Trial by Volcano [Lonely Island]

Posted by Christian DeBenedetti in Airport "Food", Bad Asses, Drive Like Hell, European Delights, Flying the Unfriendly Skies, Lonely Island, Mountain Madness, Off The Map, Road Warriors, Survival, The Howl of Nature, When Animals Attack | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Brooding Woman. Paul Gaugin, 1891.

What does it feel like, that first night abroad and alone? Here, in a taut, vivid meditation on the nature of recomposing the self in a new, thrillingly different—and more than a little dangerous—environment, frequent contributor Kate Erickson explains the sensation with a searching, poetic eye. —Christian

I lied when I told Liz, a math teacher on the Portuguese Azores, that I could drive her manual transmission Toyota. Liz needed someone to feed her two dogs and two cats while she visited her family in the States. By the transportation email, we had already covered accommodations; her hundred-year old farmhouse sat in the brambles of a retired, tiered vineyard. Geography: the Azores are halfway between New York and Lisbon, a volcanic archipelago softened by purple hydrangeas. And timeframe: a month, July, the most glorious of the Azores year. I was just out of college, and I was emailing from my parents’ basement in Kentucky.

On June thirtieth my connecting flight from Newark hit a luggage rack, and Air Portugal dismissed all passengers to a crusty Ramada Inn. For one, two, then three days, I was stranded poolside with a dozen woebegone Portuguese grandmothers. They sunbathed and cried; I walked laps in stale jeans and a t-shirt, because Air Portugal had sent my checked bag on without me.

When I finally arrived to Terceira, Liz had been gone for forty-eight hours. Her wild-haired friend, also a teacher at the Air Force base high school, collected and debriefed me. House keys are in the car, unlocked; car keys in a bowl on the kitchen counter. Front door is triple-locked, deadbolt sticks, because Liz only just started using it again.

“These break-ins! Only in the off-base homes, of course, but elaborate as heists. It’s sleeping gas through an open window, then robbery as loud as they please.” She picked at mud on her dashboard. “I recommend locking the windows and shutters, both. Stuffy beats no DVD player.” The friend careened us around a blind turn and slammed to a stop for the cattle jogging downhill, into an open field. “Be careful of this,” she said, wagging a finger at the cows. “They stampede willy-nilly. My God!” She slammed her palm into the steering wheel. “I almost forgot. The cat died. Not your fault, of course.”

“What?” I said. Continue reading


Texas Twister [The Unfriendly Skies]

Posted by Christian DeBenedetti in The Unfriendly Skies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Come fly away with me, my love!

We married on Valentine’s day left the next day for Texas. Our first fight out was delayed for de-icing we made it to our second stop but the plane we were to get on had a problem with the door: it wouldn’t open. We had to take another fight only to have missed the fight to Texas. After several hours of waiting we finally got a fight to Texas—but not to the airport we wanted. We were very tired and wanted to get to our hotel, only to find out they lost our luggage. We had no clothing and and lost half a day on our honeymoon. The next day about 1pm we received our luggage. We did, however, make the most of our 24 hours we had left of our honeymoon. —Diane Redcay, Coudersport, Pa. was a top-ten finalist of the 2010 World’s Unluckiest Traveler Contest, from TravelGuard Insurance, beating out some 800 other tales of woe.


Seeing Stars [Drive Like Hell]

Posted by Christian DeBenedetti in Adding Insult to Injury, Close Calls, Drive Like Hell, Human Sacrifice, Road Warriors, Survival | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Seatbelts? With this view? Nah...

