Elizabeth the Island Enthusiast

a celebration of unconventional adventures

Tag: travel horror stories

How to Slow Down Time

Thankfully, I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of my travels so far.

But, sometimes you get a super weird Airbnb rental. Or just make a plain bad decision of where to spend two-and-a-half weeks.

In my case, both.

Understandably, it’s hard to know if you’ll like a place prior to visiting. I had numerous people tell me one week was far too long to spend in Langkawi, Malaysia, and that Penang was a totally appropriate for a more extended stay.

Honestly, I couldn’t disagree more, but that could also just be because Langkawi Island’s just more my ‘style’.

Even though by the end of my terrific week in Langkawi I felt excited to move onto the next destination, I can’t help but miss it. That could also be because the greater part of my time in Penang so far has been just… Weird.

CenangBeachSunset

I’ll start by saying the general ambiance of Penang Island is vastly different than Langkawi, where I found myself quite at home, perhaps because of its relaxed, beachy vibe reminiscent of Fiji.

Penang has struck me as much more ‘urban’ than Langkawi, teeming with high-rise condo buildings and massive hotels lining the beach (not unlike Surfers Paradise, Australia). Uncannily enough, Uber exists here in Penang (I’ve used it twice already – and it was bizarrely convenient).

My first five days were spent in the beachside town of Batu Ferringhi, located on the northeastern side of the island. I refuse to completely label the area as “sketch,” as there are some upscale, nice-looking beachfront resorts in the vicinity, but frankly, I was ready to get the hell out of there.

I stayed in what has to be one of the most horridly awkward Airbnb arrangements out there: a tiny room situated in a high-rise condominium complex overlooking the sea (I’ll admit, the views were outstanding). At first glance upon arrival, the building appeared lovely, until I couldn’t help but notice the inexplicably charred vehicle rusting away in the parking lot, not far from the main entrance. Well that’s odd.

CharredBatuFerringhiCar

Between that and the very creepy, unwarranted compliments from my Airbnb host in regards to my underwear while trying to do laundry that evening, I just wanted to go home.

Ah right, but I don’t technically have a home… This island was supposed to become my ‘home’ for the remainder of the month… Awesome…

Ultimately, that Airbnb experience spooked me enough to shorten my reservation at the Airbnb I’d booked in George Town, which turned out to be a fantastic idea – but also meant I’d have to figure out new plans for the remainder of my trip in Malaysia.

BatuFerringhiView

The nice, sweeping sea views from my first Airbnb arrangement in Penang

The nice, sweeping sea views from my first Airbnb arrangement in Penang

Despite having the new Airbnb unit entirely to myself (and even though it was in an old, historically charming hotel, which I normally love) it ended up not having many of the ‘vital’ amenities advertised… Such as basic wireless internet access… Which makes it exceedingly difficult if you’re trying to be productive or communicate with, well, anyone…

When it’s very very hot, I truly don’t mind a cold shower – in Fiji I actually learned to enjoy cold showers. However, when in a room equipped with a well functioning air conditioning system chronically set to a brisk 16 degrees Celsius, cold showers are not terribly pleasant in any way, shape or form.

The air conditioning in that unit worked so well, I soon realized my drinks became the same temperature kept both in and out of the mini-fridge.

Now that I’ve kissed my Malaysia Airbnb venture goodbye, I find myself in an all-girls hostel dormitory, alternating Coke Zeros and Tiger beers on an empty stomach during daylight in feeble yet questionable efforts to stay cool, frugal, calm, and barely awake.

StreetsOfGeorgeTownPenang

The streets of George Town, Penang

In a strange way, as much as I’ve been complaining lately, the last couple weeks have really forced me to slow down a little. I’d forgotten how easy it is to fall into a routine, even if that routine is moving to a new location every few days.

Monotony, in my opinion – especially the monotony of merely living out the hours in an uncomfortable or miserable circumstance – makes life fly by too quickly; monotony allows entire precious days, weeks, months, or years of life to just slip by in the blink of an eye, offering nothing new or enticing to catch or keep the mind’s attention.

I recall months spent in my old apartment depressed, just sitting there, because that was easier than doing anything to feel better.

To be candid, I had hauntingly similar moments sitting alone in my Airbnb room this past week. There were times I felt sadly content sitting on my internet-less laptop while drowning my sorrows in overpriced beer and green tea Kit-Kats from the 7-11 downstairs, somewhat regretting my decision to migrate to a hostel days later. I’d have to pack my stuff up, drag it three whole blocks, and deal with the inconvenience of sharing personal space with people I don’t know.

No, it’s not a perfect situation – the locals residing across the street apparently enjoy setting off a variety of frightful pyrotechnics after dark, and my dorm bed is so stuffy and hot at night I’ve basically been having fever dreams. But, it’s been a much-needed change of pace.

I can’t just sit in bed doing nothing but eating Kit-Kats anymore. Not only am I fairly certain it’s technically against the hostel’s rules, all the chocolate would surely melt, and I would definitely suffocate. The only purpose that bed serves is being unconscious.

BatuFerringhi

I guess my point is… It’s not Penang’s fault I’ve had a less than stellar experience. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I have no idea what to expect moving forward, either, moving onward into further, greater unknowns.

Penang very well could have been somewhere I’d desire creating a routine for myself; I’ve felt that way about several places I’ve visited. It just wasn’t. And that’s okay.

Now I know.

The Most Treacherous Ferry Ride Ever (Not)

I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about inter-island ferry rides.

In particular, the ferry ride between Penang and Langkawi Island, Malaysia.

