People think that those who have traveled to over 100 countries must lead lives out of the glossy magazine advertisements. You know, the ones where the flight attendant is tucking some entitled-looking guy in with a snuggly blanket, or a gorgeously dressed model is stepping out of a derelict bus with a full set of Louis Vuitton luggage to check into a palace hotel just after having crossed some God-forsaken desert.
We all know what it’s really like out there, and it doesn’t take much to get any TCC member to talk about it. At the December TCC meeting in Los Angeles, the table conversation soon turned to the most awful, but memorable, travel we had ever taken. “Our TACA flight #604 was struck by lightning and dropped 300 feet. I thought this was it – death in an airplane crash over the Yucatan!” said Craig. Mike nodded, “On a bush flight in Africa, we had to buzz the landing strip to scare off the cows and goats so we could land!” And then Gloria commanded our attention with: “Nakhchevan to Baku in a Tupolev 154-M with the seat and back cushions separated from the frame with exposed metal, no seatbelts, no AC, no functioning toilets, and when I pointed out my aisle seat assignment to a woman who had parked in my seat, she hit me with one of her bags!” We all chorused in agreement because we knew.
Since then, I’ve been giving the subject of white-knuckle travel some thought. For over 20 years, my Peruvian colectivo driver who screamed down the Andes from Cuzco to Arequipa on bald tires remained at the top of my honors list for the most crazed driver ever, only to be edged out in 2007 by an Uzbek.
A normal three-hour drive from Nukus to Khiva took less than two. He used both feet on the accelerator of a Daewoo Tico, one hand on the mobile (Allo? Allo? Allo? Da? Da? Nyet? Nyet? Allo?), and the other hand on the horn or the radio or a cigarette or a picture of his baby. I tried to concentrate on his horn protocol. What did the short, slapping, beep, beep, beep mean? And what deserved a long 10-second blast? Brakes were good as we headed into a truck. And he even maneuvered the car sideways just before a head-on collision with another oncoming lunatic. I figured the psychology behind it all related to drivers’ childhoods packed in video game rooms where they learn last-minute dodges and swerves. Either that or there’s a genetic memory still lingering from riding across the steppes of Central Asia with a headless goat in tow.
Still, we live to tell the tale, and with gusto! What’s yours? Any white-knuckle travel you’d like to share? Send me a brief email (my email address is in the directory) or to the office who’ll forward it to me. I’ll pick out the best ones for the September Centurian.