"I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move"
Maybe for you, Robert Louis but we could have happily foregone these terrible trips...
5) Nicaragua, El Rama to Corn Islands by panga and ferry (September 2016)
A journey of many parts takes fifth place on our worst ever travelling trip and maybe the high ranking can be partially explained because it is so fresh in my mind; time has not yet been allowed to lend its rose tinted lenses to this one. The omens were there from the outset: early start = tired kids; long bus ride preceding journey = bored and restless and tired kids; rain and wind (does not) = fun boat ride on small boat. But nothing before could properly prepare me for the experience of the panga. A panga is a small river taxi that seats around 30 people on benches 4 across. It sits low in the water and is powered by a speedboat engine at the rear. Although our boat had a roof, this was purely for cosmetic purpose, not for shelter from the driving rain. The passengers’ shelter from the wet was nothing more than a large sheet of plastic which we rolled out, lifted over our heads and attempted to hold on to. Those on the ends of the bench seats had to hold it down near the sides to avoid it ripping free in the wind and flying off, whilst those sat in the middle of the bench seats had to hold it up above their heads to allow enough air in to breath, so avoiding a mass suffocation. The thick, plastic, tarpaulin alternated from being pressed right against your face, a feeling akin to being alive but zipped enclosed in a body bag, to violently flapping in the wind with the force of a sheet of aluminium thwacking you repeatedly on the head for your sins. As a training session for withstanding torture it was pretty effective, it included stress positions, water torture, claustrophobia, and pain. Two hours of this was then followed by the passenger ferry. Six and a half hours of vomit inducing listing and rolling around on the Caribbean sea. In waves of around 3metres high, our small ferry with its 60 passengers, and heavy cargo didn't stand much of a chance at a smooth crossing but we were hampered further by an imbalance in loading which lead to a constant list to the left side, which exacerbated the rolling seas and left anyone forced to sit outside to escape the mal de mer soaked to the skin. Most people made it outside or to the toilets to vomit but not the lady sat behind us, she was repeatedly sick right in my ear as I was attempting to hold down both a sleeping two year old and my own vomit. Once she'd filled her bag she proceeded to fill another two carrier bags of ours as well!
Lowlights: constant thwacking over the head of the tarpaulin; vomiting over my shoulder.
4) Philippines, Palawan by jeepney (July 2006)
We knew travelling Palawan was going to require some patience and some hiccups bit we loved the rammed jeepney we clambered on to. We were on the roof, there being no space inside. Yes it was hot but up on the roof you got some breeze and a great view. It was actually turning out well when we broke down. Not for the first time travelling, but usually we had been back on the road after a few good strong knocks with a hammer in all the right places. Not so this time. As luck would have it, another jeepney was passing on our route and it stopped for us. When I say us, obviously I mean all of the cargo and passengers on our jeepney. And of course it was jam packed to the rafters before it stopped. In a superhuman effort of packing efficiency two full jeepneys became one. We were now sat significantly higher up on the top on board a number of boxes, some I'm sure containing the stink of Durian fruit and we were astride the pigs! Maybe they made for a bit of cushioning bit the squeals were a bit disconcerting. Sorry pigs but at least you weren't getting sunburnt.
Lowlights: the squeal from the pigs which were our seats for seven hours
3) Thailand, Ko Phagnan to Ko Tao by fast catamaran (January 2016)
Another sea voyage gets in to our list of worst journeys ever and this was the fast cat to Ko Tao, usually pretty tame smooth sailing. Only problem with this version was the mahousive storm with which we embarked. We'd stumbled to bed the night before in an epic thunder storm half wondering if it would thwart our plans to swap islands the following day but when we awoke to find the beach annihilated by the surging swells and the bungalows being evacuated we were all set to abandon our plans, only to be informed the boats would be running. In our naivety (a running theme here) we believed they would surely only run if it were safe so off we headed to the port. And yes it was true, boats were running although with an ever increasing delay, the lady at the ticket office told us, adding some valuable advice on spotting our two young children, “sit at the middle back downstairs, it's less bouncy”. We piled on, fearing a rough crossing, but when we emerged from the shelter of the island into open sea around twenty minutes in, the screams from the passengers told their own story. Apparently the ride was only 90 minutes long but I swear it was more like 4 hours. I spent the time clinging on to the arm rests to keep myself in the seat staring straight ahead at a bag of crisps behind the snack stand. It was far too scary to look out the window which was flipping between sky and under with the rapidity of a cable channel flicker. Now and again, my composure would crack and I'd burst into unexplained hysterical laughter, complete with tears rolling down my cheeks. Thank goodness the kids were sleeping (God bless Phenergen!) The journey continued in this vein, people around me were calling loved ones at home to say they thought they were about to die so wanted to say their final goodbyes! That doesn't help the nerves believe me.My eyes only strayed once from the pack of Lays Originals, when a traumatised backpacker stumbled in from top deck, soaked through with the wild eyes of a war torn casualty. I was certain she'd witnessed some people thrown overboard but apparently all passengers made it safely to land. Newitt family included.
