A popular mantra about travel is “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” which, can be true. But the destination is pretty important, too. Especially when the destination is supposed to be a fun cool place, but it turns out to be a living nightmare. No amount of journey will justify that trip.
With this in mind, we took to the internet to ask people “Where have you traveled to, that you will never go again, and why?” and we may have come up with a new saying: “There’s not a city on this earth that someone hasn’t had a bad time in.”
40. King Tut would be rolling in his sarcophagus
Egypt. A decade of political unrest has left it significantly less inviting since the last time I was there.
I enjoyed the Pyramids. I was shocked at the trash in the sand and couldn’t believe there was a McDonald’s across the street, but it remains a very memorable experience.
I don’t think I’d go back again, but I am a little sad that unless there are some major changes in the world my kids won’t have the chance to see them.
39. I still want to go to a Daler Mehndi concert, though
India. I’m a very experienced traveler and have lived in undeveloped countries before, so I thought I was prepared. I was a fool.
Crowds. Crowds. Crowds. Even in the mountains. Even in the forest. Even in remote back alleys. The cause of many of these other problems. Far far far worse on the roads, if you can call them that. Rivers of chaos is probably more accurate. Massive lines of rickshaws, dukduks, vehicles, animals, and pedestrians. An unending death knell of honking, screaming, shoving, and crashing. All in a cloud of filthy dust and smog that gets into your hair, your eyes, and your throat. I coughed for three weeks after I left the country. There is nowhere out of the way. There is nowhere to take a breather for a moment. It takes a lot of the pleasure out of the awesome street food, one of the best things about the country.
I personally witnessed 6 accidents in my one month in India. Going virtually anywhere results in plunging into traffic. Of course, this might not be so bad if not for the rudeness. Shoving, being screamed at, cars driving directly at you because they want to use the place you’re walking for a parking spot then blaring their horn in your face, being grabbed, being cheated. Very tied into what is probably the world’s worst tout culture.
You know when you go to a temple in Thailand and you get 5-8 people bugging you with scam tours, unwarranted advice they then ask you to pay for, useless goods, etc.? Well, multiply them by 5 and ramp up the aggression by a factor of 10. There are dozens of them, and they are EVERYWHERE. On random streets, highways, outside banks, on buses whenever they stop. They run up to you, shoving, grabbing, pressing their goods into your hands to demand you pay, harassing you so you’ll pay them to leave you alone, screaming in your face, following you, going to find their friends to harass you if you buy anything from them because you’re an easy mark. Worse, almost every service provider not inside a professional business (which make up less than 10% of the workforce in India) feel entitled to try to rip foreigners off. The worst is, they act so initially friendly, then flip a switch as soon as they smell money. It’s creepy, and it’s everywhere- that friendly security guard asking you where you’re from and asking for a selfie? He’s going to ask for money. Wandering through a village and some smiling farmers ask where you’re going and give you directions? Their smiles fall away like clockwork and they begin demanding money as soon as you thank them, becoming angry and shouting if you don’t pay up.
Particularly because of the massively overdeveloped tourism industry that has obliterated the cultures and landscapes that they’re ostensibly celebrating. Rampant animal abuse (but never of cows!), environmental devastation, garbage garbage garbage everywhere, massive tourist lines, horrific traffic bringing the rudeness and congestion even into remote mountains and forests. Experiencing anything involves getting harassed, often groped by security (even to get on a subway), and then seeing that it’s actually falling apart and has already been manicured for photo ops. To its credit, certain spots are very heavily policed by security to keep this from happening, but it’s already happened to a massive extent. The islands of Thailand are in danger of being destroyed by tourism, but it’s already happened in India. Of course, remote temples and ashrams where you can stay are an exception, islands of peace and serenity away from the crowds and the crime.
Besides the aforementioned touts and aggressive bargaining culture, there are pickpockets everywhere in the crowds, but that actually might be better than being alone in them at night, where you’ll be seen even more as a mark. Of course, even if it were safe you wouldn’t want to walk in the dark, because you’d step in the garbage. So, so, so much garbage. In the forest. In the national parks. On the streets. On the roads. In the rivers. In fields. Much of it is burned, but even more, is dumped.
This is understandable because of the lack of infrastructure. Even in nice hotels, even in the major cities, power outages, loss of hot water, and the internet going out are common.