LangkawiCenangBeachCenangBeachSunsetLangkawiLangkawiIslandFerryJetty

After spending a week on Malaysia’s Langkawi Island, I decided I’d travel via ferry over to the island of Penang. I’m completely aware that yes, arguably taking a plane would have been faster and not that much more expensive, but I’ve taken a lot of planes recently, and I was in the mood for a nautical adventure.

When disclosing my sea-travel plans over dinner one night to others at the hostel in Langkawi, however, I received an array of daunting responses – apparently this ferry ride was THE worst transport experience EVER:

People just puking everywhere; well over half the boat was puking, I’d say. It was like a rollercoaster in slow motion. If you do go, make sure you sit in the back of the boat, otherwise you’ll vomit for SURE, even with medication for motion sickness… Really, it’s probably best you just look into taking a flight.

This sounded worse than the treacherous and draining overnight 24-hour ferry trek between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, Fiji, which I’d purposely avoided during my time there.

One girl ranted for a solid five minutes about reportedly getting bedbugs after taking this ferry ride.

“Really?” I asked, “did they get into your luggage, or where?”

“No, I found one in my bra,” she responded, clearly distressed. “But it definitely came from that boat!”

“Lucky bedbug,” sneered one of the girl’s male friends seated at the table with us.

“Ughhhh oh my god, shut uppp!!

*For the record – this was the same girl with the questionable story about a crocodile sighting earlier that same day, so in either case I figured I’d take whatever she said with a grain of salt…

LangkawiIslandMalaysiaSecludedBeachLangkawiIsland

Maybe I just got really lucky. Perhaps they had taken the ferry ride in the midst of a violent storm. Or, maybe the route from Penang to Langkawi endures significantly more turbulence than the route from Langkawi to Penang.

I don’t know.

I went into the journey expecting the absolute worst: sickness and filth everywhere; incessant vomiting; nothing but flea-ridden old mattresses to sit on; the dank essence of human anguish and despair lingering in the musty, unventilated air…

At check-in, I was given a slip of paper with my seat number – #41 – oh they give you an assigned seat? That’s nice. I prayed it was towards the back.

Instead, seat #41 was actually near the very front of the boat. This made me a smidge nervous. At least it was a window seat. It’ll be okay, this is why I didn’t eat much lunch today…

InsideLangkawiFerryFrontOfTheBoatBoatInteriorLangkawi

As soon the boat began to depart from the jetty, I couldn’t help but notice half the passengers begin to switch seats – in particular those situated near the front, migrating way towards the back. The cautious American couple previously seated in front of me, neck pillows in tow, seemed the most urgent.

Uh oh, perhaps they heard the same stories…

Suddenly the boat lurched forward, sending the bow upwards and then down with an adrenaline-surging WOOSH. My heart and stomach leaped into my chest for a millisecond. I held onto my seat for dear life. I would have closed my eyes, if it weren’t for the spectacular views out the window…

LangkawiPenangFerryViewsIslandFerryViews

But then there was nothing. I’d been told this ferry felt like a haphazardous speed boat.

Is this the correct vessel?

I looked outside. Smooth, smooth seas, as far as the eye could see…

Maybe we just haven’t gotten far enough out yet, I thought to myself. The massive, vomit-inducing waves were in more remote areas, surely.

Still nothing.

“The Jungle Book” DVD began to play on a large flat screen TV up front. Some of the passengers lay down on entire rows to themselves and fell asleep.

A faint rumbling sound caught my attention. Oh no…

Alas, nope, no one was retching. Just somebody snoring in back, likely lulled into a deep, deep slumber by the boat’s gentle side-to-side rocking motion, which I’d barely noticed up until that point.

Was this seriously the same boat ride?

SlumberingFerryPassengers

Between the movie and the excellent exterior scenery, my entertainment involved observing the drowsy man in the seat in front of me, who nodded off and on, snapping awake every few minutes after slumping down too far to the side. A reddish-brown insect causally climbed up over his shoulder onto the headrest in front of me.

Oh dear, I thought, is that the bedbug? From what I knew about bedbugs, this creature appeared a bit too big, but I felt disconcerted anyways. Until it flew away.

Bedbugs don’t fly, do they?

I’m still not entirely certain what that thing was, but due to my lack of bites, I’m going to trust it was not in fact a bedbug… Thank freaking goodness.

SmoothSailingMalaysiaIslands

Apparently there was a party in the water at the George Town, Penang jetty... Balloons everywhere!

Apparently there was a party in the water at the George Town, Penang jetty… Balloons everywhere!

So yeah, by the end of three lackadaisical hours and two DVDs, I was ready to be off the boat. But overall? I thought it was a genuinely pleasant journey.

Would it likely have been much worse filled to capacity in hurricane-like conditions? No doubt.

Again, I’m pretty sure I got EXTREMELY lucky. But hey, no complaints here!

LangkawiIslandFlowers

Langkawi Adventures: Attacked at ‘Bunny Zone’

Sometimes, you meet an awesome new friend on an airplane.

I was fortunate enough to meet such a friend on my flight to Langkawi Island, Malaysia: Alberto from Barcelona, who served as an excellent adventure partner for exploring the island and all its wonders (apologies again, Alberto, for the child kicking your seat the entire trip…).

The night before embarking on our first island expedition, some British girls from Alberto’s hostel enlightened us over dinner about an apparent crocodile sighting earlier that day near the Seven Wells waterfalls, exclaiming “its tail was larger than this table, we swear!!

After viewing their photo of said “crocodile,” I can safely conclude it was, in fact, likely a moderately-sized Malaysian monitor lizard.

I’d just been to Australia Zoo and seen Bindi Irwin’s crocodile show less than two weeks before, so I felt fairly skeptical of this story from the start. But, considering this poor girl had rushed herself to a medical clinic earlier that day to get antibiotics for a potentially fatal mosquito bite, I didn’t bother informing her otherwise.

