Passportless in Macedonia

I’ve lost things in various states of inebriation, generally little objects.  A key chain.  An earring.  Knock wood to keep that good luck rolling.  Hilariously, I’m more scatter brained sober than drunk.  Call it survival mode, maybe even a heightened state of paranoia, either way this is factual proof, drunkenness can be a good idea.  Now, Rosie Glam lost something very precious, having to face her fear of being rudderless in a foreign country.  What did she do?  Find out on today’s Summer Chick Tale.

It was around midnight when we pulled up to border control in a surprisingly flash taxi, after traveling the day in changing modes of transport across Albania. Passports were sleepily handed over, stamped and consented, then handed back leaving us free to drive into Macedonia and find a place to rest. In the morning we awoke in Orhid, looked out our window and were met with a beautiful view out over the ancient Lake Orhid. Over the next three days we enjoyed relaxing in the sun, meeting very interesting individuals and making as many orhid puns (sorry) as possible.

The next stop was the capital, Skopje. When we arrived at the hostel we went through the normal procedures with checking in, until I couldn’t locate my passport in it’s normal place. That panic feeling slowly swept down my body as my brain worked overtime trying to rationalize why it wasn’t there and started to work out where it could be. After rifling through my side bag, I attacked my pack, slowly pulling out item after item, hoping that my fingers would brush pass the tattered cover. When I got to the bottom, I was faced with an empty bag. Ah, fuck.

Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo looking over Lake Orhid

But for some reason I was calm. I’m not normally calm when faced with unexpected, really lame news. I normally head straight for those horrible conclusions, like having to live the rest of my life in Skopje and never see my family again. But this time I was cool headed. I don’t know if it was because I still thought my passport would jump out and yell ‘just kidding! ‘.  Or that it wasn’t really happening to me, but I do know that my calmness freaked people out.  All I could do was go to sleep and prepare for the day that faced me tomorrow. Which I thought couldn’t be much worse than finding your international identity proof missing, but oh, I was so very wrong.

Plunging at Valley Verzasca Dam

I’m going to be honest.  Bare myself here. I was frightened of rum.  I always pictured it paired with coca-cola, the equivalent to liquid candy.  Blech. Disgusting. Never.  Then, one miraculous day I took a leap of faith, mixed rum with ginger beer, a twist of lime and was hooked.  In order to grow, sometimes we have to take a leap in the face of fear.  Danalynn Coulon did.  Please enjoy today’s Summer Chick Tale.

I wavered at the edge of the platform, wind gusting around my ankles.  My eyes were fixed resolutely on the foliage in front of me, willfully ignoring the definite lack-of-ground below.  Then it came.  The countdown.  Three.  Two.  One.  I jumped.

I had practiced for months, seizing any opportunity to drill myself on that countdown.  Outside of the grocery store, I would line up my toes carefully with edge of the curb.  Keeping my eyes straight in front of me, I would count down from three, jumping the six inch drop once I reached zero.  It became a game I played often with myself; How fast could I make my heart race for such a short drop?  How much could I convince myself that the ground would not appear?

As I fell, I half expected cobblestones to appear under my feet.  We were just kidding!  Another test—look how your heart raced, you silly girl!  An involuntary yelp escaped as the ground did not appear, as the fall continued, as my view of the peaceful, tranquil trees was replaced with a rapidly narrowing tunnel vision towards a sure, sudden concrete stop far below.

Kick-Ass in Central America

Hallucinations.  That’s exactly what tequila did to me on my 18th birthday.  Friends faces swelled into distortions.  Sounds became warbled.  I laughed and laughed at the most serious sentences.  It wasn’t pretty, just a warped, mysterious world inside my head.  That’s when vomitius arrived.  I never thought the cool touch of white porcelain against my cheek would feel so good.  Anyway, ‘hallucinations’ stuck to my head like gum when I gobbled up Dalene Heck’s engrossing narrative.  Please enjoy today’s kick-ass Summer Chick Tale.

It was a sunny day, but they all were.  Living in the Caribbean means dealing with that fact – there is little reprieve from the intense heat unless sitting in the ocean every day is a real possibility.  But even that gets boring after awhile.

And so instead, on a random Sunday afternoon, I found myself sitting on the hard wooden stands for a baseball game, thankfully under the cover of shade.  Being one of the first to arrive, I had my choice of seats, and settled behind the back stop but near the players box for the home team.  Perfect view of the infield, and a great line on the pitchers mound, which would enable me to take photos for when my husband took his turn on it.

I was excited to be there.  We both were.  Baseball in Central America is like hockey to Canada. This was the place to watch.  And I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic about the experience.  I was reminded of many weekends growing up where long summer days were spent watching my Dad man the first base for his team.  Fans filtered in with beers in their hand, snacks were being sold nearby (exchange nuts for local baleadas, however).  All I needed was to hear some Steve Earle filtering from a truck stereo beyond and it would have felt just like home.

As the crowd started to grow and the game began, the excitement among the players and in the stands was obvious.  In a field of large men of local heritage, my husband was the lone white skinned player.  Not a short man by any means, he still dwarfed in comparison to those around him.  I couldn’t tell if he was nervous, but I sure was for him.

And my nerves grew as I quickly realized, this was nothing like home.  Beers were not the only thing on tap, a full table of liquor opened up beside me as fans began to partake.  The later into the day it got, the more “lively” the crowd became.  Questionable calls by the ump would be met with a course of the vilest protest.  An injured player was not met with the usual cheers upon his rise from the dirt, instead a lady beside me generously offered up her urine to clean the wound.

I tried to ignore it all and stay focused on the game.  My husband was pitching well and at least no one in the stands had verbally attacked him yet.