There’s more, but I think I’ve said enough. I should also offer a disclaimer here that I have tremendous respect for Indian history and culture and I love my Indian friends – people who see you as a person and not a mark there are extremely warm and friendly. I recognize these problems are caused by its pioneering transition to democracy and the difficulty of managing such a massive, divided population.
However, as a traveler, India was far and away the worst country I’ve ever visited. If you’re interested in cultures similar to India’s without as many of these issues, I recommend Nepal and Sri Lanka. They’re beautiful, more preserved, and much more pleasant.
38. I hear they have a really nice golf course, though
I have been to Pattaya Beach, Thailand. I had a good time. I still have zero desire to ever return to the place. I’m an atheist, and I’m pretty sure that just walking down the main drag condemned my soul to Satan.
37. $1500 a month is a deal where I live
I moved to Juba to join my girlfriend (now wife) who worked with a non-profit and had been in the country a few months. It also took me a few months to get the contract with the international organization after I arrived so I was low on cash for a while, surviving on a freelance remote job that paid too little. On top of that, my girlfriend was based in a remote camp in the north of the country so I only saw her once a month for a day or two.
The capital Juba, at least at the time, was one of the most expensive cities in the world. Housing was a major issue. A basic room with electricity, AC, in a “safe” house costs around $1500 per month. When I arrived, I stayed for three months sharing a house with a British guy for $900 a month. There was no public electricity so we had a generator. The house had no kitchen so I had to eat out for all my meals, and my housemate was a heavy drinker.
After his third meltdown, I decided to get out of there. My cash was low and my contract had not started so I had to move to a hotel where mostly Kenyan expats stayed. For $400 a month, the only accommodation I could afford was one of these heavy duty tents. I got used to the food after a while. No public electricity and the generator was turned off at night to save fuel.
Then my contract started, I was suddenly making a lot of money and had the choice to move out. I decided not to, I really got along well with the owners and some long term residents. I just moved to an actual room with a bed and a bathroom to avoid the nasty outhouse. Being the only white guy around was actually a good thing. When I wanted to socialize with fellow western expats, I just went to a bar at the UN camp a few hundred meters away.
While the job was cool, it involved reading a lot of reports of human rights violations. I won’t go into details, but it’s shocking what humans can do to each other. South Sudan is now in a civil war and the situation is worse.
36. Better Belize it!
Belize City. Belize was one of our stops for the cruise we were on. I always heard about how gorgeous Belize was (and I’m sure there are beautiful parts of Belize) but Belize City was an absolute dump.
They pretty much dropped a majority of US citizens and thought it would be okay to let us roam a city that was torn by local civil war.
The city was full of armed military guards standing at street corners and the city canals and streets were incredibly polluted.
I live in Baltimore and have seen some bad neighborhoods, but Belize City seemed way worse than anything I’ve seen. Many stores had armed guards who would unlock the door to let you in and once you were inside, they would lock the door behind you.
We didn’t experience any issues with the or violence but it was the strangest feeling getting stared down from every angle.
We stayed for about an hour and then decided it was time to get out.
As we were leaving there were three people standing near the port. They looked at us and said, “Welcome to the real world”.
Once we got back to the ship, we strolled past the lobby. There may have been 4 or 5 employees working at the customer service desk. Each employee had a deep line and the chatter was all centered around angry complaints about dropping us off at Belize City.
Needless to say, that same cruise line took Belize off their itinerary soon after.
35. Not Constantinople
Istanbul. I crossed a few big items off my bucket list. I got to see the Black Sea and the Bosphorus, I toured the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, but overall I really hated my time in Istanbul.
I felt like I was being assaulted every time I went outside. You just could not escape the street hawkers and people constantly trying to hustle you and sell you stuff. Even if you got away from the tourist centers you would still have restaurant owners coming out and following you. On two separate occasions while my wife and I were just trying to go for an evening walk we had waiters physically hold up oversized menus and block the entire sidewalk and try to force us into their restaurant.
When we took one of the ferry rides to the Black Sea we figured we had a few moments of calm but salesman jumped on the boat and just KEPT trying to sell you stuff out of a briefcase and wouldn’t leave you alone. If you said no they just shifted tactics and kept trying to sell you stuff, which made sightseeing and just enjoying the view impossible.
Once we arrived the assault just continued. We had lunch and couldn’t walk because all the shop owners were hounding us and following us, to the point where we just went back to our original restaurant, ordered another appetizer and spent the rest of our afternoon not going out because we were sick of dealing with people.
