Monday, November 7, 2011

Screw Fear

I'm taking part in BootsnAll's 30 Days of Indie Travel Project, in which they are inviting bloggers from around the world to join them in a daily blogging effort reflecting on our past travel experiences.
Today is Day 6 and the topic is FEAR:

People are always telling me how brave I am to travel to all these "exotic" and "scary" places. They always say, "oh, I could never do the things you do, I'd be too afraid". I've had people tell me that they're afraid to stay in a hostel. Really? What exactly is scary about a hostel? You know that movie wasn't real, right?
I don't consider myself all that brave, yet I often find myself doing things other people are too "afraid" to do.
For me, travel is not about being brave. It's not about overcoming my fears, although that is certainly a part of it sometimes. I see it like this: I want to do something, so I am going to do it. It's that simple. Sure, I get scared sometimes. But that's not going to stop me from exploring the world and experiencing everything that I want to experience. Even if I have to do it on my own because everyone else is too scared to come with me.
Everybody gets scared, but that shouldn't stop you from doing a single thing you desire to do. And besides, travelling is not scary. Get out of your damn comfort zone for once.

I'm going to tell you about just a few of the somewhat scary things that have happened to me, and how they have not changed my desire to get out of my comfort zone one single bit. These are not in any particular order.

1. On my first day in Malindi, Kenya, I was talking to this guy named Nero about the things I planned to see and do while I was there. I mentioned that I wanted to go see these particular ruins outside of town, but I didn't know how to get there. So Nero offered to take me there on his motorcycle. I was a little hesitant at first because I had just met this guy, but I finally agreed because I like free transportation and he seemed nice enough. He drove me out to these ruins and then took me to the little beach town of Watamu (which was incredibly beautiful). He even took me into the village where I met his mother, brothers and baby sisters, all living in a little mud house. And we went to his dad's bar, where I got to try munazi, the local palm wine. I went all over the Malindi area with him and saw places tourists rarely see. And then things got weird. I went back to my guesthouse and told him to call me later about a reggae show he had mentioned. I almost immediately passed out due to a long day and when I awoke hours later I had a bunch of missed calls from him and a few irate text messages. Then I heard yelling outside. I peeked out my window and there was Nero yelling at the man at the front desk, who was smart enough to keep the front door locked at all times. I decided right then that I wanted nothing more to do with this guy, put my headphones on, and tried to go back to sleep. In the morning the man at the desk told me that Nero had been threatening him because he wouldn't come upstairs to let me know he was there. He even tried to fight a security guard. He said this went on for quite a while, but he stood his ground and I'm glad he did. That guest house employee was my new best friend.
I avoided Nero for my last couple days in Malindi, but it's not like I wish I hadn't met him or anything. If I had been too scared to get on that motorcycle I would have missed out on all those experiences. I wouldn't have seen the beautiful beaches of Watamu and got a lovely henna design on my arm, I wouldn't have gone through villages where all the children chased after and yelled  "ciao!" at me instead of "jambo", I wouldn't even know what munazi is. So, even though things got scary a little later, I don't at all regret getting on Nero's motorcycle. And I'm sure I will hitch a ride with a stranger again if it means I get a free tour.
Watamu Beach

2. I have always loved baboons. I don't know what it is, but they are one of my favourite animals. So when I was at Victoria Falls in Zambia I was delighted to see dozens of baboons of all sizes all over the place. I assumed they must be used to people since the area was crawling with tourists, so I didn't hesitate to get within feet of them. Well, actually I kind of had to because they were crowding the pathways. After strolling among baboons for a while I stopped to take a picture of a particularly large one sitting on a fence. As I was taking the picture he growled at me a little bit so I backed up. As I backed up another even larger baboon came from the side and jumped on me. I screamed and he grabbed my bag, which was attached to me, and tried to make off with it. I had to fight this baboon for my bag for what felt like minutes (it was probably only a few seconds). Finally he let go and ran away but he ripped the front of my bag nearly off. Shaken, I quickly left for an area with fewer baboons and none of them bothered me again. I'm just happy it was my bag he ripped and not a body part, because that guy was strong and could have done some serious damage like ripping my arm off. I still like baboons, I just think that was a particularly evil one.
The picture I took just before I was attacked

