relevant or not) I was in breach of US law; if I did not fill in my form correctly I was in breach of US law. And every time, I couldn't help myself from mentally adding to the end, and likely to be whisked off to Guantanamo or disappeared to Diego Garcia; it might have been the frequent references to sinister-sounding organisations like Homeland Security that completed the job, but I was beginning to feel quite scared. Friendly and welcoming, my arse! All this intimidation and I wanted to shout out I don't even want to come into your horrible country anyway!! Just let me though! I'd have stayed on the plane if you'd let me! but of course that would have been in breach of US law and probably entitled me to immediate summary sentencing by the Department of Homeland Security.

Jason Kester, who runs this website, wrote in his blog last year that he didn't like Bolivia much and it made him nervous because of his experiences at the border, but the Bolivian border has absolutely nothing on what the US does. It is truly awful.

So it was in this state of heightened anxiety that I found myself at the front of the queue, able finally to watch what the procedure was at the desk. I wanted to make sure I got it right. It seemed to involve all sort of invasive procedures like having your retinas and finger prints scanned, but for all I knew it also involved having your blood taken or getting branded by the immigration officer, so I wanted to watch closely. As I was looking on, the immigration officer looked up and I gave him a friendly half-smile automatically, as if to say hi, I'm next. In return I was greeted with a hard scowl, a very slow and pointed look down at my t-shirt, and a slow and pointed return to scowl at my face again. I thought Oh shit! I should have taken the time to change my t-shirt after all, but surely these highly trained people with such an important job to do are not so infantile and narrow-minded that something like a t-shirt would actually arouse suspicion. Then it was my turn to step forward.

The officer looked like he was about 19 years old and he had his head shaved, though not bald, just like a neo-Nazi – or someone in the army, I suppose. But he was podgy and when he spoke he sounded like a hick to me, though I'm not good with American accents, so maybe that's just what an Orlando accent sounds like. I handed over my documents and he asked me where I was going (Glasgow, Scotland) and where I was travelling from (Panama City). He asked what my flight number to Glasgow was and was not impressed when I said I didn't know because it wasn't with the same airline, but I had my schedule all the way to Belfast. He took my schedule and wrote all the flight numbers on my visa waiver form. Then he asked how long I've been out of the country. I told him about fourteen months and straight-away, he shot back at me And where did you get the money for a trip like that? Were you working? – No courtesy, no manners, just barked questions like a sergeant-major. I told him; no I had been moving too much to have time to work, but that I was obviously working before I started travelling. How much money did you have "saved up" for a trip like that? he asked, which I thought was none of his business, but remembering the sign and where I was I decided I'd rather answer him than have a bullet put in the back of my head, or spend the next four years in an orange jump suit, having daily near-drowning experiences and no contact with the outside world. After every answer I gave he responded with a cheeky little uh-huh? as if to say well that's what you say now, but I'm sure we'll get the truth out of you one way or another. Next question was And did you declare all that money when you first entered the US?

By this time my initial desire to shout out that I didn't even want to get into the country had turned into a constant internal dialogue. I think it was the only way I could cope with the situation. Internal dialogue said [Just how stupid are these people, haven't they heard of cash machines? And why has he assumed that I've already been through the US. I didn't even want to come near your horrible country], but I just told him that I had it in a bank account and drew it as I needed it, then had to point out that this was the first time I'd come to the US on this trip when he started pursuing the did you declare last time line. At about this time he indicated that I should now submit to having my biometric data stolen from me against my will and I gave up my fingers and eyes to the fascists. Meanwhile, The Thing started leafing through my passport and turning it to read the visas and stamps. At one point he seemed to jump a little, with shock I think, and asked What did you think of China?; he could not have crammed more suspicion into his voice [Oh my god these people really are stupid], so I just told him that I liked it and I thought that Beijing was an amazing city, cue uh-huh?. In retrospect, I realise I should have said at that point Man what a horrible place, I couldn't stand those Commies. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, but I hadn't quite grasped how stupid they are yet.

So Hulk continued with the leafing, then another little shocked jump, somehow he did cram more suspicion into his voice as he lowered his lumbering brows and asked And what did you think of Vietnam, as if he was catching me by surprise and I wouldn't have expected him to think of that one. In truth I was dumbfounded that their front line against terrorism could be so stupid and pick such predictable targets. I just said Yeah I really liked Vietnam. Next, and this time I couldn't believe it, he asked the same question again, but this time the country was Cambodia. I didn't have the heart to tell him that, despite the name of the ruling party, the country is anything but Communist. I felt like helping him out: [Oh look – there's a Lao stamp, shouldn't you be asking me about Laos next? But you probably don't even believe that the US were in there. OK – look Bolivia! – now they're real Commies, ask me about that!]. I told him I didn't like Cambodia so much, then panicked as I realised that the next thing I was going to say when he asked why was that the wealth divide in that country was a disgrace and a huge shock after the absence of inequality in Vietnam; quickly I back-peddled in my mind and managed to salvage It was the poverty, there was a lot of poverty there. [Whew! I'd have been in trouble if, in America, I'd said anything against the wealth divide, the very cornerstone of Capitalism].

