Rio, PNG, And Jerusalem
“I was in Rio de Janeiro in a taxi with a friend. We stopped at a stop sign at a busy intersection and two ladies were soliciting themselves. Now, this all happened very quickly and neither my friend nor I said anything, but the taxi driver told them to get lost. They kept soliciting themselves. The taxi driver told us not to open the doors or windows. The women pulled out knives and started stabbing/slashing the taxi. The taxi driver pulled out in front of traffic to get away from the situation, but thankfully we didn’t get into a car accident.
In Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, my (ex)girlfriend and I hired a driver. We went to a marketplace and the driver informed us it wasn’t the safest place, so he would walk a few meters behind us and observe. Not five minutes in and he grabbed us by the arms and said, ‘Don’t turn around, don’t react, I’m going to guide us out.’
After getting into the car, we asked what was up. It took several times of asking until he finally said that there was a group of older boys following us with knives and he wouldn’t say anything else.
In Jerusalem, a friend, my family, and I experienced a situation that only four of us and the tour guide could understand. There was an announcement in Hebrew at the Wailing Wall that a backpack was left unattended. No one was allowed to enter or leave until the bomb squad came and inspected it. Turned out to be a backpack a kid left on accident, but the majority of our group had no clue what was happening until after it was all over.
For clarification, I was not one of the four that spoke Hebrew. I just knew something was up. The four that could speak Hebrew were speaking amongst themselves in Hebrew and behaving oddly. They explained what happened after the all-clear was announced.”
Cruise To Paris
“This lady I know went on a cruise with a group of her friends (all in their 50’s-60’s). One of their stops was Paris. The tour guide warned the group about pickpockets. This lady had her purse hanging on her shoulder while she was holding onto the poles in the train. She said two girls came on. At the next stop, those two girls bumped her on their way out. Turned out they took everything.
Money, her passport, her sea pass card to get back on the ship. The cruise line wouldn’t allow her back on except to gather her things and kick her off. Her friends pulled money together for her to get a place to stay. The cruise line said there will be someone to take her to the embassy to sort it out and get her a temp passport but there was no one. She ended up having to find her own way to the embassy with all her luggage in tow. Luckily someone in the group got in contact with someone from home who knew someone else who works in that department and was able to get everything taken care of and flew her to the next port.”
Cape Town, South Africa
“South Africa is such a weird place. I’ve been on a bike ride in Soweto, organized by people with ties to hardcore/ultras of Orlando Pirates, a football club, it was a wonderful trip.
I enjoyed some nice well-made street food in Johannesburg with plenty of middle-class locals milling about, yet told that five blocks over was a no-go zone- day or night. I walked in the hillside of Pretoria and walked through the middle of downtown in Cape Town, which reminded me of New York in the early 1980s.
But that was all during broad daylight. I consulted with locals and security for each of those activities, it was all fine, but everyone said don’t even think about doing anything like that after sundown.
In the end, it felt like living in a zombie movie, with everything completely normal during the day, and seeing everyone locked down, with armed guards patrolling gated perimeters as soon as night fell.
The V and A Waterfront in Cape Town was the only place in that city where we were safely allowed to hang out during the evening. It reminded me of San Francisco in many ways. Walking from the international convention center and over there (five-eight minutes, within sight the whole way) was no problem during the day, and only allowed with security escort at night. Cape Town is of course far worse crime-wise than San Francisco though.”
“I was held against my will in a brothel somewhere in the Caucuses. I’m a guy and I was there ostensibly as a customer but more like brought by people I barely knew as a sign of ‘hospitality’ despite my protests. They left me there with armed guards patrolling the grounds. Since I didn’t speak the same language as them, when I tried to leave they corralled me back, ready to shoot. Several hours later, the people that brought me collected me and wanted a detailed account of how it went. Thankfully I thought ahead enough to ruffle my clothes and hair. The lady insisted I take her number and call her if I wanted to ‘hang out.’
In the same city, I was walking around downtown with a buddy and his girlfriend. We saw a group of guys hassle a couple. There must have been three or four guys and they started attacking the boyfriend. I wanted to intervene and even the odds. My friend stopped me and said that we couldn’t get involved because now our task was making sure his girlfriend was safe. He assured me that everything was going to be OK for that guy.