3. I was in Melaka, Malaysia, wandering around the night market with my friend Jodie when I noticed this man that seemed to be standing either at the same table as us or one table over for the last while. I thought I must be imagining it, but as we moved around between vendors he was always close by. Finally I discretely pointed him out to Jodie and we decided to lose him. We pushed into a crowd of people and made our way to a different section of the market, but this time he was clearly following us. He saw us look back straight at him and he knew we were on to him. He started walking faster toward us and we pushed our way faster through the crowd, worried about what exactly this man wanted. We dashed into a brightly lit store and then out a second entrance that took us out onto a side street. We wanted to just leave the area altogether and get away from this guy, but we didn't want him following us home so we stopped at a cafe to wait it out. While we  were eating a delicious piece of cake we saw him walk by the cafe, probably looking for us or some other foreign girls to harass or who knows what else. We waited for a while to make sure he was actually gone and then walked home, checking behind us the whole way. I have no idea why this man was following us, and I'm sure if he tried anything the people in the market would have done something, but that was definitely a scary few minutes of my life. Am I afraid to go back to Malaysia now and peruse night markets? Of course not, strange men could follow us anywhere.
Melaka at night

4. When I was in Thailand I paid for a bus to take me from the east coast to the west coast, where I was headed to Phuket. It was one of those mini buses that are usually reserved for tourists, and this one was filled with my friends and I plus a bunch of other backpackers. I think there were over ten in total. We got on the bus and drove for hours before stopping at a restaurant where they told us we would have to switch buses. OK, that was fine, it happens occasionally. So we waited, and waited, and waited, and then they told us that that bus wasn't coming and if we wanted to get to Phuket that night we would have to pay for another bus. The other travellers and I banded together and refused to pay again, so eventually the person who seemed to be in charge decided to take us to the office. At the office they told us a bus would be coming shortly, so we waited for a while. And then they told us that the bus wouldn't be there til morning so we had to get out of the office as they were closing. We didn't even know the name of the town we were in so there was no way we were going to go out there in the middle of the night and try to find a place to stay until morning. We argued this with the woman running the place and told her there was no way we were leaving that office and we wanted our money back, etc. And then we noticed the menacing-looking men with motorbikes standing at the entrance. As we noticed them a few of them pulled out what looked like broken table legs with nails in them from behind their bikes. And they stood there holding them, like they were threatening us with them. So we had this woman threatening to throw us on the street and these men on the street who looked ready to beat us with table legs. This was not a good situation. We discussed it with each other and finally agreed to just pay this woman again if she would get us to Phuket that night. It's not like it cost a lot, it was just the principle of the thing: we didn't want to pay for the same trip twice. But I would rather pay twice then get beaten up in some unknown town over a bus fare.
Through this experience we made friends with the other backpackers on the bus and a bunch of us ended up going to Patong Beach, Phuket together. We got an awesome hotel there for a ridiculously low price thanks to one of the Aussies on the bus who was headed there, we drank altogether too much Sang Som and towers of beer and pretty much had an awesome time. If it weren't for those scamming bus people we would never have bonded like we did. So our negative situation turned into a positive.
The bus scam crew

Now some people will say, "see, travel is scary, these things will happen to me too!". But guess what? I've travelled through 5 continents and 17 countries and these are the most fear-inducing situations I can come up with off the top of my head. After these, and many other misadventures, I'm still alive and in one piece aren't I? I think that's all that matters. You can be scared of things all you want, but don't be afraid to live. I say screw fear, do what you want.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely love this post and was so interested in your stories! I feel the same way that you do. Before I headed to South East Asia this summer, EVERYONE I talked to said "be careful," "be safe," and "you're so brave." It drove me crazy!! Especially because when you're headed to a tropical location everyone says "have fun!" Bad things can happen ANYWHERE!!


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