By the Seat of My Pants

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Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Humorous tales of travel and misadventure

Lonely Planet knows that some of life's funniest experiences happen on the road. Whether they take the form of unexpected detours, unintended adventures, unidentifiable dinners or unforgettable encounters, they can give birth to our most found travel lessons, and our most memorable - and hilarious - travel stories.

These 31 globegirdling tales that run the gamut from close-encounter safaris to loss-of-face follies, hair-raising rides to culture-leaping brides, eccentric expats to mind-boggling repasts, wrong roads taken to agreements mistaken. The collection brings together some of the world's most renowned travellers and storytellers with previously unpublished writers.

Includes stories by Wickam Boyle, Tim Cahill, Joshua Clark, Sean Condon, Chistopher R.Cox, David Downie, Holly Erikson, Bill Fink, Don George, Karl Taro Greenfeld, Jeff Grenwald, Pico Iyer, Amanda Jones, Kathie Kertesz, Doug Lansky, Alexander Ludwick, Linda Watanabe McFerrin, Jan Morris, Brooke Neill, Rolf Potts, Laura Resau, Michelle Richmond, Alana Semuels, Deborah Steg, Judy Tierney, Edwin Tucker, Jeff Vize, Danny Wallace, Kelly Watton, Simon Wichester, Michelle Witton

About Lonely Planet: Started in 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel guide publisher with guidebooks to every destination on the planet, as well as an award-winning website, a suite of mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet's mission is to enable curious travellers to experience the world and to truly get to the heart of the places where they travel.

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The Sights of Prague

ePub

Danny Wallace is a comedy writer and producer. He has written two books, Join Me and Yes Man, both of which are currently being adapted for film. He recently wrote and starred in his own BBC2 TV series, and lives in London with a girl and no cats.

You can call it whatever you like.

You can call it a hunch. You can call it instinct. Some might call it a well-honed eye for detail, carved by experience and years on the road – while others might go so far as to call it some kind of secret sixth sense.

But let me tell you, I knew something wasn’t right about my trip to Prague when the stranger who picked me up at the airport reached under the front seat of the car and pulled out a semiautomatic machine gun.

‘It is Uzi 9mm!’ he said, grinning at me in that special way that only men holding Uzi 9mms so often do. ‘It is good, solid. But… dangerous.’

I nodded, and tried a vague smile. To be honest, I’d already guessed that an Uzi 9mm was probably a bit dangerous, despite the fact that I’d never seen one before, let alone been shown one by a bald Eastern European in a car. Maybe I do have a sixth sense, after all.

 

Blackout in Ushuaia

ePub

Michelle Richmond’s books include the story collection The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress and the novel Dream of the Blue Room, which is set in China. Her stories and essays have appeared in Glimmer Train, Playboy, the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere. She lives in San Francisco and edits the online literary journal Fiction Attic.

At first glance it may seem that Ushuaia is sleeping, but in truth the city is fully awake, groping in the dark. It is seven-thirty on a Friday evening, rather early by the standards of this South American ski resort, the capital of Tierra del Fuego and the southernmost town in the world. Perched on the southern tip of Argentina, Ushuaia borders the frigid Beagle Channel and is backed by the awesome Andes. In the depths of winter it is a haven for serious ski bunnies from around the globe. By day, the steep mountains behind the town are dotted with veteran skiers; by night, the discos along San Martin serve overpriced alcoholic drinks to a young, disorderly crowd and pump out dance music so loudly one can feel the thunder in the floor, and one fears an avalanche. Winter in Ushuaia is also host to a number of grand events I’ve read about in my guidebook: the Longest Night National Party, the Snow Sculptors’ National Meeting and the much-anticipated End of the World Rally – the Stanley Cup of sledge dog racing.

 

The Snows of Carrara

ePub

Paris-based David Downie writes for leading publications worldwide, from the Australian Financial Review to the San Francisco Sunday Chronicle, Gourmet, Bon Appétit and the London Sunday Times. His latest travel-cookbook is Cooking the Roman Way: Authentic Recipes from the Home Cooks and Trattorias of Rome (www.cookingtheromanway.com). David is currently working on Paris, Paris, a collection of travel essays.

