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This is a question Travel

I've had guns pointed at me in many different countries, sometimes even by our own side. I've also sat on my own on a beach on a desert island, which was nice because nobody was trying to shoot me. Tell us your tales of foreign travel.

Thanks to SnowytheRabbit for the suggestion

(, Thu 18 Apr 2013, 17:43)
Pages: Popular, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

This question is now closed.

Watch who you cross the border with
In 2002 I found myself living in a backpacker hostel in the tiny kingdom of Swaziland with a mad rasta. Let's call him Jamal. Jamal was a crusty bastard with dreadlocks down to his waist, a dark Caribbean-emigrant complexion and the broadest cockney accent you've heard this side of Brixton, for that was where he was from. To say he "ran" the hostel would be doing his laissez faire attitude a disservice. It was more that he did nothing to stop people staying, and if they occasionally gave him beer money he gratefully spent it.

When the beer money was in short supply his backup vice was weed. Living in a country where decent weed literally pops up out of the ground meant that it was a very reasonably priced habit to have. He knew everyone who grew the herb within an easy stumble of the hostel and, when they had all run out (or got annoyed with him coming round sponging freebies) he would totter off to the park to score a matchbox for E10 (under a quid back then). The hostel was awash with the stuff and had cemented a legendary reputation which, ten years after its closure, still lives on in the memories of backpackers passing through the area. But I digress.

Jamal, somehow, had at some point got his shit together enough to acquire a Land Rover, which sat permanently in the driveway "waiting for parts". One day he announced that the parts - piston rings if I recall - had arrived in Johannesburg and that I was going to drive him there to collect them.

"I'm not driving a 700km round trip just for piston rings."

"Well obviously we're also going out on the razz, innit. I've got some cash off a deal I done in town and it's time we hit the big city lights, geezer!"

He had a point. Mbabane had pretty much no form of casual entertainment beyond drinking large bottles of local lager in dingy pubs with cages over the bar to discourage more enthusiastic patrons from serving themselves. Even the lone cinema had closed some years previously and I couldn't remember the last time I'd held a bowling ball. If Jamal did actually have some cash it might be a good way to get a cut-price weekend away.

"Alright, but you're buying the first tank of fuel this time, you slippery bastard."

We agreed we'd leave at lunchtime on Friday. One of the guests overheard our conversation and asked if she could hitch a lift, and I agreed. Kerry was a bubbly Californian girl who had just got back from researching the Lonely Planet guide to Namibia. As an aside, this sounds cushy as hell. Her budget was US$65 a day which was a fortune at the time and all she had to do every few days was make a tour of a random selection of hotels and ask to see the rooms so she could conjure up a credible sounding review. The rest of the time was "causal research" which basically meant doing whatever the hell she wanted and writing about it. Top travel tip there, I'm telling you.

Friday was hot, as usual, and my un-airconditioned Golf wheezed up to the border through a dry, dusty haze. We stopped to get our passports stamped and were delayed ten minutes while the immigration official interrogated Kerry about her tongue piercing.

"HOW! How do you eat?" she asked, goggling at Kerry's mouth as if she'd seen the shape of Jesus in her epiglottis.

"I put food in my mouth," she said mysteriously. "And I chew."

That revelation dispensed with we piled back into the little car and drove through South African customs. And that's where things came unstuck. After six months of living with the guy I'd forgotten what Jamal looked like to the uninitiated. Dreadlocked, wearing a stained t-shirt with a beer logo on it, tucking into his fifth can of said beer rather than putting on his seatbelt and loudly proclaiming, "well THESE cants are clearly going to give us uphill, look at that big fucker, his wife clearly got out of the wrong bed this morning" and so on didn't make him the least conspicuous person with whom to be driving through a border. Even less so when you're leaving... a country... that's famous for growing... ...oh shit.

I literally, don't laugh, hadn't thought about this. Was Jamal crazy enough to try and bring some stash for the journey? Definitely. Was he enough of a bastard to put me at risk by doing so in my car? Well, thought I; I suppose we'll find out. And find out we did as the enormous guard waved us over to the inspection area.

And here's the thing about southern Africa. It's all a big laugh - weed's a quid, everyone knows someone who grows it, the papers pad out any vaguely related story with patriotic asides about "tourists who flock to the kingdom of Swazi Gold" - but actually, in actual, real fact, it's completely illegal. And when you've got an African police force subsidized by American money with a specific remit to enforce marijuana prohibition, they don't mess around. You can find yourself in gaol in a heartbeat and African gaol is not somewhere for a skinny white Brit to find himself if he values, well, any kind of bodily integrity. I started, figuratively, to shit in my pants.

"Where are you going?" the guy barked while making a show of re-inspecting my passport.


"Open the bonnet."

I complied, and his mate radioed in the chassis number to check it wasn't stolen.

"You, get out," he said to me. "Show me the boot. And you," he stabbed at the others with a large finger, "you don't move." He walked round to the back of the car with an imperious and haughty look on his face. I'm onto you, his face said. I'm going to take great pleasure in watching you get bummed in the holding cells.