If I could describe what Istanbul was like it would be boorish, aggressive, and rude. And Ataturk airport is one of the worst I’ve visited, it’s crowded, hot, and there is no place to sit.
I will go out of my way to never visit Turkey again.
34. I’ve never had a good time in Atlanta
The Atlanta Greyhound bus terminal. I ended up getting stuck there for an entire day one time. I forget how many hours it was, but I got there around 3 in the morning and didn’t leave until late in the evening. When you ride Greyhound your ticket doesn’t guarantee you a seat when you get to your transfer, it’s first come first serve. Me being the genius I am, I tried to ride home across the country… a couple of days before Christmas. When I got to the Atlanta terminal, the lines for ALL of the buses were going out the door and around the corner, and everyone was crammed in shoulder to shoulder. You couldn’t really go anywhere or you’d forfeit your place in the line. If you had to use the bathroom, or go outside to smoke, you had to leave your bags unattended to mark your spot in the line.
Even though I was early for my transfer, there were two busloads worth of people standing in front of me. I watched half of the people in front of me get on the bus. Ok, no big deal, the next bus was coming in 3 hours. 3 hours later, I watch the other half of the people in front of me get on that bus. Ok, no big deal, the next bus is coming in 3 more hours.
3 hours later an announcement comes on the P.A. system… all military personnel in line were being given priority over the civilians. I was a little irritated by this, but I kind of understood where they were coming from. As I watched the troops boarding my bus, I thought no big deal… the next bus is coming in 3 hours. 3 hours later, that bus was also reserved for military personnel. At that point, some of the people in line started jeering the troops. There were some grumbling and a few boos.
It was at that point I noticed some motion out of the corner of my eye. It was a candy machine flying through the air. Apparently, someone became very irate and threw a gumball machine across the room. In seconds police were all over the dude, and they dragged him out. Another few hours later my bus came, and I was finally allowed to board… yay! Greyhound is bad enough on its own, if you have to ride it though, never do it at Christmas time, and avoid Atlanta at all costs…
33. It’s shocking how much of the world’s economy revolves around bribes
On a flight from Nairobi, Kenya to Cairo, Egypt, our flight had to make an emergency landing in Khartoum, Sudan. The rest of the passengers on my flight were Hasidic Jews, and I’m not sure that’s entirely relevant, but it did make the ordeal seem much more surreal. Our plane hit some terrifying turbulence and it was announced that we had a “technical issue” and would be landing at the Khartoum airport. We were made to deplane.
I was traveling alone and made an effort to keep to myself and blend in, but given that I was a young white woman traveling alone in Sub-Saharan Africa, it was difficult. Somehow I caught the eye of “security” who asked to see my passport and paperwork and began to hassle me about not having a certificate of proof for the yellow fever vaccine. I was told I would not be allowed to return to Nairobi without it, though I would be fine entering Cairo. I was told I must come with them so they could vaccinate me.
I was taken into a back room in a building detached from the main portion of the airport and the “security” passed me over to a male nurse who already had a syringe in hand. I asked to see the bottle of the vaccine but was told it had already been disposed of. This raised my suspicions, and I asked him if $20 would make this go away. He agreed, wrote and signed my yellow fever certificate, and sent me back to the waiting area. Never again, Sudan. Never again.
32. I think The Beatles did a song about this
Night train in Poland.
A friend and I went interrailing around Europe and booked an overnight ticket on a night train to Poland. Boarded the train and went to sleep in our own coupe, with locked doors and no red flags whatsoever. We woke up 3 hours later with a drowsy headache and all our electronics gone. Computers, cameras, phones, all gone.
Spend the rest of the train trip trying to get information out of the conductors, but they pretended not to understand a word of English – it was so obvious that they were in on it.
We subsequently read in the guide book that this train on this particular route was known for its nighttime robberies and that they used sleeping gas to fill up the coupe before entering. Explains the headache. I’m not going to Poland again.
