It sounds contradictory, I know. I often think about those experiences I may have missed on the road or things I got myself involved in that looking back, I wish I hadn’t. I’m not one of those people who think that everything happens for a reason or that there is any rhyme or reason at all to what we do in this world. That being said, I think it is good to look for positives in the negative experiences we go through, as well as inspiration from those missed chances.
1. Sleeping on the tour bus during our stop at the Corinth Canal: In 1996 my mom took me on a two week tour of Italy and Greece. This was my first real travel experience. We did a whirlwind tour of Rome, Florence and Venice before heading off to Greece. I loved Greek mythology and couldn’t wait to get to Athens to see the Parthenon. The only problem was, by this time I was already starting to get worn down from the long bus rides between cities and since the tour bus was generally pretty empty there was plenty of room to spread out and take naps. As a teenager, and still today, there was nothing I loved more than a nice long afternoon nap. I took that nap right through our stop at one of the most impressive ancient engineering feats the world has seen. The canal that separated mainland Greece and Peloponnesia. My mom tried waking me up but I refused as if the canal was my first period math class that I didn’t want to go to. To this day my mom never lets me forget how incredibly lazy I was that afternoon.
Why I don’t regret it: If it wasn’t for that day festering in the back of my mind all the time, I would have missed out on a lot of experiences because I was too tired to get motivated. I would have missed out on the St. Charles Bridge in Prague at sunrise. I would never have woken up at 4am to catch a train into the city center to enjoy the bridge virtually by myself as the sun rose above the spirals of the old town. Who knows, I might have also missed a flight or two by now if sleep was more important than making it to the next city.
2. Getting on that moped in Ko Pha Ngan: I arrived to the party island of Ko Pha Ngan at night after a three hour ferry ride from the mainland of Thailand. Ko Pha Ngan is known for its Full Moon parties which are basically giant raves on the beach. The island is also known for its moped accidents. I arrived three days before the next Full Moon party started so most of the accommodation right on the party beaches were full. I ended up staying a few miles down the coast of the island which were accessible by either rickshaws or moped. I actually went out to the moped rental shop pretty shortly after arriving but since I had a few beers on the ferry, and I have absolutely no experience on a moped, I decided to wait till the morning. The next morning I headed back to the rental shop and picked out a nice red moped and headed off for Hat Ryn Beach to check it out. Ko Pha Ngan is a beautiful island but it the roads are dangerous. I kind of had an idea of what to expect but due to my lack of experience on a moped I was still very careful. I think my over carefulness and stiffness is what did me. Just after about ten minutes of some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen and feeling on top of the world, I turned a corner going down hill and essentially froze up my hands and broke too hard, flying off the front end of the moped and sliding over some dirt, sand and concrete only stopping as I inched towards a rock. I suffered second degree burns on my legs which are scarred to this day. I had to pay for the damages on the moped. I spent the remainder of my time in Ko Pha Ngan miserable and hot getting only short breaks from the pain while I was in the doctor’s office being cared for by the incredibly sweet Thai nurses who would re-wrap my bandages. I eventually left the island and headed for the mainland to Bangkok and on to Chiang Mai where I spent most of my recovery time. Only problems is, I really never recovered. Because I was in the tropics and constantly on foot, in danger of getting the wounds wet, they never really healed fully. It wasn’t until I returned home that the sores closed up entirely. All in all, I could have looked back at this and said it ruined my entire trip.
Why I don’t regret it: Chicks dig scars. Seriously though, I think this experience has given me a healthy dose of reality. I’m not invincible. In a kind of eerie way, my last blog post the day before the accident was about how I’m not afraid of anything and how dangers are often only perceived. While that post was more about the dangers I can’t control, like random acts of violence or terrorism, it still hit close to home when I looked back at how arrogant I might have been. While I will never shy away from an activity just because it might be a little dangerous, I will at least have a little more hesitation and assess a situation closer before diving in. Getting on a moped for the first time on an island notorious for taking out travelers was certainly reckless on my part. That being said, It is an experience that may save my life some day.