Anyway, this went on for some time, asking me more questions about money and what I did for a living, a lot of things that were nothing to do with him, all asked in the rudest, most aggressive manner; and then he changed tack and said suddenly Have you ever been arrested? now sounding triumphant and of course when I responded No!, getting into the psych-war by ladling as much incredulity and scorn into my voice as I thought I could get away with, he came back with a more satisfied than ever UH-HUH? and turned away from me to his computer, where he went tackity-tack for a few minutes, before turning back, not to me but to my visa waiver form where he took a red pen and wrote a big S and circled it. Then he theatrically picked up my passport, just to remind me he had it I think, and ordered Follow me!

So walking away from the immigration desks (I'd not seen anyone else leaving their post) we went through a back room, the doors of which he opened and closed at both ends with special security keys, and ended up at the luggage carousel. Identify your bag and collect it, he demanded. Now this was a shock; I hadn't expected to see my bag again until Belfast, but there it was going round on the carousel. Wait over here he indicated some plastic seats outside a room with blacked-out windows. I sat down and he disappeared with my passport. I couldn't believe this, after all the supposedly dodgy places we had been, it's the US where they hold my passport to ransom, just like I'd heard tales of from people travelling through corrupt former Soviet republics, and it's the US where it looked like I was about to be strip-searched, judging by the room I was sitting outside.

They left me sitting there for about twenty minutes, which was more than enough time for me to start worrying about the contents of my bag: [Oh shit! The medicine bag!] I'd forgotten (and not had time) to go through it that morning, containing the various drugs you probably need a prescription for in the States, but surely they wouldn't be too bothered by that, surely the worst that could happen is they'd take them off me when I said I didn't realise? Then there was the lovely decorative carved pipe, covered in traditional weaving, I'd bought in Bolivia; could they arrest me on the grounds that it was drugs paraphernalia? I didn't know, but considering how I'd been treated so far, I didn't feel particularly happy about it. Even if it ended with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, I wasn't at all looking forward to the strip-search that seemed inevitable now. That was when I realised: the red S on my form, that must be what it stands for; Search, or Strip perhaps.

Finally the orc came back with another officer of the regime, handed him my passport, and he left. The new one asked me if I could please put my bags up on a table a few yards from where I was sitting; it was one if those long desks they always have at customs, which they use for searching bags. At least this guy's manner was nicer; I assume the customs guys aren't trained to be as nasty as immigration for some reason. By the time I got to the desk he was paging through my passport. Quite the world traveller he said, as I lifted my bags up. Yes, I was on a round the world trip I explained. Uh-huh? And what did you think of China?, he said, stopping at that page. [Oh god, here we go again! Can't they think in any way that deviates from their indoctrination?]. Yeah I really liked it, Beijing was an amazing city, I trotted out. Uh-huh? And what did you think of Vietnam?. Yeah I liked it a lot too.

This one was obviously not fully trained in US foreign adventures because he neglected to ask me about Cambodia; or maybe he just had other things on his mind: So, I hope you don't mind, but I have to ask: how can you afford to take a trip like that and not work for a year?. I told him I was a computer programmer, I'd saved up for ten years, and yes it was quite a well-paid job. I see, so it's a sort of once in a lifetime trip? he said. [Wow, this guy is much nicer]. I told him, yeah, or maybe I'll save up for another ten years. The bit about the money went on for a while again.

Then it was next up: So do you mind telling me what's in these bags? he asked. Ok, I told him, mostly electronics and books in the small one, and mostly laundry in the big one. You wouldn't happen to have any narcotics in them? he asked. No, I responded, I'm not that stupid. Then he told me It's just that we've got sniffer dogs back there, behind the carousel, and they seemed very interested in your bag. Can you think of any reason that might be? I wondered if they might be trained to sniff out prescription drugs as well, but I just told him I had no idea why the dogs would be interested in my bag. Did you smoke anything while you were travelling. Or were you around people who were? he asked, then added I don't care if you did, I just really need to know. So I told him I'd been at a party where people were smoking, and he said Well that's probably what it was: the dogs were probably just smelling it off your clothes. OK, you can go, and thank you for your honesty. [Well thank you for not strip-searching me or taking me off to Guantanamo]. Then, just as I was picking my bags up, in a piece of pure Columbo, he asked me Can you tell me: what was the thing you liked most about Vietnam? He obviously thought he might catch me out, but all he did was to make my internal dialogue go into over-drive: [Vietnam? Let me tell you about Vietnam. Let me see; is it the fact that they're Commies? Is it the fact they kicked your American butts? Is it the fact that they don't allow your nasty American companies to do business, like Coca Cola and Starbucks? No, wait, I've got it –] It was the food. I really like the food.

And that was it. Over an hour, I think, of intimidation and now I was free. I am never ever coming back to this country again I swore to myself, even if it does mean spending £300 more on the flight to avoid the place. Only an hour! What it's like when you really get in trouble is beyond me; I would not cope at all. The first thing I did when I got back to the civilian area of the airport was to find a bar and order a beer. The guy behind the bar asked me for ID! What a country! Do they really still think they are free? It certainly seems to be the most restrictive country of all those I visited. OK, it was only airports, but it left me with absolutely no desire to venture further into the country.

It was only as I was sitting drinking my beer that I realised that the whole story about the dogs must have been made up nonsense, intended to scare me and break me down, because there is no way that they would have let a bag go without searching it, when sniffer dogs had been all over it. Then I started wondering, could the big red S stand for Scare? What a bunch of bastards!



permalink written by  The Happy Couple on January 28, 2010 from Orlando, United States
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
tagged CertainDeath

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