Before my friend even finished talking, random people walking by intervened to help the guy. When I say help, I mean they beat the offending party to within an inch of their life. Apparently hassling a guy walking by himself with a female is a major taboo over there so random strangers were so insulted they tore into the guys. They coordinated enough to have some people holding them up and others taking turns whaling on them. I legit thought they might kill them and this was a major walking street in view of police. Police watched the whole thing and threw the guys into their car after they’d been beaten to a pulp. I was later told the only people who would have violated the social norm were either country bumpkins or addicts so no tears need be shed.”
“I have seen a lot of pretty strange and alarming things, but for some reason, one that really stood out was Garbage city in Cairo, Egypt. A lot of Cairo is pretty run down, many people living in houses and homes that are missing walls and roofs with garbage and filth all over the place, but Garbage City was something else. Kids, women, grandparents, everyone was sorting through massive piles of trash outside of their homes so they could scrape together a living. Those with babies would have them laying on top of the mounds of filth while they worked. Seeing the babies and children in and on the trash really stuck with me for some reason.
There’s little I wouldn’t do myself for my children, but I’ve seen in some places where there’s little that some people wouldn’t do to their children for themselves. I’ve seen kids treated worse than livestock, and it’s pretty hard to reconcile that internally. I acknowledge that not all cultures are the same and that none are inherently more valuable or valid than any others, but it was still a pretty hard pill to swallow seeing it first hand when it’s so contradictory to your own closely held beliefs and norms.”
“My husband and I spent three weeks traveling around Japan in the spring of 2017. It remains one of our most treasured travel experiences, but it started on a dark note. The first morning after we arrived in Osaka (landed late and jet lagged and proceeded to drink the night away in a bar, as one does) was rough to say the least. Between the hangover and the jet lag, we barely felt human, but we were still compelled to stick to our itinerary and walk across the city to eat a large stack of fluffy, Japanese pancakes. Halfway through our walk we came across a strange sight; someone was sprawled out on the sidewalk, seemingly asleep, but as no one passing paid any attention we assumed it was a homeless person sleeping on the street.
As we got closer we noticed the person was a very young woman, scantily clad in a school girl-type uniform. I have seen dead bodies before, and as we got close enough to pass there was no question this woman was dead. Not a single person, other than the handful of obvious tourists like ourselves, seemed to pay any attention. From the position of her body, I could tell that no one had attempted to perform any CPR. I was concerned and hesitant to move on and was trying to organize my thoughts in my fuzzy brain when an extremely elderly Japanese man stepped out from a shadow and waved for me to move on. He didn’t communicate verbally but I got the impression he was standing by waiting for the police. Very bizarre and unnerving first day in an otherwise extremely beautiful, safe, clean, polite (to a fault) country that I dream of returning to every year.”
“When I was 10, we went on holiday to Turkey. My idea of a holiday has always been relaxing in and around the pool somewhere hot, but my parents are sightseers, so we ended up going to visit the ruins of an amphitheater.
I remember finding a newborn puppy, no more than two or three days old, laying in the shade of one of the broken pillars. He was weak, and dehydrated, and covered in dirt and little maggoty wrigley things. I went to a nearby cafe set up to take advantage of the tourism around the amphitheater to get him some water, but he was too weak to drink it. I couldn’t understand why no one was helping him, and we eventually left him there.
It’s been eleven years. I’ve since raised my own dog from puppy to senior, but when I close my eyes I can still see that newborn puppy dying in the midday sun.”
“I was on a business trip but had a couple of days at the end of the trip for myself in New Delhi, India. Somehow, I got to talking with the bartender at my hotel about my hobby of keeping reef aquariums and that I was designing a new system. He told me about an entire street in New Delhi where every shop sells nothing but various pumps. Pumps of all kinds and very cheap. Pumps for reef tanks can push $1000, so I thought I would have a look. Besides, I had been wanting to try out New Delhi’s metro system, and there was a metro station right near ‘Pump Street.’
So I hopped on the metro (very nice, actually. Highly recommended) and exited the station on ‘Pump Street.’ Sure enough, there were hundreds of pump stores lined up on one entire side of the street. But then I noticed the other side of the street. It was lined with hundreds of brothels. They were four or five stories high, every window had women and/or girls hanging out of them. On the sidewalk outside, young boys (seven to 10-year-olds) ran around pimping their particular houses. As a Caucasian who was over six feet tall, I was an instant target. I heard, ‘Mister! Mister! You want girl?!’
And then the kid would start yelling prices, each trying to underbid the kid next to him. Walking away didn’t matter; they followed, until a cop wielding a large stick chased them off. That’s where I learned the price of a female human being on that street: 200 rupees or $2.75.
