I interrupt my “regular programming” of blog posts on exhilarating adventures, life-changing travel moments, life lessons from travel, and the usual feel-good travel and insight posts to bring you, readers, the worst of my travel boo-boos.
Yes, my travels are not just about going with the flow and being saved at the end of the day, but also about moments when things just go wrong and the joke is on me. Still, I wouldn’t trade travel for anything in the world.
Here’s hoping you pick up something from my facepalm moments and not learn the hard way as I did. Feel free to laugh at me when you feel like it.
1) Enthusiastically booking an airline seat sale ticket without doing prior research. My travel companion and I were at a travel expo event, eagerly looking for deals we could score. We found some cheap flights, the cheapest of which was arguably Tawi-tawi, considering it was farthest in the Philippines.
“Wow, I’ve never been to Tawi-tawi!” I exclaimed, and we immediately bought tickets, not knowing that it would be Ramadan during our travel dates. Maybe that was why the tickets were so cheap!
After that misadventure, I felt that my travel companion and I were more than qualified to write a guide on “How To Go On A Diet While Traveling” or “How To Lose Weight Without Even Trying.”
Lesson learned – while booking tickets on the spur of the moment has worked for me several times before, this same principle does not apply to areas or countries where the culture is different.
Most stores were closed in observance of Ramadan when we went to Tawi-tawi.
2) Not double checking or triple checking flight ticket details. There I was at the airport at 3 am for my flight to Tawi-tawi, giving myself a mental pat on the back for getting there early and not being frazzled at the sight of long lines.
I texted my travel companion that I was already there at the airport.
After almost an hour had passed, though, she was still a no-show. I finally called her, and, after several rings, a groggy voice answered: “Claire….”
“Are you near the airport already?” I asked, worried.
“Our flight is tomorrow, right?” she said, her voice more awake now.
And, when I finally did what I should have done before coming to the airport – checking my ticket – I saw that yes, she was correct.
If there was an award for traveler’s stupidity, I think I would have won it that moment, no contest. Bonus points for waking my travel companion up at an ungodly hour.
3) Underestimating the consequences of travel planning mistakes. When I found out too late that our Tawi-tawi travel dates would fall on Ramadan, I decided to bite the bullet. I’ve had my share of travel inconveniences in the past, and I just did what I could do and things turned out well in the end.
This Tawi-tawi trip was a special case, though. Our sudden dieting and fasting were the least of our troubles. I knew it might be difficult to get guides to the places we want to go to; I just did not realize how difficult. Even with the kind help of the tourism office, it was a struggle to get guides, considering most of the people in Tawi-tawi were fasting the whole day.
The most seemingly impossible challenge was getting a trekking guide up Bud (Mount) Bongao. I almost lost hope until we finally got some police officers who were not fasting or were simply good at enduring it – this was just a little over 12 hours before our morning climb. It was our last chance as our flight would be leaving noon that day.
One of our Bud Bongao guides taking a well-deserved break
What made many moments in our trip hard to bear was also the shame factor – I felt I was imposing on these good people who would otherwise be devoting their full attention to their religious practices. As I endured those moments, my recurring thought was: “Never again.” Yes, there were non-Muslims who helped us in our trip, but inevitably there were Muslims who I felt went out of their way to help us.
The Murphy’s Law factor
Not everything went wrong in our trip, but there were some aggravating factors that only now, in retrospect, appear hilarious, though they felt anything but funny when I was there:
No water just when we needed it. On our first day in Tawi-tawi, we hopped on a boat to take us to Sitangkai, about four hours away. We slept on the boat, and was back at Tawi-tawi’s capital, Bongao, the next morning. After more than 24 hours – many of them hot and humid – adventure, I was particularly eager to take a bath. And that’s when we found out there was a water supply problem in Bongao, the first in a long time, according to the tourism office. Our timing was just great.
The aggressive monkeys of Bud Bongao. I felt I brought more than enough bananas for my and my guide’s breakfast, and for feeding many of the white monkeys in Bud Bongao too. When our trail passed through monkey territory, I threw some bananas. They were devoured in seconds. My guide and I went on in our merry way.
At one of the summits several meters away, I took some minutes to rest and take photos. I was happily posing for the camera when I saw one, two, then three monkeys appear in my line of vision. They were heading for my bag of bananas! My mountain guide had to grab the bag to rescue our breakfast. One monkey, though, was so persistent that he would not stop until I gave him my breakfast. The lure of my bananas was simply too great that it drew them out around 20 minutes away and up from their usual territory.
I had more boo-boos and silly moments in Tawi-tawi, but things did work out in the end. While there were troubles, there were also triumphs. My travel companion and I, after all, got guides. We met some warm, hospitable people who proved that misconceptions on Muslims were really just that – misconceptions. We also got to take baths despite the water problem. And, we reached the peak of Bud Bongao and went down just in the nick of time for our flight!
Also, in visiting Tawi-tawi, I realized there is so much more to explore and I hope to be back in the future, albeit more prepared.
If travel were a lover, I would say mishaps like what happened in my Tawi-tawi trip only strengthened – not weakened – my commitment to him. I’m definitely in this for the long haul, boo-boos and all. =)