LangkawiIslandPalms

I’ve always been trepidatious about traveling via motorbike, but Alberto seemed seasoned enough as a driver, and I will rarely say no to any offer to thoroughly explore an island. So, I hopped on board, trusting Alberto with my life and sincerely hoping I wouldn’t fall off.

Ultimately, I decided after surviving the third torrential flash rainstorm within thirty minutes, that things would turn out just fine – even despite the hordes of ferocious monkeys and “baby crocodiles” spotted both alive and flattened along the side of the road.

When this monkey yawned, it had enormous fangs...

When this monkey yawned, it had enormous fangs…

One violent mini-rainstorm forced us to take cover under a shed adjacent to what appeared to be an exotic, secluded island community, not even initially realizing this was actually Oriental Village, boasting a variety of famed Langkawi Island tourist attractions such as SkyCab, SkyRex and Imaginarium, a “visual treat from start to finish” as touted by the Panorama Langkawi website.

Not exactly knowing what existed beyond the parking lot, thank heavens Alberto and I decided to wander inside once the rain stopped – as soon as we crossed over the ‘bridge of prosperity’ through what I’m guessing was the ‘river of whimsy,’ we found ourselves in some sort of kitschy amusement park, teeming with ads inviting us to “take a ride inside your mind and travel to the ends of your imagination” with “virtual and augmented reality”!

Oh my.

LangkawiIslandOrientalVillageBridgeOfProsperityLangkawiIslandOrientalVillage

SkyCab, Langkawi’s own mountain gondola, loudly hummed in the background, adding an oddly disorienting ski resort-esque element to the already overstimulating environment as it ascended up the side of the peak into a looming cloud of mist.

If it hadn’t been for the copious flash monsoons that day, taking the SkyCab ride might have been a fun idea, as I’m sure the views from the top are incredible. But, no way were we going to pay 45 RM per person for scenic glimpses of a dark raincloud. Plus, after surveying the ticketing options at the “kiosk of happiness” (as I think it was aptly called), we learned there was no option to buy a ride for the SkyCab alone – no, the least expensive option also included a semi-mandatory stop at the SkyRex simulator, where guests were strongly encouraged to “Experience The Tense And Excitement Of The Real Life Adventure”.

This just did not seem necessary. No, not in the slightest.

OrientalVillageVirtualRealityNotQuiteSkyRex

We wandered around a bit more, debating whether or not to move onto the next point of interest, before noticing an intriguing sign: “BUNNY ZONE”

It was just what the sign described – a sizable fenced-off zone teeming with bunnies, tentatively interacting with visitors chasing them down for a selfie.

Just before walking off laughing, in particular from the creepily illustrated bunny-handling instructions, we noticed a very important phrase: free entrance.

Well then in that case, we obviously had to check this out!

LangkawiBunnyZoneOrientalVillageBunnyZoneBunnyZoneBunnyHandlingInstructions

In short, wandering Bunny Zone felt like entering a bizarre Easter extravaganza, complete with ample lovely pastel-colored flowers everywhere (albeit according to Alberto, the Easter Bunny thing isn’t at all prevalent in Spain, or probably elsewhere but the United States).

Some bunnies were enormous; large enough I’d refer to them as ‘rabbits’ rather than ‘bunnies’. The littlest baby bunnies remained in happily their cages next to their overflowing bowls of kibble. One bunny lay seemingly lifeless in the sun off to the side, flopped over in a disconcerting state of unconsciousness (rest assured – we made sure it was in fact breathing).

I couldn’t help but notice the majority of the bunnies appeared related to one another.

BunnyZoneSkyCabInsideBunnyZoneAlbertoAndBunnyMoreBunnyZoneChilledOutBunniesHelloLangkawiBunnies

The bunnies would approach, tentatively, if you knelt down with a hand extended, perhaps sniffing for food, before hopping off to gnaw on a flower stalk, or to sniff other hands. They seemed to take a liking to Alberto much more than me.

This especially proved to be the case when I extended my hand toward what we determined was the cutest, most cuddly bunny in the whole park: a fuzzy white albino snuggled up under a blossoming tree, which didn’t hesitate advancing – but rather than giving me a quick nuzzle as expected, however, the creature BIT my middle finger before prancing off.

OW! What the… What the hell!?? What do I do!? Should I get antibiotics? Do I go get a rabies shot? Does that thing have rabies? How can you tell?? Think I can just get by with a good douse of neosporin? What the damn hell…!?

CuteYetFerociousBunnies

Langkawi is home to deadly crocodiles, monkeys with fangs, mighty eagles, bats, cockroaches, and a host of other welt-inducing creepy-crawlies, but what attacked me?

A darling little bunny.
Figures.

LangowiIslandOrientalVillageRiverFangedLangkawiMonkey

**For the record, my middle finger survived the bunny bite and is doing quite well – I appreciate all the kind words and concerns.

Trouble in Paradise [Guest Post]

Even though I’ve been enjoying myself in Australia (apart from the strep throat), I haven’t stopped thinking about my incredible nine weeks spent volunteering in Fiji.

To provide some more context, my fellow globe-trotting friend Sarah of Enrichmentality has kindly written a fantastic guest post – I had the pleasure of getting to know Sarah and her husband Simon during our volunteer placement in Fiji, and they were actually there when Cyclone Winston hit the islands this past February.

Read on for Sarah’s harrowing retelling of her first-hand experience (and be sure to check out her website for excellent money-related knowledge!)

TroubleInParadise

There are, apparently, 15 words for ‘heaven’ in the Fijian language – one of which is ‘yasawa’. And the Yasawa Islands, Fiji are certainly the closest thing to paradise I’ve experienced.