31. Not gonna lie, I didn’t know this place existed until just now
I visited there for a little over a month or so and enjoyed my time, but I really just have no interest in going back. The bad things really take away any interest; lots of crime and rude people. Lots of racism as well, way worse than anything I’ve ever experienced in the mainland and I was only there for 1-2 months. Isolated from the rest of the world; there’s just literally nothing there
30. At least the brew is good
Yakima, Washington. They might call it the Palm Springs of Washington or “Yakivegas”, but it’s an absolute dump. It has the highest rate of carjacking in the country and is rife with violent crime. I had a friend that went there for a soccer match when he was in high school, and the match was canceled because one of the kids on the other team was a gang member and someone drove by and shot at the players on the field. Luckily nobody was hurt but it gives you an idea of what sort of special place Yakima is
That said, the Yakima valley makes some amazing fruit and hops. If you’ve ever had a Washington apple or a craft brew from anywhere in the US, there’s a very high chance that the apple or the hops came from the Yakima Valley.
29. Where dreams go to die
Weirton, West Virginia. I went there for work a few times. It’s an old, mostly abandoned steel town. It was a happening place 30+ years ago, but now its all run down and gray and cloudy almost every day. I’d drive the 25 minutes to stay in Robinson nearby Pittsburgh just so that I didn’t have to stay there overnight.
Our department literally had rules regarding how long you were allowed to work at that plant before you had to come back home or go somewhere else. We’d lost a couple of good engineers to that place.
28. Who knew Syria would take a spot on this list?
Syria. I hitchhiked from Alexandria to Istanbul, through Jordan and Syria, before the Arab Spring. Syria was a beautiful and historically fascinating country, naturally fertile and prosperous, with delicious food and friendly people. But it was backward, closed-minded, poor and seedy because of a corrupt, paranoid authoritarian government. Now it’s a war zone and a humanitarian disaster, which is far, far, worse.
27. But… the tall buildings though
The city of Dubai is a glorified mall, and only fun for people who have a lot of money or only want cleanliness and efficiency from their vacations. If I ever meet someone who says they “loved” Dubai, I know they’re boring. That said, their airport is top notch.
26. Don’t tell Dennis Rodman
I feel very deep shame about having given that regime even a little bit of my money. It was a unique place, but “rare glimpses” aren’t worth the legitimacy of being a tourist in that country affords its leadership. I gave my money to killers, liars, and thieves to go to a place where they imprison their countrymen and starve them to death. I wish I’d never gone.
25. Imagine if she had driven across town
Saudi Arabia. My parents worked there when I was younger and as a minor, I came along. We lived in a gated type of community with very high walls to shield the locals from our liberal lifestyles.
Checkpoints everywhere to ensure that all women were accompanied by a male relative. Everything closed down several times a day for prayers. We lived nearby some kind of arena for public executions and other punishments. It seemed to be the highlight of their week.
Nothing but sand, ultra rude men and extremely hot.
Our neighbor’s wife was whipped and tortured for driving a car around the block.
24. That is messed up
Phuket Thailand. Having to collect the dead body of your brother-in-law and having to grease the palms of authorities to prevent ‘OD’ being written on his death certificate is a bit too much trauma for one lifetime.
It wasn’t an OD. He had a heart attack and the police wanted a bribe.
Why avoid OD? Because a lot of insurance policies don’t cover them and getting a body home is expensive.
23. Where the winds come sweeping down the plains!
Oklahoma. They charge $7 to take the highway across the state (Joplin, MO to OKC) and I got pulled over twice for no reason other than having an out of state plate. The second time the trooper wanted to search my car, I told him not without a warrant.
22. I’m not sure what he was expecting
No really, perhaps with Erwin Rommel, but even then you gotta pay me.
Got ripped, left in the desert to die, did not meet ONE simply kind person, paid a small fortune for the worst 5-star hotel in the world, where I couldn’t sleep one night because of the elevator that went literally through my room, was blackmailed by a guy with a donkey cart -A DONKEY CART- and almost crashed with the Tunisair plane on the way home.
No thanks, Tunisia, maybe next life. Or just never again. Yeah, never sounds good.
21. There’s a really cool McDonalds in Roswell, though
Roswell, New Mexico. If you want to go to know about the alien crash there’s this museum where they have what looks like a failed high school presentation about aliens, with pictures and information printed on letter sheets posted on the walls. I didn’t travel very far to go to Roswell, but there were a lot of visitors from other countries and I felt bad for them.
20. Who knew Alaska had mosquitos?
The Arctic Circle in northern Alaska. I live in the interior so I take trips all around the state. There is literally nothing up there and no reason to go up there other than to say you’ve crossed the Arctic Circle. Bad roads and tons of mosquitoes, not much scenery, no good places to camp. I’d rather spend hours driving to go somewhere with a little more to it.