‘The snows of Carrara never melt’, said my wife, Alison, as she read aloud from the guidebook we’d bought a week earlier in the Cinque Terre. She paused to regard me with a gimlet eye. ‘If it snows, how am I supposed to take photos to go with your article?’

‘Snow?’ I repeated, chuckling. ‘No, dear, that’s not snow. It’s marble dust. All the books say so. Besides, it doesn’t snow on the Italian Riviera in May.’

The idea of snow seemed completely out of place in this Mediterranean paradise, where Tuscany meets Liguria. The rocky beaches were already colonised by large pale bodies and just yesterday we’d been hiking and building up a sweat in the spring sunshine.

 

The Boat From Battambang

ePub

Christopher R Cox is a feature reporter on the staff of the Boston Herald. He has survived Cambodia’s transport system on six trips for his newspaper and such magazines as Men’s Journal, Travel & Leisure and Reader’s Digest. He is the author of the adventure travel book Chasing the Dragon: Into the Heart of the Golden Triangle, about Burma’s narco-warlords, and can order cold beer in more than half a dozen languages. When not experiencing Third World gastro-intestinal distress, Christopher lives in Acton, Massachusetts.

The route from Battambang to Siem Reap makes a long sweep around the western shoreline of the Tonlé Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest lake, via kidney-rattling roads crowded with death-wish buses, overloaded lorries and plodding ox carts. In Cambodia, it’s an immutable fact that travel is 90 per cent perspiration and 10 per cent sheer terror. So it seemed a miracle when the Angkor Express Boat Company promised to whisk me from Battambang down the Sangke River and across the Tonlé Sap to Angkor’s doorstep in just five hours – half the time I’d spend on a sweltering, crowded bus fretting about an impending head-on collision.

 

On Safari, Only the Animals Sleep Through the Night

ePub

Kelly Watton has been chased by wild horses on Georgia’s Cumberland Island, stalked by a hyena in Botswana and jumped on by a monkey in the Peruvian Amazon. She has travelled near and far to see animals in the wild, but she’s starting to get the impression they’re not so happy to see her. When she’s not daydreaming about Africa, Kelly writes travel stories for newspapers in the US. She lives in Atlanta.

When I woke up it was cold and black inside the tent. It felt like I’d been asleep for hours. The sweet, charred smell of citronella incense hung in the crisp air. At first, I didn’t know whether I had heard a noise or caught the tail end of a dream. I lay still, holding my breath and listening for anything.

Before long, the sharp crack of breaking wood punctured the silence. Only this time, it didn’t stop. Limbs snapped repeatedly, as if something was walking over the fallen branches outside. I had every reason to believe that something was a lion.

Yesterday after arriving in Botswana, my husband, West, and I had flown into the Okavango Delta, where southern Africa’s Okavango River empties into the flat sands of the Kalahari Desert. Supplying much-needed nourishment, the Delta draws Africa’s magnificent wildlife into this untamed and unfenced region. We were visiting during the dry season, when the streams that spill out from the river would be dried up, and those animals would stay close to the few remaining waterholes.

 

Something Approaching Enlightenment

ePub

Rolf Potts is the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. His travel writing has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic Adventure, Salon.com, The Best American Travel Writing 2000 and numerous Lonely Planet anthologies. Though he keeps no permanent address, he tends to linger in Thailand, Argentina, rural Kansas and France, where he is the summertime writer-in-residence at the Paris American Academy. His online home is www.rolfpotts.com.

For weeks after returning from my ill-fated journey to the Indian Himalayan village of Kaza, I had difficulty explaining to people why I’d wanted to go there in the first place. Sometimes I’d claim it had something to do with the Dalai Lama – though someone would always point out, correctly, that the Dalai Lama lived in the Tibetan exile capital at Dharamsala, not in some obscure mountain outpost several days in the other direction.

