The end of 2016 also marked the end of our third full year of travel. It was a great year of travel for us. We finally managed to slow down a bit, enjoying lengthier stays in Mexico and Spain, before embarking on a grand adventure across Africa.
But this year certainly hasn’t been without its blunders. Even after three years of travel we find that we’re not immune to rookie mistakes, awkward situations, and general mishaps.
We now bring you these short stories so that you can get a feel for these moments, have a laugh at our expense, and learn from our mistakes. Usually we try to show you how amazing travel can be. Although our Facebook and Instagram feeds display a constant barrage of scenic destinations, we certainly run into our fare share of problems while roaming around the world. Constant travel is an absolute blast, but it can also get messy. These are those situations.
As has become tradition on Roaming Around the World (see 2014 & 2015), we now take a moment to recap all the worst travel experiences during this past year, which has taken us all over the map – from Cuba to Africa and many places in between.
1) A Busted Camera in a Photographer’s Paradise
Why it made the list: When you’re an amateur photographer and struggling travel blogger, photographic destinations such as Cuba can become the pinnacle of your travels.
The Story: We came to Cuba prepared with hundreds of gigabyte’s worth of memory cards ready to snap away. We were so excited that when we got into our classic car taxi, we were aiming out the window taking pictures of almost everything in sight. But finally I just had to set it on my lap in order to simply enjoy the scenes unfolding as we drove past the Cuban countryside. When it was time to get out of the car, it had escaped me that the camera remained on my lap.
So you can imagine my horror to discover that upon standing up, the camera went crashing down on a collision course with the hard Cuban street I was now standing on. The lens was smashed beyond repair, so we decided that we would search the stores in Havana to splurge on a new lens. Or perhaps a camera repair shop could fix it. We now realize how laughable that idea was, as such shops do not exist in the communist country.
Our two-week Cuba trip would now be documented with a grainy and outdated 3-year-old Galaxy S4 mobile phone. Any photographers or bloggers that happen to be reading this will certainly feel our pain at what we had to work with.
- The camera base still worked, so once we left Cuba, we were able to purchase a new lens. This gave us the idea to buy a zoom lens, which we were very thankful for having when we eventually traveled to Africa.
- Thank goodness for camera phones or else we wouldn’t have any photos from Cuba.
- Always be careful with expensive electronic equipment that you’re traveling with!
2) A Rookie Mistake: The Wallet Left Behind
Where: Merida, Mexico
Why it made the list: Because loosing your wallet sucks and carelessness like this should not be happening to seasoned travelers.
The Story: It was January 2, 2016. This was a fresh start of travel for the New Year. The taxi ride to our accommodation in Merida was uneventful and just like the dozens (hundreds?) of taxi rides we had taken during the past few years. We arrived to our apartment in this familiar city that we enjoy so much, paid for the taxi, and grabbed our luggage.
Whenever we depart from any transport, we perform a systematic check to ensure we have our phone and wallet. It was this simple pat to the pockets that revealed the phone was there, but my wallet wasn’t. Eeeek! It was our first day back in Mexico and all of our cash and credit/ATM cards had just vanished. Poof!
The taxi had already sped away. We stood in the streets of Merida looking at each other wide-eyed like deers in headlights.
“Do you have the wallet?”
“No, are you sure I didn’t hand it to you after I paid for the taxi?”
I could still see the cab a few blocks away, mixing in with busy Merida traffic. It was a split second decision, but I chose to begin sprinting in my flip-flops on a wild chase to attempt catching this taxi. Maybe the wallet was there. Maybe I could catch up. I started to get close, waving my hands wildly like a crazy person. But the taxi never slowed. I would get a little closer, but then he’d make a turn and I’d lose sight of him.
Thankfully there are many “topes” (speed bumps) throughout Merida that eventually allowed me to get closer to the cab. After sprinting down the colonial streets of Merida for nearly a kilometer, I was within arms reach of his trunk. I banged on the back of the cab while still running at full speed. The driver stopped and seemed genuinely surprised to see me again.
- Wallet recovered! I looked in the back seat, and sure enough, there was my wallet, apparently right where I had left it.
- Even after two years of travel, you’re still susceptible to rookie mistakes.
- Do wallet checks before exiting a vehicle, not after.
3) When an Airbnb Stay Goes Really Wrong
Where: Progreso, Mexico
Why it made the list: Because this was the worst place we’ve ever stayed during our past three years of travel.
