More Tales from Wendy’s Travel Journal

I’m in New Brunswick at my mum’s this week. And in my absence, Wendy (from York) has agreed to share more travel stories with us. Wendy is a longtime reader of this blog and a regular contributor to the comments. She and her husband love to travel, and she has long kept a vividly detailed travel journal. Wendy has generously shared her travel memories with us before. You can read about her love of travel in Scotland here, and all about another India adventure here.

Wendy’s posts show us how wonderful travel can be. But when things don’t go as planned, the adventure can become much more challenging. Still, you know, sometimes the most difficult travel experiences make the best travel stories. But, I’ll let Wendy tell you herself.

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It was 1996 & Max & I were in Kerala, a relatively prosperous state in the far south of India, a lush area of palm trees & beautiful white sand beaches lying between the Western Ghat mountains & the Arabian Sea. We were amongst the first charter flight tourists to follow the hippies, who had moved on elsewhere by then.

The locals would greet us saying “Gatwick  charter, Tuesdays?” & they seemed very pleased to see us. We were of great interest wherever we went. Tuesdays at the small airport meant a trip out from the city for them to view the new arrivals – us. Although their standard of living was very different to ours, in some ways they were better off. Even then they were proud of their 100% literacy & had an excellent health care system which we were very grateful for as the holiday went on.

 I think our hotel had been hastily built. It certainly wasn’t luxurious but was right on the beach with wonderful views. We learnt to cope with our room. We found the bottle opener had been fixed to the wall upside down, but no matter, we used the metal drawer handles of the dressing table – fine. Not that our drinks were cold, as the fridge in our ‘luxury’  room didn’t actually work. It was more of a cupboard to keep the ants out – fine. We didn’t bother complaining. It took three days of nagging to get an electric fan for our room, much needed as the temperatures reached over 40 degrees. The fan had no plug – the guy who brought it just poked the wires into the holes with his biro. Not so fine – but it worked.

In Kerala in 1996.

On the plus side Keralan food was excellent & we felt totally safe wandering around the beaches & villages. At breakfast we watched the local villagers on the beach hauling in their huge fishing net as they would have done for centuries. It was a communal effort & they divided  the profits, with the boat owner taking the largest share.

Hauling in the catch.

All life took place on the local village streets & we were allowed to be part of it. There were colorful religious festivals alongside outdoor barber shops & lots of busy markets. We saw masses of perfect fruit & vegetables piled up on the ground, one guy would have all yams, another all melons, but my favourite were the pineapples. You also had to watch for  the coconut pickers slinging them down from the trees as you walked by. No ladders to warn us, they just scrambled up.

Street life in Kerala
Piles of perfect pineapples.

After a few days we headed inland to travel along some of the beautiful old waterways of Kerala, 1900 kilometers of rivers & canals constructed centuries ago to transport goods & people. The Tour India Company had restored just nine old, picturesque rice boats for tourist use.

For five days we shared our beautiful boat with one other couple & four crew – a captain /steerer, an engineer, a cook, & our guide Madoon. Cane arm chairs had been fixed alongside so we could sit in the breeze with bare feet skimming the water as we travelled along.

Relaxing on the rice boat.

Delicious meals were somehow produced by the cook from his dark kitchen of  just 3ft by 2ft at the rear of the boat – often served on banana leaves & never any knives & forks but our fingers were rinsed by Madoon using his little tin kettle. The tropical scenery & tranquil atmosphere was magical. There was a trip to an outdoor tile works (quite medieval but much prettier than it sounds.) Then we visited the yard where the wonderful boats were built & watched the workers playing cricket in their lunch hour.  There was an endless variety of bird life to enjoy & we were able to hop off the boat to walk through small villages.

Best of all were the Keralan people waving & smiling as we passed. The women in their bright outfits would be carrying shiny metal pots to the wells, or banging dust out of rugs, or sweeping with their coir brooms. The children would practice their English, shouting: “hello”, “ we love you”, “what is your name?”, but most of all “school pen.” They got lots of pens.

The people of Kerala were so friendly.

Part way through the trip we switched to a motorised canoe to visit a swimming beach. Max has always been a strong swimmer, but after almost drowning as a child, I avoid deep water. I knew as he walked back to me from the sea that there was something wrong. His shoulders were askew, he was hunched up, and all his colour had gone leaving his skin yellow – the sun tan effect. I could see the pain on his face. There was a nasty current out there which had picked him up & thrown him to the sea bed with some force. He’d really struggled to get back to the surface.

When Madoon saw what had happened he took us to an Ayurvedic healer sat on the beach & I was really worried when I saw this leathery-looking old guy in a loin cloth with wild hair. What damage might he do? By this time we had quite a crowd of interested onlookers around us. Anyway after a gentle feel of Max’s shoulders he shook his head & said one word “Hospital.”

