My friend’s fiancé (who I love dearly) worries about her whenever we travel together.
“Chantae just meets so many weirdos. She always comes home with such strange stories,” He says.
I want to argue with him, but I’ve realized that he’s right. Most people return home with photos of sunsets and one-of-a-kind souvenirs. Meanwhile, I come back with a possibly-incurable infection and seven stalkers.
“I just want you to be safe out there,” he sighs.
Anyways, here are the strange and terrible things that happened during my travels in 2017.
Some of these stories are wildly inappropriate. Sorry about that.
Ziplining with a pervert in Antigua (NSFW?)
My friend and I stepped into our harnesses and prepared for an exciting afternoon of ziplining through the jungles of Antigua. A group of people in their early twenties stood behind us, and an older gentleman in front. He was thin, had snow-white hair, and wore a baseball cap, a polo shirt, and a pair of khaki pants belted above his belly button, revealing a moose knuckle.
Because we’re girls, my friend and I started gossiping about the dating scene in New York City. She joked that she needed a man. At this statement, the older man in front perked up and swiveled his head around like an owl.
“I’m sure you’ll find a lot of single men on the cruise. Rich too… though they might be older than what you’re looking for,” the man said with a slow southern drawl and a wink.
He asked us where we were from and we asked him in return.
“I’m from Ohio,” he mentioned.
“Ohio is for lovers.” My friend replied.
I would’ve face palmed right then, but the leather gloves they made us wear while ziplining grossed me out.
Missing the reference by twelve decades, the man’s eyes widened. He took this as an invitation to be as creepy as humanly possible for the rest of our excursion. He told us, “You know… there’s not much to do in Ohio at night… except snuggle.”
My friend and I gave a pity laugh and went back to talking amongst ourselves. Somehow, a conversation about swimming with dolphins came up. My friend mentioned that dolphins need mental stimulation and probably don’t get that if they’re trapped in a tank.
A few minutes later, I ziplined to a platform and was standing alone with the ol’ man creepster. He leaned over to me and said, “You know… if you were all alone in a tank, you’d want someone to come and manually stimulate you, too.”
I stood stunned with a does-not-compute expression plastered across my face for about five seconds before clarifying that she said, “mental stimulation.” Unfortunately, I was attached to a metal cable above my head – preventing me from throwing myself off the platform as an escape.
The day continued with him making jokes and comments that were so perverted, I don’t think I can spell them out on the same blog that my grandmother forwards to her friends. He asked us what it feels like when women go to the bathroom, if we can taste the meat on a man’s mouth after a man eats meat, and comments too gross, I feel like I want to scrub the inside of my brain out with a brillo pad just for thinking them. To give you an idea, the punchline to one of his crass jokes involved him wagging his tongue at me and making a slurping noise like Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs.
When we finally parted ways, he made a point to say, “I’ll pray for you at my church – Did I tell you I’m a minister?”
Yo! Jesus! Come save this man for he has strayed.
Getting bit by a lion cub in Zimbabwe
While visiting a lion sanctuary in Zimbabwe, they allowed me to go into a pen where they were raising and training lion cubs to hunt. In a few generations, they hope to release the descendants of these cubs into the wild. It’s not ideal, but it’s one way to conserve the lion populations in southern Africa. I felt skeptical about interacting with them — humans and toothy predators don’t naturally go hand-in-paw. These are not the same drugged-up tigers you see in Thailand.
A few cubs were the size of very obese, domesticated cats and two others were the size of Labrador retrievers. They played with one another and mouthed each other with their small, sharp, teeth. The lion keeper had a thick pair of rainboots on and motioned for me to come over, crouch down, and pose for a picture.
“Have they ever bit someone before?” I asked
“Oh, no no no.” He shook his head. “Not these ones.”
Earlier, I’d learned that the owner of the lion sanctuary only has one arm. He lost the other trying to break up a fight between two adult male lions.
I dropped to a squat and smiled.
Somehow, someway, this signaled to all the other lions that it was play time. They all scampered over to me with excitement that said, “Hell yeah! Let’s party!” The large one nipped me on my back and the smaller ones ran over to chew on my feet.
“What did you do?! They’re so hyper!” the keeper exclaimed with panic in his voice.
“Nothing!” I replied.
He lured the lion cubs away from me and I walked out unscathed (the nip didn’t break my skin). When your instincts tell you not to go near the lions, do not go near the lions.
Don’t try to break up their fights using an appendage, either.
Nearly befriending a pair of neo-Nazis in Mexico
This situation was so ridiculous, it deserved an entire post.
Work life woes… everywhere
I love my job.
I love the ability to work anywhere that has wifi. But like every job, I put in my time. This means I need a solid internet connection to Skype with clients, submit articles, upload pictures, and answer emails instantly. It’s rare that I’ll leave my laptop behind even for a day trip because when I do, something inevitably comes up. (This is around the time when peoples’ eyes glaze over whenever I tell them about what I do for work.)