The Backstory: We love Airbnb and have been fortunate to stay in some fantastic houses and condos at absolute bargain prices. After residing in an awesome apartment in Merida for a month, we decided to take a beach break on the nearby coast for a few days. Typically we only book the “entire home” option on Airbnb, but in Progreso we found a nice private room ran by one of the many Canadian expats who live there.
It was newly listed, so there were no reviews. But the place appeared to be a really fun beach house, complete with an indoor pool, a game room, and a balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. It sounded perfect, so we booked our 5-day beach getaway.
The Story: We had agreed upon our Noon arrival and got to the house exactly on time. Yet it seemed that no one was home. We waited on the curb in the hot Mexican sun for a half hour before texting the host to enquire about his whereabouts. No response.
Noon then turned into 2:00 pm with repeated texts and never any response. WTF? We had grown hungry, angry, and sweaty. But we continued to sit on the hot curbside with all of our luggage, waiting for our host to arrive.
Our frustration was felt by a friendly passerby who said “you guys look like you need a beer.” The stranger actually returned a few minutes later with some ice-cold beers to share with us, as he provided a therapeutic ear for us to vent. That was a great turn of events that put a smile on our faces, as we made the most of a bad situation. Yet we couldn’t help feeling a little bit like vagrants as we sat stranded on the curb slamming cervezas with our random new friend.
Six beers later, the Airbnb host finally arrived. We bid farewell to the friendly beer-weilding stranger and were eager to be shown to our room. The seemingly stoned Airbnb host arrived dazed and confused, offering little apologies upon showing up nearly THREE hours late. He casually blamed his lack of response on a being on the beach without a wifi connection. But we were willing to put that behind us to enjoy the beach paradise room that we had swooned over online.
Instead, we found a house that was absolutely filthy. That was blamed on a wild party the night before. That indoor pool we saw in the photos had been drained dry. The foosball table was broken and sat inoperable on its side. The kitchen was a disaster. It had a fridge filled to capacity with leftover boxes and rotting food. The sink overflowed with piles of dirty dishes. Disgusting.
We finally made it to our room. It was literally covered by so much dirt and sand that we could have built a sandcastle. Layers of sand! The bed was unmade and the sheets were presumedly dirty. There was only one flimsy pillow for us both to share on the bed. Meanwhile, someone’s dirty clothes littered our supposedly private bathroom. Gross! After our look of horror, the host simply offered to have a cleaning lady come to take care of the mess the next day.
And while the house did get a thorough scrubbing, we were forced to endure these completely deplorable conditions for our first 24 hours. But that still isn’t the worst.
Perhaps most concerning of all is that the bumbling idiot of a host was missing a key to the house, so his solution was to simply leave the front door unlocked during our entire stay. Well, that’ll sure make you feel safe & secure staying in Mexico! Unacceptable. Each time we left the house, we would carefully hide our computer and camera underneath furniture amidst the dead cockroach carcasses.
- This gem of a place is thankfully no longer listed on Airbnb.
- This unfortunate circumstance did allow us to make a new friend (the friendly beer-delivering stranger), who we enjoyed many more cervezas with during the remainder of our stay in Progreso.
- Although this apartment was a total dump, it did have some of the best wifi speeds we’ve found in Mexico, which is critical for us as we work while traveling.
- Our next Airbnb stay in San Cristobal was the best ever, and helped restore our faith after this awful experience.
- Be wary of Airbnbs that don’t have a consistent track record of good reviews.
- Sometimes you’ll endure deplorable conditions if there’s a good wifi signal and you’ve got work to do.
4) A Highway to Hell
Where: Mexico Road 199, the winding road to San Cristobal de las Casas
Why it made the list: It was the most harrowing drive during the past year.
The Story: It all started off as a lovely day touring the area’s sparkling blue waterfalls. But as day turned to night, we hopped on a collectivo for the four-hour drive to San Cristobal de las Casas.
We piled into the big van, squeezed together with all the locals, as is a typical way to travel in this region in southern Mexico. Then we began to climb. Despite being weighed down with about 20 people and all of our luggage, this van was able to get some speed as it plowed across the treacherous mountain roads in the dark.
