Seven Travel Lessons Learnt From Bitter Experience
1: There is a Time and a Place for Hallucinogens
That time and place is not a Moroccan beach patrolled by men in hooded cloaks with large rifles. Nor is it a Malian brothel (I’m sorry, I mean, of course, “a cheap hotel”) at peak time on a Saturday night. Should the time and place involve large bodies of water, be aware that it is possible to forget how to swim.
2: Hitch-hiking as a Solo Female is not a Good Idea
Hitching from Durban to Johannesburg and Johannesburg to Cape Town in apartheid South Africa, I met many interesting men. Some of them armed, many of them drunk, several both armed and drunk, and one so utterly muntered he asked me to drive his road train. It was, however, the German businessman who seamlessly combined autobahn manoeuvring with vigorous masturbation that made me realise there are safer ways to get around.
3: It is Unwise to Argue with Men with Guns
When soldiers walk into an African bar and order everyone out at gunpoint, it is sensible to obey *before* you see what a man’s stomach looks like with an AK-47 jabbed deep into its folds. Be aware that, should foreigners not of your party start bitching about their rights and asking to see their consul, they will, notwithstanding, arrest you too. (Note: if the surly man at your table turns out to be the chief of police, you will be extremely glad you bought your round.)
4: Your Health is More Important than Good Manners
It is hard to turn down hospitality, Christ knows. Even if, having forced rancid goat fat past my gag reflex in the Mauritanian Sahara, it is sometimes almost equally hard to accept. If a sub-Saharan welcome ritual involves drinking the water, even if only as a dilutant in a communal bowel of fermented camel milk, it’s wise to fake, not take, your sip, before third world hospitality leads to a third world hospital.
5: It is Critical to Know Where You Are Staying at all Times
Having no sense of direction is never good. Especially when you have just kicked a prospective rapist in the balls and run like hell into the back streets of a small Czech town. It is also handy to avoid conflict when popping out for a quiet dinner with your small son in a Lao town where everything starts with an X.
6: There Are Some Bars You Simply Should Not Go Into
As my saviour sped his truck out of the driveway, my 6’4″ courtier battering on the windows and grappling with the door lock, I realized that bars under migrant worker hostels in the rougher parts of Africa are places best avoided as a solo female. Should you end up in a really dodgy bar with local friends, stay with them, and leave with them.
7: Road Condition Matters on a Motorbike
It is, I have learned, perfectly possible to get a small automatic motorbike both up and, most alarmingly, down a rocky track most suitable for 4WDs, even in the dark. It is not, necessarily, what you or your passenger signed up for when planning your big adventure. As, err, we found in the course of our drive across Sumbawa.