The title of this post is s bit of a play on the phrase “This is Africa” but I’ve done a lot of travel in Africa, and there has been plenty to fix with this trip already, so I feel that it’s appropriate.
When you take part in adventure travel, be that as a solo traveller or on a group trip of what I like to call “organised adventure travel” inevitably something will go wrong. Indeed I have had plenty of examples of that. To name but a few of the memorable ones.
- In Namibia in 2002 we had to leave our school project a week early due to how uncomfortable we were being made to feel by the officials at the school.
- Again in Namibia we had to cut our evening plans short one night due to the police getting into a shootout with some people fighting outside the bar we were in.
- In East Africa in 2009 we missed the final admission to a National Park after a border crossing took longer than expected.
- Again in East Africa in 2009 our truck broke down half way up a hill meaning we didn’t get to our campsite until after dark and couldn’t take part in our planned canoeing on a lake.
- In Central America one of our buses took too long to get to its destination and we had to have one of the fastest and scariest taxi rides I’ve ever been on, after a quick bag swap between vehicles, to get to the ferry we had tickets for.
- While touring the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone we ran out of time to meet the resettled residents as we spent so long exploring inside the abandoned buildings which, according to policy within the zone, we weren’t due to go inside anyway.
Whether you will enjoy adventure travel or not depends on how you take to little mishaps like this. On every trip there tends to be one person who stands out for moaning about everything as they weren’t expecting it, and on some trips there may be more than one. For example.
- In East Africa in 2009 we had one person who moaned bitterly about the previously mentioned delays even though there was nothing anybody could have done about them. We also had one person who moaned that we didn’t have hot dogs all trip despite the fact we were in Africa and had a beautiful, and large, selection of freshly cooked tasty food each day.
- In Central America there was one person who every time the smallest thing went wrong felt the need to complain. Apparently the bus ride taking too long was the tour leader’s fault, as was a previous bus getting stuck in traffic in Guatemala City. This person even moaned that our leader was a few minutes late arriving back to the hotel on our last transfer morning despite the fact the leader was grabbing food for the first time in days after feeling ill – during which time all duties were performed to a much higher standard than I could ever hope to achieve. This person even made a point on the last few days of telling everybody she was going to complain which did nothing other than persuade some of us to send compliment to Intrepid about the tour leader in addition to completing the survey form.
- In Chernobyl there was one member of the group who moaned for 24 hours continuously about missing the resettlers to the point that we all had an argument while out for a group meal as we couldn’t take any more.
However if you are willing to accept that things happen on adventure travel you can have the most amazing time. In Namibia sure the sound of a bunch of gunshots outside were scary but we had just spent a few great hours in a local bar in a town that hardly any westerners had visited in decades so it allowed us to get under the skin of the country in a way we wouldn’t have if we had stayed in our sterile camp within a walled school. In East Africa our food was the best I’ve ever had while travelling, and the delays crossing the border meant that we stopped in a town that wasn’t on our itinerary and ended up playing pool, playing darts and drinking with the locals at a local bar. Some of us also had a chance to hang out with some Park Rangers at the entrance to a National Park for a few hours while the others insisted on going on our pre-planned nature drive even though it meant delays in getting to our next destination.
Then more recently in Central America we got a true taste of the region and if it wasn’t for using public transport we would have been disconnected from the surroundings and missed so much. Central America is a chaotic but vibrant and friendly place which you won’t see as much with private transport. In Chernobyl if we had left Pripyat early to ensure we saw the resettlers we would have had to cut out the last few buildings which we were allowed to explore – and these for me were the most amazing and memorable.
None of the things that have happened in the past while travelling have put me off the idea of going to weird and wonderful destinations – in fact they have probably persuaded me even more that this is the style of travel that I enjoy. While camping may not be the top of my list of things I want to do right now, and while after Central America I’ll make sure ear plugs are at the top of my packing list, what I want to do with my life is get out there and see the world. I want to get under the skin of the countries I visit and see what they have to offer and I want to discover and experience things that most people I know could even dream of. I also want to do this on the terms of the country I visit rather than acting like a stereotypican western tourist who wants everything the same as back home.