A drink at my hotel was 800 rupees or $11.
The place I referred to as ‘Pump Street’ is actually named GB Road (Garstin Bastion Road). While the photos online are as I remember it, what those don’t portray is the smell. A weird mixture of marijuana smoke, diesel exhaust, and pee. Kinda like patchouli. And no, I did not end up buying any pumps. Way too much chaos to study the pump curves and calculate flow rates for some completely unknown machine.
So I wandered around for a while, utterly gobsmacked. I watched a group of men playing a very loud and aggressive game of cards on the ground outside one of the shops. They were betting money, smokes, shoes, half-eaten food, anything with the slightest value was getting pushed into the center of this card game as a wager. That’s when the funniest thing I’ve ever seen happened. The yelling and betting were getting the attention of bystanders and a small crowd of locals began to watch. It was like an ultra-low-budget World Series of Poker. That’s when one of the card players pulls off his artificial leg and slams it into the middle of the pile of wagers. (‘All in?’) Everyone showed their cards by slamming them down on the ground and shouting. Apparently, the youngest kid in the game had the best hand. He immediately snatched up the cash and the leg (leaving the other wagers), then took off down an alley. (I managed to get a photo of the card game without drawing any attention to myself.)”
Syria And Nairobi
“Around 14 years ago I was traveling through Syria with my family and I took my 16-year-old younger brother into a nightclub in Damascus during the day. The guy outside advertised dancing girls and my brother really wanted to go inside. I figured it would be pretty innocent, Sharia law and all that. We’re from New Zealand and hadn’t been there long, we had been warned that all the women would be covered up.
Well, we walk into the club and two of the walls are lined, shoulder to shoulder, with scantily clad women. The dude we paid at the front sat us down and got us a drink. Then he asked us what type of girl we wanted and I realized I had misunderstood the situation. My younger brother ordered a Russian girl who came and chatted with us briefly.
At that point, my gauge was that the girls had been trafficked and they were not just there to dance. So, I told my brother we needed to leave and we made for the exit while I shout ‘misunderstanding’ over and over. The bouncer let us pass and we walked back out into the quiet street. Thankfully, it was an anticlimactic ending. For us anyway, I still wonder what those poor girls had been through.
Another contender for the most messed up thing I’ve seen traveling was in Nairobi (Kenya) where a child of five or six years old led us through a short tour of the alleys he lived in. The poor little kid was high as a kite on sniffing glue and everyone he was living around was also off their face.
In Khartoum, I saw some people living on the side of the street in very poor states of health. Most were actually in decent health, but a few of the worst-off ones seemed to be just kind of slowly dying. That was awful, but I lived there six months and after a few weeks you became completely numb to it, which was quite scary. I talked to two of the locals about this and they somehow didn’t even realize people were dying on the side of the street! Like, they lived there but somehow hadn’t even noticed – they were just part of the scenery. I actually walked them to the window and pointed down to the street where there was a dude in quite poor health and they seemed somehow surprised, despite it being a normal sight. Crazy what you can get accustomed to and tune out.”
“I was driving in a car in Mexico with a local friend (in a condition we clearly should not be driving in), ran a red light, and got stopped by the police. I already said my prayers, texted my mom that I am going to jail as I had no money for a bribe on me. My friend was extremely rude to the officer, which frightened me even more. He then proceeded to call someone and handed the phone to the police officer who became pale and returned the phone. He went on apologizing for stopping us and wishing us a good night.
As we drove off my friend said, ‘You know the get out of jail card in monopoly? My dad is the police chief here, I own that card.’
It was such a casual way of showing that law doesn’t exist in that country for some, and the longer you think about it the scarier it becomes.”
“I was traveling in the Caucasus mountains about four years ago, went to see a relative who lives near the border to Chechenia, on the Georgian side. Arrived in the small rural village around midnight, my fiance and I got settled in with my relative, and about just before the sun came up, we woke up to the sound of horse hoofs, shouts, and the odd shots. Somewhat confused and more than a bit worried, since the Chechenian border was not that far away (relatively speaking). I looked outside and saw what looked like hundreds of bearded men on mountain horses and armed, and barking dogs all around. So I asked my relative what is going on.
He said, ‘Oh don’t worry, they are here for the wedding in a few days. If they were Chechen we all be dead or running now if they wanted to harm us.’
To this I said, ‘Umm but why are they armed with AK’s and stuff?’
