Friday, June 24, 2016

What's your best travel story?

Maybe my best travel story is the time my friends and I, in high school, set off to the beach (in the era before any of us had GPSs, let alone smart phones), and wound up turning a 3-hour straight drive into a 9-hour tour through the middle of South Carolina due to missing a few exits.

Or perhaps it was the trip to the International Youth League Conference in Prague (for which my brother and I did an impressive amount of local scholarship-gathering, me a senior in high school and he in college), wherein, accompanied by an international coterie of college-age students and following a couple of trips to pubs, my brother's roommate had been dared to knock on the first door in the girl's dorm and propose. Poor guy; to save his life from my big brother's wrath, I'm afraid I had to break his heart by turning him down. Also, my own roommate and the entirety of the coterie may have roused the hall with their laughter.

There was also the Thanksgiving at the beach in which we adopted one of my friends for the holiday. She and I decided to try the hot tub, but after having been joined by a rather creepy old man in the indoor one, relocated to the outdoor hot tub. As it was in the low 40sF, Creepy Guy did not attempt to follow. After warming up in the hot tub, we sprinted across the icy sand to plunge into the winter ocean water, and fled, shrieking, back to the hot tub. Several times.

Beautiful city, beautiful island,
and a wonderful trip, friendly
cults and all!
Or there was the time when, on a visit to my fiance's parents in Taiwan, they decided to take us to a new nearby temple over Chinese New Year. They'd thought it was very impressive-looking Buddhist temple, and taking me to experience some local culture was the perfect excuse to check it out. Oh boy, were they mortified when the giant laughing Buddha temple turned out to be a cult! We still laugh about it together. Although as the cult was devoted to happiness and members were required to cultivate friendliness, it was actually quite the fun tour for me!

What's your favorite travel story/misadventure?


  1. A cult? Hahahah! That's hilarious. Glad they were a peaceful one.
    This is going to be multiple comments because it’s a long story.
    Hm...There was my last trip to China. Beijing wasn't a misadventure and I had a lovely time both working and playing. Went to my favorite place there (yuanmingyuan park) to bird and ended up birding with a big group of local birders who happened to be there that day. They were a huge help and I bought a couple local bird ID pamphlets off of them.
    Then off to Guangzhou on the fastest train in the world. I needed to get from the Guangzhou train station to the metro to my hotel. Google Maps told me to walk to a nearby metro station. I get out of the train station and it turns out the route would have sent me and my 50+ lbs of luggage running across an enormous multi-lane and busy road only to lug it through the grass, as there was no sidewalk. After repeatedly turning down some black cab drivers hungry to overcharge a white tourist, I tried to circle around the road by going over what was obviously a pedestrian bridge off to the side. it was quite long because it had to go over one of these big highways. As I approached the end of it, something seemed off. There were sections of it that were in poor shape, like the floor had been partially torn up and just left like that. Turns out it led into a big abandoned construction site. And I would have had to throw my luggage and climb over the tall barbed wire-topped fence to even get off the bridge and into it. So I walked back to the station and went looking for other ways to get to the station. No luck. It was in a weirdly enclosed location... After repeated attempts, I finally got a legit taxi driver to give me a ride (I had the address written out in the hanzi and I can pronounce them, but many assume foreigners won't be able to communicate and just drive on past you. I even had one slow down enough to see I was white, then keep going.). My driver got me to the general neighborhood, but my hostel turned out to be off the beaten path with poor signage and Google Maps was again less than helpful. So after disembarking, I ended up wandering back and forth this crowded main road on an exceedingly hot, muggy, night. Finally got to my hostel (which turned out to be behind a locked gate, but the guard let me in after some talking and showing him my reservation, thankfully). Then I had to go in a door that you needed a key card to get into, so I had to wait for someone to randomly wander in or out because no one was answering the buzzer. What should have been 1.5 hours (after an entire day of traveling from Beijing to Guangzhou) ended up being 4 hours and almost midnight before I could finally get some rest. I hadn't even had dinner, but I was so tired it wasn't worth it to go back out for street food that night. Especially since one of the hostel guests/employees (I think she was a bit of both?) was super excited to practice her English with me and also one of those people who is so hyper you get tired just by being in their general vicinity. It took a while before there was a natural place in the conversation where I could politely extricate myself...

    1. The kicker is that almost the whole fiasco could have been avoided if Google had realized there was a metro station one or two floors down in the train station (hilariously enough, it knew that coming from the opposite direction). Unlike other big public transit areas, the place you get dropped off in this one seemed to not have signs with the pinyin, English, hanzi, or picture symbol for metro. So you basically have to walk a weird circuitous route to get from train to metro in that station and already know where you're going. If I'd known where to go, I would have gotten to my place sooner and the metro would have dropped me off pretty much right where I needed to be (no wandering and wondering if I'd missed my turn), the gate would have been open, it wouldn't have been so late that the buzzer was ignored, entertaining the host wouldn't have been such a drag, and I could have gone out and eaten dinner.