Beginning at just above sea level, we swayed back & forth with every turn, for an elevation gain of 2,500 meters (~1.5 miles altitude). It was a roller coaster ride and the van felt like it was going to topple at every turn. There are no street lights and many of the sharp turns didn’t appear until the last minute. The driver would yank the wheel to avoid flying off the side of a mountain. There are no guardrails either, so you can only hope for the best. Hold on!
Before the worst turns, our lead-foot driver continued to give the sign of the cross to the picture of Jesus he had at the front of the van, praying we’d make it. Our stomachs were churning worse than any rough seas we’d been on during our Atlantic crossings. We were so thankful to finally have a bathroom break, where we proceeded to vomit anything that remained in our bellies.
A nice diversion from all the motion sickness is when we became terrified because we stopped at point where the road was lit on fire. We came to an abrupt stop at the flames, as men surrounded the van. Apparently the fire was some sort of very unofficial roadblock. Were we getting robbed? Did they need a bribe? I’m still not sure. But an argument ensued between our driver and the roadblock dudes. We sat there for what seemed like eternity but our driver finally was able to appease the guys. They removed the flames from this highway to hell and allowed us to continue our winding journey.
Silver Lining: We arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas alive.
Lessons Learned: Don’t take treacherous mountain roads at night.
5) Did I Catch the Zika Virus?
Where: Oaxaca, Mexico
Why it made the list: Because Zika is scary!
The Story: While on the beach in Zipolite, I wasn’t careful and got bit by many mosquitos. A few days later in Oaxaca, I came down with a fever. This was in March when the media was in a frenzied panic, publishing story after story about this mysterious virus. I did some Internet searching, examined my symptoms, and self-diagnosed that I most definitely had Zika. WebMD said so.
I immediately went to a local doctor to obtain a second opinion. He explained to me that Zika was certainly a possibility, but he didn’t have a way to check for it. Instead he suggested that it was probably just a fever and gave me some Ibuprofin.
- I was all better within a week.
- Even if I did, in fact, have Zika – it seems that the real danger is to an unborn child if we were doing any baby making. We weren’t. Thankfully the virus completely passes out of your system within a few months, leaving no harmful affects if baby-making were to begin in the future.
- Cover up carefully with clothing and/or mosquito repellent in areas prone to Zika.
- Don’t freak out over a WebMD diagnosis and seek a doctor.
6) I Finally Got Food Poisoning… Not Where You’d Expect
Where: Fort Lauderdale, USA
Why it made the list: I’ve been very proud to have an iron stomach, never having got food poisoning during the past three years of travel while eating street food across Asia, Latin America, Europe, and Africa.
The Story: We’ve gradually become pretty trusting in eating local foods around the world. Street vendors have provided some our best meals, which have never led to sickness.
That’s why I grew surprised to encounter the unfamiliar feeling of my stomach rumbling only a few days into returning from Mexico to the US. The rumbling soon evolved into an explosion. There were many hours spent in the bathroom over the following days. I’ll spare you the details.
So what caused it? We’re still not sure. In the first few days of being back in the US, I did eat quite a bit of both processed foods and meat. Apparently just as when people who travel to Mexico get sick because their bodies aren’t accustomed to the different bacteria there; the reverse can also happen. So that’s a theory. But, really, it could have been anything.
The worst part about this lingering bug is that we had been invited to try out that new Fathom Cruise to Dominican Republic, but this bad stomach illness was possibly going to prevent me from boarding. Cruise lines are very strict on not admitting passengers who can spread foodborne illnesses across the ship.
- I made it on the cruise and although I wasn’t able to eat the delicious cuisine for the first few days, I became regular again about midway though the voyage.
- Be careful with what you eat and drink when changing countries, even if it’s your home country.
7) The Last-Minute Hunt for Yellow Fever Vaccination
Where: USA / Panama
Why it made the list: Because you shouldn’t have to pay $600 just to get a simple vaccination.
The Story: We decided to pull the trigger to go to Africa at the last minute, only a few days before departing the US for Panama. This required a Yellow Fever vaccination. So I began calling travel clinics in the US to make an appointment.
It turns out that $300 per person was the going rate to get the vaccination and would require two appointments (first a consultation, a second to administer the vaccination). This added $600 of expenses for the both of us, who are attempting to travel on a big-time budget. Ouch! But even if the price wasn’t outrageous, they had no availability for over a week, hence we couldn’t make it. Meanwhile it’s something we couldn’t show up in Africa without and we needed to get the vaccination in our system ASAP.