‘EH better safe than sorry,’ he replied and shrugged.
We got to take part in the wedding and it was good times. Amazing food and very nice people, even if they all looked like the guests from the other villages looked hard as nails. Both my parents are Cossacks, and thus I am. I can wholeheartedly recommend the Caucasus as a destination, but do avoid Chechenia and Dagestan. Unless one is interested in angry bearded men and the slight risk of losing one’s head. Armenia and Georgia have amazing nature, people, and food/drink.”
“I had an experience in Bogota. We went a couple of years ago for a buddy’s bachelor party. We have a Wookie friend from an affluent southern family that has degrees in Spanish and international business. This wook loves South America. We got there and obviously, the first thing to do was to find some cocaine. We find it. Fast forward a few hours later and we were bar-hopping, walking down the street, and three of them were openly doing key bumps. Two cops pulled up on a motorcycle. The two cops pulled the three friends into a nearby alleyway and frisked them down, took the coke, and everything else.
A few minutes later their commander pulled up in a car and my Wookie buddy started speaking Spanish to him. They were leaned up against his car laughing and having a good time. I was standing back scared witless and one of the three in the alley was crying. The commander walked up to the three and told them in perfect English to go around the corner to the ATM machine and withdraw $300 each and bring it back. They left to do so right after the cops on the motorcycle left. In the meantime, the Wookie and commander were talking like they were old buddies. The boys got back with the money and gave it to the commander. As the commander was getting into his car to leave he shook my Wookie buddy’s hand and in the handshake, he gave him all the cocaine back and told him to tell them not to be disrespectful. My mind was blown!”
Thailand and San Francisco
I have had a few experiences. The first was a highly sensual show in Thailand. The guys on stage must have taken tons of sildenafil before coming up, as their man parts remained rock hard throughout the entire show, and they used the erected stick to play the drums. The show had no warning at the entrance to tell you it was adult only, as local people just assumed that every tourist coming in should have already known about the show, and no staff at the door stopped kids less than 18 from entering. So I have seen many tourists come in with their toddlers and parents, or even grandparents, and it was too late to walk out when people realized the show’s erotic nature.
Still, that’s not the embarrassing part. Halfway through the show, the guys and girls, and the ladyboys on stage would invite the audience to join them on stage, much like the live sensual show in Amsterdam. The difference was, the show I ran into in Thailand was more about prank, and would do things to the audiences on stage without asking for permission first. They intentionally chose those coming in with family, in order to add in more spice. For example, a house wife was invited onto the stage, to touch the male actor’s rod, and to give comments on how did it feel compared to touching her husband’s. A young guy with his parents was picked out and asked to go backstage to change clothes. When the poor man just took off all his clothes, before putting on the costume handed to him, the veil dropped, and he was shown totally bare in front of everyone.
The second was on my honeymoon trip. A local youth ran towards us, asked if we were just married. We said yes, but turned away when he tried to sell flowers to us. Then, this little boy opened his backpack and tried to sell us adult-themed DVDs and illicit bedroom substances. He said, ‘You don’t need flowers, that’s okay, but you could buy this, this more useful than flowers.’
The third was in 2016. I traveled with my wife to San Francisco to visit a friend. My wife was very innocent, grew up in Singapore, attended good school, never came across any form of crime in her life, and she was also an environmentalist who always choose buses over cars. And she had been a social worker in her youth to help out people at a disadvantage in Singapore and Japan. My wife refused to believe in the poor security of American downtowns after sunset that I described to her and insisted on taking night bus after the dinner at the friend to return to our hotel, even turned away our friends’ help as she believed that driving in the city was not environmental. The one hour bus ride across SF at night was one of the most panicking experience we had. When we waited for the bus, a group of homeless popped out of nowhere and gathered around us. They did not talk to us, or touch us, but kept staring at us silently. One moved right next to us, sat down on pavement, pulled out needles, injected himself, and started to roam in a beastly voice, like we were not there!
We were very frightened, wanting to avoid these people, so decided to walk to another bus stop in the next block, but these people kept following us at about 10 to 20-meter distance for four blocks! lIt was like in a zombie movie! The bus should have arrived in a few minutes according to the schedule, but never showed up that night. We started to pick up the pace, and I called for an Uber on my mobile. When we finally jumped into the taxi, our faces were pale, and our hearts jumped at our throats. When I tried to tell my wife SF should not be the worst, as I have visited Detroit and Chicago at college time, she just cried out and shouted at me to shut up.”