By |August 10th, 2011 |Categories: August 2011 |10 Comments

The Day Everything Stopped in Vienna

Last weekend I downed two beers, one was a Granville Island Honey Lager, the other a Corona.  My belly rebelled, blew up to a ghastly size, to the point I was sure a child could anchor a string to it and punt me off into the sky.  Sometimes, my alcohol consumption just goes awry, much like Connie Hum’s trip in Vienna.  But, as the mystic sages say, live and learn.  Please inform yourself with today’s Summer Chick Tale.

There are some travel experiences that just stick with you. Experiences that, no matter how much time has passed or whatever new experiences you may have encountered since, are simply etched into your mind and remain as vivid as the day it occurred. My 2005 Vienna trip is one of those experiences.

It was a steaming hot day in Vienna. I had purchased my train ticket to Croatia, a destination I was excited about exploring, from Westbahnhoff train station the day before. As I packed my things, I glanced at my train ticket and discovered that I had less than 20 minutes to get Westbahnhoff in order to catch my train! Whoops!

I stuffed the rest of my things in my bag and rushed out of the hostel. I ran all the way to the train station, which wasn’t too far way. I made it inside the station with three minutes to get on the train. Skimming my ticket for the right platform number, I continued running up the stairs to the platform landing, panting and sweating from the heat and weight of my backpack. Still in full stride, I turned the corner onto the platform, relieved that I was going to catch my train. But wait! The platform is empty. There is no train! NO!!!

The bag

Frantic, I ran to the train conductor man on another platform and asked him in my broken German, “Where is my train?”

He looked at my train ticket and then, taking in my desperate state (I’m out of breath, dripping with sweat, and my backpack is now dangling heavily from my shoulders) he gives me a slow, pained look.

“Sudbahnhoff,” he said softly, almost apologetically.

I don’t understand. I had bought my train ticket to Dubrovnik at Westbahnhoff just yesterday. I was here on time, albeit just in the nick of time. What does he mean, “SUDBAHNHOFF?”

Yes, it took me a minute to realize that I had gone to the wrong train station. Then I was furious! What was I going to do now? No one told me that the train ticket I had bought was departing from another train station!

(Kindly keep in mind that this is one of my first major international trips. I was not yet anywhere near a wise nor adaptable traveler. Plus it was hot and I do NOT fare well in heat.)

I stormed down to the ticket counter where I had bought my train ticket just the day before. Plopping my backpack and daypack down at my feet and straddling my belongings as I explained, rather annoyingly, my predicament to the ticketing agent.

He wasn’t as helpful as I would have liked though in hindsight, he was probably as helpful as could have been, he just couldn’t transport me through space and time onto my train from Sudbahnhoff to Dubrovnik.

I’m not sure when it happened because I was constantly looking down to make sure my things were still there, but at some point not too long after my ranting began, I noticed that my bright red daypack was no longer between my legs.

INSTANT PANIC! I scanned the surrounding area. No bag! There was no one in the small ticketing room, but yet still NO BAG!

I ran out of the ticketing office, hoping to catch sight of someone making off with my daypack, but nothing out of the ordinary, just the hustle and bustle of a busy train station caught my eye.

My mind and body was in absolute chaos over what to do, I staggered back into the ticketing office where the worker was now standing watch over my remaining possessions, which seemed so meager now. I burst into uncontrollable tears. I have never been robbed before!

Thieving hand

Everything was in that daypack! EVERYTHING! My passport, my Eurail ticket for Western Europe, my flight home (don’t ask me why I had a paper ticket) to the US in five months, all my credit and bank cards, my camera with at least a week’s worth of unsaved photos, over 1,000 Euros in cash, a chocolate pudding cup, and my travel journal, among other things.

The police came to escort me to their office so that I could fill out the necessary paperwork. Once I calmed down, I was able to fill out the paperwork and get my head on straight about what I was to do with myself now that I was stranded in Vienna with no passport, money or any means of getting money.

Ultimately, the situation worked itself out. Someone about six times removed from me lent me cash in hand while a friend of a friend took me under her wing and gave me a place to stay as I waited for my new rush-order passport to come through.

It was during this horrible experience that I first began to truly appreciate the kindness and hospitality of strangers. It was also this harrowing experience that taught me the invaluable lesson to ALWAYS stay calm and collected when you travel.

I paid a high price to learn this lesson. Hopefully you won’t have to either!

Author bio: Connie Hum quit her job and left New York City in 2009 to travel and give back positively to the world. Since then, she’s lived in Istanbul, sailed the Mediterranean, slept in a Bedouin cave inside the Petra mountains, belly-danced in the streets of Cairo, learned a lost meditation technique in India, trekked the mountains of the Himalayas and volunteered in Thailand. Connie is now temporarily calling Hong Kong home. Follow Connie’s (mis)adventures on www.connvoyage.com or Twitter at @connvoyage.

Summer Chick Tales was conceived from my love of the season and my obsession with slurpees.  I always have one every summer.  I also love women writers.  Lots.  If you want to submit a story or be in charge of the mojito station, see the editorial schedule.  Come on, join the XX chromosome party.

Photos:Kymberly Ferguson, S. Mosawi, and dawolf.

 If you haven’t heard, I’m participating in the Ultimate Train Challenge starting in September. Part of the Ultimate Train Challenge is our commitment to raising $10,000 for charity, by partnering with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and the Da Nang Association of Agent Orange Victims.  Each dollar will go directly to children at the center near Da Nang who suffer from the effects of Agent Orange to this day.  You can help donate by purchasing Eurail tickets through my website or donate directly by going through the Ultimate Train Challenge site.  I’d like to thank our European sponsor, Eurail for supporting this important cause.