We were only in Panama for two days, before our repositioning cruise, so decided to attempt seeking out a vaccination while there. We were definitely glad to be forced into doing so. Our mad scramble for this seemingly-costly vaccination was over thanks to Panama.
- We arrived to the Ministry of Health in Panama City with no notice. A very professional, English-speaking doctor administered the vaccine in five minutes with no appointment and no wait. Total cost: $5 per person.
- It’s nice to know that it can actually be quicker and cheaper to fly to places like Panama for simple medical procedures, rather than deal with the bureaucracy and high expenses of the US medical system.
8) Adventures Living in a Small Village in Spain
Where: Bubion, Spain
Why it made the list: Our daily challenges made for some good laughs.
The Story: We wanted to stay somewhere in Spain for a month that was away from it all. We wanted to enjoy a simple life in the mountains so we could concentrate on getting work completed. We certainly got what we were looking for, but it wasn’t without its challenges.
The quaint village of Bubion that we wound up in during June and July boasts a population of 315 residents. Although tiny, it’s enough to support a supermarket with one employee and two tiny aisles of groceries to choose from. For a bigger selection we did have the option to visit the three-aisle grocery store in the next village over, requiring a rugged three-kilometer hike up a mountain.
If we desired anything not found in the three-aisle supermarket, our final option was an all-day affair. You could catch the 6 am bus for the three-hour journey into Granada, to then return using the evening 3-hour bus back to Bubion. Want to make a sandwich? That’s an all day affair to gather the supplies!
Given the lack of groceries, thankfully there was a fantastic restaurant in our village that had the best tapas and a great value set menus. However, when the owner decided to go on vacation for two weeks, the restaurant closed for the entire duration.
Vegetables were slim at the supermarket. It took us a few weeks to catch on to the weekly tradition of obtaining fresh produce. You have to wait until Mondays. Then, a big truck rolls into town blaring its horn to alert residents of his presence as he slings fruits & veggies to eager customers.
We learned a lot of quirky ways of life up here. Wine was purchased by filling your own jug directly from the barrel. Cured ham came sliced right off of a pig’s leg hanging by the register. And it took us about two weeks to discover that we weren’t required to buy the entire chicken if we just wanted some chicken breast. The person working the supermarket register will put on a butcher hat and hack the breast off for you.
- The hiking was great.
- We were able to get work done.
- There was definitely a learning curve to living here, but that was all part of the fun.
- Embrace small-town challenges and adapt to local culture.
9) Carrying a Broken Drone Half Way Around the World
Where: Around the World
Why it made the list: Because this has caused us the most aggravation throughout the entire year.
The Backstory: We never buy expensive things, but before departing the US we made the last-minute decision to splurge on a drone. While taking an Uber to the airport, we asked our driver to stop at Best Buy, where we made the $800 purchase so that we would be able to capture amazing aerial videography during our three-month Africa journey.
The Story: First of all, it turns out that a drone is a total pain-in-the-ass to travel with. To travel on a plane, it must be a piece of your carry-on luggage, never checked. This tends to receive extra scrutiny when going through airport security. When traveling on a cruise ship, as we did from Panama to Portugal, they confiscate the drone entirely during the voyage. In our case, they also lose the drone causing you to wait at the port for an extra three hours of panicking until this expensive device is located.
Train and bus travel is also a pain. With a hard-shell protective case, the drone becomes a bulky item that never fits in the overhead compartment. Not wanting to risk it to theft in stowing it, the big, clunky, hard-shell box ends up on your lap during long journeys.
But we were happy to endure these minor annoyances in order to capture amazing aerial videos during our overland trip across Africa.
So when arriving to our apartment in Spain, we were eager to get our new toy up in the air for some practice runs. Upon preparing for our first flight, it wasn’t connecting to the mobile phone or remote control, necessary for flying. We were so excited to fly our drone over Spain’s gorgeous Sierra Nevada mountains, so were left completely deflated by not being able to get it up in air.
So we called the manufacturer, DJI, and endured about 20 hours of horrible trouble-shooting that went nowhere. Finally a representative said the error is likely a result of our 3-year-old Galaxy 4 phone we were using to control the drone.
I was determined to get the drone working, so I took the three-hour bus from our small village into town to purchase a new Galaxy 6. Well that was a completely unnecessary expense and waste of time, as the drone still wouldn’t connect to our new phone. Another 20 hours of troubleshooting determined that it was likely a manufacture defect. DJI offered to repair it, but they refused to incur the cost of international shipping. Shipping estimates to send the drone from Spain to the US proved to cost nearly as much as the drone itself.