19. Yeah man, I get it, you’re armed
Abu Dhabi; I was only there for a stopover but man, did they make you feel uncomfortable. There are two things you need to know about UAE security guards.
They have guns.
They really want you to know they have guns.
They want you to wait, motion with their gun. They want you to move, motion with their gun. They give you directions, motion with their gun.
That and the work staff is generally unpleasant.
18. Sounds like a real fun time
I don’t imagine anyone has spent time in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea? It has the dubious honor of being in the world’s top 5 most dangerous cities, plus the killings that happen there are generally way more random than in, gang-infused places like Honduras or Guatemala.
Port Moresby is interesting as well since there is a high probability that, not only will you be killed mercilessly, but you will be eaten as well.
I spent a week there one night.
17. On the other hand, Nassau is nice
Freeport, Bahamas. The beaches were very dirty and I just felt like I was on a shipyard. They also have a problem with feral dogs. They were everywhere. It broke my heart to see the skin and bone dogs. I guess so many of them starve to death they cannot keep up with the body pickups. Seriously would NEVER go back.
Although I did not enjoy going to Freeport, it really made me realize how nice I have it here in the US. Another reason I didn’t care for my trip was due to the fact that I was out there vacationing, sipping on drinks, while the locals were struggling to put food on the table. I saw where they lived and it really broke my heart. I felt very guilty knowing that I wasn’t assisting them really in any way. I’m not familiar with Bahamian tax laws and government-issued programs but I can’t imagine that the tourist money goes back to the people if that makes sense. AND I also really started upping my volunteer game, especially with the Humane Society.
16. There ain’t no business like show business
Hollywood Boulevard. It’s almost dystopian-like. Last time I went there was just a homeless guy lying on the ground looking totally dead inside as a speaker above him blasted one way or another. And there was a hammered person in a really dirty Minnie Mouse costume stumbling by, tourists everywhere as if it’s no big deal that there are poor people suffering everywhere in this spot that’s portrayed as this glamorous, illustrious place on TV. We left after 5 minutes.
15. They probably thought he was a dragon
China. I spent three weeks there and had my picture taken more times than I did growing up.
I’m 6’3″ tall, red hair and beard, 280lbs.
I stood out in the crowds.
14. This is true of pretty much any big city
I will 100% go back to Hawaii. (Pretty much any or all of the islands.)
But next time I will hop off the plane and get to a nature destination ASAP.
I live In a major city, McDonald’s on the beach and a Nordstrom do not impress me. I didn’t spend 1k+ on a ~10-hour flight for the same traffic I just left behind. Give me mountains and volcanoes and beaches and snorkeling and surfing.
13. There is just one place, that can light my face
Gary, Indiana. Came off the exit immediately into a neighborhood that looked like it was hit with some natural disaster before and never recovered, but no they’re just too broke to fix their roads or anything. We tried to cut through the neighborhood as fast as possible but the potholes made us not go over 25. We finally got to a gas station and the guy at the register said: “Yeah, you all should get out soon, it’s about the time when they start robbing people.” Advice taken, got out of there.
12. What’s weird about air-conditioned shopping malls?
I’d never want to go back to Manila. I loved the other places I went to the Philippines, but Manila was awful. The air quality, the traffic, the garbage, and the weird proliferation of air-conditioned shopping malls. Most of all, the child poverty was heart-wrenching. A good wake-up call for a privileged Westerner, but not one I want again.
11. Not a good place for introverts
This might not be a popular opinion but I was there this June and could not wait to leave. The whole island felt like it was overrun by tourism and we felt so uncomfortable being there. We avoided the obvious party/all-inclusive resort areas like Kuta and Seminyak, but even in the less popular places on the island we were constantly being harassed by drivers and vendors, and continuously being tricked into paying for everything under the sun.
I understand the huge difference between the local lifestyle and that of the massive resorts that have been built to draw more tourists to the island, but it felt like every experience we had was tainted by someone trying to sell it to us. Nothing felt genuine at all. I was curious to discover the natural beauty of the island and learn about their culture but realized that it was impossible once I got there. The whole trip left a bad taste in my mouth and I don’t plan on ever returning, not even for work if I can help it.
