There is little doubt in my mind that, until now, this has been my greatest travel mishap. It had all been planned meticulously. I was to take the Royal Air Force flight, which allows 20 seats for civilians, from Brize Norton in Oxford to Ascension, stay there for 3 days and then take the next flight south to the Falklands, leaving me 2 days on the desolate islands before the once a week flight to Chile. And then the unthinkable happened. Snow paralysed the UK entirely, so the plane couldn't come, while I was stranded on what must be the most boring, pointless rock in the history of the world. There was no indication as to when the plane may actually arrive and, as the clock was ticking and I was going crazy with boredom on Ascension, the worst possibility would be to miss the flight to Chile and then be stranded on the Falklands for a whole week! In the end, after I almost lost it, finishing 3 books, driving round the small island as much as I could and eating tinned spaghetti, which was among the only things available, the plane came 2 days late. Thanks to my parents' intervention (they found the phone number of the airbase in the Falklands and warned them) I made my connection to Chile for an hour, not seeing anything down in the Falklands other than the airport and with cracked nerves. I kissed the ground in Punta Arenas. The irony is...I am set to see Ascension again...
One of my double disasters, and the only one involving daylight robbery, was in Georgia. I knew this place was dangerous and took all precautions, including walking everywhere with a plastic bag to fit in with the locals, and taking minimum cash with me. This served me well when I was approached right in the centre of town and asked for all of my money by a man proporting to be holding a gun in his pocket. Our communication took place in Russian. I was terrified, keeping in mind that only a few months before a school friend of mine had been knifed dead in Mexico in broad daylight. At any rate, the $10 that I had in my pocket were the only ransom the man got, and when he was told I was Greek, he ended up inviting me to lunch, but I declined and sought refuge in the post office to catch my breath and prepare for the long walk back to the hotel. Worse was the fact that, again as a precaution, I had opted for a safe at the hotel, and somewhere along the road lost the key. Redemption cost: $200. I was devastated. What an idiot.
I awoke to a white city. This was not the way it was when I had gone to bed the night before. I had planned to walk to the central train station and from there take the bus to the airport for my 9.30 a.m. flight to Seoul, my first time in South Korea. It appears, though, that Japan is ill-equipped to handle snowfall. The airport buses were all grounded and I was told, and barely understood, that I had to take the train and then from some station at the end, the bus. This seemed fine, given I had 2 and a half hours to departure. However, time evaporated, with trains also grounded, coming and stopping at the station, filled like sardines, and general miscommunication - there were not many westerners around, if any. By the time I got to the station to take the airport bus, it was 9.05 and I had given up any hope of making my flight, and wondering what would happen next. I got to the airport at 9.23. I remember running like a crazed maniac, and finding an empty check-in desk, and crying for dear life: SEOUL!!! I was told that the flight was closed, but to my advantage, had no luggage. In the end, they rushed me through immigration at the speed of a gazelle and I made the plane sweating and ready for a nervous breakdown. After some asian noodles for breakfast on the plane, I was almost ok by the time I landed in Seoul an hour or so later. If not, I would have been rerouted via Manila I think, who knows at what cost. Perhaps not a disaster as such, but for those two hours, my nerves were out.
It's December 22 and the Christmas rush is at its peak. And the snow begins...and soon, Vancouver airport is a mass of snow, and we are on the plane for 3 hours, being de-iced, attempting to depart and failing. We were served dinner while on the plane at the airport, which was a first. In the end, we got off the plane after a 3 hour wait, and were eventually bussed to a hotel. I got to sleep at 2 a.m. when the plane was meant to leave at 7 pm. We did make it out 24 hours later - by which time many of the passengers had figured they won't see Christmas at home. My destination was London, so with no connections, all was ok.
It started at Cancun airport. I felt ill. My flight to Santo Domingo was departing and my stomach was deteriorating fast. Soon we were airborne and I needed to vomit. And vomit I did, throughout the flight. Luckily it wasn't full, so I made for one of the aft seats and kept on going to the toilet. By the time we landed I was so sick and shaking, I could barely fill in the immigration form. To add to the disaster, the airport is a 45 minute ride from town, and I had to keep the vomit in all the time, with soaring temperatures. I spent the worst night of my life in the hotel, thinking I will die and consuming all the water of the mini-bar, Coke, Orange soda, you name it. I have never vomited so much, but going to the hospital was never an option. I was better by morning, but never saw anything of Santo Domingo, which I returned to in 2005 for an encore.
The only time I have ever genuinely been robbed was at a hotel in Zagreb. It was my fault really, and hardly a very major disaster other than that around $100 or so was taken. I just left it lying around in my bag, never suspecting that in a place like Croatia the maids would take to the cash. In fact, I didn't realise what had happened until later, as the cunning maid made sure she only took a bit of every currency I had, including some Serbian dinars. Obviously money doesn't smell...
It was simple. I had a ticket from Douala to Brazzaville on the now bankrupt Cameroon Airlines. I got to the airport early and checked in, only to be told there will be a 2-hour delay. I then went to the airport restaurant, where the waiter, who was obviously in the know, told me the flight would be cancelled, he had inside info. So I decided I would buy a ticket to Nairobi on Kenyan Airways which was leaving at the same time. I wanted out of Douala at all costs. This was by no means cheap, but what the heck. I crossed immigration on the Cameroon Airlines boarding card without actually checking in for the other flight, which was 30 minutes later. In the end, we were informed the flight would be cancelled when already waiting at the gate for a while and I made a run for it without a boarding card for the Kenya flight. They checked me in at the gate and so I flew out, of course never recouping my money on that terrible other airline. Eerily, just two weeks after my flight from Douala to Nairobi, that same flight crashed just after take-off, with everyone killed. Scary.