Our Worst Travel Moments — Emergency Room

We’ve had so many fantastic moments traveling the world continuously for the past five years. In spite of all the “regular” living, there have been challenging moments when things have gone wrong. To be fair, things go wrong even if you live in one place for five years.

We’re just thankful that it hasn’t been one of us waking up and asking the other “Who are you?” And we won’t write about the tsunami alert in Indonesia that turned out to be a huge wave of … wait for it … 2½ inches.

This is the second of a series of accounts of our worst moments. In spite of these few misadventures, we are still loving the life of continuous travel!

A Dog Bit Through My Lip

Whangarei, New Zealand

How did it happen?

We were house sitting of a small herd of cows and a dog. The cows weren’t the dairy kind that need milking but steers that eventually become steaks, burgers and chops in the freezer. 

Reed Park – one of the pretty hikes in Whangarei, New Zealand

That cow-sitting assignment was pretty easy.  When the cows think the grass is greener in the pasture on the other side of the fence, they loudly moo their complaints at you. Then you just move them. The resident dog was worthless at herding, and also not needed. We just opened the fence and the cows followed us to a new pasture.

Just before we left, I was playing with the dog when the dog’s tooth caught my lip. It was such a clean and fast slice right through that I didn’t even notice until I saw Ivan’s look of terror. It was a ghastly sight. He didn’t even get the camera as I instructed (like some parents posting a photo of their kid’s head in the lion’s mouth, or standing in front of the 14-foot alligator).

Ben

Ivan, who wanted to go the emergency room, reluctantly bandaged the gaping tear through my lip; and I was consoled that I couldn’t eat much for weeks. When the bandage was removed, the alignment was a little off. The vermilion border of my upper lip, known as the cupid’s bow, was not perfectly aligned.

Resolution

When we arrived in Cape Town, we checked what could be done with a Christian Barnard plastic surgeon. They are famous for having performed the first heart transplant in the world, not for their plastic surgery. I didn’t deem the expensive surgery to slice my lip open again to be worthwhile because the surgeon would not be able to make the vertical scar disappear. A little lipstick can disguise the skewed lip but nothing can cover the vertical crease. Anyway, as I get older, the scar will blend with my other wrinkles. Voilà.

Lesson Learned

We could have gone to emergency which would have been covered by our travel insurance. But I like to think that they would not have done much better than Ivan.

I’m careful now not to play face to face with a dog.

Sunrise on the farm, Whangarei, New Zealand

The other stories in “Our Worst Travel Moments” series are:
Robbed by a Gang at an ATM

My Burning (Man) Thoughts and Reflections

The original Burning Man arts and music festival is held at the end of August in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. What makes this particular festival unique is that there are no paid performers. The art and entertainment of many kinds is brought into the desert by the participants themselves for the benefit of other participants.

When I started attending in 2003, the paradigm worked well. There were few “just spectators”. In a city of 25,000, there was art, warmth, sharing and cooperation wherever you went. The week was pure fun and life-affirming.

The attendance is now on the scale of 70,000 people, and attitudes are different. I won’t go so far as to say that the original culture is completely lost, but it’s being kept alive by an ever shrinking percentage of “experienced” participants, “Burners” if you will.

Crowded art car 11 years ago.

By way of example, art cars typify this culture loss in a nutshell. In earlier years, art cars would stop for random attendees and take them to where ever they happened to be going. That was the whole point of Burning Man – art cars were created to share with other participants. Now, one can ask an art car for a ride and the response will typically be “it’s only for our camp,” even though it’s nearly empty. The idea that sharing includes the community as a whole has been diminished into exclusive cliques that bring bars and art only for their own campmates. The culture of collective cooperation is evaporating like moisture in a hot desert.

Burning Man is still an experience to be garnered. The scale of the event alone is a sight to behold. It is now the size of my childhood town. The fact that out of empty desert, a small city comes alive,  and then evaporates in a matter of days, is in itself a wonder and an affirmation of human industry. The fact that Burning Man is the largest Leave No Trace event in the world is another unmatched achievement. The variety of art, sharing and gifting is expansive. All these things are worth experiencing.

Burning Man has spawned an entire world of much smaller, much more intimate, participant-created festivals based on the original culture. These are called “regional” Burning Man events. Some are sanctioned and official;  others are not.

For us, these regional events are where the heart lies. They have the culture and the personal interactions that were the very core of the original festival. We’re thrilled to attend these Burner events we find everywhere in the world.

Our Worst Travel Moments — Robbed by a Gang at an ATM

We’ve had so many fantastic moments traveling the world continuously for the past five years. In spite of all the “regular” living, there have been challenging moments when things have gone wrong. To be fair, things go wrong even if you live in one place for five years.

We’re just thankful that it hasn’t been one of us waking up and asking the other “Who are you?” And we won’t write about the tsunami alert in Indonesia that turned out to be a huge wave of … wait for it … 2½ inches.

This is one of a series of accounts of our worst moments. In spite of these few misadventures, we are still loving the life of continuous travel!

Robbed by a Gang at an ATM

Cape Town, South Africa

How did it happen?

We like to think of ourselves as savvy travelers when it comes to making cash withdrawals at ATM’s around the world, but damn, we were outnumbered by slick thieves and there really was no recourse. We used an ATM in a sort of empty mall on a Sunday, which was our first mistake; and it’s the last time we’ll do that!

Cape Town panorama from our front balcony.

After we made our withdrawal, received our money and began to leave the area, the problem began. Someone called out to us that he was unable to use the machine because we had not completed the transaction and signed out correctly. He adamantly argued that whenever a foreigner uses the machine, there is always a problem afterward. He loudly beckoned us to return and while we hesitated, the queue of customers grew. They were all dressed like prosperous businessmen. Each of them complained that the machine would not allow them to use it now. Against our better judgement, we reluctantly returned and put our card back in.

The penguins of Boulders Beach near Cape Town

As soon as Ivan put the card back in, he had a sinking feeling. He knew this was wrong, but not quite sure why. Meanwhile, I let him know that there were many now queued and complaining about us ‘breaking the machine’. This prompted Ivan to take a cursive glance behind to see the mob of guys. That’s when the guy in front must have grabbed the card from the slot but neither of us noticed anything. While Ivan was trying to find his card, everyone quietly and suddenly disappeared. We now realized for sure that they probably had our card and the PIN.

We were getting money to buy a SIM card for our phone. So not having a working phone, we had to run back to our place to call the bank. By the time we could check our bank account, they had already taken out $400.

Resolution

Our stolen money was replaced by the bank after explaining the circumstances.

Lesson Learned
Cape Town, standing on Table Mountain

We are even more vigilant near ATM’s and use only the ones situated inside banks with security officers during daytime hours. Even so, we inspect the card reader to make sure a skimmer hasn’t been installed. You can read about this scam by searching for “ATM skimmer scams.”

In spite of our best precautions, we still became the subject of credit card number theft in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It happened twice and we never figured out how because the card never left our sight. Our bank caught it each time, blocked our card and sent us an email. After talking to us, they had to overnight a new card.

Other stories in “Our Worst Travel Moments”:
Emergency Room!

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