I had no easy answer to this seeming discrepancy. Granted, the Dalai Lama was reputed to travel to Kaza once each summer – but I’d gone there in the winter. And while rumour had it that the Dalai Lama planned to spend his twilight years in a monastery just up the valley from Kaza, the famous Tibetan holy man was nowhere near retirement at the time of my visit. In the end, I suppose my decision to gain an understanding of the Dalai Lama by going where he didn’t live was grounded in a vague fear of disappointment – a fear that (as with other religious destinations I’d visited in India, such as Varanasi and Rishikesh) Dharamsala had become so popular with other Western travellers that any spiritual epiphanies I found there would feel forced and generic.

 

A Special Kind of Fool

ePub

Bill Fink is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. He is a regular contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle and a variety of regional and international publications. More of his true tales of stupidity can be seen at www.geocities.com/billfink2004. He is currently working on a book about his year of basketball-themed misadventures in the Philippines entitled Dunked in Manila.

According to a Japanese saying, there are two kinds of fools: those who have never climbed Mt Fuji, and those who have climbed it more than once.

I didn’t want to be either kind of fool, so I decided to climb the mountain once, and to do it right.

As a college exchange student in Japan, I had been studying the language for six months. So I was able to translate – a little – when I saw a Japanese TV segment showing jolly people climbing gentle, well-marked paths up the mountain: ‘Something-something-something Mt Fuji something-something walking something-something this spring.’

 

Ignoring the Admiral

ePub

Jan Morris, who is Anglo-Welsh and lives in Wales, wrote some forty books before declaring that Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere (2001) would be her last. Since then The World (2003), a retrospective collection of her work, has been published and she is now working on a long addendum to her allegorical novel Last Letters from Hav (1985), provisionally entitled Hav of the Myrmidons.

Devoted as I am to the ethos of Lonely Planet, I was never a backpacker. ‘The British Navy always travels first class’, Admiral of the Fleet Lord ‘Jacky’ Fisher used to say as he checked into yet another fashionable spa, and I was similarly conditioned during my adolescent years as an officer with the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers of the British Army. At the end of World War II, when we were not getting messy in our dirty old tanks, we were making sure that we ate at the best restaurants and stayed at the poshest hotels.

Nowhere did we honour Lord Fisher’s axiom more loyally than in Venice, where we happily made the most of our status as members of a victorious occupying army. Many of the best hotels became our officers’ clubs, while the most expensive restaurants were pleased to accept our vastly inflated currency (which we had very likely acquired by selling cigarettes on the black market). And in particular, since all the city’s motorboats had been requisitioned by the military, we rode up and down the Grand Canal, under the Rialto Bridge, over to the Lido, like so many lucky young princes.

 

Dutch Toilet

ePub

Doug Lansky has spent ten years travelling in over one hundred countries. He is the author of Last Trout in Venice and Up the Amazon Without a Paddle, and penned a nationally syndicated travel-humour column in North America for five years. He currently contributes to National Geographic Adventure and Esquire, and makes his home in Stockholm, Sweden, where he has not been trapped in any toilet stalls.

The most reliable, though least utilised, traveller’s oasis in any city is the library. In a foreign land, you may not be able to read the books or even get a library card, but it usually has three crucial ingredients: free high-speed Internet access, free international newspapers and free toilets. On an April morning in the town of Maastricht, Holland, I went in search of this traveller’s trinity.

There was nothing remarkable about the public library I found; no soul-moving architecture or rare-archive collection that would attract the attention of guidebook writers. It was on the small side, with a low ceiling, and like any sanctuary of literature it was warmed with those hallowed hushed whispers that you could easily mistake for prayers.

 

Walk of Fame

ePub

Jeff Vize has trampled over wet cement, flower beds and innocent bystanders in at least forty countries. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Charlotte, and son, Loïc. He is currently at work on a travel memoir, Pigs in the Toilet (And Other Discoveries on the Road from Tokyo to Paris), from which this story is adapted.

I’m not a movie star, but I’ve played one abroad. Not that I know anything about acting, dialogue or even comic timing. I just know what it’s like to be famous: I was a celebrity for five days in Bangladesh.

If you’ve ever been to Bangladesh, you know what I’m talking about. In fact, if you’ve ever been to any developing nation you’ve no doubt had the same experience, particularly if your skin colour is a few shades darker or lighter than the locally prevailing hue. But ethnicity isn’t all that matters – it can be your clothes, your demeanour or your perpetually confused look. You don’t have to appear on TV either; you just need to step out of your hotel room.