3. Not going to the Colombian national soccer final in Medellin while I was there: This one hurt pretty bad. I had spent the two days prior to the “Catergoria Premier A” championship game between Independiente Medellín and Atletico Huila. The second leg of the aggregate final (two legs with scores combined) was held at the national stadium in Medellin on Sunday night during my week stay in the City of Eternal Spring. Two nights earlier Medellin took a lead over Huila and the city was in shutdown party mode. I had originally thought the tournament was over because of how electrified the city became after the first match. Myself and a couple of other guys took to the streets to find a place to join the festivities. The streets were filled with Medellin youth waving their flags, singing, and chanting. I kept thinking back at when my Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2003 and how we partied in the streets. It was a different vibe this night though. It was so intense and the streets were literally flooded with the red and blue of Independiente’s colors. Mind you, this was only the first match still.
Fast forward to Sunday night and we watched the final at the bar of Tiger Paw Hostel in El Poblado (an upscale and safe district of Medellin). A couple of us had talked about going to the final but things never really panned out. Later that night, once Independiente put the nail in the coffin of Huila, Medellin erupted. I thought Friday night was intense but it was nothing close. The sounds of fireworks, whistles and horns that reverberated through the valley were awesome. I was already a bit tired from the Thursday to Saturday stretch in Medellin that kept me up till the late hours either dancing to house music or Latin rock-n-roll. Those Paisas in Medellin LOVE house music.
A few hours passed and a couple of other guests at the hostel I was staying out came back in jerseys they purchased at the match. A whole group of them made it out to the stadium, bought tickets and experienced the excitement first hand. I was disappointed in myself for not being more vocal around the hostel to let people know I was interested. I didn’t really build a relationship with the guys that ended up going but that shouldn’t have stopped me. I shouldn’t have been so hesitant to spear-head my own mission to the stadium. It isn’t like I’ve never shown up to a sporting event minutes before and gotten a ticket. I guess the idea of football in South America gave me a bit of hesitation. Especially considering Colombia was the country that was so angry at a 1994 World Cup own goal that someone murdered a player. OK, in all fairness that is not and should not be a representation of Colombia. In fact, out of all the places I’ve been Colombia has to rank towards the top for the generosity and kindness of the people.
Why I don’t regret it: Are you kidding me? Of course I regret it. That being said, this article is about finding the positives in perceived regrets. I don’t know, I’ve always considered myself pretty spontaneous and I was disappointed, after the fact, that I didn’t do more to get it done I had it in my head that it wasn’t a smart idea and it would be too difficult to pull off, yet only hours after a ton of other travelers went and did it and had a story to tell. Next time I’m in that position I’m going to have to dig a little deeper. I do not ever want to miss another opportunity to experience something unique. So often we follow the same trails blazed by travelers before us, either laid out for us in a guide book or through word of mouth. I had an opportunity to attend the biggest match of the year in the city that was hosting it for what would have amounted to maybe $100 total, and I passed it up. Never again. Lesson learned.
4. Spending a weekend at Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong:
What a terribly wonderful place. Chungking Mansions, located at the southern tip of Kowloon in the Tsim Sha Tsui district, is well known for its cross cultural, diverse and seedy atmosphere. Chungking is a mostly residential complex but is also well known on the travel route as the cheapest accommodation you can find in Hong Kong. There is a reason this place comes as cheap as it does. It is an absolute fire hazard and the room you find yourself sleeping in is rarely larger than the bed itself. My first night was spent in a room no larger than a walk-in closet. Upon exiting the elevator to the floor my guest house was on I was greeted with writing on the wall that said, “No Jews, U.S.A., U.K.” Chungking Mansions were also featured in an episode of Locked Up Abroad where some travelers were caught up in a Nepalese gold smuggling scheme. Chungking is a miserable yet endearing bottleneck of travelers, transients and immigrants. There is a large presence of Africans, Indians and Arabs alongside Chinese and other South Asian nationalities. It can be quite intimidating upon first arrival and I imagine some travelers turn back immediately and opt for a more pleasant resting spot during their stay in Hong Kong.
Why I don’t regret it: This is exactly why I travel. I want to experience things that put me outside of my comfort zone. I’ll admit, I was shocked by my guidebook’s recommendation of Chungking Mansions as a decent spot to find accommodation. The welcome, “no U.S.A.” graffiti on the wall of my floor made it clear that at some point someone didn’t want me. It was unnerving but eye-opening at the same time. As a white male now entering my 30’s, it is rare that I get to experience race or nationality based discrimination. That’s an experience I probably won’t ever experience again at home in the United States. I spent a total of four nights in Chungking Mansions and did eventually find a more roomy guesthouse. I value the experience and I hope to return to Hong Kong to teach someday. And who knows, I may end up back at Chungking Mansions for a few weeks while I get on my feet. Everyone should experience it at least once!