Some amusing and scary stories of our travelling in the tropics
On our travels, we have been threatened, shot at, robbed, chased on motorbikes, and bribed more than we care to remember. We share a few stories here.
Guns in Guatemala
I (Alan) and a friend arrived in Guatemala City on the eve of a coup amidst mortar and machine gun fire. We spent the night on a hill overlooking the conflict and the next morning were walking to our hotel. There was the occasional rifle fire. On every diagonal street corner were young men in uniform, armed with machine guns. Some were just boys.
One of them had gone to sleep while leaning against the wall. I walked around the corner and straight into the barrel of his gun. It was sticking into my neck, his finger was on the trigger and he woke with a fright. I thought I was finished, that it was going to end then and there.
But I somehow smiled and, in a rudimentary and somewhat nervous Spanish, made a joke of it. Fortunately, that worked, and I arrived at my hotel safely.
A midday meal in Madagascar
(is harder than it sounds)
Meals in Madagascar can get repetitive and after two weeks of eating rice and zebu, or zebu and rice, we decided to take advantage of the restaurants that line the main street of Maroantsetra. Unfortunately, lunch time for westerners is siesta time in Maroantsetra, so most shops and restaurants are closed.
Luck intervened and the “best restaurant in town” was open. We scanned their menu of perhaps 20 malagasy dishes, the most we had seen since arriving. We can’t remember what we ordered but the choices were exotic and interesting. The waitress took our orders and retired to the kitchen.
Perhaps 15 minutes later she came out and said our choices weren’t available today. So we chose other dishes, and she retired to the kitchen. Fifteen minutes later she returned and said those selections weren’t available today either.
Rather than wait a further 15 minutes to be told those weren’t available either, we went through the menu item by item. None were available. So, 45 minutes after we arrived, she said there was just one thing available – pasta and sauce.
It eventually reached our table and, thankfully, it tasted just fine. And now, time for siesta.
A sticky end in Peru
Travel can be a lot of fun, like when we were in Iquitos, north-eastern Peru, exploring for new fruits. The markets in Iquitos are on the banks of the Amazon River. At times, one had to wade through floodwater to get from one part to another. It was a wild place then, dodging pigs and vultures relishing the discarded carcasses.
It’s a good source of Abiu, a large yellow fruit with while succulent flesh but a sticky latex just under the skin. We found and bought a forty-kilo bag. Only wanting the seeds, we cut up the fruit and gave it away. We told people they could eat as much as they wanted as long as they gave us the seeds.
Two lines appeared out of nowhere, and two turned into twenty. The mob pushed against us so hard we thought someone would get hurt. Somebody offered us a hut so we could pass the pieces through a window. That worked, even though people started throwing the skins back at us as a joke. So that very sticky latex just under the skin ended up giving us very sticky hair. But left with a 150 seeds.
In the drug business in Colombia
In Colombia, a dangerous and violent country in places, I (Alan) returned to my hotel to find a pistol pushed in my stomach. It wasn’t a robbery, but a local narcotics inspector.
He accompanied me to my hotel room to find the floor littered with seeds covered in a white powder. Not a good look. After the inspector was satisfied they were food plant seeds and the white powder a fungicide, he said to me, “You are wasting your talents, amigo, you are in the wrong business.”
Generally speaking, we’ve only found bad people in the cities. Bad people don’t live in the jungle.
Eating the wrong thing
Invariably, travellers experience stomach troubles from dodgy meals. But in Alan’s case, poisoning has resulted from plants he’s collecting. I (Susan) have rushed Alan to hospital on numerous occasions with unusual rashes, bouts of serious nausea, blurred vision and other signs of poisoning. Usually, this is from eating something he shouldn’t have.
On one occasion, he was flying by himself from New Guinea to Thailand. In New Guinea, he had found a relative of the cashew nut tree. The cashew nut is OK but the sap that comes from the surrounding shell is very toxic. In Mozambique and India, people who shell cashews look almost like lepers from the burns of the cashew-nut-shell sap.
Anyway, he took as many precautions as he naively thought he could but still got poisoned. When he got to Bangkok, they had to stretcher him off the plane. Fortunately, he was OK after a few days.
Lesson – It’s no holiday!
When we tell people of the exotic places we go, they say it must be an exciting holiday. It is certainly exciting, but it’s no holiday.
You may also be interested in reading a brief biography of us, or how we found the land for The Botanical Ark, or about our plant collecting around the world, or how we are trying to help save the world’s rainforests, or our aspirations for The Botanical Ark, or about the fruit we imported.
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Dr Peter Raven
“Their highly successful effort to create a unique botanical garden, or botanical ark... will help to save, understand, and appreciate the wonderful beauty of the rain forests. They have demonstrated an unavoidable truth - that each of us has a choice, and that each can make a difference."
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