Posts Tagged ‘scheduling stress’

45. Bedbugs

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Allen Brisson-Smith for The New York Times

Photo: Allen Brisson-Smith for The New York Times

Recent reports of bedbug issues in major cities (New York, Toronto, Montreal, Prince Albert — you know, big cities — etc.), stirred a faint but disturbing memory of my first run-in with the aptly named bloodsucking pests, which are as familiar to globetrotting backpackers as communal bathrooms.

It was in Amsterdam, on the last night of my buddy Mitch’s and my first backpacking trip to Europe (beenou). We were set to fly home to Canada. We’d wanted to stay at the Flying Pig Hostel ‘cuz it was recommended by an English dude we met in Prague as “the best party hostel in Amstahdaahm,” but given its bacchanal reputation, it was full. So we picked the cheapest place(1) down the street, and it was a little grimy(2), but would have to do.

Of course, we partied like rock stars that night and passed out in a fog, in our 16-bunk dorm room(1). I vaguely remember a burly, hairy orc of a man(3) drunkenly opening the dorm door to the bright hallway lights, stumbling in with a giggling wench(3) literally carrying her over his shoulder, caveman-style. Our cohabitants sneered at the light like vampires, rolled over and went back to sleep. He grunted and tossed her onto his bed, incidentally the bunk below Mitch’s. He proceeded to make it with her(3), beneath Mitch (a light sleeper to begin with), who was tossing and turning, kicking the creaky aluminum bed frame out of sheer frustration.

As white Greg Oden thrusted away, I lied there on the hostel sheet thinking: a) I hope they fucking wash these sheets well, and b) THIS is why you bring a sleep sheet — what if there are bedbugs in these mattresses?

We eventually fell back asleep, awakened by the alarm, the sunlight coming in and the disgusting stench(2) of 17 drunk people’s unconscious breathing. Always running late, we didn’t have time to shower(3); we simply grabbed our bags and rushed to the airport. On the train to the airport, I felt itchy under my t-shirt. Really itchy. I peeled back my shirt to find red little welts all over my chest. Bedbug bites. Just as I was coming home. Perfect. These were itchier than mosquito bites. It was terrible. I didn’t want to scratch them, ‘cuz I would’ve easily scratched ’til the skin broke, so I remember slapping myself constantly while checking in and going through customs.

But then on the plane, my face got mumpy and flushed. My cheeks were hot to touch. Mitch got worried, saying, “Dude, drink some water or something. You look terrible. They’re gonna think you’re an OD’ing drug mule.” It was unbearable. I asked the flight attendant for some anti-histamines(4), which she promptly brought me. I kept slapping away at my chest, arms and behind my knees. Then, my face cleared.

“Oh, the anti-histamines must be working. You look better,” Mitch said. I peeled back my shirt and my whole chest was mumpy and flushed — the rash was just moving downward. Mitch was laughing his ass off. “Sorry to laugh, man. It’s just so funny.”

Mitch later wrote, in an e-mail: “This bedbug thing is true. On our way home, Al developed some strange rash from what we think are bedbug bites, making his skin swollen and red. He looked like Woogie from Something About Mary. I was also covered in tiny bites but didn’t develop quite as painful a rash.”

In closing, I’ve compiled a list of reasons/red flags/considerations for possible bedbug encounters while backpacking:
1. Low budget
2. Second-rate hostel hygiene
3. Second-rate guest hygiene
4. Allergic reactions

– Nov. 22: It seems for some people, hostels aren’t all “dirty, noisy (or) packed with party hounds.” Jane E. Fraser of the Sydney Morning Herald explains: Youth hostels: how the dorm became the norm

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37. Passport/Visa Stress

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

I had a Run Lola Run day a couple weeks ago. It was horrifying.

Cold sweat runs down your back. Your heart rate increases. It feels like the second hand is advancing in a smooth and rapid motion, rather than its usual ticking. There aren’t enough minutes in an hour; not enough hours in the day.

cinemapage-run-lola

Just like Manni, in Run Lola Run, I called my girlfriend in a fit of panic. Short of breath, my world was caving in. I had to fly out of the country in a week and even though I’d sent my passport renewal application away a month ago, it still wasn’t processed (I found out later it takes 20 business days to process, not 20 days). The passport office didn’t even know where my application was. And since I’d sent it by snail mail — rather than by registered mail — it couldn’t be tracked. Like Manni, I was freaking out ‘cuz I fucked up.

I hopped on my bike and pedalled violently, until I couldn’t feel my legs. The passport office requested I provide proof of travel (i.e. a printed flight itinerary) within the next couple hours, so they could put a rush on my application (if they could even find it among the stacks of passports awaiting renewal) and issue me a new one in time for my flight. If it was lost, I’d have to re-apply from scratch (with new photos, a guarantor and all that other bullshit), also on a rush.

