As someone once said, sh*t happens.
Globally, locally; it happens. This year wasn’t an exception – I had life-changing experiences, but also encountered numerous unfortunate incidents. Some are my fault, some purely happened in a Universe-has-spoken-way. I’ve shared stunning stories and photos, but in fact not all I’ve experienced has been double-rainbows. But hey, I survived another year!
Alaska – I threw my back out and went cross-country skiing anyway
My lower back and I have a complicated relationship. Due to long hours of study and thanks to my bad posture, it’s been a constant threat. Lugging around a 20kg backpack is also not helpful. I try hard not to bother it, but from time to time, it snaps.
You know when sometimes something feels like a bad idea but you do it anyway, and regret it? While I was changing into ski pants in Alaska, right before a cross-country ski expedition, I decided not to take off my shoes. I put my shoe-wearing feet into the pants, and snap, my feet got stuck and hurt my vulnerable lower back. I literally fell sideways with my feet stuck in the pants. My guide was waiting downstairs, and I couldn’t stand straight. The best I could do was stand bending my upper body at a 45-degree angle. Now I understand why old ladies walk that way.
My cross-country ski guide, Eric, was a business associate of my good friend, so I didn’t want to embarrass myself by being a wuss. But I also didn’t want to hurt myself. I told Eric to give me 15 minutes to rest, and we went out to the field. It was easier to ski than walk, thankfully. But still I must have been going 0.5 miles/hour, or slower. I just couldn’t move my legs wide enough. Ah, joy. The pain went on for about a week, finally getting better after a 60-minute massage in Anchorage.
The lesson here: take off your shoes when changing. And listen to your gut feeling.
Ireland – turns out I’m allergic to horses
I’m an animal person. My childhood dream was to own a farm and adopt all the stray dogs and cats, so I’m open to any animal-related activities.
In Murrisk, Ireland, a few enthusiastic adventurers scheduled a horseback ride along the coast. A few people who were allergic to horses stayed behind. I’d never really had any experience with horses except a few encounters in Jeju Island in Korea. This time, they assigned me a cute little pony, since I was a beginner. The scenery was beautiful. As we rode, the water beside us reflected a row of horses. What a magical view. Then I started to feel something.
I often suffer from Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever. I don’t do well when the seasons are changing, or if the air pollution is severe, though I’ve rarely had allergic reaction from animals. But this one hour of horseback riding taught me that I was in fact allergic to something about horses. Their hair, skin, dander…. Or something. After non-stop sneezing, my skin was burning up. I was crying with my eyes and my nose. All my clothes were covered with something that was bothering me from the horse, which didn’t help. When I got back, I washed my exposed skin, dusted off my clothes, and passed out on a cafe table.
We were scheduled to hike up Croagh Patrick after the horseback riding. Oh joy. I wanted to drop out, but I knew I would terribly regret it if didn’t try the hike that day. So I did. I was slow, but I conquered it.
The lesson here: I should avoid horse-riding.
Mexico – my Aeromexico catastrophe
In the olden days, I could ship my baggage all the way to my final destination. In the olden days, I was able to bring a water bottle to the boarding gate. And I didn’t need to buy small bottles of shampoo that only lasted 3 days. In the olden days, I wasn’t treated like a criminal just because I was entering a foreign country. In the olden days, I didn’t have to expose myself to high density X-Rays to travel overseas.
Now we are living in a truly global era. Travel has become so easy. Budget airlines are popping up all over the place, flight routes connect destinations more than ever, and lots of countries now use visa waiver systems.
But the funny thing is, as much as travel has got easier over the years, the technicality of traveling has got way worse. Packing, luggage check-in, immigration, security… everything is more complicated. And there are additional costs for everything now.
My recent trip to Mexico was a very good example. As a photographer, it is inevitable to have a heavy carry-on bag. But since my camera bag is a backpack, no airline had had any problems in the past. Most airlines have weight limits, but they know that the weight eventually balances out between all the passengers. But not Aeromexico. We were a group of travel and media personnel traveling together from San Luis Potosi to Chiapas. The ground crew targeted our group and told us to weigh all the carry-on bags we had. Of course, we had heavy bags — mostly photography gear. We tried to divide our things up to other members who had lighter bags, but the airline crew was merciless. If I’m not mistaken, they laughed at us while our things were flying here, there and everywhere. We ended up paying a total of a few hundred dollars, while other people with bigger and heavier bags went through no questions asked. That happened repeatedly until my flight back home. While another passenger at the next desk checked in her overweight baggage without any problems, the person in charge of my check-in decided to charge me for the extra few kilos.
I don’t argue that airlines should not have guidelines. They should. I’m not saying that what I did was right. I know my bag was too heavy. But if they decide to strictly keep to the rule, it should be applied to 100% of the passengers, not just targeted people. And they should learn how to empathize. I’ve been on a number of airplanes, but this was the most horrifying experience I’ve ever had with an airline. I was disgusted. For the first time, I cried after checking in.
The lesson here: try my best to avoid working with Aeromexico in the future.
LAX – my layover from hell
Did you know that you have to go through customs in any US airport, even if you are just passing through? I didn’t. I mean, it’s just not logical.
My Mexico trip was routed via LAX (Los Angeles International Airport). I landed at LAX after an 11-hour flight from Seoul. While I was following the transfer signs, suddenly all the signs disappeared and I was in the customs area. I tried to hide my panicked state and asked the nearest person around me, a cleaning lady. She said I was in the right place. I found someone in a uniform and argued that I was just transferring. She said I needed to go through the customs because, “We need to know who lands here.” The fact that I was leaving in an hour didn’t matter, apparently.
My four-hour layover at LAX was, well, let’s put it this way: not pleasant. The arrivals hall was packed with several international incoming flight passengers. I had to find my baggage and re-check-in. I had to change terminals. And you know, LAX is not small. The airline needed to re-issue my boarding passes. Four hours is short in LAX.
The lesson here: I love going to the States, but I’ll do my best not to stopover to save stress.
Traveling isn’t always rainbows and unicorns, but you gotta love the experience! The more memories, the more stories, right?
Did you have any travel mishaps this year?