Lowlights: listening to other passengers calling loved ones to say their final goodbyes.
2) Indonesia, Nias island to Sumatra by ferry (December 1999)
There's something about ferries in Indonesia that sets my pulse racing. Oh yes, it's the appalling safety record. When we set off for our overnight trip from the island of Nias back to Sumatra we were already primed. I was looking for life rafts, life rings and life jackets. The ferry was due to take 9 hours overnight in the dark and I was prepared for the worst. Unfortunately, there were no life rafts but I had clocked the life rings and surely there would be jackets in those cupboards… We had a small coffin sized area on deck, numbered and segregated by a wooden plank on each side. It was less than comfortable, no cushions but we had jumpers for pillows. The trouble started an hour in around 10pm when the boat was rocking so violently it was tricky to stop from sliding out of your deck area. Sleep was impossible as the emergency evacuation scenarios plagued my restless state of mind. In the days before mobile phones and omniscient GPS, all I could think was how will anyone know where we are when we sink? When I finally fell into a fitful sleep some hours later, I presumed we'd come through the worst of the storm and the seas had calmed. However, I awoke to find myself peering out at the sunrise of the same port we'd embarked. Was I dreaming? No. The captain (thank goodness, in retrospect) had decided the crossing was too unsafe so had turned the boat around and we were back where we started. All night sailing through terrifying seas and we were still stuck on the same island.
Lowlights: insomnia due to constant fear for my own life; eventually awaking to find I was back where I started.
1) Laos, Savannakhet to Vietnam, Hue by bus (October 1999)
Top of our worst ever list is the bus journey we took overland from Laos to Vietnam. It was 17 years ago and yet even now thinking about it transports me back to the discomfort and doom of that diabolical trip. We were naive, young backpackers who'd conquered S.E. Asia - having spent a month sunning ourselves on Thai islands and floating down Loas’s rivers on inner tubes. And what better way to enter Vietnam: ten times cheaper than flying; plus an overnight bus meant we'd save on a nights accommodation; and the road was paved all the way. It was an easy decision. The fact there were only a handful of others braving the voyage ought to have rung the alarm bells but we boarded full of optimism. Perhaps it was the bravado that comes of a day’s drinking, but we weren't concerned about the journey at all as we lay sprawled over the wooden seats anticipating sleep. We'd arrived in Savannakhet mid way through a three day festival where it is customary to drink till you fall over, then pick yourself up and start again. We'd had all day to kill before the bus departed so what to do but join in. By the time we boarded the bus we'd lost count of Beer Laos consumed and had been forced into many a bootleg rice wine; the idea of a good, long sleep aboard a bus was keenly anticipated. Ha! Sleep! What a joke. Turns out the one thing worse than a dirt road is an unkempt tarmac road. On the stationary bus the seats felt adequate to our tired, inebriated bodies. But sleeping was a short lived plan. When you are forced to anchor yourself down into the seat with both hands and both feet in order to stop you from launching a foot in the air each time you hit a pothole, the idea of sleep becomes an impossible dream. Add to this those wooden seats and thunderous rattle of the broken windows. This was no National Express, no Greyhound, no First class Malaysian 34seater. This was your local 155 but with the seats ripped out, the windows broken and all suspension removed. When the hangover from the day's festivities fully kicked in, about 1am, the pain really began. The potholes were the hammer drill steadily and incessantly working its way into my very soul. There was no pleasure to be gained by the realisation that I had a whole turn of the clock to withstand this self induced torture. Lesson to self: alcohol does not always lead to a good night's sleep.
Lowlights: hangover kicking in at 1am with 12 more hours to go.
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Kelly and Mikey (but mostly Kelly). We sold up in the UK to travel with our two littluns for a year or so. If you want to know more click the about us!