      The next day, I needed to find the museum on the university campus I was going to. Again, google maps failed me and baidu (the Chinese version of google) wasn't much help either. After asking people for directions and showing them the map I'd drawn, I eventually got to campus. Then I had to wander around campus, asking guards and such for directions to the building I couldn't find (no one knew where it was). Asked one group of students for directions in Chinese. Turned out the ethnic Chinese students were actually native English-speaking foreigners who didn't speak Chinese well (Mandarin, at least. This is Cantonese country, which I don't speak at all.) Which was kind of funny, but they didn't know where the building was either. Finally got some who knew the general vicinity it was in and were able to use their map program on their phone to tell me where to go. Turns out I'd passed by the building several times, but the sign out front had a different name on it than I was told. And my contact ended up not being there that day, so he assigned two of students to watch me while I worked because China (still quite insular about science). I felt bad for them. They surely had better things to do than watch me take pictures, make drawings, and write notes.

    2. I had a free day before heading back to Beijing because there were only a three specimens for me to look at. I picked out a "nature park" to go birding. Hyper girl invited herself along. Which was fine. She was nice, even though she was tiring, and provided a buffer in case google or baidu did weird things to me again. It was in an area she wasn't familiar with and had never been, but she could read signs and talk to people to figure things out (turns out it was needed). The "nature park" was a verrrry interesting place. It cost to get in and we had to wait for it to open (google did not tell me there were hours or a charge). We get in there and it turns out to be this big enclosed area that is much more than just a nature park. There is a nature park, but to get to it, you first have to walk through this semi-abandoned amusement park. There are a few vendors selling things, but the rides are all closed and had been for a while. And the grounds were only sort of kept up. The nature part was quite lovely and I got some great lifers there (like a White-breasted Waterhen and an Asian Stubtail Warbler!). And I got to introduce some of the local birds to her, which was kind of amusing (she was neither a birder nor a local, just going to school there). We kept wandering some more and ended up looping around to area that was...kind of a little rural neighborhood in the middle of the park in the middle of a giant city. Not a shanty town either. They weren't high-quality, but they were permanent structures. People had piles of food out on the pavement that I guess they were drying? We met someone who was harvesting medicinal plants. I had to "protect" my companion from the [not] big, [not] scary dog that belonged to one of them (she had a phobia of all dogs and ended up holding my hand for quite some time as she pulled herself back together).
      After we left, she wanted to show me her campus. It had gorgeous architecture and a pretty grove of very tall trees. I got another lifer there. Eventually we made our way back and went to dinner in a restaurant on the main strip.
      I'd like to explore the place more at some later time when internet maps of the area have become more reliable, but I was very grateful to leave it behind and head out to a grassland in Inner Mongolia for some much-needed peace and quiet away from a city (which took another day and a half of traveling). And more birding! It was migration season and there turned out to be a lake chock full of waterfowl about a mile from here I stayed! The horse I rode was really stubborn, though... He would rather keep walking in the direction he'd been going with his head and neck pulled all the way to the side by the reins than turn even slightly. Also, he kept trying to bite other horses' butts. Mongolians don't name their animals, so I called him Butt-biter. The host was a total sweetheart and so was one of their cats. I pet him on the head and was immediately his best buddy. He crawled in under my arm in my yurt and stayed in there all night, visiting everyone in turn, purring very loudly, and licking our faces. The Korean girls in there with me called him a kenyagi, which is a Korean slang term for a cat that acts like a dog.
      When we left the next day, the "bus" was being very persnickety. It took several false starts and the driver repeatedly trying to convince the engine to work by adjusting the empty plastic bottle which was propping up one of the tubes.
      We eventually got back to the city (Hohhot) and I went to the Inner Mongolia Museum which is AMAZING. Then I wandered the shops, looking at all the pretty traditional outfits, and found an old manmade dove roost in a city park. I'm not sure what the doves used to be used for.
      Then I headed back to Beijing to fly back to the US. A very good trip, but ohhh Guangzhou was a misadventure.

    3. Oh my goodness, that's an adventure and a half! Note to self: wait until Guangzhou maps are updated or travel with a Cantonese-speaker. The old abandoned amusement park in the park must have been interesting to see. Glad you got to see so many great birds, though!

      Also, I'm really amused that there is a word in Korean for cats who act like dogs.