In Gnaraloo, Western Australia, I paid $60 per day just to access a satellite connection and submit the bare minimum to keep my clients happy. On the way to Gnaraloo, Mo and I slept outside of a gas station – one of the only places with cell reception, because I had a Skype call at 1 am with an American client.
I’ve had to borrow a receptionist’s laptop at a hotel to submit an article, do work at 4 am on a ship because it was the only time that I could connect, pull multiple all-nighters in a row while working on press trips, and mooch off peoples’ phone internet. Nearly everyone I’m close to has the wifi hotspot password set to “queenchantae.”
You don’t have to tell me I’m being a whiny brat in the comments with this point. I already know. One hater told me in the midst of a rant that maybe one day, he could get a job “free lance” writing and “travel the world” (yes, he put freelance in quotes and separated it into two words). Is my job not a thing?! Does it even exist? Can we all agree that putting quotes around a profession just makes it sound awkward, like there’s an obligatory wink emoji after it?
Babe, can you please call the “plumber” ;).
Oh no, it looks like I need a “nurse” ;).
What do you do? I’m a “free lance” writer who “travels the world” ;).
To many, it’s a strange concept to work while you travel — but it’s not as glamorous as it seems.
Almost getting sepsis in East Timor
In East Timor, I contracted a nasty infection in my ankle that was resistant to most forms of anti-biotics. My insurance and grandmother – an experienced physician’s assistant – told me that I needed to fly back to Australia A.S.A.P. for treatment. Fortunately, through some miracle, I found the right medication in East Timor at a ramshackle hospital that cured my infection. You can read about the fiasco here.
This incident technically happened at the end of 2016, but the infection carried over to early 2017 and I’ve had problems with my right leg ever since.
No magazine or publication wanted to run my pieces about incredible East Timor. But, multiple travel insurance companies interviewed me about the experience. They’ve used my gimp leg as an advertising ploy on why you should always have travel insurance… so there’s that?
If you’re wondering, I went with World Nomads. I used to book my insurance with Insureandgo, but they don’t cover every country. Losers.
The World Nomads link is an affiliate link which means I earn a commission if you buy a plan at no extra cost to you.
I got tens of mosquito bites on my legs during a beachside meal with my friends in Saint Kitts. I felt a little lethargic and achy the next day, but nothing too strange. A few days later, I broke out in a body rash. This is uneventful aside from the fact I can now claim I’ve contracted yet another trendy virus. #YouJustGotZIKAd!
Fighting with my sister in Bali
My sister and I have mad-love for one another and never fight anymore, but both of us went nuclear one night together in Bali. I’m pretty sure there were a pack of stray dogs howling outside our window, for our screams were beckoning them to accept us as their alphas. Fortunately, we were best friends again the next morning – and I could go back to compulsively lying to her throughout the rest of our trip.
I’m surprised that she still loves me.
The ‘nice guy’ with ulterior motives in Abu Dhabi
I’m a herbivore, not a necrovore, and always order vegetarian meals for my long-haul flights. Something must have gone awry during my booking, because I was served meat on my flight from Perth to Zimbabwe. I’m a pick-the-flesh-off type of vegetarian, but they’d served me a solid chunk.
During my stopover in Abu Dhabi, I walked up to the customer service counter and asked if they could put in a vegetarian food order for my future flights. I understood that it was probably too late to request it from Abu Dhabi to Harare, but a girl needs to eat on her way home.
The man working at the counter was extremely friendly and started talking to me about my trip and about his life in Abu Dhabi. It took a while for him to process the request (apparently) so I was at the counter for over fifteen minutes. It was a long layover, and he set me up with two meal vouchers at the Abu Dhabi cafeteria and a voucher to spend the night at a nearby hotel. During the end of our conversation, I made a point to talk about my boyfriend – you know, this piece property has already been claimed type of thing. Just in case.
It was well after midnight and I was so appreciative of getting a hotel to sleep at. Maybe airlines weren’t devils in disguise after all?
At 1 am, I checked into the hotel and got ready to nap before my 6 am flight. I set my phone aside and closed my eyes. Then, it pinged.
“Hi. Did you manage to find passport control?”
It was the man from the counter, texting me on my Whatsapp number.
“Yes and got in my room all great! Looks wonderful, thank you.” I replied.
“Did you manage to find the hotel easily?” He asked.
“Yes very easily fortunately.” I responded.
When I’ve told this story to friends, the men wonder why I responded at all. Women tend to understand that I was in a different country – not a female-friendly one – and I was afraid that my silence would give this guy an excuse to come check on me. He knew exactly where I was staying. He had access to my personal details, including my full name and number, through my booking. Would my silence prompt him to come knock on my door “just to see if I made it okay?”
“I will be done in 20 minutes.” He texted.
“That’s good. I will try to get some sleep.”
“Yeah u shud.”
“You already had long flight.”
“I have given you breakfast voucher as well”
“Yes,” I responded
“U look so different in pix,” He said, revealing that he’d looked me up on Facebook (or maybe my blog?). Side note – do I look different? Was that a compliment or an insult, because I can’t tell. Apparently, I’m a catfish? Reverse catfish? I don’t understand.
