Posted by: Johan Normark | April 8, 2009

Clear and present danger(s)

My wife and I have frequently been asked why we travel the way we do. Is it not dangerous “over there”? There are terrorists, tsunamis, robberies, kidnappings, diseases, snakes, bugs, poor hygienic conditions, etc., etc. People who usually ask these questions have no problem travelling to New York (where I believe there are far more robberies and the worst terror attack ever took place there). Sure, we have been close to some dangers: we have been on Bali a couple of months before the terror bombs in 2002 and 2005. We have travelled in many parts that were affected by the tsunami (Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India). I almost got caught in a Mexican hurricane in 2005. Poor children in Antananarivo were suspiciously close to rob us. The only thing I for sure have lost is a pair of shoes in my backpack when I flew to Quito in Ecuador.

Sure, diarrhea is common and is almost obligatory on any trip. After the trip to Madagascar in 1994 we were both hospitalized after our neck and throat became swollen. Mexico also gave me “reactive arthritis” which came after I had some nice Campylobacteriosis infection from raw chicken. I could hardly move since my joints hurt like hell. The breakfast buffet at the hotel in Manado (Sulawesi) had rat excrement on one plate and cockroaches in the toast. While using an elevator in Chennai (Madras) we saw a dead rat being fried in the elevator’s lamp.

After we got lost in the Bornean jungles in Malaysia, in search for a specimen of Rafflesia (the world’s largest flower) we got severely dehydrated and had huge leeches sucking our ankles and legs (but we did see the flower though). Also, in Malaysia I saw a large shark outside the reefs at Pulau Perhentian Kecil and I did not dare swim out after that. At the same place we had a rat (we called him Basil) in our bed and while chasing him I accidently hit my wife with my shoe projectile (apparently I aimed as bad as the journalist trying to hit G.W. Bush). The largest cockroaches we saw on Madagascar and last summer I killed a dozen of them before going to bed at Tentena on Sulawesi. While sleeping in the hammock at Piedras Negras in Guatemala I heard that a jaguar had passed nearby during the night. The workers we hire in the CRAS project frequently show us the rattle snakes they have killed. Coconut trees are clear dangers. I do not remember how many times I have almost got hit by one of those heavy bombs. The most memorable event goes back to Perhentian Kecil where a storm made the trees drop their nuts. One of them broke part of the roof of our bungalow. The owner checked it out and concluded: “It’s just the roof” (well, that was our concern). Another broken roof incident dates back to 1994 on Nosy Komba outside Madagascar. A couple of Black Lemurs had invaded our bungalow in search for fruit. They had used our roof as the road to their feast. However, they had also torn it up and this we did not notice until the night’s heavy rain. We got soaked.

However, the real danger is the traffic. On our trip to Tibet we travelled in a small bus on very narrow, muddy and steeeeep roads. At several points the bus had a not to comforting angle, and I felt it could fall over at any time. On the same trip my wife’s backpack was not well tied to the roof and a tree pushed it off the bus, we were just lucky to see when that happened. The traffic can reach toxic levels, such as in Chennai when we almost threw up after a long traffic jam.

After the scooter crash in Hanoi

After the scooter crash in Hanoi. My blue back pack is seen to the right of the girl's head.

We have seen plenty of traffic accidents in India and Nepal where buses and cars frequently are found at the bottom of ravines. On our way from Mahabalipuram to the airport in Chennai we got a taxi whose engine hood flew up covering the wind shield when the car reached a certain speed. The taxi driver also preferred not to use the lights on the car. In Mexico, we almost ran into a Coca Cola truck on our way home from Ichmul. My colleague Alberto was alert and avoided the almost inevitable death. On the island of Phu Quoc in Vietnam we saw one guy who had just been hit and killed by a truck (one of these truck drivers almost hit me an hour or two later). In Hanoi two motorcyclists hit in an intersection but they were apparently unaffected. Finally, the closest I have come to my own death also took place in Hanoi. While sitting in a café with my back against the window and the street I suddenly heard a loud crash and I saw a rain of thick and heavy glass poor down one m from my body. I girl working at the café drove through the window with her scooter. She got cut in the face and another employee drove her to the hospital on a scooter. I just think about if that glass had it my head, neck and back I would not be sitting here blogging.

In conclusion, apart from the traffic, travelling is great fun. Lonely Planet has a section called “Dangers and annoyances”. I have now discussed possible dangers and I will post my worst annoyances. I can give away no 1 right here. This is “temple man” from Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, India.

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