I got to my office, printed the itinerary, told my boss I was taking the rest of the day off, hurried home, dropped off my bike, and drove my g.f.’s car back to the passport office and delivered the proof of travel. The back of my shirt was soaked with sweat. “What’s next?” I asked the passport officer. “We’ll see if it pops up on the system tomorrow morning. If not, it’s Plan B: re-apply for a new one.”

Luckily, they found it and I didn’t have to go through the added stress of re-applying. It was over. But I didn’t exhale until my new passport was in my hands, three days later. Hats off to Passport Canada: Their staff was patient and helpful, and putting a rush on it only cost me $30.

Czech Visa in Bratislava: It wasn’t the first time I’d had a day like that. Back in ’02, my buddy and I arrived in Bratislava, Slovakia on July 31. We understood that we needed to get a tourist visa to enter the Czech Republic*, but we didn’t know it would take five to 10 days to get it. Since, we were scheduled to fly from Prague to Amsterdam on Aug. 5, we frantically ran around Bratislava trying to get passport photos and reschedule our flight. When the dust finally cleared, we changed our flight to Aug. 11. So, instead of heading to Brussels and Paris from Amsterdam, we spent the rest of our trip in Slovakia and Prague. Turned out to be more fun (and more affordable) than we’d expected.

*Apparently, as a couple of Québécois guys informed us, the CR imposed a visa requirement for Canadians in 2001, as a reaction to a 1997 Canadian policy that required Czechs to obtain visas to enter Canada. They told us a Czech film (it was actually a TV report on Czech Roma in Ostrava) had showed a family of Czech immigrants flourishing in Canada, which caused an influx of Czechs immigrants and led to Canada’s imposing a visa requirement for Czechs. The Québécois guys were right.

Vietnamese Visa in Bangkok: In ’07, I had another stressful, fun-filled visa day in Bangkok. It was my second-last day in the city and I knew I wanted to go to Vietnam (via Laos). What I didn’t know was that I had to get the visa while in Thailand. It takes at least a day to be processed. Fuck. So I sprinted from my Khao San-area hostel to take pictures of the Reclining Buddha and knock it off my checklist, then I jumped in a metered cab to rush to the Viet Embassy. The traffic was unbelievable; my stress level was climbing. I asked the cabbie how far. He said 20 minutes. I offered him a 50 baht tip if he could arrive in under 20 minutes. He hit the gas and suddenly we were flying, taking all kinds of short cuts on backroads. We got there in 17 minutes.

Once there, I had to fill out the the visa form (among other backpackers who were also tearing their hair out), run to an adjacent business to get my photo taken, submit the form and think on my toes. The visa officer showed me a price list. In order of increasing cost, I had to choose between: single-entry visa ready in three days (no), single entry visa ready tomorrow (?), multiple entry visa ready in three days (no), multiple entry visa ready tomorrow (?). Option 2 cost 2,500 baht (or $77 USD), which was half as much as Option 4. The officer grew impatient. She started tapping her pen on the desk. I picked Option 2 and decided I’d just see as much of Vietnam as possible in one fell swoop.

I picked up my visa the next day, in time for me to catch the night train from Bangkok to the Lao border. Another bullet dodged. When I boarded the train, my back was still drenched with sweat. But maybe it was just the humidity. Yeah right.

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35. Budget Airlines

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

“This is why we Brits call RyanAir ‘Ryan Scare,'” said the 40-year-old lady beside me, gripping her armrests as the plane prepared to land. There was a characteristically heavy bump, the cabin shook, a couple kids shrieked and about half the passengers cheered and applauded.

It was funny but weird. I’d never witnessed a landing like that before. It was as though the entire plane knew it was a rookie pilot’s first landing. In fact, people have come to expect bad landings — bad service and an all-around bad experience — from Ireland’s popular budget airline. And while everybody complains about it and other airlines like it around the world (the UK’s easyJet, Malaysia’s Air Asia, Thailand’s One-Two-GO Airlines and Australia’s Jetstar, are a few examples*), the planes are full.

airasia_plane

You could pin it on the recession, but budget airlines are profitable because passengers are willing to accept inconveniences in exchange for a cheaper fare. These airlines are a necessary evil for travelers and backpackers on tight budgets, people who accept dealing with loads of crap in order to save a couple hundred bucks on a one-way flight — just one of many legs on a long, transcontinental tour.

And why not? Every traveler knows that a trip is only limited by two things, time and money, the latter of which explains why budget airlines exist: If everybody had unlimited cash, absolutely nobody would actually CHOOSE to fly on a budget airline. All you naysayers would have to beat a polygraph to convince me that if you won the lottery, you’d still fly budget. No fucking way.