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Earlier this year, we were in Fiji with family when Cyclone Winston struck. We were out in the Yasawas, staying at the wonderful Naqalia Lodge and enjoying a Fijian dinner by kerosene lantern light, when the resort manager handed us two weather reports – one out of the country’s capital, Suva, and one out of the nearest city, Nadi.

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Each predicted a different path for the cyclone: one heading to Nadi, one heading to the Yasawas.

We had to make a choice – try to get on the evacuation ferry (which could be full by the time it got to us) and take our chances trying to find appropriate shelter on the mainland in Nadi.

Or, we could stay where we were, in the Yasawas, with the caveat that if Cyclone Winston did indeed hit Fiji and do a lot of damage (as it ultimately did), we could be stranded.

Deciding to take our chances with the boat, after a very rough ride, one injury, and a broken camera, we were back on the mainland, thanks to the extraordinarily skillful work of the various resort workers who managed to transfer terrified passengers from tiny boats onto the ferry in extremely choppy water.

Note the waves coming up over the side of the boat – this is the third floor deck!

Note the waves coming up over the side of the boat – this is the third floor deck!

We managed to find shelter in a dorm room at the hotel we had previously been staying at, and after a terribly windy night, awoke to debris everywhere. Several days later, when we could get our hands on a newspaper, we read a lot of tragic stories of lives and homes and livelihoods lost.

But the pages of the Fiji Times were also filled with messages of support and hope and thanks – for the local and international donations and aid. From our room overlooking the airport, we watched supply-carrying government and military aircraft landing on a runway lit by the headlights of cars, since the power was still out.

We were so grateful for the running water, the food, and the roof over our heads that we enjoyed.

We felt extraordinarily lucky – as we should every day.

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We made a few donations and did what we could to help out with the clean up, trying to relive some pressure from the staff who had their own homes and families to worry about. But we wanted to be out helping in the worst affected areas – although we didn’t have any structure to offer a hand through, and we weren’t keen to be wandering around offering help when the country was under a curfew and emergency services were already pushed to their limits.

At that time, we decided that we’d like to go back and help out as soon as we were free of the constraints of our jobs, and so, two days after my final work commitment, we boarded a plane back to Fiji to begin our volunteering experience.

Seven months on, much of Fiji looks restored to its idyllic reputation. Although there remains much work to be done, and your support is still needed, Fiji remains a beautiful place to visit.

Please be sure to visit Sarah’s website at Enrichmentality.com!

Down Under & Out of Commission

Hello all – apologies on the lack of activity on here in the past week. Just as I started to overcome my culture shock from arriving in Australia a little over a week ago, I came down with a NASTY case of strep throat that essentially rendered me bedridden the past 6 days. If it didn’t feel so lame, I’d probably still be in bed right now (I’m not in Australia to lie around in bed all day, after all!).

Because my head was throbbing incessantly (not to mention a variety of other unpleasant physical problems), I let myself take a week off from writing and staring at a screen for extended periods at a time.

That didn’t stop me from writing something though…

I’ve found terrible, terrible moments and/or illnesses often inspire some pretty good bad poetry (the only kind of poetry I excel at).

So, I present to you…

STREP THROAT REALNESS:

Pain
Oh, the pain
So severe
My lymph nodes
Can be seen quite clear
Oh, so much pain in my throat
I’m really not one to gloat
But my tonsils appear exemplary
Compared to WebMD’s symptom image dictionary
Damn you, streptococcal
You make it impossible to swallow more than a spoon-full
I could go on and on in prose
About the fluids spilling from my nose
Caused by the dis-functioning in my mouth
Let’s just say I’ve been drooling more, since heading south
When will I recover?
Not for 6-10 days, I gather
Fingers crossed the fever’s gone
I don’t like tossing and turning until the break of dawn
The worst part of having strep throat yet?
It’s just so inconvenient…

BrisbaneTea

Earl Grey Tea – my best friend for the past week

I’ll save the other really good bad poem I wrote a few years ago entitled “My Hangover” for another occasion…

Savusavu: Fiji’s “Hidden Paradise”

Savusavu is an interesting place. An insanely beautiful place, too.

I know I say this about almost everywhere I’ve been in Fiji so far, but I already decided I need to return to Savusavu in order to spend true quality time there. Twenty four hours was not nearly enough in “the hidden paradise of Fiji” to uncover all its hidden gems!

SavusavuFijiPalmTree

Let’s start at the beginning of the story: Saturday morning, it took every ounce of energy in me to force my disoriented self out of bed following a week of feverish sickness, before inhaling a bowl of sugar-drenched cornflakes and groggily making my way from the house down the pothole-ridden dirt road to the nearby bus stop, where I then caught a local bus to the main bus terminal in Labasa. The bus to Savusavu was apparently scheduled for 9:30 am, so I, sometimes being the over-planner that I am, boarded the bus the moment the doors opened in earnest attempts to grab a “good seat”.

Unlike the assorted bus options I’ve written about on Viti Levu, there’s really only one type of bus available on Vanua Levu: and you can bet it’s open air, musty, and un-air conditioned.

I enjoyed a row to myself on the sticky schoolbus-esque seats for approximately a third of the way to Savusavu, but for the majority of the two and a half-hour trip, the bus was overloaded probably three times its recommended capacity. That made it quite difficult to simply relax and admire the picturesque, oddly alpine-like scenery along the route, which twisted and turned, ascended and descended over Vanua Levu’s jagged mountain peaks, for the most part cutting straight through the middle of the island as opposed to its parameter.