I knew the only way to proceed was to comply fully and not wind the bastard up but at the same time I had convinced myself that Jamal had brought a cheeky bud along somewhere in the car and was physically trembling. Jamal was smoking a fag and grinning like a loon.

"Go on mate, sort him out; I ain't got all day to sit at the border."

Did I mention I hate Jamal?

The boot had three bags. Mine, I knew, had nothing of any consequence in it and the guard rifled through a pair of jeans and some shampoo without a word. Next was Jamal's bag. Now I figured he wasn't dumb enough to have something significant in his bag but at the same time there was every chance he'd have a pipe, or some loose tinfoil or some bloody thing which would then make them search the car and that would definitely turn up whatever it was the dozy gimp had secreted in some painfully obvious hiding place.

The guard rooted through various items of unlaundered underwear with a look of mild distaste while I held my breath and tried to look casual.

He found nothing to upset him.

Oh, thank everything holy, I thought. And now only Kerry's bag - just a few bras and last year's Lonely Planet and OH MY JESUS GOD WHAT IS THAT???

The guard's meaty hands had stopped dead. Under a couple of layers of neatly packed clothing he'd found a small cuboid object, about six by four inches and brilliant white. It was clearly some kind of substance which had been roughly shaped and shrink-wrapped in clear plastic. My heart dropped through my ribcage and landed on my balls. In a single moment I knew that we weren't going bowling in Rosebank that evening; no, instead we were the ones that were going to have fingers shoved up us before being tossed down a corridor. I mean, Kerry? The sweet young American who'd told me my shirt looked cool? Kerry? The girl who wouldn't even try a joint the night before because she didn't want to fail her annual drugs test a month later? Oh, yeah, nice one pineapplecharm, really smooth; now we know the truth, you dumb mug. God, you think you know someone...

The guard slowly, agonisingly, savouring-the-momently, lifted the white package just high enough to reveal the label. "Tampax".

He physically recoiled, hands first and then his entire body in one massive snapping movement as if he'd spotted a snake. "Shit!" exclaimed the man who, half a second ago, had been the very picture of African machismo. Then he slammed the boot. "Okay! You go now! Go!"

So in the end I did come dangerously close to literally shitting in my pants, only it was from laughter. The sweet, sweet, relieved laughter of a man spared anal gang rape by a tampon.
(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 1:59, 5 replies)
Had an iffy stomach, fainted, then shit myself awake.

The end.
(, Sat 20 Apr 2013, 20:01, 13 replies)
At the end of a month-long business trip to Ukraine.....
...The three of us (two company directors and me) were celebrating our successes in a small restaurant in the bustling metropolis* of Melitopol, together with our translator, Oleg. We'd hired him as he spoke fluent English, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Russian and German. he was a dignified elderly gentleman who seemed to command respect and even deference in every native we met.
As the vodka flowed and many toasts were made, we got into the yarn-spinning and self-congratulation that always happens in the company of good friends. Oleg spoke up.
'I'd like to do my party piece'. We sat and waited politely for a song or one of those interminable Russian poems, but Oleg had different plans. Turning to my boss he said 'Donald, you are lowland Scots, you went to a public school where they tried to change your accent, you've lived for a long time in London but your basic accent comes through'. We clapped - he'd got it exactly right! Turning to the technical director he said 'Paul, you are a north London boy born and bred, I'd say Enfield?'. we were stunned, once again he was spot-on! He faced me. '***, you are a Midlander, not as far south as Northampton, not as far east as Leicester, definitely not a brummie - I'd say you're from Coventry - but at least one of your parents was Welsh'.
We were shocked - he was, once again, spookily correct!
We laughed and clapped and asked him how the hell he could have worked it out? I mean, we'd only seen him in work time, we'd not engaged in idle chit-chat so how could he know.
'It was once my business to know, sort of my job' He explained.
We got really sober, really quickly when he went on 'I was a colonel in the KGB, I taught accents to our operatives in the sixties and seventies'.
No wonder the locals were so deferential.

TL;DR - we hired an ex-spy as a translator.

*It's a run-down shithole BTW.
(, Thu 18 Apr 2013, 22:46, 5 replies)
Since they retired
My parents, who'd always been your typical British package holiday tourists, jetting off to the Costa Del Sol once a year, have become serious world travellers. I envy them a bit, but enjoy the reviews from my Dad.

The Pyramids: 'Not actually as big as I expected'
The Acropolis: 'Shabby'
Beijing: 'You could get better Chinese food from a takeaway. Nice people though. Almost impossible to get a pint in an actual bar.'
Amsterdam: 'I liked it, but your mum kept having to wash her hair because it smelt of cannabis. The prostitutes in the red light district all looked a bit ropy. Your mum thought so too. Not like Bangkok...'
Eastern Europe: 'Great beer. Awful food. Like something my grandma would have cooked in the 50s.'
San Francisco: 'In hindsight, I probably should have shaved my moustache off before venturing to the local bars alone.'
Thailand: 'Wonderful! Full of Australians though. If you think about that, and add in London, it makes you wonder if there are actually any bloody Australians left in Australia.'
Rome: 'Eight Euros a pint. Eight Euros! Fantastic though. The Vatican's amazing. Very imposing. Makes you realise where Dan Brown was coming from.'
Edinburgh: 'We parked the car, opened the door, and your mum was going to step out, but there was a human turd on the pavement! I could tell it was human because it still had a bit of toilet paper stuck to it. We had a look around the castle and everything, but that experience certainly took the shine off.'
Mexico: 'A hellhole. Like something out of a sci fi film where there's been a nuclear war and everything's gone to pot. We got back onto the coach to California as soon as we could.'
Mauritius: 'The best holiday I've ever had. A beautiful place and lovely people. Eat the hottest food I've ever experienced. About half of them are homosexual, at a guess.'