 

The Culinary Chaos Principle

ePub

Don George is Lonely Planet’s Global Travel Editor and the editor of this anthology. His most recent book is Travel Writing. Don has edited four previous anthologies, including The Kindness of Strangers and A House Somewhere: Tales of Life Abroad. Before becoming a travel writer and editor, he worked as a translator in Paris, where he subsisted happily on biftek-frites and house red wine; a teacher in Athens, where he was honoured to eat the sheep’s eyeballs at an Easter feast; and a TV talk show host in Tokyo, where he was treated to sashimi so fresh that the fish literally flipped off his plate.

As a traveller, I am a fervent follower of the Culinary Chaos Principle. This principle is based on the theory that the universe is like an all-you-can-eat buffet that is proceeding ever so slowly but ineluctably past the prime rib, the tandoori chicken and the kung pao shrimp towards the baked Alaska. Our goal in this smorgasbord is to sample as much as we can before closing time. The best way to achieve this goal is to leave your menu selection in the good hands of chance – a mysterious force you might best imagine as a dapper figure in a tuxedo saying, ‘Hi, I’m Chance, and I’ll be your waitperson this evening.’

 

Faeces Foot

ePub

Tim Cahill is the author of nine books, including Hold the Enlightenment, Jaguars Ripped My Flesh and Lost in My Own Backyard. He writes for many national magazines and is the co-writer of three IMAX films, including Everest. Tim lives in Montana with his wife, Linnea, two dogs and two cats.

On expeditions to remote and difficult areas, when conditions can become uncomfortable, if not to say actually agonising, it is customary to restructure the pain by irritating and annoying one’s companions. In such situations, a person fully expects to be taunted, mocked, ragged and generally made the butt of some profoundly grating ongoing jibe. Those of us who do this sort of thing for a living assume that giving the other girl or guy a daily ration of humiliation raises their tolerance level and helps them endure physical pain. We get our poop in a pile and fling it in the faces of our companions for their own good. No one derives any pleasure out of this. (Okay, I lied. It’s really fun – unless, of course, you are the person becoming exasperated beyond measure.) Expedition members generally take turns at being the brunt of the joke.

 

Real Cowboys Wear Polka Dots

ePub

Judy Tierney took a year-long sabbatical from corporate America to travel through Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Her current work as a freelance consultant allows her the flexibility to continue to explore and write about her adventures. Her work has appeared in Backpacker magazine, the Dallas Morning News, the Denver Post, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and on www.travelerstales.com. A Texas native, she now resides in San Francisco.

‘I reckon we oughta get a move on’, Jeff said, finishing the last few bites of his three-alarm tacos – a mixture of scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese, jalapenos and chipotle sauce wrapped in flour tortillas. Back at home in San Francisco Jeff started the day with sourdough toast and jam, but he casually wiped his eyes and nose with a napkin as if he were used to eating peppers for breakfast. He emptied his glass of water in one big gulp and then reached across the table for mine.

As we left Austin’s Magnolia Café, Jeff waved at our bighaired, blonde waitress.

 

You Ain’t Seen Nuthin’ Yet

ePub

Sean Condon is the author of three travelogues, Sean & David’s Long Drive, Drive Thru America and My ’Dam Life, as well as the novel Film and the humour collection The Secret of Success is a Secret. He currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.

‘You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!’ I supposed that was true enough – we were just a few miles out of the station in Springfield, Massachusetts, on a highway heading towards Vermont – and we hadn’t seen anything you could really call spectacular. ‘Don’t even bother looking out the window, ‘cause you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!’ This was my Uncle Bill, behind the wheel, giving the orders, telling me what I hadn’t seen. What I had not seen so far was a large, crystal-blue lake, lots of trees and the occasional majestic hill with an exclusive girls’ school on top – the usual stuff you don’t see just outside many small cities in northeast America. The thing was, I’d just come from a week in Manhattan, and I liked what I wasn’t seeing. It seemed an eternity since I’d been surrounded by anything other than snarling traffic, looming skyscrapers and impenetrable clubs with majestic girls inside.