VanuaLevuFijiRoadVanuaLevuLushMountainsVanuaLevuBusViewVanuaLevuFijiHorseVanuaLevuFijiBusViewToSavusavu

Albeit a gorgeous journey, I arrived in Savusavu sweaty, dehydrated, starving and slightly on-edge, not to mention completely dizzied by overstimulating panoramic views of the marina and bay, teeming with yachts and sailboats gliding across the smooth, shimmering water. It was overcast, but the sun still beat down heavily. I sincerely hoped I’d remembered to douse myself with sunscreen earlier that day.

I quickly realized I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing.

AlmostToSavusavuSavusavuTownFijiCloudyDayInSavusavuFiji

One major thing I wish I’d done differently on this excursion (and this is always tricky): I wish I hadn’t sought accommodations for the night in advance.

I’d made a dodgy room arrangement at a place called the “Gecko Lodge,” a seedy motel more than 3 kilometers from town, which I mistakenly reserved online via Booking.com the night beforehand (since one of my biggest fears while traveling is not having a place to sleep when I get to my destination). In this case, and especially because it was just one night, I absolutely should have taken my chances finding good accommodations upon my arrival. I digress…

VanuaLevuFijiFlower

Gecko Lodge did have very nice landscaping, and I do appreciate nice landscaping. I also appreciate a bed larger than twin-sized and a good air conditioning system. However, what I don’t appreciate is a cash-only payment system, particularly when all ATM machines in town aren’t functioning (typically indicating they’re out of cash; not an uncommon occurrence in the Fiji Islands).

On top of that, the Gecko Lodge manager for some reason thought it necessary to make special note of the laundry list of “resort rules” outlined on a faded laminated sheet taped to the wall, promptly inducing dreadful flashbacks to my micro-managed teenage boarding school years.

To say the least, it was uncomfortable.

When the manager’s dining recommendations consisted of every sketch, dilapidated Chinese seafood den I passed during the walk there, I knew with certainty Gecko Lodge was not where I should be.

So, I hoisted my overstuffed Northface backpack, 2 unopened liters of bottled Fiji Water in tow, and trudged (or “backpacked,” I suppose) towards town once again, stopping at a Grace Road Kitchen café for a much-needed very berry smoothie and recharge (read my raving review of the Grace Road Kitchen here!).

SavusavuShipViewSavusavuFijiShip

I ultimately spent the night at the Savusavu Hot Springs Hotel, a place I’d recommend to anyone and everyone traveling to Savusavu – not only does every room boast a private balcony with glittering ocean view, it’s within easy walking distance of town, has a nice swimming pool deck, and really isn’t that much more expensive per night than Gecko Lodge. And they accept credit card payments!

Because I have to get those airline mileage points, duh…

SavusavuHotSpringsHotelSavusavuLeftViewSavusavuRightView

As its name suggests, the Savusavu Hot Springs Hotel sits directly adjacent to the actual Savusavu hot springs, which to my surprise are not the type of hot springs I’m accustomed to (I pictured something similar to the giant hot springs swimming pool like they have in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, although they did have a medical hot springs spa close by).

You could literally boil something, cook your dinner, or cause some serious bodily harm in these hot springs (which are totally open to the public, by the way). Just take a look at the warning sign:

SavusavuHotSpringsWarningSavusavuHotSpringsFijiSavusavuHotSpringsCloseUpSavusavuHotSpringsVanuaLevuFiji

I’ll admit, overall, this trip was poorly planned and I barely researched the region enough ahead of time (was kind of a sporadic adventure). I later found out Savusavu offers a fantastic beach area (home to its renowned diving and snorkeling opportunities, I’m sure), which is evidently located on the exact opposite end of town I spent my day exploring.

Oh well. Next time.

Instead, I primarily hung out around the Copra Shed Marina, in part for the excellent pizza and utterly mesmerizing sunset, but also for an enjoyable break from the Savusavu’s semi-touristy riffraff (I love chatting with the locals – don’t get me wrong – but after a while it gets really boring explaining time after time no, I’m not with the Peace Corps; no, I don’t have children…).

SavusavuCopraShedBoatsSavusavuAmazingMarinaSunsetSavusavuFijiSunset

As it turns out, Savusavu is a fairly popular spot for American ex-pats (among numerous Kiwis and Australians), attracted to the tiny seaside yachting town for its bounty of freehold land and reasonable prices, at least according to one resident American, whom I conversed with for five minutes by the washroom mirror; a woman presumably in her late forties or so.

“My husband and I bought a place in Savusavu for very cheap, in American standards,” she raved, “and the property value keeps going up and up and up!”

I asked if she found maintaining a life abroad in Fiji expensive. The woman laughed.

“Oh no, the American dollar goes so far here, which is great, you know, like being from California, we’re super materialistic.”

To that, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at her rather withered khaki ensemble, but knew by that point in the evening my appearance, too, was likely a bit haphazard. Extensive island travel involving lots of wind does that, I guess.

SavusavuCopraShedMarinaLights

The night consisted of a variety of fascinating discussions with travelers from all over the globe, many of which had arrived in Savusavu by boat. Hearing their incredible stories and diverse voyage plans reminded me I’m not at all alone in wanting to see the world. If anything, I’m terribly behind on adventures.

Honestly, it seems I have a tremendous obligation to take back entire years of my life.

SavusavuBoatSunsetView

It’s Not All Sunshine and Rainbows.

To those who claim they’re jealous of what I’m doing – please know it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

Yesterday I endured my third experience in an island hospital (and no one ever wants to end up in an island hospital…), after spending the previous night vomiting my brains out from who-knows-what. Now everything smells weird, and I find myself missing my stale hospital bed, only because that’s the first time I’ve felt genuinely ‘cool’ in weeks…

Trying to recover from a hefty fever sans air conditioning feels similar to trying to stay completely dry while standing in a violent rainstorm sans umbrella or poncho. It’s just really, really, really not fun.