So we carried this broken piece of machinery with us all across Africa, passing so many incredible scenes. We are heartbroken and beyond frustrated that we had a drone during this once-in-a-lifetime Africa trip, yet weren’t able to us it. The beaches, the deltas, the deserts, the wildlife, the waterfalls all would have looked stunning from above.
- Back in the US, DJI has since taken responsibility for the issue and has fixed the defect.
- I suppose this just gives us an excuse to return to Africa.
- Test out any expensive electronics purchases before departing the area you purchased it.
10) Surprise – Africa is Freezing!
Why it made the list: Because it was our worst nights sleep all year.
The Story: In movies and television, Africa always seems to be depicted as one big sweltering landscape. But we’ve found this to be lies. All lies! Africa is literally freezing!
While there certainly are some warm areas of Africa, we found most of the regions we traveled across in July through October to be downright frigid!
It was chilly right from the get-go, landing in Nairobi to temperatures in the 40’s F (~9° C). While the capital of Kenya technically lies in the tropics, almost on the equator; it also boasts over a mile in elevation (1,800 meters), which provides for a cool climate.
But Nairobi felt like a sauna in comparison to the highlands of Zimbabwe. While camping in the mountains there, a cold front swung through which dipped temps to below freezing. We were in the middle of Africa and actually woke up to frost covering the ground!
We had heard rumors of Africa being cold and did check weather reports to pack accordingly. But it was our sleeping bag situation that was the worst. While shopping for gear in Madrid, the store only had bags that were appropriate for temperatures down to 60° F (15° C). Instead of going to other stores to find warmer bags, we thought, “how cold could it be in Africa?” So we naively bought these warm weather bags simply because we didn’t feel like shopping all over Madrid. Big mistake.
Hence we spent a few freezing nights sleeping with four layers of clothing on before enclosing ourselves into our sleeping bags, and still awoke in the middle of the night to chattering teeth and unrelenting shivers. We were not happy campers.
- We generally enjoy cooler climates, so aside from those few below-freezing nights, the brisk weather was nice.
- If camping anywhere that has a possibility of freezing temperatures, prepare with an appropriately warm sleeping bag.
11) A Dress and Lots of Gin
Where: Kande Beach, Malawi
Why it made the list: Because it’s easily both the most humiliating and the most drunk I’ve been all year.
The Backstory: There’s a very weird tradition for overlanders traveling across Malawi, known as the “fancy dress party.” In the city of Mzuzu, there are some peculiar men who sell gaudy costumes laid out on the sidewalks. You can find everything from dress suits complete with animal tails & top hats to clown costumes to glittering ball gowns and princess outfits. How all of this strange clothing makes its way to Malawi will remain one of life’s greatest mysteries. Yet it does.
But you’re not there to pick out your own outfit. When traveling with Oasis Overland, every passenger on the truck randomly gets assigned another passenger to shop for, as drawn from a hat. Outfits are purchased and later that night you discover what awful outfit you’ll be strutting around in.
The Story: That night at Kande Beach campsite, the fancy dress party begins. A strong rum punch was concocted and a few fifths of gin was purchased for the non-punch drinkers. I was actually away from the party dealing with some tech issues and attempting to connect to wifi. My temper with the problems was growing to an apex just as I was getting called over to the party for the big reveal. It was definitely time to hit the gin.
Then I learned that my mate from Australia had picked my name. Oh shit. He had purchased a beautiful shimmering dress… not for Heather, but for me.
I had to be a good sport. A refill of gin was necessary. That’s what it took for me to somehow manage to slip on this atrocity. But I did. And then I hit the gin, again. And again. And again.
Here I was in the middle of Africa, on Lake Malawi, wearing a sparkling ball gown. What a strange, surreal, and uncomfortable moment.
But then the aforementioned gin took over and the party was in full swing. Apparently I cleared two-fifths of gin on my own before transitioning to rum punch and strong beer. And as the drunkenness took over, I also transitioned from a frustrated & sober man to rocking that dress and even dancing on the bar! This is Africa?
- I guess it turned out to be a pretty fun night …from what people told me.
- Be a good sport.
- Don’t drink too much gin.
12) A Tick On My Dick
Where: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Why it made the list: Because this is perhaps one of the most terrifying things for any male to discover.