Our canoe wasn’t due back for ages, so Madoon sped off to commandeer the only boat in sight which was a fishing boat complete with its catch of prawns. We sat ankle-deep in prawns until we reached the nearest small town.

Once the doctors took over, things improved. The diagnosis was a badly broken collarbone, so Max was strapped into a weird shoulder brace contraption & his arm fixed into a sling. Painkillers were issued & I stood at the foot of the bed dishing out rupee notes to the cashier for his treatment.

Max in his “contraption.”

We left with Max a registered member of V.S.M. Hospital at Thattarampalam & we still have his registration card if we need to call again. He was checked by the doctor a few days later & there was a trip to the pharmacy for more painkillers.

At the pharmacy.

As we wandered around after that all the locals wanted to know our story & I had to mime swimming, a big wave, & crash. Max got lots of sympathetic head shakes. The accident didn’t stop us enjoying the rest of our stay though & we still have very fond memories of Kerala & its people.

Back home, our local hospital was impressed by the treatment he had received & it has never caused him any problems though it left him with an interestingly shaped collarbone as a holiday souvenir.

Not all holidays work out as planned & we had more mishaps on other trips, but it didn’t stop us travelling. It took two scruffy mongrels from our local animal rescue to do that.

Now, how about you, dear readers? Do you have any almost-disaster travel stories you can share with us?

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22 thoughts on “More Tales from Wendy’s Travel Journal”

  1. What an interesting story, and told wonderfully! I really enjoyed it and I loved the photos! So glad to hear, too, that the medical emergency was easily resolved.

    I have travelled quite a lot but don’t have any particularly colourful stories, or hospital stories (other than falling down a ravine while running in the Australian bush and gouging my arm, although all I really needed was a few stitches and a tetanus shot). I worked briefly in South Korea many years ago when I was a very young woman (studying the steel industry) and at one point thought it a great idea to take a boat from Busan to Fukuoka with some male colleagues. We stayed in some kind of a spa where I had to give up my clothes and passport at the door (yes, I suppose I wasn’t really thinking at the time). It was all fine and perfectly safe, it being Japan, but what I remember most particularly was sleeping in a room with the men sleeping at the front of the room and the women on cots in the back of the room. Because I was the only Caucasian I suppose I recall waking up in the middle of the night to find people leaning over me, staring into my oh-so-fascinating 🙂 face. All’s well that ends well though. I took a plane back to Busan and I have to say the Korean Air pilot and his landing was the scariest part of the trip!

    I absolutely love the pineapples photo. That’s wonderful image.

      1. Thanks S . I can understand them being fascinated by your ‘strange’ face . Max’s blondeness used to cause great interest years ago & they would pluck hairs off his arms for souvenirs !

  2. Wonderful memories,Wendy! Such a beautiful story! Your travels are right up my alley-living somewhere abroad as it is (probably without visits to the hospitals :)).
    I hope that we will hear more of your adventures
    Dottoressa

    1. Thanks D , I never thought when I was scribbling in my travel diary years ago that one day it would be read by people thousands of miles away . Thanks to the internet & Sue .

  3. I enjoyed the pineapples as well. So far, so good on the unexpected health incidents on holiday, apart from a one-year old with an ear infection while in France.

    1. Thanks Annie . Those lovely pineapples certainly distract from the scary electrical sub station in the background 😁

  4. Great story! I was in Dominican Republic eating a roll when the crown fell off my front tooth. I asked where I could get crazy glue and it was delivered from a pharmacy. Stuck it back on and used a hair dryer to fix it in place. A day or 2 later I was snorkelling in a huge fish tank. When I took my mask off the crown was gone ! Luckily it was in the mouth piece of the mask and I had the glue with me. It stayed till I returned home.

  5. Wonderful — a magical trip even with the serious mishap (I’m sure you’ve shuddered once or twice since, thinking of how much worse it could have been). Such fine story-telling and scene-setting.
    There have been a few hitches in my travels over the decades. .. . missed or cancelled flights or trains, rental car breakdown on a major French highway, and recently having bag with passport and credit cards stolen in Rome. . . but nothing medical, so far (knocks quickly on wood). After all, though, giving up the comfort and security of home is part of travel — at least, for me, travel that is so insulated from the local realities of the travel destination as to remove all possible discomfort and insecurity? Too high a price to pay, in so many ways, and little appeal for me.