He was right about Rome and Eastern Europe, though. I've yet to see the pyramids or the Acropolis.
(, Thu 18 Apr 2013, 19:29, 7 replies)
Kidnapped in Kinshasa
Kind of playing into my hands as my cunning plan is to spend years posting my travel stories on b3ta before eventually compiling them into a huge and boring book that I can give to people as presents. However back to the topic, and the point I probably came closest to being murdered.

I was heading down Boulevard du 30 Juin on foot because the taxis in central Kinshasa have a pretty poor reputation when a car pulled up next to me and the passenger flashed a police ID and asked to see my ID. He took my passport and said he would have to check on my place of residence - this looked like an easy ride back to the garage I was headed to anyway, so I wasn't too concerned - until at the next corner two other guys got in and sandwiched me in the back seat, and they took off down the Boulevard in the wrong direction.

Alarm bells started ringing. As long as we stayed on the Boulevard I knew I was safe, as police are at every junction, and traffic moves very slowly, but I knew that if we left the Boulevard I could be in trouble. Kidnappings were pretty common, and the best scenario was that I would be stripped and beaten – the worst and more common one was where I would be killed to avoid witnesses. The night before my host had told me about crashing through a dodgy roadblock at night and having the militia empty a full Kalashnikov magazine at their Land Rover as they sped off – which was preferable to stopping and being murdered. In my most authoritative voice (don't laugh, it works more often than you'd think) I demanded they stop immediately as they clearly weren't taking me to check on my residence, and a second goon - the one to my right - assured me that everything was OK as they were police. And of course he had to show me his ID, which was clearly mickey-mouse.

For all the emotions I might have felt anger was foremost – at myself for putting myself in this position when I really should have known better. Apart from that I was surprisingly calm – fear simply wasn’t a factor; I focused on the fact that it was time to get out and I needed a plan.

As surreptitiously as possible I put my hand in my pocket and palmed my ancient XDA stylus - not much to look at but it's 4 inches of steel, sharp, and handy when you need something to stick in somebody’s neck. That was for the guy on my right – the guy on the left was about to have his ear bitten off – ears are great – they piss blood everywhere and in the mayhem my plan was to kick the fuck out of anything that moved while climbing over the bloke with the sore neck, and out the door . All very Andy McNab, but no way were we leaving the Boulevard with me still in that car. I’d faced a few dodgy situations up to this point and had had a Kalashnikov pointed at my chest less than week earlier, but I still remember registering surprise at the complete lack of fear and the cold resolve in a situation that I would have thought would leave me shitting myself.

We were approaching a junction and the car was moving across so I figured that they would exit there, so I had to act in the next few seconds. The traffic came to a pause a few yards from the junction which I saw was manned by a gaggle of the yellow and blue attired, and hopelessly unarmed traffic cops; the car was turning left so it was time for action, and a part of me was aghast at what I was about to do next. Yes, I really did it – I leant across the bloke on my left and screamed like a woman and pounded on the window. The cops looked over in shock at this strange white man who had clearly lost all dignity, and then started running towards the car. My driver pulled onto the kerb but clearly wasn’t going to get far, and one of the others muttered something about maybe letting me go, which I took as an opportunity to scramble out, pausing only to pluck my passport from the hands of guy in the front passenger seat. The traffic police caught up with me as the car moved back into the traffic flow, but they weren’t keen on chasing the car as they weren’t armed, whereas the baddies may well have been, and I wasn’t particularly fussed either way now that I was out. After tipping the police generously (maybe as much as $15 as I recall) I decided I chance it with a local taxi after all - I mean how much worse could they be?


Length? 18 months and 70,000km
(, Mon 22 Apr 2013, 11:28, 3 replies)
Getting thoroughly searched coming into New Zealand
After god knows how many hours in the air (enough to watch the LOTR trilogy, at any rate) it was a tortuously long way from the plane to the open air where I could enjoy a cigarette. However, fate had decided to throw one more obstacle in our path. As we later learned, they had caught a number of young couples attempting to smuggle coke into NZ and myself and the (then) missus must have exactly fitted the bill, especially as I appeared to be in a bit of a hurry due to my nicotine jones. So while the rest of the passengers from our plane were waved through customs, we were diverted along another channel, where we found our bags waiting for us.

I've done a fair bit of travelling and I've had my bags searched a lot, but this guy was friendly and as he explained the situation we got chatting. When he found out my missus was a Kiwi, he said "Fuck! Shit, I'm not supposed to swear! Shit! Er, bother! Why didn't you go through the Kiwi line?" I said I was English, and he said that was fine as partners of New Zealanders count as Kiwis in that situation, even if they don't have a New Zealand passport. Anyway, then he got kind of excited about how his kit worked explaining that he was going to swab our bags for drugs and explosives, just like on CSI. And then he looked at us and said: "You guys smoke weed, don't you?"

