Sobering Travel Realities

Last week, my good friend Marianna asked me during one of my recent readings how I had changed after my two years abroad. I said I was more serious. She gave me a sad face. But it’s true.

I think I’ve seen too much to be so happy-go-lucky, perhaps willfully naïve, again. In addition, I was in too many perilous situations to take my life for granted. I now get flashbacks from my travels—and not the good kind—especially when I read about harrowing news from the places I’ve visited.


This week’s recent sinking of an Indonesian tourist boat plying the waters around Komodo Islands was only one more reminder. I was on a boat just like the one that sunk—the same itinerary, the same old wooden boat.

At the time, back in the spring of 2011, I actually jokingly wrote a post about my Komodo Island sail experience entitled my “Sea Coffin.” In it, I talk about how I thought the boat was going to sink in the rough waters and how the chances for survival were slim. With 15 passengers on the boat still missing, it’s not so funny now.

The ongoing news about violence in Gaza produces another sobering reminder of escapades past. Reporters’ comparisons between Hamas and Hezbollah on the nightly news give me chills and bring back memories of being lost in Hezbollah-controlled territory in Lebanon, near the border with Syria. I chat about my concerns in my book and also in a post I wrote two years ago called: Volunteering in Dangerous Places: Beirut, Lebanon as a guest writer for the travel blog Meet, Plan, Go.

And the heinous murder of Jim Foley in Syria brings back my unpleasant encounter with Jordanian security officers while trying to enter the country via the Gulf of Aqaba from Egypt. The immigrations officials, machines guns strapped to their chests, pantomimed a beheading. (This was just months after Daniel Pearl’s execution). There I was, a lone American woman in a room with four armed guards in a boat plying the no-man’s land between countries. Not a great feeling.

Even the notice that two foreigners had been kidnapped in Colombia while I was in country was enough to give pause. Yes, it was on the border with Ecuador, far from where I was and in a zone marked unsafe for Americans, but at the time I was in the north of the Colombian countryside, in another area designated “unsafe” by government authorities.

Survivor’s Guilt

So many close calls. I can’t help but wonder: How it is that I survived relatively unscathed? I did a lot of the things other tourists do. (Much more unsafe actually because I traveled solo during most of my trip and with very little, if any, preparation). I know I have no secret weapons or skills, but have only survived due to dumb luck. That’s sobering.

But it’s a bright and sunny Sunday morning as I write this. I’m looking out as kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders skim past me on the smooth waters just beyond my shaded lanai. I know what I need to do.

I’m going to put on my helmet and grab my newly acquired bike (given to me by my generous friend Pamela) to hit the trails behind my house. I plan to get some fresh air and some exercise, excising a few of the demons that dance in the recesses of my travel memories.

Update: At the time of publication, all but two of the tourists of the Indonesian boat have been rescued.

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This entry was posted on Friday, August 22nd, 2014 and is filed under How to Cope.

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