The following are reasons why, budget airlines are a luxury traveler’s worst nightmare:

  • Remote, suburban airports. Anybody who’s flown out of Paris-Beauvais at the crack of dawn knows how much of a hassle it is. If your flight departs at 8 a.m. you have to leave downtown Paris by 4:30 to get to the subway, ride it for an hour (5 to 6 a.m.) to the end of the line, hope it doesn’t have any line delays, and sprint with your luggage to a bus that takes you from the end of the line (45 min.) to the suburb of Beauvais. Once there, you stand (not enough seating in there for everyone)  in a terminal full of tired and annoyed fellow passengers until the bitter end of the boarding process because you didn’t pay the extra 4€, you don’t get priority boarding.
  • Early morning or late evening flights. You can’t avoid the above scenario, unless you take the late evening flight, which arrives at your destination at 9:30 p.m. By the time you get through customs and take the shuttle bus all the way into the city, all the hostels are full.
  • “Air bus” efficiency. There’s no time to wait. Because the plane you just landed on must be immediately filled and sent back to its city of origin, the overworked flight attendants are spraying and wiping down the sweaty leather seats as passengers are deplaning. I’ve gotten on planes with seats still wet with disinfectant. It’s disgusting.
  • Cramped seating. The Dutch are apparently the world’s tallest people. They must loathe budget airlines.
  • No frills. Absolutely none. You gotta pay for baggage, priority boarding, food and even water. While purchasing an a ticket on RyanAir.com, the shysters actually make you check “No insurance” among a list of nationalities, so if you’re not paying attention, you’ll just check your country name and inadvertently pay for insurance.
  • Shitty pilots. Just kidding. I honestly have no idea if this is true or not, but it may be safe to assume budget airlines do not offer pilot salaries competitive with those of  major airlines. It may also be safe to assume the best pilots go to the highest bidder.

* To see a complete list of the world’s budget airlines check out Wikipedia’s List of low-cost Airlines.

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34. ‘Departures’

Friday, March 5th, 2010

It’s a fantastic show, made by my fellow Canadian backpackers, but I hate it.

The award-winning reality show drives me up the wall with jealousy. Having done the buddy travel thing so many times (beenou), watching Departures on OLN Canada continually brings back me to the same question: WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THIS?

Well, I don’t have a cinematic genius of a third friend willing to accompany buddy and me on trips to obscure and exciting destinations. Wait a second. I do have such a third friend. What the hell am I doing working a nine to five?!

See what I mean? The show drives me crazy.

departures21

I’d been able to avoid the show as much as possible until two days ago, when I came across a Lindsay Post article  (by Brian Gorman of ZAP2IT): ‘Departures’ a dream come true for three adventurers. Damn you, Gorman, for reminding me of missed travel, TV stardom and wealth opportunities!

I feel like one of the pimps on Dave Chappelle’s sketch “The Player Haters’ Ball,” where each character takes his turn ripping into the other, as well as into celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell and The Osbournes. The pimps pull no punches, regardless of their victims’ good intentions — it’s all for the sake of hating (see 27. One-uppers). Is the hatred driven by jealously? Probably. But my job, as with theirs, is to hate and hate well.

The reality show is successful — it has “a cult following and eight Gemini nominations under its belt, including a best photography win for (cameraman Andre) Dupuis,” Gorman writes — because it’s genuine. The two travelers, Scott Wilson and Justin Lukach, are longtime buddies from Brantford, Ontario (indeed, the hometown of another affable Canadian hero, Wayne Gretzky). Their conversations, tribulations, discoveries and overall enthusiasm are candid, but more importantly, they’re believable.

I understand that saying a reality show is good because it’s genuine may be stating the obvious, but after watching the shit-eater supreme Jake Pavelka compete on The Bachelorette last year for the affections of Canadian Jillian Harris (That’s the third Canadian reference this entry. Call it post-Olympic patriotism, people. I kinda hate the Olympics too, by the way), only to be granted extended C-list fame with his own show entitled The Bachelor: On the Wings of Love (Note: Pavelka is a commercial pilot), let’s just say my faith in reality TV, not to mention in the intelligence of the general public, has taken a nose dive.

I digress. From one honest episode to the next, the Departures duo struggles with common backpacker issues, including money transfer hassles, long-distance relationships and break-ups, scheduling stress and missed flights, travel companion tension, foreign hospitals, constant hangovers and homesickness before the otherworldly backdrops of Antarctica, Ascension Island (in the South Atlantic; I know, I didn’t know it existed either), Libya, Mongolia, the Cook Islands and Iceland. Not your typical backpacking haunts. To call what they do a dream job is like saying Kevin Durant is proving to be an alright NBA player.

“The biggest quest for us is to find real authentic places that, when you walk up to people, they look at you like you’re from another world,” said Lukach, in the article. “We have found those places, but it takes so much to get to those spots. We don’t get off a plane and drive for an hour. We get off a plane and trek in the jungle for three or four days.” BEENOU.

So, to Andre, Scott and Justin, I say: Kudos and keep up the good work, fellas. Keep living the dream. And, I hate you all.

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