We stopped. The missus looked at me. I looked back at him, trying not to give anything away while my mind did 360° flips over what to tell him. On the one hand, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy who had just sworn repeatedly in front of us when he wasn't supposed to, on the other hand he was a customs officer in an airport who was asking me if I took drugs. I'd have to be a complete idiot to answer yes.

"Yes," I said. "We smoke weed."

"Ah, fair enough," he replied, putting one of his swab tests back in his bag. "I'll just test for coke and explosives then." Then he gave me a wink. "You'd be an idiot to bring anything to the North Island anyway, we've got the best weed in the world here."

We were later severely reprimanded by another, much less friendly customs officer who had discovered an undeclared tin of shortbread in my girlfriend's backpack. I love New Zealand.
(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 8:47, 6 replies)
An all true pea from the late naughties
Trains in the middle of the fucking street

Cast your mind back to 1994 and Imagine if you will the young Australian traveller on his first visit to the continent. After a 24 hour flight to Frankfurt and a 4 hour train ride he arrives at Amsterdam for his first taste of the Dutch.

After finding a cheap and seedy hotel, he ventures to the nearest café to see if the rumours are true and you really can buy dope over the counter. Imagine if you will his utter delight when he finds not only can you buy the aforementioned brew but, you have a variety of interestingly named types to choose. With skunk, super skunk, northern lights, blonde bomb or grasshopper special blend running through his over excited brain he murmurs to the resident purveyor,

“What’s your best shit mate?”

For which the retailer asks “what sort of high are you looking for?”

“I want it to smash me”

40 guilders later he is clutching a bag of super skunk. Taking a seat at the bar, he orders a coffee (consumption compulsory) and roles up fat spliff after fat spliff disappearing for several hours into a cloud of pungent smoke.

Finally he makes to leave, baseball hat crammed on to his head, sun glasses firmly on face, back pack on shoulder he strides out the door and across the street when he hears it……………

The faintest of ding dings.

For reasons unknown,

he stops,

dead in his tracks as a rush of wind buffets his face and a 20 tonne tram knocks the baseball hat from his head and under it wheels.


3 more inches forward, he would have died that day a long way from home where nobody new his name.
(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 23:21, 11 replies)
Mugged at knifepoint.
Many moons ago the not yet Mrs Airman Gabber and her group of friends got held up at knifepoint in Amsterdam.

"Give me 20 Euros" was the demand.

They handed over the 20 Euros and the perpetrator threw down a package and ran off.

It was the biggest block of resin they had ever seen. Way more than they could smoke in the remainder of the trip. So they smoked what they could and buried the rest in the event of a return trip.

That was some aggressive drug pushing right there.
(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 14:28, Reply)
I had some excellent advice from a Datoga cattle baron by Lake Eyasi in Tanzania.
"Simba!" He said, for I had quite the handsome mane of curly hair at the time. "Simba! You must remember one thing when you go back to your country. If you ever find yourself telling an anecdote that involves an uneventful trip through an airport security scan then you must take your kisu and cut out your own throat. If your life has become that dull then you have no life."
Then he wrapped himself more tightly in his blanket, spat on the ground, and said. "Cheers."
(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 20:34, 8 replies)
TLDR: Got hassled at U.S. customs, twice.
I've told this story plenty of times but never here.

It was after 9/11 when the rules of travel and security were in a state of flux. You could get a metal fork on a Lufthansa flight but not a knife. You had to take your shoes off at Heathrow but not in Frankfurt. You had to put all liquids in a tiny clear plastic bag unless it was copious amounts of alcohol from duty free.

I was in the process of moving my whole life from England to New Zealand. My route was Heathrow - Los Angeles - Los Angeles - Auckland - Wellington.

I'd done this flight before and prepared for all the date jiggery pokery by staying awake for almost 24 hours. It worked, I got on the plane at Heathrow sat in the middle of the three seats on the left side, and slept all the way to Los Angeles (looking back I feel sorry for the person trapped by the window).

I got off the plane and headed to baggage to claim my suitcase that contained my entire life. NOTE: Prior to 9/11 you didn't have to claim your baggage at Los Angeles if you were on a connecting flight.

As I took my bag of the carousel two chaps in uniforms approached me and asked if I'd follow them to an interview room for a random check. Okay, nothing out of the ordinary here - just proceed.

I was left with the jolly John Goodman while the skinny Steve Buscemi departed for more routine tasks. I was wrong John wasn't jolly.

We were in room that looked just like the movies - four white walls with one of those cheeky two-way mirrors set in one of them. My suitcase was on the table in the middle.

He asked me a bunch of questions - this was a test I'd prepared for - his questions were pretty much the ones on the arrival card: am I terrorist? Have I been hanging out with terrorists? Am I drug user? Am I a drug dealer? Am I part of a drug cartel? Would I be a moron to confess to any of these things?

I gave short but polite answers.

Then he came out with the first startling piece of information: "You didn't eat your meal on the plane," said with a question mark of menace and suspicion.

