February 16, 2010

Top 10 travel moments in the past 4.5 years

Top 10 travel moments in the past 4 years

1. I was dancing in a Vietnamese disco with my workshop trainees (we were in the middle of a 6 day workshop—they made us go). Right there on the dance floor they spontaneously broke out into the game dance we made up that day as part of a workshop energizer. It was truly fun and not what I was expecting to experience during an intensive training schedule. They were such a fun and friendly group to work with.

2. On my first trip to Mole our trotro broke down halfway between Kumasi and Tamale. We were busting to pee and asked a young girl in a kiosk if there was a toilet nearby. She led us behind the roadside buildings into what turned out to be a sprawling, shaded village that was hidden from the highway. It was my first walk through a real village. There were men and women weaving cane baskets, like the type you find in Asia, under old trees and it was very clean and tidy. It was one of my most memorable moments in Ghana.

3. When I was teaching at school in Kumasi the rain suddenly pelted down right on the final bell one afternoon, breaking the dry season. We couldn’t go anywhere and it was the first rain in months so the children were splashing in the mud and others made up a dance forming a large circle on the verandah. They pulled me in the middle and I ended up doing the split finger over the eye thing from Pulp Fiction (remember Uma Thurman and Travolta?). The kids copied and there we were doing that scene in a big circle in the rain. When I came back to visit after leaving, the first thing they did when they saw me approach was run up and start doing that scene again!

4. Making it to the top of Wli waterfalls. By no means an arduous climb by mountaineering standards, it was still exhausting and tough and one of the most rewarding travel experiences I’ve ever had.

Courtesy of http://farm1.static.flickr.com/75/184741555_25c941de10.jpg

 5. The day the preacher removed a huge wooden dildo from a sack and asked my friend to help demonstrate condom rolling techniques on a 4 hour journey between Accra and Hohoe. You just never know what you’re going to experience in a trotro in Ghana. I was actually speechless. We both declined, but the preacher did hot business that day. Young and old, the passengers were throwing notes at him for both the femdoms and condoms.

6. Same Vietnamese workshop, the participants took myself and my co-trainee out on a surprise dinner (I think it was the next night) to an ethereal park-like garden restaurant in the Hue countryside, about 30 minutes out of town. It was decorated with dozens of lanterns glowing in the night and it was actually cold—I hadn’t felt cold for 20 months. We wandered among gorgeous trees and bridges over ponds to our table where they treated us to a raucous evening of laughter, jokes and authentic, delicious local Vietnamese cuisine and endless Hue beers.

7. The day I realised I could direct visitors around Cape Coast. I remember thinking, I’m directing people around an African town! I couldn’t believe it.

8. On a trip to northern Cambodia my friend and I decided to try the “bamboo railway”. We found the railway man in a shack by a train track about 10 minutes out of town. He assembled the train on the tracks (not before an actual cargo train passed us) before our eyes, helped by his tough little son or grand son. First they put the two sets of wheels on the track. Then they laid a bamboo tray on the wheels. Then they put a mat on the tray. Then they put a generator motor on the back. They started the motor. The two of us piled on and a few local kids climbed on the back. He gunned the motor and we started to roll along the tracks! We gathered speed and were hooting along on this less than double-bed sized tray train when I asked my friend what would happen if a real train came along. Would we jump off our train? The whole area was still heavily land-mined and I didn’t fancy any stunt diving into the bushes. As it happened, we came upon the train that passed us about 15 minutes up the track after we crossed an old bridge under which we could see the river way below beneath the tray…and that’s where our few kilometres journey came to an end—one of the most memorable travel experiences in the last few years.

Image courtesy of flickr.com

9. The day Godwin and I managed to pull off a game of football between two sides of the conflict in Bawku. We did it of our own volition for Peace One Day in September 2008. Our efforts had been terribly sabotaged the days before by powers that would only allow it to proceed on their terms and cajoled us throughout the preparations—not because of safety concerns (that was never mentioned), but rather political point scoring. We did it anyway and succeeded. We had two otherwise bitter and warring groups play a game of football together that, when it came time to blow the whistle, they begged to continue even though it was Ramadan and most of them were fasting and unable to drink in that heat. It brought a day of happiness, at least, and some hope to the people in that town.

10. This is possibly my most personally embarrassing moment of the past 4 years and one that I’ve only told a few people—until now. My friend and I traveled to northern Cambodia (2007—same trip as train track moment) during a couple of days break off work—we were working on the same project in Phnom Penh. In town there was a massage centre set up for blind people called Seeing Hands; they had offices around the country. It was a great organisation and we decided to treat ourselves to a massage since we’d worked pretty hard. The blind masseurs were both men but we didn’t think anything of this. I was just getting comfortable on the table when I felt something poking me in the head. It was just a light poke, but it was about crotch height for the masseur. I froze. I kept telling myself to relax but this thing continued to poke my head while he was massaging my shoulders, then my arms and then my waist. I thought to myself that I should sneak a peek, but I was too afraid to move at all lest he guess my thoughts so I stayed dead still. I felt very uncomfortable the entire 2 hour massage. Shortly before the 2 hours was up I heard a beeping sound. I looked up to see the masseuse remove a small gadget from a loose pocket sitting in the front of his smock—at crotch height. It was his beeper, a timing device letting him know when the 2 hours was almost up. The beeper has been hanging in his pocket, swaying and….poking! I hadn’t enjoyed the massage at all and as soon as we were outside I explained my mistake to my friend. She broke into laughter and explained she had exactly the same thoughts and experience. I really should have opened my eyes when I had the chance. That particular trip was a farce of hilarious experiences.

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