LabasaRiver

But, even despite the puking, and the heat, and the lack of hydration, I shouldn’t complain.

As I watched a series of welts from painful, itchy insect bites grow on my arms earlier this afternoon, I found myself thinking, well, it could be worse… I could be chained to a desk, staring at an excel spreadsheet right now…

Sick Day? Nahhhhhhhh

Getting sick happens to the best of us… Unfortunately, it seems to happen to me far too often, especially while traveling internationally. No matter how many vitamins, special immunity serums or zinc tablets I take, some foreign bug always makes its way into my system.

This time around, thankfully, all that’s plaguing me is some strange sinus infection/head cold hybrid, accompanied by these bizarre fever dreams while trying to sleep the past several days, in which I believed someone was trying to nudge me awake all night long. Kinda freaky.

Having a bad case of sniffles in the tropics also feels oddly inappropriate. How on earth did I catch a cold here?

The smallest tub of ice cream I could find... But damn was it exactly what I needed

The smallest tub of ice cream I could find… But damn was it exactly what I needed

Despite being bedridden for the past three days, I will take this any day over last year’s nasty several-week-long bout of e coli, caught from some bad tap water down on the Coral Coast. I’ll save that story for another time…

As long as I don’t end up in an island hospital again, that’s all I care about. Trust me – no one ever wants to end up in an island hospital.

The island hospital I wound up in last year... When I drove by it last week, it actually appears to be shut down now, perhaps from Cyclone Winston damage

The island hospital I wound up in last year… When I drove by it last week, it actually appears to be shut down now, perhaps from Cyclone Winston damage

I forced myself to venture out of the house earlier today for the first time all week, just to buy Kleenex, Powerade and ice cream. Getting to wander around for a bit was nice, but almost having a fainting spell in the center of downtown Lautoka quickly reminded me I’m far from invincible.

I probably should continue to take it easy for the next day or so, as sad as that makes me… I desperately just want to feel good again so I can go out and explore!

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So, even though I’m still technically ‘sick’ and very much out of commission, I did my best to make today a relatively productive travel-planning day, and finally got my flights booked from Suva to Taveuni Island later in August.

I don’t even know much about Taveuni Island yet, other than that it’s Fiji’s third-largest island, home to scenic waterfalls and enticingly known as the “Garden Island of Fiji,” probably due to the island’s lush abundant tropical rainforests. Doesn’t sound like a bad place to spend a week.

After that, I’ll be heading over to Fiji’s second-largest island Vanua Levu for a while, where I’ll likely be volunteering for the remainder of my time in Fiji. Plans are still in the works, but I can already tell it’ll be an extraordinary adventure…

Just gotta get heal up first! UFF DA.

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Why I’ll Never Travel to Cabo Alone Again

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A nice glimpse of the marina in downtown Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

In a desperate attempt to clear my head from the toxic accumulation of several month’s worth of high stress and general bad luck last year, I did something I’d never done before – I went out of town by myself on a complete last-minute whim, planning my entire solo trip less than a week in advance.

At first I didn’t even know where to go – my only criteria was the location had to be warm and far, far away from Colorado.

I chose my destination based primarily on flight cost, and at five days prior to departure, I only had three reasonably priced options: Cabo, Phoenix, and El Paso, Texas.

The winner was pretty obvious.

Using the Hotel Tonight app, I booked three nights at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos, the cheapest beachfront accommodations available somewhere in the stodgy outskirts of San José del Cabo. I suppose I should have expected something dreadful simply because of the meager price, but that’s just all part of the learning experience…

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Observing the nice cacti garden outside Los Cabos International Airport

En route to Los Cabos and enjoying a mango margarita outside the airport upon arrival, back when I still super excited...

En route to Los Cabos and enjoying a mango margarita outside the airport upon arrival, back when I still super excited…

I immediately knew something had to be off the moment my airport shuttle rounded the driveway of what at first appeared to be a live construction site, tucked behind a mountainous heap of dirt, overgrown brush and rusting debris. I couldn’t find the name of the resort anywhere.

“Are you sure this is it?” I asked the shuttle driver, hesitant to unload at whatever this strange, disheveled place was that looked nothing like the resort website.

“Ah sí, sí,” he responded hurriedly, clearly anxious to move on with his route. There were still several other passengers in the van waiting to get dropped off, already blitzed from too many tequila sunrises at the overpriced outdoor airport bar, which of course was conveniently placed right by the arrivals pick-up curb.

“Just get on with it, will yeh!” a particularly belligerent male could be heard shouting from the back.

I took a deep breath, gathered my things, and hoped for the best.

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The Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos did have nice plants

Entering the main hotel lobby of the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos was like stepping into a blazing hot inferno, which seemed odd considering the exterior’s breezy, thatched hut-like appearance. The heat was absolutely stifling, so I certainly didn’t complain when the host at the front desk handed me a nice chilled face cloth, along with my greatly anticipated complimentary check-in glass of champagne.
However, just as I was finally starting to feel at ease, the series of unexpected daunting questions arose.

“So, señora, when does your husband plan to arrive?”

“What?” This was extremely confusing, since I knew I’d made my online reservation specifically for one person. I explained all this to the stocky male receptionist, that I was by myself and had reserved just a basic room for one with one king-sized. He eyed me skeptically, one of his bristly dark brows raised.

“Ah… So your husband arrives tomorrow then?”

“No… No! No. No tengo un esposo. Estoy solo.” What was so difficult to understand? Then it occurred to me, maybe the resort didn’t see solo female travelers often. Or ever.

“Ok then,” the receptionist muttered, clearly displeased. “So, would you prefer a room with an ocean view, or a room with air conditioning?”