“Anyways I wish I cud tell u good bye before you leave to Nairobi.” He continued, knowing that my flight was early morning and where my next stopover was.
Oh habibi, hell no.
I told him again that I was going to sleep.
Over the next few days, he texted me random things like, “I bet you are so beautiful in the nature” and asked me “are you in a hotel or in a tent,” “did you have your dinner of the trip.” Was he trying to arrange for us to meet on my way back through Abu Dhabi? I feared that he’d manipulate my booking and extend my layover as an excuse to reach me.
Even today, I can’t shake the feeling that I was ‘asking for it’ or putting a creep label on someone who was ‘just being a nice guy.’ I barely slept because I feared he’d knock on my door. I am friendly towards most strangers, and love to chat with people while I travel. I’ve made so many best friends on the road, including men who pick up my friendliness as nothing more than what it is – platonic chit chat.
I wouldn’t change this about myself.
But still, situations like these happen too often. It’s embarrassing. I have the opposite of resting B face. Apparently, my face is a beacon to some men that says, “I want to be with you not just for the night, but for forever.”
Women shouldn’t have to feel guilty for being too friendly– it’s often our method of self-defense. My strategy was to play nice until I could guarantee my own safety, which wouldn’t be until I boarded that plane to Nairobi. We’re conditioned to be agreeable and upbeat, especially towards men. See how I’m already trying to combat the victim blamers?! Crazy.
I felt naïve for assuming that someone was being nice to me just for the sake of it.
But asking to see a stranger between 1 am and 6 am is wildly inappropriate, no matter what the situation is.
Overweight in Indonesia
Before I worked online, I could travel with just an iPad and a backpack. My first posts on the blog were typed out on foreign keyboards, and I never cared if the text auto-corrected into German or if my apostrophes turned into umlauts. Today, I schlep two to three cameras, four lenses, underwater housing, a laptop, a notebook, clothes, freediving gear – including 8 kilograms of lead weights, and more with me all around the world.
With a smile and a wink-wink nudge-nudge at the ticketing counter, I sometimes get away with hauling excess baggage on flights.
Not with AirAsia.
AirAsia will charge you for having luggage that’s a smidge overweight and a millimeter too long. They’re like drug dealers trying to see if you’re shaking them for an extra ounce. (Is this how druggies talk? I clearly have no idea.) They’re one of my favorite budget airlines to fly with, but there’s no room for error.
I prepared for them to be strict – so much so that I wore my 8-kilogram lead weight belt around my waist and hid it under a sweater in the full-humidity heat.
I plopped my freediving gear onto the scale and started chatting with the woman working at check-in. She smiled. I smiled. We smiled. Instant besties. This was going to work.
“This bag is too long, and too heavy… is there anything you can take out and rearrange into the other bag? It’s going to be $250 USD.”
On the middle of the airport floor, I took out everything that existed in both bags. To make room, I tried to disassemble my freediving fins but needed a screwdriver. After some begging, the AirAsia employees to lent me the tool. They stood around me in a circle while I tried frantically to rearrange my luggage. Wetsuits, clothes, camera gear – I made Mary Poppins look like a minimalist. The employees started barking advice, “put this here… put that there!” The dynamics were so odd, it was like a pack of jail guards coaching a prisoner on how to escape. After fifteen minutes, I zipped up my bags proudly and brought them to the scale. The woman smiled and looked excited to see if I (we?) beat the system.
Sweat poured down my back thanks to the humidity, heat, my sweater, and the 8 kilograms of lead strapped around my waist.
“It’s still overweight – but now you owe only $212 USD.”
Can’t win them all.
At the security line, I unclipped my lead weights and ran them through the X-ray. Of course, this sounded an alarm and a few security agents came over.
“What are these?” they asked.
“They’re lead weights.” I replied, with a duh! intonation in my voice. Millennials, amirite?
They stared at me.
“It makes me feel stable — more secure against the turbulence,” I elaborated.
They looked at each other and gave me the green light to pass.
Then, my body set off the scanner when I walked through. I wondered if I was ever going to get on the plane.
“It’s because you’re sweaty. Very very sweaty.” They said, “The machine doesn’t like so much liquids. But it’s okay. You can board.”
$212 later and 6000 calories burned, I flew away with lead weights and all.
Ongoing battles with surf anxiety
I sometimes get panic attacks while surfing. It’s been happening for years. Fear will override all logic, and my throat will close to a point where it feels like I’m breathing through a straw. I haven’t written about it much on Chantae Was Here, but I’ve talked about it in a few other publications and some readers have told me that it happens to them too.
Thankfully, my surf-triggered anxiety has gotten much better — probably because of freediving. If I surf regularly, these flare-ups won’t happen at all. But I did have a few moments of anxiety on my surf trip through Mexico and in Western Australia. I’d sit in a line-up of great waves completely frozen with panic, even when they were small. Sometimes, I didn’t even bother to paddle out.
While anxiety didn’t ruin my trip, it never feels good to be illogically afraid of something that you know you can handle.