    1. You’re right Frances . We always wanted to see the real world with real people . Mostly it worked out fine . Just the occasional nightmare . Rather like home 😊

  6. Love your description of Kerala and the people. The reason we travel! Even when things don’t go quite as planned.

    Must say my most recent solo trip to the UK in March this year proved to be the one that landed me at a hospital door. Badly wrenched my knee on an overnight flight from the US and knew I’d done damage. Made it through LHR passport control and baggage claim by taking only slow, forward steps. Luckily, I had a driver meeting me. Unfortunately, as we were walking out of the airport, another gentleman abruptly stepped in front of me requiring me to side step to avoid collision. The knee wouldn’t hold and down I went. My poor driver had to pick me up off the floor. He took me directly to my hotel (where they know me well) and staff immediately called a taxi for me to go to the hospital. It is a private one just down the street from the hotel, where, fortunately, I was in their system having been there several years ago for a suspected DVT (wasn’t). The hospital doesn’t normally handle walk-ins/emergency cases, but since I had been treated their before, the staff went out of their way to assist me—saw a GP who immediately ordered an MRI—had that within the hour–and was then seen by the nicest Orthopaedic Consultant I’ve ever met. Gave me his personal assistant’s number and told me to contact him if I had any trouble during my stay; he would do a zoom call. He pushed me around in a wheelchair and had his staff wheel me to the physio to be fitted for a long leg brace (ACL injury), then to their pharmacy for meds (luckily, my travel insurance paid for everything). One young woman from reception, knowing I’d been on an overnight flight without any sleep, repeatedly checked on me between all the appointments and even brought me cups of tea and offers of food. Finally, they called a taxi and two people wheeled me out and helped me in. I could not have had better service or more caring individuals–anywhere.

    Was that it? No. After several days in London, I was able to take the train up to Scotland (wearing my brace) to meet friends where we had five wonderful days together, nattering away six to the dozen. Took the train back to London for a few more days…I thought. Woke up the next day with a sore throat. Yep. Covid. Spent another eleven days (instead of the expected two) in my London hotel as I couldn’t fly back to US until I tested negative–not until day 10. Only had mild cold symptoms, but I stayed in my room the whole time, not wanting to expose others. Luckily, it was in a large, high-ceiling room with three large bay windows (that opened!) and, most importantly, a kitchen. Downloaded the Waitrose app and ordered my groceries which were delivered to the hotel and then put outside my door; downloaded Boots app and ordered more test kits—also delivered; and NHS delivered a PCR test that hotel staff picked up outside my door after I tested myself. They walked it to the priority mailbox down the street.

    Was it the best trip? Well, obviously, I could have done without the injury (had ACL reconstruction surgery in June) and Covid, but what I will always remember with gratitude are the tremendously kind people I encountered and the amazing assistance I received throughout my stay. A best worst-case scenario. 😊

    1. Thanks Mary . That sounds like a pretty grim experience especially with Covid thrown in . It must be difficult when travelling alone & having to be totally reliant on strangers . I’m glad we treated you kindly & hope all is well now .

  7. What a wonderful tale Wendy. I felt I could see hear and smell your journey. So glad that Max made a good recovery.
    I have been lucky enough to travel a fair bit during my life and have so far managed nothing worse than the odd cold or tummy bug – to be expected I guess. We have managed a few memorable adventures over the years such as accidentally staying in a brothel in Denver as we travelled across the USZ byvtrain. We nearly wiped out in our car driving from Spain to Andorra in the middle of winter. Our car did a graceful 360 degree turn which could have been set to music. We also managed to lose the spare wheel bouncing down a badly rutted dirt road in the back of beyond in Western Australia while doing a tour around in a home made camper van with a six month old baby. We’d had a puncture and changed tyres and put the damaged tyres on top of the roof rack where it would be easier to reach for repair.
    But in return we have seen beautiful sights, met interesting people and learned about other cultures. I often feel it is the mishaps and quirks that make travel a bit more interesting and create fond memories.

  8. Sounds as if you’ve had some fun Kenzie & I agree about the mishaps & quirks . I’m now curious to know more about the brothel . Like when did you realise ? Was it a ‘rude awakening’ ? 😲

    1. The state of the place and red cloth over the lamp were suspicious to start with. This was confirmed by the cab driver the next morning who said luggage usually came out in a pillowcase!

  9. Wendy, I so enjoyed your travel story! You have a wonderful style, and I’d love to read more.
    Also, we have been lucky on our travels for the most part, but the most memorable ARE the ones that took us off the beaten path. Moorea held some pretty interesting, and later very funny, stories!
    I’ll look for more…
    Eva P

    1. Thanks Eva . I confess I had to google Moorea. It looks magical . The world has really opened up to travellers over the years .

  10. Wendy, thank you for the great story. I almost felt as if I were there. It must have been frightening to have a medical issue in another country, but it sounds like everyone was so helpful and friendly. How great to be with people who took care of you.
    I’ve been fortunate to not have had medical mishaps on my travels. I’ve had to turn back when trying to drive through the mountains in Colorado (while traveling across the country) when I ran into a snow storm and my California car, with no snow tires, simply slid backwards down the road.
    I’ve spent many a night in a less than ideal hotel or in my car when I ran out of energy and had to stop for the night. Slept in the back of a U-Haul for the entire trip from CA to MA when moving my sparse belongings from one state to the other. I had a little cubby carved out in the back. It was hot during that trip and I didn’t get much sleep. But, they are all adventures and make for good stories.

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