The Story: It was a long overnight train ride to Victoria Falls, so we were thrilled to finally arrive and be able to shower. It was to my horrid shock when I discovered there was a lump on my man part. Then I noticed the lump was alive. Apparently some-thing had hitched a ride to Victoria Falls. It was a tick, on my dick!
Thankfully, I was able to pick off this stowaway. But it wasn’t easy or pretty. I’ll spare the details.
So where did this tick come from? Well, while camping the night before our train ride, there was a friendly cat wandering around our tent. Heather decided she wanted to have a pet for the night. So the cat was invited in our tent, where it slept comfortably throughout the night. And while I shared warmth and friendship with this cat, it seems to have shared a tick with me.
- Everything is fine down there now.
- Don’t allow stray cats in your tent.
- Check yourself carefully for ticks when camping.
13) Swimming Past Hippos & Crocs to Hang Off World’s Largest Falls
Where: Victoria Falls, Zambia
Why it made the list: Devil’s Pool Victoria Falls was arguably our most thrilling and terrifying experience of 2016.
The Story: We’ve seen the mind-boggling pictures and even had some friends who have taken the unthinkable plunge atop Victoria Falls. Ever the adventurers, we simply had to experience it for ourselves while at the famed Falls.
It was absolutely insane! Video and pictures don’t even do it justice. There’s no ropes to attach to or even hang on to. You’re literally swimming on the edge of one of the largest waterfalls in the world. While it may seem foolhardy, no one has died doing this …yet.
And if the prospect of plunging over the falls to your death isn’t frightening enough, we discovered some other crazy threats in the water too. During the boat ride to Devil’s Pool, we saw a few hippos, which can be very aggressive and are responsible for hundreds of human deaths each year in Africa. And before entering the water, we noticed our guide checking for crocs. Yes, the Zambezi River is prime habitat for man-eating crocodiles!
So while in Devil’s Pool, peering over the edge, you can imagine how alarming it was to feel the teeth of fish nipping at your legs. It wasn’t enough to draw blood but it most certainly was enough to make you jump. Jump a little too much and you’re going over!
But we survived these fish bites, the crocs, the hippos, and the Falls themselves.
- While it was the most terrifying experience of the year, it’s also one of our favorites.
- Weigh risky activities carefully and indulge in the occasional thrill.
14) Getting Bit by a Cheetah – Really!
Where: Otjitotongwe, Namibia
Why it made the list: Heather got bit by a cheetah, which is pretty self-explanatory why that makes the list.
The Backstory: In Namibia cheetahs can be a major threat to farmers who are raising livestock. Cheetahs kill the cattle and sheep, wiping out farmers’ sole source of income. So unfortunately for the cheetah, who are just being cheetahs, the farmers shoot and kill the cheetahs in order to maintain their cattle. But one farmer took a different approach. Instead of shooting the cheetahs, he rescued them and raised them on his big wide-open farm. Those cheetahs had offspring, which he has been raising as pets alongside his dogs. They’re now big, full-grown cheetahs and if you ever find yourself in Northern Namibia, you can go to the cheetah farm and visit these big cats.
The Story: We hesitantly entered the enclosure to interact with the cheetahs. We even reached down to reluctantly pet the majestic animals. The more time we spent with them, the more comfortable we became. Although they have the ability to maul us to death, the cheetahs played with us like a huge friendly house cat.
Heather began to get cozier and cozier with the three cheetahs. One eventually approached Heather and the cheetah sunk its teach right into her arm. Yikes!
The farmer immediately came over to distract the cheetah with his hat and covered its eyes. The confused cheetah released its jaws from clamping down on Heather’s arm allowing her to quickly jump up. It was smiles at first, but ultimately was pretty scary.
But Heather was fine. It was just a playful bite that wasn’t even enough to draw blood. Although there were others in our group that did, in fact, depart the cheetah farm with some minor puncture wounds from these playful predators.
- Despite the scare of some bites and scratches, this was an absolutely incredible experience that we would gladly endure again if given the chance.
- Weigh risky activities carefully and indulge in the occasional thrill.
15) Rental Car Woes
Where: South Africa
Why it made the list: Dealing with rental car damage while traveling is a complete buzzkill and a heavy financial burden.
The Story: We rented a car for nearly a month to drive across South Africa and explore this amazing country on our own. It was a somewhat intimidating task since we’re not accustomed to driving on the left, we don’t know our way around, and there are many rough roads. But we were up for the challenge!