“What!?”

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The most arid fountain I’ve ever seen, tucked in the middle of the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos

Not wanting to suffer through the projected 90-degree heat without it, I chose a room with air conditioning, hopeful whatever view I had would be pleasant enough. Before long, a bellboy who appeared no older than sixteen years old led me to my assigned accommodations – a ramshackle room in a dilapidated building I’m pretty sure was not fit to have anyone staying in it.

I actually did end up having a nice partial glimpse of the ocean out the side of my balcony, which was only partly blocked by a massive mound of dirt and decomposing rubble, but otherwise got a terrific uninterrupted view of what appeared to be the resort’s unsightly construction parking and leisure area.

The best part of my hotel room view at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos

The best part of my hotel room view at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos

Doesn't the scenery just take your breath away?

Doesn’t the scenery just take your breath away?

Everything about the room was just plain seedy, offering a dismal atmosphere similar to what one might expect from the local prison. Tiles were missing from the floor. The ceiling fans did not work. All lamps and lighting fixtures were missing light bulbs, except for one poor, dim fluorescent light flickering relentlessly overhead.

The cold tap in the bathroom sink didn’t work so the water only came out scalding, which made washing hands and brushing teeth a painful challenge. Fortunately, while it was possible to control the water temperature in the shower, something was very wrong with the shower head or water pressure as it seemed to spray uncontrollably in every direction, causing a small flood throughout the bathroom with each rinse.

For some reason the glass on my balcony door sported the name of a different resort, ‘La Jolla,’ further adding to the confusion.

Wait a minute... I thought I was staying at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos?

Wait a minute… I thought I was staying at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos?

Apparently to the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos, the concept ‘air conditioning’ means a very outdated, dubious-looking box contraption barely hanging by a few wires above the balcony door, occasionally spitting out mouse farts of air slightly cooler than the overall temperature.
I know I totally could have asked to change rooms, considering there was nothing even remotely satisfactory about mine. But, because I was only there for three days for the sole purpose of enjoying the beach alone, I did my absolute best to not mind the copious issues.

A highly retouched photo I took of my hotel room at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos

A highly retouched photo I took of my dingy hotel room at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos

Going into this trip, I had secretly hoped it would be something like my amazing Turks and Caicos solo travel experience the year before. A thrilling, life-changing (not to mention wildly relaxing) getaway full of memories I’d cherish for a lifetime. I wanted to meet exciting new people, make new friends, have more fun than ever imaginable and completely forget my life back home.

Clearly this was expecting too much.

A hazy beach view from the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos' pool area

A hazy beach view from the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos’ pool area

For some reason the hotel was eerily empty, with the exception of a few Mexican families, assorted senior citizens and one lone American couple around my age who mistakenly chose the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos as their honeymoon destination.

The social scene was indeed bleak.

On top of that, there was no open bar, but rather a grossly overpriced swim-up pool bar with a barely convincing 2-for-1 happy hour I eventually learned to take smart advantage of (which I’ll admit was a fun novelty, if not the resort’s only fun amenity).

The bartenders at the swim-up pool bar were also the only ones at the hotel who didn’t grimace whenever I asked them to refill my Klean Kanteen water bottle with drinking water, as opposed to buying pricey bottled water from the gift shop per the front desk’s suggestion. This was very much a budget vacation, no way was I paying for bottled drinking water!

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The swim-up pool bar at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos

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No complaints here

My days in Cabo were spent mostly by the pool or at the beach, despite the resort’s warnings not to go anywhere near it. Red flags indicating dangerous currents waved prominently over the beach walkway, so I knew not to swim, but I saw no reason not to use this perfectly golden, entirely empty beach as my own personal sunbathing oasis.

I literally had the entire beach to myself – though the view was hazy, I could see down the coast for miles, giving me plenty of warning should any strangers amble by.

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I crashed early the first night, thanks to the sheer exhaustion from my red-eye flight there. The second night however, I wanted to explore – and to my dismay, there was nothing at all worth exploring in the vicinity of the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos. In fact, the only other commercial establishments within walking distance (albeit very treacherous walking distance) were a miniscule cash-only cantina and a small strip mall best described as ‘plain sketch,’ containing a run-down Applebee’s and what apparently was the only available ATM nearby.

After declining the front desk’s recommendation to sign up for some expensive all-night party bus journey that just screamed FOREBODING MESS, I decided I’d venture over to Cabo San Lucas to explore on my own, hoping for the best and seeing where the evening would take me.

Ensuring I had plenty of daylight hours left to look around before dark, I paid for a taxi ride into Cabo San Lucas’ main commercial center, where I initially found myself thinking well, this is where all the tourists are!

The place was BUSTLING. Hoards of overweight middle-aged Americans, overwhelmed younger families struggling to hold onto their small children, and teenagers sporting cut-offs with matching puff-painted tank tops filled the sidewalks and streets, which were lined with an interesting combination of kitschy gift shops, authentic-looking cantinas, taco joints, timeshare offices, over-the-top touristy restaurants and flashy nightclubs.

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Strolling down the marina boardwalk in downtown Cabo San Lucas

I think I wandered every inch of downtown Cabo San Lucas possible. After walking up, down and around each street, up and down the marina, through the enormous dreary shopping mall and around the adjacent ‘Luxury Avenue’ area, it was time to stop and find a place to rest up and have dinner.

Refusing to give into the relentless cat-calling and inappropriate comments I knew would inevitably accompany my trek, ‘special offers’ from desperate restaurant-owners hoping to lure poor naïve souls in for who knows what, I eventually decided on Desperado’s Restaurant & Cantina, a grandiose Tex Mex eatery teeming with tourists and advertising a popular late night live music show. No, it was not ‘authentic’ Latin cuisine nor did the establishment seem to represent anything in regards to the local culture – I picked it solely because no one’d harassed me to be a customer, so I figured I’d be safe there.