10. You’re looking for fun in Alderaan places
Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
9. Bali has a really bad rap
Kuta Beach, Bali. Had such high expectations but there was just trash everywhere
I didn’t have high expectations for Kuta specifically but Bali in general. I was also 15ish at the time so I was not involved with the researching at all as my parents planned and paid for it. I had only heard about Bali from people/TV shows/magazines/social media and from there it seemed like paradise so there ya have it.
8. Country roads, take me home…
I contracted secondhand depression driving through West Virginia. Never again.
Fun Fact: The John Denver song isn’t even about West Virginia, it’s about the western parts of Virginia. So they don’t even have that one thing going for them.
7. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity
Saudi Arabia. No matter how bad it sounds, in person it is surreal to experience a place where I saw 6 women in 4 days. It was like an episode of Twilight Zone.
6. Yeah, well at least it’s not Bristol
Blackpool in the UK. I took my family there for a few days, thought it would be fun as it’s a seaside town, ended up leaving a day early. It’s expensive, dirty and tacky. Never going back, and a childhood memory ruined.
5. Why else go to Bejing, though?
Beijing. I’ve seen the Summer Palace, I’ve been to The Great Wall, and I’ve visited the Forbidden City area, and they’re the only redeeming factors for Beijing.
It’s crammed full of scam artists, counterfeit money and the smog is horrendous. I traveled around China for over 2 months and Beijing is the only place id never go back to. I couldn’t wait to leave.
4. This is actually really heartbreaking
Zimbabwe. I went there to see Victoria Falls. Stayed at the Victoria Falls hotel to be within walking distance. Everywhere, people were just standing around with just two or three carved trinkets they were trying to sell. There were absolutely no buyers. Looked like something out of a Twilight Zone show. The first thing they asked when you got close to them is if you’d sell them your shoes. No kidding, every single one.
3. I might find a new line of work, mate
I walk out of the airport and was waiting for my ride when this random guy in his fifties asks me if I’m American. There were half a dozen other Pakistanis around who perked up when they heard that, so I was super grateful to say I was Canadian. Unfortunately the guy’s English wasn’t great and my Urdu is just words/phrases so there was a bit of confusion and he asked if I was American again. This time the other guys moved a little closer to hear the conversation and my vigilance goes up a notch. I repeat slowly that I’m Canadian and try to ask where he’s from in return. My driver finally shows up and translates for me and suddenly everyone is smiles and welcoming handshakes. My sweat wasn’t entirely because of the heat.
The first time I traveled there for business I stayed in just a regular hotel a few blocks from one of the main police stations. Sometime between 2AM and 3AM I woke up to something loud that rattled the whole room. So I got down on the floor and snuck over to the window to peek outside. That’s when I heard several really loud popping noises from down the street. I figure out that it’s gunfire (I never heard it in person before) and get back down on the floor in case of stray bullets because the gunfire continues for a few minutes with individual shots and strings of automatic fire. I finally hear sirens and it stops. I found out the next day that the police station had been attacked (the evidence locker specifically) and there had been a gunfight in the street just 2 blocks from me. Welcome to Karachi…
The second time I went there it’s because the supplier from the first time reneged on our deal and sent a product that was already rotten. I made a deal with another supplier whose father is a high-ranking officer in the military and promises a good deal. Well, the container gets loaded, a 30% deposit is paid by the Chinese buyers to my Pakistani supplier and the container gets put on the ship. I send a copy of the Bill of Lading to the Chinese and wait for the 70% balance. The ship is about to leave Karachi and my Chinese buyers decide not to pay the 70% as is the norm. My Pakistani supplier becomes worried about being cheated and starts to pressure me. Two days later and my Chinese buyers are still feeding me lines about going to pay ASAP and I’m looking like a blatant liar and fool to the Pakistani suppliers, then I meet the Colonel.
I get a knock on my hotel door and see these two big Pakistani guys through the peephole. My supplier opens the door, they walk in and behind them is my supplier’s father: the Colonel. He’s a SCARY dude, barely talks and gets straight to the point. Bad news for me cause I got nothing to give him. Coincidentally my visa ‘just happened’ to expire that day so the Colonel ‘graciously’ offers to take my passport and renew my visa ‘so I don’t run into legal troubles’.