Alarm bells: how the fuck did John Goodman know that and why the fuck does it matter?

"No, I didn't," was my simple and short answer.

"Why not?"

Because I haven't developed the talent for opening tin foil lids whilst maintaining REM sleep...is what I didn't say.

"Because I was asleep," is what I did say.

Goodman didn't say anything for a few minutes, probably a classic sweat'em tactic. I stayed quiet too - thinking of the Mancunican flight attendant that had ratted me out.

Then the non-jolly John Goodman started up again. He decided to get back to the topic of drug cartels, which is a shame because have an Irish name and thought he'd at least go the terrorist route for five more minutes.

"Let's talk about the contents of your suitcase," was the line he used to up the ante.

The whole reason for being in the room suddenly became clear.

You see, my Mom had decided that my Kiwi girlfriend should collect porcelain dolls. My Kiwi girlfriend thought this was quite an odd thing to be decided for her but went along with it. In my case was a porcelain doll. According to John Goodman, a clear sign that I was a drug mule.

He probably thought he had me at that point. I was sweating and starting to panic as my next flight was very soon.

Still, I managed to explain my situation.

He then explained his - that the initial x-rays were inconclusive. He was quite grumpy and said: "We'll just have to put your bag through our super-duper* machine and then we'll see if you story holds up". Fuck knows what it was really called.

Two minutes the result came in: no drugs, just a doll. I asked why he didn’t do that in the first place and he answered "9/11".

I was released. I checked in my bags at the desk and headed towards departures for security.

Before I even walked through the metal detector I got approached by a nice, smiley, chap that looked like Chris Tucker. He asked if I could come with him for a routine check.

As we entered the room I spied my suitcase on the table and chanced an opening gambit: "is this about the porcelain doll in my suitcase?"

"Yes", came Tucker's reply sans smile.

I explained the past hour spent with Goodman, asked him to check. He was dubious but agreed.

Tucker returned, disappointed that my story had checked out. But that wasn't going to ruin his chance of a big bust. He opened my suitcase and told me I had too many pairs of shoes (too many = dress shoes, trainers, football boots, flip-flops). I explained that i was moving my whole life in this suitcase and he left the shoe scenario alone.

Then he spied my hoody: FCUK. His face betrayed his thoughts 'Is it offensive? can I get him for this?'

"French Connection," I offered as a clue to the acronym.

In an instant i regretted it. Tucker perked up with: "You've got connections, you a made man, you think I’m scared, you think you're protected?".

...ten minutes of explaining the quirks of the UK fashion scene to him and I was on my way again. He apologised the only way these guys knew how: "9/11".

I arrived in New Zealand. Going through security I was stopped by an official - Tom Selleck – if you must know.

Tom assured me that this was just routine and asked if I had any apples in my bag. I didn't. He said enjoy your stay. I have ever since.

TLDR: Got hassled at U.S. customs, twice. Arrived in New Zealand and got asked about apples.
(, Mon 22 Apr 2013, 5:21, 4 replies)
I have travelled to Tibet on a number of occasions. It is achingly beautiful, and I'm typing this through the tears of my memory of it's serenity.
And yet my heart is heavy in the certain knowledge that I shall never return to the bosom of it's plateau, or to gaze meaningfully from the ancient walls of the Potala Palace to the mighty Himalayas. For just like the Dalai Lama I too have been exiled by the cruel and unjust regime of the Chinese. For, knowing that my very presence there brings credibility to the usurpers how could I return? Thankfully I draw strength from the buddism that I picked up there as part of my spiritual awakening.

Farewell Tibet farewell. My heart will always rest there, farewell. The prostitutes there aren't worth missing though to be honest, personal hygiene is lacking and a bit too hairy, if you know what I mean and I think that you do. Still you can't have everything eh.
(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 16:30, 4 replies)
I don't think I've posted this on here...
Back in 2008 we decided to take my dad to Paris for his sixtieth birthday. He was working across the road from the St Pancras Eurostar link and had seen it being built bit by bit, so we thought that would be a nice mode of travel for us all to take.

My girlfriend is better at packing than me so she did most of it, leaving me to sort out toiletries and books and stuff (hand luggage basically).

So we rock up at St Pancras all packed and raring to go. Through customs we went, and the bags got scanned as normal - until it got to our bag. The customs lady put on a latex glove and asked me to open the bag. Fair enough, I think, just a randomised search. She then starts pulling things out willy-nilly.
"Is there a problem at all?" I ask.
"We've found some bullets in your bag."
"There must be some mist-oh shit..."

I had not intended to try and smuggle ammunition onto the continent. To work out how this happened we must travel back to the start of the noughties. My dad and I had been on a really interesting trip to a disused nuclear bunker in Kelvedon Hatch (I'd recommend it if you're into that sort of thing - www.secretnuclearbunker.com/). I'm a sucker for gift shops, and had bought two bullet keyrings (a 9mm and a 7.62mm). These had served me well until I went to university, and they eventually fell off the actual ring part of the keyring (so they were basically bullets). Not being the tidiest of students - and a hoarder to boot - I'd chucked the de-keyringed bullets in the first place I saw: my washbag. I just left them there with the rest of the detritus I'd snaffled away in there - out of sight, out of mind. I didn't have a passport for most of my university years, so why would their hiding place matter?