That’s why when I saw a photo of the Myeik Archipelago in Myanmar in an advert on Facebook advertising new trips for 2014 with Intrepid I knew it was something I had to do. Myanmar is a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time and the idea of experiencing a side of the country that nobody else gets to see really appealed to me even though I had never really considered a sailing holiday before. However being an adventure holiday, and a brand new one at that, inevitably things were to go wrong. On this occasion, however, things started going wrong and needing fixing a few months before the start of the trip instead of during it.
The Myanmar sailing trip, when I booked, had two options available. I could either start in Phuket in Thailand and be driven up to the Myanmar border or could start in Yangon and fly to the starting point. Phuket has never really appealed to me, and I wanted to see as much of Myanmar as I could, so I chose the version starting in Yangon. However a few weeks after booking I noticed that it had disappeared from both the Intrepid and Gecko’s website. After contacting them I discovered that this version had been temporarily suspended as a temporary travel warning had been put in force by the Australian government for the town that we would fly to in the south of Myanmar. Being an Australian operation they had to put a hold on the trip following this advice for legal reasons but they recommended I didn’t change my flights yet as there was the possibility that it would be reinstated.
A couple of tense months followed where there was still no news so Gecko’s advised me to change my flights and transferred me onto the trip starting in Phuket. A week or so of heated three-way negotiaton between Gecko’s, myself and STA Travel and I managed to change my flights and managed to persuade Gecko’s that they should pay for the £350 upgrade to my flights needed to make the changes as my original trip was a guaranteed departure but was no longer operating. While I’m upset at how long it took them to make that decision they didn’t have to agree with me so I’m thankful for that. I’m also upset with the service I got from STA when trying to change my flights but that’s the matter of a complaint that’s still pending with their customer relations department so I won’t go into detail about that here – even more so as the complaint was twice as long as this post.
However despite all of these setbacks there was no point getting too stressed about it as there was nothing that could have been done either way. It’s sad that I’ll no longer see Yangon and won’t get to travel on the Circle Train, visit the many beautiful golden temples or see Aung San Suu Kyi’s house, among other things, and it’s sad that my new flights only give me one evening stopover in Hong Kong instead of two full-day ones. However there are benefits to these changes including visiting Thailand as well, the trip being considerably cheaper and now being able to see the Hong Kong skyline at night. I’m sure there will be numerous other mishaps and corresponding benefits by the time I return home but this will still be an amazing trip which I’m really looking forward to.
I still need to receive my reissued flight tickets from STA and need to book some extra hotel nights in Thailand and Hong Kong but I’ll get to these. If I can get through the chaos that the original person at Gecko’s left me in before leaving the company and if I can weave my way through the web of illogical staff and unacceptable customer service to find the one helpful person at STA Travel then I can wait a few more days until I receive my new flight tickets and can book some hotels without any problems.
Even though this has been a long post I guess what I’m trying to get at is, for those of you that are reading my blog to try to decide whether adventure travel is the right thing for you or not, I would say that by the time you get this far in the post you’ll already know. You’ll already know whether you’re the sort of person that thinks it’s the end of the world when your bus stops for traffic lights or whether you can’t go 24 hours without hot dogs for example. You’ll also already know whether the things I have mentioned in this post would make you panic, feel scared and never want to leave the house again or whether you see them as getting under the skin of a country and all part of the fun of travel.
Adventure travel, be it solo or in organised groups like the ones I go on, can be incredibly rewarding if you are ready for it. You get to see so much more of the world than most people and have some of the most amazing experiences and memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I would say if it’s something you want to do, and don’t think you’ll be that one person on the trip that moans about every small detail with the aim of ruining everybody elses’s trip, then go for it. Otherwise you may as well just lay by the pool in an all-inclusive gated community in the Benidorm for a week and never experience anything that this amazing planet and it’s people have to offer.
It has been a tubulent few months since booking the sailing trip to Myanmar but I’m confident that I’ll see some amazing scenes, have life-long experiences and make new friends. In 2-3 months expect some great photos and a new blog of my experiences. I fly out on February 27th and return on March 12th.