Haha, what a question again – I mean: where to start? And, how much space do I have? OK, here we go.
Ugly. One of the nastiest moments in my travel life was entering Equatorial Guinea. Getting the visa had already been very difficult and weird, involving a meeting with a high-heeled employee of the embassy in her blinded, black car outside a shopping mall, paying a ridiculous amount of money, but with her guarantee that I could visit any place in Equatorial Guinea without a problem. Upon arrival at the border, the officials refused to stamp my passport, unless I paid them of course. If not, they threatened to put me in jail. When I called the lady of the embassy who had promised me I could always call her in case of problems, she shouted at me and cut the connection. At the border, there was a woman who was playing with a gun, who appeared crazy enough to actually shoot.
Their sense of power over me, the fact that some of them were drunk – it all gave me a feeling of lawlessness and powerlessness that I had not experienced before. Miraculously, three Spanish nuns appeared after a couple of hours; fortunately, I speak Spanish fluently, and they helped me out and took care of me. Bottom line: no matter how impossible a situation seems, in the end, there is always a solution.
Bad. Travelling in Cuba, we felt that most people were out to make money on us, often in an unfair way. Inviting us home, chatting, giving us a coconut to drink – only to ask us money for it when we left. Two guys stole a precious pendant from the ex-girlfriend with whom I was traveling. A taxi driver cheated on us in a ridiculous way, and when I paid him what we had agreed on beforehand, he chased us with the police. In the discussion that followed, all our frustration came out in my remark that “all Cubans are thieves”. The policemen took me to their station, where they told me that I had just insulted Fidel Castro with my remark. The accusation therefore was “insulting our head of state”, and I instantly knew I was in serious trouble, especially when they confiscated my passport. It was a Sunday, embassies were closed, and it took me an eloquent discourse about the beauty of the country and the unfortunate things that happened to us with dishonest people, and noting that I of course never intended to insult Mr. Castro, to have my passport back and get out of that thorny situation.
Good. Ah – so many good travel experiences, it’s hard to decide where to start! Before going, many people had warned us: Sudan is a dangerous place! Soon enough, however, my girlfriend and I fell in love with the country, and especially its people. They would walk over in the street, stand in front of us, put their hand on their heart, and proclaim “Welcome to Sudan!”. Never did they try to take advantage of us, cheat us, or abuse us – on the contrary. On one shared minivan ride, there was a handicapped son with his very old mother. She could hardly see anymore, and her skin looked like wrinkled old parchment. They had a bag which was in rags, in which we imagined were their belongings. We felt touched by them, and were thinking what to give to them; unfortunately, we didn’t have a spare bag to give away. At every stop, we helped the old lady and her son to get on and off the minivan. Then, suddenly, they got off, and made a sign they had already paid our bus fare. They – who clearly were very poor people, and to whom we could not talk because we didn’t speak their language, and they didn’t speak ours. We had tears in our eyes when we drove off, with the old woman and her son waving us goodbye. Just one example of Sudanese hospitality we experienced on our journey through this very interesting country.
For hundreds more (mostly “Good”) stories, with pictures: continue reading on my website www.traveladventures.org