Trouble began only a few days into our grand road trip, while touring the wine estates of Stellenbosch. Somewhere along the way a pole jumped into our car. Wine tasting certainly played no part in that collision.
A few days later, we trusted Google Maps for directions which took us onto some of the roughest, pothole-laden roads we’ve ever experienced. It only took a few kilometers to have the undercarriage hanging off the car and dragging against the rocky terrain.
Strike three was about mid-way across the country, we woke up to a flat tire. This sent us on yet another unplanned stop into a garage for repairs. Not wanting to continue our journey on a spare, it was finally time to trade in our very damaged vehicle in exchange for a new rental car to destroy.
If these breakdowns weren’t bad enough, we also had an ongoing battle with the country’s many speed traps. On major highways the speed limit would suddenly drop from 120 km per hour to 60, with little or no warning. If you don’t manage to slam on your breaks quickly enough, a speed camera takes a picture of your license plate for an automatic ticket! It’s really an unfair system. At night, you know you’ve gotten busted when you see the bright camera light flash at your car. But I have no idea how many times I got busted during the day. I’m awaiting a hefty bill from the rental car company.
- Car repair in South Africa is quick and cheap!
- Our undercarriage was repaired for $5 in 5 minutes, with no appointment.
- And the wonderful folks at Knysna Tyre & Auto changed our tire for free in just a few minutes.
- Because we rented the car with a credit card with the included benefit of rental insurance, our damages should be covered just as they were during the last time we drove on the left and damaged a car in New Zealand. (We’re still processing these claims.)
- When booking a rental car, always use a credit card that carries rental insurance.
- Don’t always trust Google Maps.
- In South Africa, watch carefully for speed traps and break quickly!
16) Stranded in a Township
Where: South Africa
Why it made the list: We thought this could be the end.
The Backstory: Before arriving to South Africa, we constantly had heard horror stories about what a dangerous country it was. We never thought so, but headed the warnings and always kept our guard up. We would try as best as possible to avoid bad areas and townships.
For those not familiar, townships are a very poor living situation in South Africa that is a very unfortunate leftover result of the apartheid era. People are basically forced to live in extreme poverty conditions in little shacks that lack even the most basic of services like sewage, electricity, and clean water.
It’s heartbreaking to witness the quality of life here. And it can also be scary for an outsider. These townships are often plagued by gangs and violence. Many people living in townships are said to have guns for their own protection and/or for crimes committed in attempts to better their dire circumstances.
The Story: While driving through the middle of the country, we took a few wrong turns, ending up on dirt roads that led towards the middle of a township. There was a car behind us, so we couldn’t turn back. Suddenly we were in the middle of the township, receiving strange looks by all those residents outside of their crumbling makeshift homes that we were slowly driving by from inside our nice rental car. We tried not to make eye contact.
We continued forward and the dirt road had eventually given way to piles of garbage amid scattered shacks. We were completely lost in a muddy maze of decaying infrastructure but continued forward. Finally, in the distance we saw what appeared to be a road again. This was our escape route but there was no clear way to get there.
There literally weren’t any roads to follow anymore, so I plowed across the bare trash-covered earth in attempts to reach what appeared to be a road. In doing so, I ran right into a big mud pit. Our wheels began to turn, flinging mud everywhere, and I realized we were stuck!
A few menacing-looking guys began to walk in our direction.
This is it. We’re getting robbed, maybe killed. It’s over. I jumped out of the car in attempts to defuse the situation.
But we weren’t getting killed or robbed. They were just coming over to help us get our car out of the mud. We all got completely filthy, but worked together and successfully got the car out of the mud!
- We eventually found our way out of the township and back on a road.
- Be cautious, but have faith in your fellow man.
17) GoPro Down
Where: Storm’s River, South Africa
Why it made the list: Because we not only lost our GoPro but I had a frightening experience doing it.
The Story: We took a kayaking and canyoning trip up the Storms River, requiring thick wetsuits to battle the icy waters. I had heard there were actually some coral reefs in the area and was intrigued, as I have never done any cold-water snorkeling or diving.
So after our canyoning trip was over, I asked if I could hang onto the wetsuit so I could attempt to snorkel. They agreed, so I grabbed my mask and dove right in.