It happened in Granados, Mexico, in the summer of 1997. I was 13 and visiting relatives on a family vacation. After a feast with family, laughing together, we got into the back of red pick-up truck. Seat belts in a truck bed? Don’t be ridiculous! Bright stars in a clear sky filled night. Suddenly a brilliant light obliterated the stars and then – crash! Hit head on by a drunk driver. I flew straight forward and hit my head on my cousin’s head, fracturing her skull. Then my head was flung backwards and it slammed into the bed of the truck. I woke up hours later in a small clinic dazed and confused. I was sent home, but in unbearable pain from head to toe. So I was taken to Hermosillo, where X-rays showed a C4 vertebral fracture. I had to return home to start eighth grade wearing a neck brace. You would think that my classmates would be comforting – hah! All got was laughter and teasing. The only consolation was that I got an A on my essay about what I did that summer – I survived! —Jessica Lopez of Oxnard, California was a top-ten finalist in the 2010 World’s Unluckiest Traveler Contest, from TravelGuard Insurance, beating out some 800 other tales of woe.


Floating to Paradise on the S.S. Montezuma [Howl of Nature]

Posted by Christian DeBenedetti in "Study" Abroad, Close Calls, Off The Map, S.S. Montezuma, Semester-at-Scream, Survival, The Howl of Nature, Water Water Everywhere | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Plenty of room, come on aboard!

After a semester abroad in Costa Rica, I traveled with a friend through Central America. We missed the last ferry from Guatemala to Belize, so we hitched a ride on a large canoe that was filled with at least fourteen people, piled high with cargo, and equipped with an outboard motor. Everything started out well, but far from land the motor cut out. The crewmen tried to start it, but nothing happened. Suddenly, I noticed what looked like a black wall in the distance approaching us quickly. It was a wall of rain!

To top it all off, my friend started to have Montezuma’s Revenge, with no opportunity for relief in sight short of jumping overboard. I started getting really frightened, imagining our overloaded canoe, which now seemed dinky in the vast ocean, getting tossed and sinking in a tropical storm. When the torrential downpour hit us, my friend and I had no protection. We huddled together and prayed that we would survive. We did, but I tell you we both kissed the ground gratefully when we reached Belize. Then my friend ran off to find a much-needed bathroom.—Carmia Feldman, Davis, Calif. was a finalist in the the 2010 World’s Unluckiest Traveler Contest, from TravelGuard Insurance, beating out some 800 other tales of woe.


Damn the Mosquitoes [When Animals Attack]

Posted by Christian DeBenedetti in Run or Die, The Howl of Nature, Uncategorized, When Animals Attack | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Come here often?

In order to reach India in time to watch the monsoon make landfall, I had to leave so abruptly I didn’t have time for all my shots. The only thing I needed to worry about, my doctor said, were mosquitoes. If I were bitten by a mosquito during daylight, I would get dengue fever, if I were bitten at night it would be by a different mosquito and I’d get malaria, and if I were bitten a rural area with paddy fields I’d get Japanese encephalitis.

A week later I was on a barge in what I was pretty sure qualified as a rural area, just across the canal from some paddy fields. The first mosquitoes arrived just as night began to fall. Wonderful. I was about to attract a complete trifecta of mosquito-born diseases. Continue reading


One Last Chip and Salsa for Papa [Insult, Meet Injury]

Posted by Christian DeBenedetti in Adding Insult to Injury, Airport "Food", Nothing to Declare, Salsa of Doom, Viva Mexico | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Beware the Salsa of Doom!

Our family traveled for an unlucky reason: a reunion to commemorate the premature death of my father. Right after the funeral, the relatives still needed to be together, so we agreed to meet in Mexico to hug, cry, and wind down. We were traveling with four children under the age of five. In Mexico City, where it topped 100 degrees, the customs line moved slower than they are plugging the Gulf oil leak. We wilted in the heat and used up our energy entertaining the small children in the hours long line. We finally cleared customs just as our connecting flight was boarding. We sprinted all the way to the gate. The agent was in the process of giving away our seats to standby passengers. She would not give us our seats back! The next flight was 8 hours later, so she offered us a meal voucher for the airport restaurant. While we knew not to drink the water, my daughter and I ate the table salsa and paid for it by vomiting all night. Our vacation to honor a dead relative nearly killed us. —Jeff Michel, Deerpoint, Ill.


Deep Trouble [X Marks the Spot]

Posted by Christian DeBenedetti in Amateur Hour, Close Calls, Off The Map, Survival, X Marks The Spot | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

You can't hug a photograph...