 

No Food, No Rest, No…

ePub

Pico Iyer is the author of several books of ill-starred travel, from Video Night in Kathmandu and The Lady and the Monk to The Global Soul and his most recent work, Sun After Dark. He tries not to travel with his friend Louis, but somehow they have ended up in Cambodia, Haiti, Morocco, Burma, Turkey and far too many other places (not least the Oakland Coliseum) together. On their most recent trip, to Bolivia, they had a car crash at 3500 metres that left one of them gibbering in nonexistent Spanish and the other training furious glances at their errant driver.

I got off the plane in Addis Ababa and there, as in so many airports so often in the past, was my school friend Louis, extending a shaky hand. ‘This place is pure magic’, he assured me. ‘We can go around the whole country with Ethiopian Airlines – the best carrier on the continent – for not much more than a hundred dollars. The plane stops at five major points of interest, and is perfectly suited to people on their first trip here, with limited means.

 

An Idyll in Ibiza

ePub

Karl Taro Greenfeld is the author of three books on Asia, most recently Plague: The Inside Story of the Killer Virus that Nearly Crashed the World, about the SARS virus. A former staff writer and editor for Time and correspondent for the Nation, he is currently Editor-at-Large for Sports Illustrated. Karl has lived in Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong, and now resides in New York City with his wife and two daughters.

Anya had warned me. Yet I had discounted her descriptions of her wealthy German family as exaggerated. Who wasn’t a little embarrassed by their parents? But now, as I sat at the breakfast table with the Becker family and watched them spoon huge quantities of yogurt and muesli into their mouths, pile blutwurst, cheese and ham onto thickly buttered black bread and fit entire open-faced sandwiches between their lips, gulp carafes of orange juice and pots of coffee and then light and smoke Fortuna cigarettes before commencing another round of breakfast, I felt I had landed among some race of aliens who had an entirely different notion of what should constitute the first meal of the day. I sipped coffee and had some toast. Including Anya and myself, there were nine of us around the marble-topped table on the veranda overlooking the Mediterranean. The Balearic sun was already blazing; within an hour it would be so hot that you would feel too fatigued to do the folding and refolding required to read a newspaper and would instead place the paper on your face to shield you as you slept.

 

Snake Karma

ePub

Linda Watanabe McFerrin has been travelling since she was two and writing about it since she was six. A poet, travel writer, novelist and contributor to numerous journals, newspapers, magazines, anthologies and online publications, she is the author of two poetry collections and the editor of the fourth edition of Best Places Northern California. Her work has also appeared in Wild Places, In Search of Adventure and American Fiction. Other book-length works include the novel Namako: Sea Cucumber and short-story collection The Hand of Buddha. In spite of everything, she is still a great lover of snakes.

The fer-de-lance is an extremely venomous snake. More deadly than a rattlesnake, this pit viper is also missing its genetic cousin’s one redeeming virtue – a warning rattle. It strikes suddenly, and when it bites, it injects a substance that is part neural toxin, part anticoagulant and part digestive enzyme, so that the process of digestion can begin at once. You don’t have long once it bites: a minute, maybe two.

 

Snaking Through Italy

ePub

Wickham Boyle is the daughter of a foreign correspondent and an anthropologist, a combination that provided the perfect springboard for travel writing. After a peripatetic childhood, her first job was working for the international experimental theatre LaMama. Since then she has kept her bags packed and her mind open. When not on the road, she lives with her family in a funky loft in TriBeCa, a New York neighbourhood she and other artists helped colonise decades ago. She has an MBA from Yale and writes for National Geographic Traveler, Forbes, the New York Times and Uptown magazine, among others.

Experimental theatre is an acquired taste. You have to be willing to suspend disbelief and relegate logic to another quadrant of your brain. Such theatre usually involves a nonlinear plot and naked thespians writhing, chanting and emoting. There is commonly a sense of occupying a foreign dreamscape. In short, this can be the worst theatre of all, or it can be transporting. Being a producer of experimental theatre, especially on an international level, requires the ability to carry out tasks that would stop any other executive in their well-paid tracks.

 

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