It mattered to the UK Border Agency. It also mattered to the plain clothes policeman they summoned to question me. He was actually a friendly chap, and would've been quite disarming - if he hadn't stretched his shoulders quite deliberately as he came over to me to show me his shoulder holster. I was shitting a brick by this point, not only was I in danger of ruining my dad's birthday, I was far closer to getting shot than I like to be. The policeman questioned me about where I got the bullets from, and what I was doing. He even tried to catch me out by changing questions halfway through - "So you're going to Paris wi-you've never been nicked before have you?"

Eventually, my decidedly ropey (but true!) alibi involving nuclear bunkers and gift shops was accepted, and I was sent on my way sans the offending items. I got a letter confirming the receipt and destruction of the contraband items by the authorities, and I'm reminded of this every time I pack a suitcase.

I'm getting on a plane next month to go to on a tour of a particle accelerator. I dread to think how I'll explain that one to the Swiss authorities...
(, Wed 24 Apr 2013, 12:09, 1 reply)
Pea-roast, but right on topic
Kenya, 1995. The start of what turned out to be fantastic overland expedition around East Africa. I'd flown with Air Sudan from London via Khartoum - a pretty bad journey in itself. Big tip for those of you who like a drink on your flight. Don't fly with an Islamic airline!
Anyway, got to Nairobi and met up with my fellow overlanders. The deal was that we make our way to just south of Mombasa on the coast and the proper trip would start from there. So off to the railway station it was. This is where the problems began, as the train was "broken". An enterprising local with a bright purple matatu (pimped-up knackered mini bus) then offered us his services. 15 US dollars each for a 5 hour trip. The time was about 3pm at this point, so we should be at the coast in time for dinner. Great. Why not?
So we paid our money and helped secure our backpacks to the matatu's roof. This is when the alarm bells started ringing, as the pile of luggage was almost as tall again as the vehicle by the time it was all tied up there. Then came the realisation that there were something like 16 seats and 22 of us. It was January, we'd all flown over with hardly any sleep from much colder climes and by this point we were too hot and knackered to even think about alternatives. The luggage fiasco had taken 2 hours. Then the Kenyan version of Kwik-Fit were mustered to change the tyres (their jingle being "you can't get shitter than a Kenyan fitter"). 2 tyres each side at the back, 1 each side at the front I think - 3 hours. Then we set off, packed like sardines into every available nook and cranny, with shift rotas being worked out as to who got which seat and when. Just getting out of Nairobi was another 2 hours. We soon learnt that it wasn't wise to have the windows open even an inch as hands were darting through as we crawled alongside the pavements and stealing caps, watches, you name it. The driver kept stopping to pick his mates up and buy large bunches of some greenery that when chewed keeps you awake. Him and his pals were crammed into a separate cab at the front, so communicating with the wanker was impossible. To add insult to injury he was pumping the most dire Euro disco music imaginable into our back section at full volume. We had to rip the speaker wires out half way through the journey to preserve what was left of our sanity.
We finally left Nairobi at 10pm. Then the nightmare proper began...
The very condensed version of what transpired is as follows;
4 burst tyres (thankfully only one rear tyre at a time).
Several near-misses with huge lorries approaching us in the opposite direction. We just couldn't even look after a while - it was too terrifying. We were all totally convinced we were going to die at any minute.
Threats by locals of one village who were wielding bows and arrows and had taken exception to our artificially tall hell-bus tearing down their power lines.

I could go on, but suffice to say that when we reached our destination on the beach at eight the next morning we were all good friends and very very thankful to be alive.

Sorry about length but you know you all fucking love it.
(, Tue 23 Apr 2013, 13:35, 8 replies)
Me an the ex-gf went to Lanzarote for our first holiday together.
We arrived at the hotel, checked in and duly went to our room. The room was great, it was big and a cool break from the sun. But, checking out the balcony overlooking the pool we were disappointed that there was a large tree right in front of the balcony, it's foliage completely blocking the view of the pool.

We went down to reception to ask if we could change rooms to one with a better view but alas, there were no more vacant rooms. Deciding that we could probably live with it then, we went out for the afternoon to explore the local area.

We were only out for a couple of hours and when we came back, walking through the pool area to get to our apartment, we saw a man with a very large handsaw cutting down a tree across the way.

We got back up to the room and found that it was the tree in front of our balcony they were cutting down our balcony was now bathed in warm sunshine and had a clear, uninterrupted view of the pool.

Say what you like abvout "Lanzagrotty", but the customer service and eagerness to please was impeccable.
(, Mon 22 Apr 2013, 15:01, 4 replies)
Swaziland border
I went backpacking about in South Africa during which time I passed into Swaziland a few times.

It's a bit of an odd affair as you arrive at the border, get out of the vehicle fill in a bit of paper to leave South Africa. Then drive 10 metres into no mans land, get out of the vehicle and fill in another piece of paper to enter Swaziland. This happens at every border crossing so over the course of a week I had to do this several times.