In 1961 two friends and I decided to explore the limestone caves of West Virginia. I had a map that caving friends had given me and so we headed south from Pittsburgh. Sure enough we found an entry hole just where the map said it would be. We had carbide lamps, rope and provisions for a few days.  Early Saturday morning, we rappelled down the hole and set out through the slimy cave mud. The cave kept branching into amazing rooms filled with stalactites and other formations. But there were many tiny passageways that we could just slither through. Although we marked our way carefully, somehow we got terribly lost. The fuel for our lamps was the limiting factor. We only lit one lamp, since otherwise it was absolute darkness. Luckily we had left a note on the windshield of our car indicating we were in the cave and expected to be out by Monday. When we finally found the entrance it was late Monday night and we emerged to see a line of torches being carried to the entrance by a rescue party. Hugs all around! —Sam Geffner of San Francisco, CA was a top-ten finalist in the 2010 World’s Unluckiest Traveler Contest, from TravelGuard Insurance, beating out some 800 other tales of woe.


American Confidence [Hotel Hell]

Posted by Christian DeBenedetti in "Study" Abroad, Breaking and Entering, Close Calls, European Delights, Hotel Hell | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Electric cars, my ass. America is built Hummer Tough!

Travel, when undertaken with the correct élan, can be as much about reinforcing national stereotypes as breaking them down. One of the great and unique advantages of being in a place where no one knows you is that you can choose to be whatever or whoever you would like.  When I was younger, and more idealistic, I was mildly obsessed with proving to people in foreign countries that I was the opposite of what they supposed me to be: a brash, gun-slingling hooligan who drove a Hummer, voted for Bush and was generally hell bent on annexing everything in his whisky- and tobacco-soaked path… Continue reading


Where the Wadi Meets the Road [Water Water Everywhere]

Posted by Christian DeBenedetti in Adding Insult to Injury, Amateur Hour, Close Calls, Mountain Madness, Off The Map, Survival, Uncategorized, Water Water Everywhere | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Let's take a refreshing swim while we wait for the tow truck, shall we?

Finding English speakers can be a little hit and miss in Oman. While some locals speak perfectly, others struggle to even understand our very basic attempts at pronouncing place names in ‘gringo’ Arabic  – but it’s not for want of trying.

Our taxi driver Hilal was somewhere in the middle. His English was basic, but that didn’t stop him chattering away the entire way as we changed hotels once the Games finished. With Bob Marley on the stereo he’d take his hands off the wheel to gesture wildly while he pointed out places he deemed of interest, such as the local bowling alley (he’s been twice, but isn’t very good) and the Sultan’s new Opera house, still under construction. Continue reading


The Shipwreck Drowned My Homework [Semester-at-Scream]

Posted by Christian DeBenedetti in "Study" Abroad, Close Calls, European Delights, Human Sacrifice, Semester-at-Scream, Survival, Uncategorized, Water Water Everywhere | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Class dismissed!

In 1963, my wife and I set out on a round the world cruise with over 500 undergraduates in an old tub converted to a floating university. We approached Alexandria, Egypt in a storm so nasty that all the other ships were sitting out at anchor waiting for the waves to abate. But we were under great pressure to get into port to meet a scheduled tour of Egypt. The captain called for a pilot who came out in a small boat. But the seas were so high, the pilot could not board and so he abandoned us.

Shortly after we watched the pilot boat retreat, we heard a horrible crunch and felt a lurch. Our captain had attempted to enter without a pilot—and ran the entire ship aground on a sandbar. He throttled the ship violently forward and backward to get us off, tearing a huge hole in the hull. The ship jerked free, but suddenly began to take on water. Suddenly it was an emergency. All the men formed a human chain to rescue the luggage in the hold. We actually docked just as the ship was sinking.—Dan Feldman of San Diego, Califoria was a top-ten finalist in the 2010 World’s Unluckiest Traveler Contest, from TravelGuard Insurance, beating out some 800 other tales of woe.