I’m flipping out at this point cause that’s a Canadian passport and worth its weight in platinum internationally. Even better is when the Colonel informs me that I’ll now be his ‘guest’ in this hotel until my Chinese buyers send the 70% balance. I spent 4 days and nights in that room with someone there with me 24 hours a day. I barely slept and when I got up I’d see hair on my pillow that had fallen out from the stress.
I started getting desperate and finally decided to fake a wire-transfer for the 70% balance using photoshop and keeping my laptop angled slightly away from the other guys the whole time. I swear I went down to the pixels and made it FLAWLESS because I figured I only had one chance at this. The ship was just a few days from reaching Hong Kong at this point and once it reaches land, the Chinese would have absolutely tried to renegotiate the price and waited while the product sat in the Hong Kong sun and heat losing value each hour. Anyways, I email a copy of the fake money transfer to my Pakistani supplier, but he’s rightly suspicious. I do my best to convince him and throw in the truth that I just want to go home to my newlywed young wife and safety. He agrees and we pack my suitcase and backpack and clear the hotel bill. My passport appears out of ‘nowhere’ and we get in his car.
The sun is setting and my flight leaves in less than 4 hours so I’m getting super nervous and panicky. I’m sitting in the car thinking that I might just get away with this whole thing and if I get back to Hong Kong I’m going to cave my Chinese buyer’s face in to relieve my stress, then we pull into a Western Union and my stomach plummets. He checks the number and it doesn’t come up. Tries again and still no luck. I tell him it’s because of the time difference and that it’s a Saturday, the Western Union clerk agrees with me and he reluctantly leaves. The sun is down and there are almost no streetlights outside the core of Karachi, so we’re driving out onto a dark desert highway (with cool wind in my hair) away from the city lights. I suddenly realize that they’re going to kill me in the desert and my body will never be found. I clutch my backpack with my laptop, passport, air ticket and other essentials tighter and resolve to SPRINT towards the airport as soon as the car stops at a traffic light even if I have to leave my suitcase behind. Then I see it up ahead: Shangri-la! The airport! We start getting closer and I tense up for that final dash to freedom and survival.
Within 2 minutes, we were pulling up to the airport departure lane and I got out feeling more than a little dumbstruck. I didn’t relax until I touched down in Hong Kong.
2. How dare you disrespect a corrupt cop
Buea, Cameroon. I was having an awesome day with my mates, driving rented motorcycles into the mountains with no license. Great times! Then some policemen pull us over for “failure to present yourself to an officer” and throw my Cameroonian friend in jail, conveniently not willing to risk throwing me and the other foreigners in jail.
The jail was a 3 by 3 meter cell with about 10 people in it, some of whom had been there for over a month.
Clearly, a bribe was going to be necessary to fix this. I went to the commander’s office to sort it out. His “office” was full of hundreds of bottles strewn everywhere and also a lady of the night was in there with him. He informed me that he was off duty and I’d need to talk to a colleague at the bar next door.
I went to the bar, found the guy, asked him what it would take to get my friend out. He said 10 thousand CFA (about $15 at the time). Told him we had a deal. He wanted me to give him the money in this dark corner where no one could see the exchange. I was thinking, “Nope. If I am going to bribe this guy, I at least want all of his colleagues to know what is happening.” and I insisted we exchange in a well-lit place in front of his colleagues. At this point, my Cameroonian friend was out of jail and standing next to us, and the cop says, “No, you are trying to disrespect me, the deal is off.” And throws my friend back in jail and walks back to the bar.
All of the above had taken many hours. I was exhausted and needed to just get out of there with my friends. So I went to the bar and asked the cop what it would take to get my friend out. He looks me straight in the eyes and says “You disrespected me in front of my colleagues back there. There is a penalty for disrespecting an officer. The penalty is two drinks.”
So I bought him his drinks, gave him the $15, and finally got my friend out of jail.
It’s a shame because the areas around Buea and Cameroon, in general, are beautiful, but you get people like these corrupt cops bringing the place down and making the very few travelers who have been there say “nope, not worth going to.”
1. Rio is unlike anywhere else
I went to Rio for Carnival two years ago; took off my jewelry, watch, never flashed my phone/camera around. I live in a major US city so I know how to be aware in public. I still ended up getting my sunglasses stolen as I walked through the crowd. Some teenager snatched them off my head. We made eye contact but I knew better than to pick a fight over $5 sunglasses. Rio’s fun but what they say is right; that place is rife with crime.