I became convinced they didn't actually look at the paperwork nor communicate their findings between gates. So I decided to start trying my luck and described my position and line of work in a variety of ways.

This is how I came to find myself staring eye to eye with a border official holding a large gun and not a glimmer of humour on his face as he read my border entry paperwork which declared me, a 6ft pasty white backpacker to be an "exotic lap dancer and accredited blow job tester"....

...turns out he could read English.

Crossing international borders is not a time for practical jokes.
(, Mon 22 Apr 2013, 11:17, 1 reply)
I was once waiting on the station platform in Bombay when a man squatted down next to me and had a big shit on the ground
I said, "Dad, for fuck's sake the train's only 5 minutes away"
(, Sun 21 Apr 2013, 13:23, Reply)
My first ever trip on a plane was to New York JFK - On my own.
I was a 20 year old slip of a lad with very little experience of the world outside of messing around with computers. But I found myself at JFK immigration being quizzed by the biggest scariest woman I've ever seen in my life. Think of Rusty Lee but without any sense of humour or any hint of a smile on her face.

After various questions we came to:

"You haven't filled in where will you be staying?"
"I don't know."
"You have to stay somewhere."
"Yes. I don't know where I be staying yet."
"You have to record the address of where you're staying."
"I told you - I don't know where I'll be staying. When I meet my girlfriend we'll find somewhere. We plan to travel."
"I can't let you through unless you record where you're staying."
"Erm... New York?"
"I need an address."
"Erm. Times square, New York?"

After a pause she scribbled an address on my immigration form and said,"This is where you will be staying."

I looked at the address. It was nowhere I'd ever heard of.

"Do I have to go there?" I enquired. I wasn't really happy with this scenario.

With a withered look she said,"No, Kid. It's for the paperwork? Please, just go."

It would have been easier if they'd had a 'Travelling' checkbox on the form.

Edit: On 2nd thoughts maybe it was her home address and she just wanted some hot young Brit action.
(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 11:09, 4 replies)
As part of a "Cultural Exchange" a group of Head Teachers were invited on a trip to Zhuhai, near Macau, and then on to attend a conference in Beijing. I got lucky because someone was ill and I was available, last minute (ish - I still needed a visa). Chance of a lifetime, and one I wasn't going to pass up. I was partnered with the No.1 Primary School in Zhuhai, and boy, it was!

Schools are ranked, with the brightest children going to the best school. Teachers from all over the city came to watch these paragons of excellence deliver an Authority pre-prepared powerpoint presentation with a headset mike and lightsabre, err pointer. The teacher never moved from the front of the room, there were 55 to a class, all of whom spoke English. Yep, every one wanted to say "hello" and "thank you". The Primary school of 2,500 children (that's not a typo) all exercised at 3pm. In lines. In the school yard. One line skipped, one line waved a table tennis bat. Then they swapped. For an hour. I have to say it was a very disturbing sight.

The school bought a brand new car to drive me around the city. It was driven by the Party Official, who is the No.2 in the school, ensuring that all lessons toe the party line. We were accompanied everywhere. When we came down to breakfast, our interpreters were there (one each). We never went anywhere unaccompanied, they even stood outside the loo! When we finally hit the hotel, our cars, drivers and interpreters dropped us off. On the one night we escaped for a game of snooker with one of the interpreters we were followed, very obviously. It didn't stop us getting hammered though.

Socialist State? I don't think so. Average price of the flats around "my" school was a million. Pounds. The Head lived in a large, luxurious subsidised high rise apartment. The authorities flew her son back from Beijing for one night to meet me! The stereo in the flat was out of this world, yet the abject poverty in the city was very evident wherever you looked.

One child one family? Nope. If you're rich, you just pay the fine. There were quite a few children with siblings at the school. There are "rules" whereby a family may have more than one child, but here it was just another rule to keep the proletariat under control.

The purpose of our visit, as we eventually discovered, was to pick our brains regarding educating thinkers and leaders, there's plenty of workers, but very little initiative. Everyone knew their places.I saw one little boy, obviously autistic, struggling during the exercise class. When I enquired I was simply told "he won't be with us for much longer. It was a mistake".

Highlight? Being able to become a Hero of China, by walking six forts on the Great Wall. Being from Lincolnshire, we opted for the steep, rather than the flat bit of the Wall, as we don't see much in the way of rises out here. Sitting up on the Wall, alone, was a bit of a moment. I just sat and reflected. Well, that and the fact that I was totally knackered walking up massive gradients in 35 degree heat. And even though we were allowed "Free Time" on the Wall, we were followed.

So after all that, would I go back? Yep, like a shot. The tour's arranged for the autumn.

td/lr: Went to China, its just like Conservative England. With noodles.
(, Thu 18 Apr 2013, 19:34, 4 replies)
Handicapped ladies travel group
I was with a travel group for handicapped ladies. I was along in a position I generally describe as wheelchair wrangler. (Do you know how heavy a power chair is?) All the ladies had traveled since being handicapped. However there was a lady I will call Bea. Bea had lost a leg 25 years before, and had been quite active, but she had lost the second leg just three months earlier and this was her first trip with no legs.