It started out relatively calm. But the ocean was growing rough and visibility was poor. A few days earlier, we had gone cage diving with Great White sharks, so I had those images fresh in my head. This area is known for Great Whites and it was an uncomfortable feeling not being able to see what sharks may be lurking in the distance around me.
Meanwhile the seas were tossing me around like a rag doll. It was becoming difficult to swim. I’m always quite comfortable in the water, but now rip tides were pulling me out to sea. I was nearly panicking, nearly hyperventilating out of my snorkel, but tried not to splash around too much to attract any sharks.
I eventually made it to the rocky coastline. Something bumped me. Was it a shark? No, I was just getting slammed into the rocks. Apparently my GoPro was too, as the casing began to fill with salty corrosive water. And that was the end of our GoPro.
- I made it out of the water without further incident.
- We’ve since replaced our GoPro with better action cam.
- Know your limits.
18) Getting Lost in the Clouds
Why it made the list: It was the most eerie feeling of the year.
The Story: The tiny country of Lesotho is a super high-altitude place. In fact, it boasts having the highest low point of any country in the world. Needless to say, the precipitous terrain of the Drakensberg Mountains contains some world-class hiking with sweeping views of the countryside.
We decided to attempt a summit of one of the highest mountains in the country so that we could enjoy some of Lesotho’s signature vistas while perched high on the mountaintop.
We hired a guide and set off under blue skies. But by the time we had arrived at the summit, an army of clouds descended right upon us. Our guide said he had never seen the cloud cover this thick in all of his years of guiding through the area.
Visibility was literally only a few meters in front of us. There was no trail here, hence the need for a guide. So this thick cloud cover made it nearly impossible to find our way back. I’ve never felt so disoriented before. Any sense of directions had been completely destroyed by the thick fog.
Thank goodness our guide had GPS. That was our ticket to safety. Oops, the GPS was out of batteries!
We continued to trek back, seemingly in circles. I’m fairly certain we walked past the same points multiple times. We would reach sharp drop-offs and know to turn around. But which way do you go from there? We were so lost.
Finally we ran into some local shepherds who pointed us in the right way. The clouds never broke, but we eventually walked in a straight line and found our way back to the guide’s truck. We celebrated at the highest bar, which typically has amazing views of the famed Sani Pass. Not today.
19) Termite Trouble
Why it made the list: The few African souvenirs we actually purchased, got eaten!
The Story: We rarely buy souvenirs while traveling, as we typically favor splurging on experiences. But we couldn’t not bring back some of the beautiful and unique woodcarvings found throughout the continent. These weren’t just souvenirs for us, but were gifts for family and friends.
Just before Christmas, we took out our wood carvings to wrap as presents. It was then that we noticed some termites had apparently come back from Africa with us too! These little pests had spent the last several weeks destroying our intricate woodcarvings.
Meanwhile, we were left with the burden of trying to figure out how to properly destroy the culprit so that we’re not responsible for some crazy African termite outbreak to hit South Florida. Water kills termites, right?
- Not all of our carvings were damaged, so we managed to come back with some carvings completely intact.
- Inspect wooden souvenirs carefully.
20) The Worst of Drinking Around the World
Where: Mexico, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe
Why it made the list: Because we drank some pretty gnarly stuff in 2016.
The Story: There are so many interesting libations around the world and we make it a point to attempt try them all. If you follow our Facebook feed, then you know that each Thursday while traveling, we do a #ThirstyThursday post that recounts the week’s most notable concoction. Many times it’s great. But we’ve also drank our fare share of misses.
Cheers to the worst of #ThirstyThursday:
Snot-like Pulque in Mexico
Mushy Fermented Bananas in Tanzania
Chunky Beer in Zimbabwe
- We were also fortunate enough to have some great drinks like Cuban mojitos, carefully crafted Mexican mezcal, beautiful Spanish reds, tounge-tingling Konyagi from Tanzania and smooth Amarula from South Africa.
- Taste drinks with an open-mind but know when something just isn’t for you.
Cheers To An Uneventful 2017!
It’s a new year and a new beginning. We’ve now made it to Ecuador to begin our 4th year of travels in good health and with our drone finally working. This year we’re looking forward to less gin-fueled shenanigans and more adventures (and dresses worn only by Heather). We resolve to spend less time breaking things and dealing with rental car damage, and more time traveling and blogging!
So cheers to 2017! And happy travels to you all, wherever you may be roaming around in the new year!