All posts by Deena Milgram

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

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!

Finding the Zen of Travel and Letting the Destination Take Over

Fish peddler in Simon's Town, South Africa.
Fish peddler in Simon’s Town, South Africa.

It’s a challenge to find what creates the pulse of a new city in our travels. The essence that really makes an area alive for me takes considerable time to recognize, and then takes even longer to actually find. I know that it’s breathing somewhere close by, but remains elusive to my untrained eye. Nor can every local I meet put their finger on this indescribable essence that defines their city or country.

Of course, what I naively call the core is different for everyone, be they local, expat or tourist. I’m not at all sure what I’m even looking for when I ask someone to reveal the secret to me. It takes NSA-style probing, and often I only scratch the surface of what’s waiting to be discovered.

Cape Town at night.
Cape Town at night.

I have a blurry preconception when we arrive at a new stop in our travels. My expectations have been colored by snippets I hear on the news, something I remember from a documentary or gems I discover from reading other people’s blogs. But what do I, or anyone, really know from the information that’s out there?

I dream of learning the country’s language, however difficult, joining groups particularly native to the area, attending courses about the history or geography of the area, going on wild and exotic safaris or meditating in a secluded mountain monastery. I try to find the essence of a place by exploring and reaching out in every direction.

Penguins of Boulders Beach.
Penguins of Boulders Beach.

There are a number of ways I search for the pith of each place we visit. Couchsurfer hosts can sometimes have their finger on the pulse of the area. Often they are familiar with some distinctive local flavor outside of usual tourist attractions like watching a performance of taishū engeki theatre or visiting the red-light district in Osaka, Japan. Chance meetings with locals in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, trains and buses have shown us parts of a country that we would not have otherwise discovered. Stopping someone on the street to compliment them on what they are wearing has led to not only being lead to the store where they bought their item, but to lasting friendships. Friends of friends, and sometimes even friends of friends of friends have so graciously also given us insider knowledge of their area.

When I arrive somewhere, I find so much of it unexpected, at least in the way I naively imagined. I was so shocked when I didn’t find origami or Suzuki instrument training in Japan.DSC03267

“Letting the destination take over” is what I strive for in my travels. It’s akin to the method of the Zen master who declines to teach a disciple how to hold the bow and shoot the arrow. Only if the archer can somehow achieve the right state of mind, will he be able hit the bull’s-eye. Like the archer, I need to relinquish conscious control when travelling and allow everything around me to guide me.

“If you want to travel the Way of Buddhas and Zen masters, then expect nothing, seek nothing, and grasp nothing.”  –Dogen