I believe there were 17 handicapped ladies on the trip. Three were bunking with their significant others, while the other 14 were paired up as roommates. No hotel has 10 handicapped rooms, but half the women need no special facilities at all, and we figured that those who needed special bathing facilities would use the two handicapped rooms. Bea was booked in the room with the roll-in shower. Her roommate and two other ladies were intending to use that roll-in shower.

Problem: There was no roll-in shower. This hotel had never had a roll-in shower. Furthermore the two handicapped rooms we had booked had wide bathroom doors, but no other features. There were absolutely no handholds around the flusher or the tub. The hotel didn't even have a single shower chair. This hotel had booked a convention of handicapped ladies with absolutely no legal handicapped rooms.

The hotel manager lived a hours drive away, and had just gone home after being stuck at the hotel for a few days. Also our "camp director" was coming in on a later flight. So you had me and a couple other hotheaded men, a few distraught ladies, and a couple of hotel assistant managers who were in way over their heads. The hotel manager told me flat out on the phone he was not coming back to the hotel, as he had already told another man. I think that right after my call his wife told him he had better go to the hotel.

Actually it was probably for the best that the hotel manager didn't face the hotheaded men and the distraught ladies. The camp director rolled in just before the manager. She was pleasant but firm. She cited him chapter and verse of all the laws he was violating. Then she and the manager and another man went to the store where she had the manager buy shower chairs and support bars and whatever.

The manager had only worked there a few months. This dilapidated hotel had just changed chains with the promise of a $2 million renovation. The chain reservation office had let us reserve the roll-in shower because they knew all their hotels had a roll-in shower, but this one did not yet. Now that he knew his hotel was so non-compliant, the manager said he would have the new handicapped rooms built early in the renovation, but the renovation had not yet begun.

Everything was okay after that. We joked about the "disabled ramp" in the back lot which was itself an amputee (it was missing a foot). Tragedy was averted but just barely. Bea's left hand felt okay, but her right hand was as cold as ice. She had no circulation in that hand. If she had fallen while transferring from wheelchair to shower chair and injured her right hand, she would have lost the hand. That would have been a notorious story, but thankfully we all lived happily ever after.
(, Wed 24 Apr 2013, 6:19, Reply)
There's a saying among runners
according to which "The further you go outside, the further you go inside".

I tried explaining this to my other half when I took her on our first tropical holiday, but she still wouldn't let me fist her.
(, Mon 22 Apr 2013, 16:11, Reply)
All you need to travel the world is a black umbrella.
If Johnny's too lazy to understand his own bleedin lingo, simply prod him in the chest and say loudly "NOW LISTEN HERE!"
(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 15:22, 2 replies)
Or more to the point, the ferry crossing.

Denmark itself was lovely. First time we'd taken the Grooverettes abroad. Driving was a piece of cake, as there's not actually any other traffic on the roads outside of towns and cities. Highlights? Took a plane trip over Legoland and dropped a £200 SLR telephoto lens, smashing it into "very lots" of pieces, according to the youngest.

However, the ferry over was a different kettle of fish. Unbeknownst to us, the forecast was for the worst seas since Noah launched. It was like a millpond when we set off, but within an hour the swells were huge, and the outside doors were locked. (not that I had any intention of venturing out).

They just got bigger and bigger. The boat/ship/ferry didn't appear to be having any issues. However, its contents were. The youngest thought that everyone was drunk, because they couldn't walk in a straight line (like you on Fridays daddy), and no-one wanted their food, on account of it missing out the middleman and going straight from plate to floor. That which was digested reappeared at a rate of knots (nautical pun - did you see what I did there?), and despite the Bulgarian Dusty Springfield impersonator (You Don't Haff to Say You Loff Me!!!) no-one appeared to be enjoying themselves.

We'd also booked a bijou stateroom/small garage in the bowels of the ship with two bunkbeds and a loo). The experience of being thrown around in the pitch black for six hours with two crying, puking children still lives on in the memory.

The trip back was beautiful, but by then I'd been scarred for life.

Not been on a ferry since. Or back to Denmark.Twenty years and counting.
(, Fri 19 Apr 2013, 11:45, 1 reply)
My first trip to Ireland to see the ins- and out-laws involved me having to go to the bar at one point and order
"Two glasses of water, a half of shandy and a pint of Guinness, please."

"You're from London, right?" condescended the barman witheringly, in a strong Southern Irish brogue.

"The Guinness is for me!" I squeaked.
(, Wed 24 Apr 2013, 9:32, 14 replies)
Foreign facilities.
I may once, out of sheer curiosity, have used a french bog. Unfortunately I didn't realise that the squat was supposed to be taken low to the hole, rather than in some sort of teeing off at golf pose.

It didn't end well.
(, Tue 23 Apr 2013, 14:04, 11 replies)
The Other Guy reminds me of a conversation I overheard a couple of years ago.
Bloke 1 was telling Bloke 2 about his holiday in Mexico (or it may have been Egypt, or... or... Basically, it was somewhere sunny with a different culture and a different language, and that's all ye need to know), and about how it was all-inclusive, and how the hotel was so nice that they didn't have to leave it once in the whole fortnight, and how that was apparently a good thing.
(, Tue 23 Apr 2013, 9:35, 5 replies)

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