As the evening progressed, it became increasingly more apparent the judgmental hotel staff at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa Los Cabos weren’t the only ones who thought it incredibly strange I was a single female traveling alone in Los Cabos. The server at Desperado’s found my plight fascinating, while others I encountered throughout the night had no hesitations in expressing their strong disapproval.

All that followed dinner was one uncomfortable incident after another.

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My view from the tiki bar in downtown Cabo San Lucas

First, I decided to grab a drink at the whimsical tiki-themed bar across the street, which looked tame enough. The entire place was empty, and the endearing bartender couldn’t have been more enthusiastic in telling me about their daily drink special: a free shot of tequila paired with the order of a Corona or Modelo. Why not…

Reminding myself I was technically on vacation, I went ahead and ordered the special, figuring a shot of tequila wouldn’t hit too hard so soon after dinner. I enjoyed a few moments of relaxation, sipping my Corona while occasionally glancing up at the large TV screen mounted above the bar, which blared a random medley of Taylor Swift music videos on a loop.

“So what are you up to tonight, señorita?” The bartender’s voice broke my trance, serving as a quick reminder to keep my guard up. He spoke with a thick accent in friendly, broken English.

The bartender carried on with collecting my empty shot glass and beer bottle, smiling at me warmly. I told him I just planned to see where the night would take me.

“Well,” he replied slowly, “I get off work soon, and I live only a block away, over there.” He gestured across the street. “If you meet me back here in an hour, I can show you the whole city.”

Flattered as I was, in absolutely no way did I intend to take this guy up on his offer.

“Meet me on this corner, this one here, in about an hour!” he called after me as I walked away.

“Yeah! Yeah, I mean I… I’ll have to see… I don’t really know… Yeah… Sure,” I stammered back, smiling, nodding and waving for what seemed an appropriate amount until I’d finally traveled out of reasonable conversation range.

Finding the social atmosphere I craved so badly was proving to be much more difficult than expected.

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Nightfall was rapidly approaching, so I took a long walk along the marina to watch the dazzling sunset glisten over the water. Dazzling shades of orange and violet filled the sky and the mirror-like reflection in the water below, accompanied by a striking backdrop of stark red peaks jutting out from the horizon. It was truly mesmerizing.

Keenly aware of Cabo San Lucas’ reputation as a wild party town, it dawned on me by this point in the evening that staying out much later would not be a smart or safe decision, especially alone. I would have one more drink, I decided, and then return back to the resort. What could go wrong?

I stopped by a busy restaurant in the bottom of a nice-looking hotel, where I went ahead and sat myself up at the bar near a group of middle-aged American ladies and quickly opened my book, just so to avoid appearing quite so alone. Moments later, an older Hispanic man claiming to be the restaurant owner greeted me with a zealous welcome, followed by a strangely familiar interrogation with the same list of uncomfortable questions I’d sadly grown to expect in Los Cabos.

“Where is your husband?” Not here…
“He must be getting into Los Cabos late then. When does your husband arrive?” There is no husband…

In hindsight, I should have absolutely lied to everyone about being single and alone on this trip.

As soon as the restaurant manager learned I was alone, he exchanged an ominous glance with the bartender, who immediately presented me with a tequila shot. I explained that I had not ordered a shot, nor did I particularly desire one.

“Oh no that shot is free for you,” the manager exclaimed, laughing. “It’s specially to you from that bartender over there, he’s shy.” He pointed at the bartender who smiled back coyly. Not typically one to pass up a free drink, I took my shot reluctantly, praying it hadn’t been laced.

I returned my focus to my book, hoping the obsequious serving staff would leave me in peace so I could finish my last few sips of beer. Next thing I knew, two more tequila shots slid down the bar towards me.

“Those are for you,” the bartender said, winking. The restaurant manager had stopped by again too, clearly thrilled I’d been given two more shots.

“I really don’t need these…” I responded. It was not my goal to get wasted that night, much less drugged and assaulted. I managed to force half of one more shot down before tossing the remaining tequila over my shoulder (a favorite party trick from college).

To my dismay, the manager seemed enthralled by my apparent shot-taking abilities. “So señorita, what are you up to tonight after this? You know, I live real close to here… You should come over, if you want…”

Why do all these Mexican men think I want to go out with them, just because I’m traveling solo?!

“Here, try this shot next…” As if the situation hadn’t become alarming enough, the bartender presented me with one last complimentary shot – not tequila, but rather a creepy, grotesque substance in shot form.

“What is this?” I asked, wincing.

“That’s called a brain tumor,” he replied with a grin.

My stomach dropped.

I have a very sensitive family history involving brain cancer, and that was exactly the sign I needed to get myself out of there. I left cash on the bar for my beer and proceeded to gather my belongings.

“Now wait, where do you think you’re going?” Like flipping a switch, the restaurant manager’s temperament had gone from friendly and welcoming to almost menacing in an instant. I sensed he had nothing but sinister motives in mind.

“Sorry, but I just got my cue to leave. Time to go.” I grabbed my bag, waved one final adieu, and promptly left without looking back.

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The marina boardwalk in downtown Cabo San Lucas

My heart palpitated heavily as I power-walked away. It was barely 9:30 pm, but I wanted nothing more than to just get back to the resort. After battling a group of wasted teenage boys for a cab and haggling with the inexplicably crabby driver for a somewhat reasonably fair rate, I was on my way “home” – finally, I could breathe.

Little did I know, the worst was just beginning.

…to be continued.

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Cabo San Lucas marina at dusk

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2, COMING SOON!!