Travel Oops: “I’m sorry, she’s left the country.”

© Stephanie Glaser 2013

© Stephanie Glaser 2013

Two things you automatically have going for you when you’re a foreign exchange teacher and things go wrong:

1. You are foreign and your manner is often chalked up as being an unfortunate result of your nationality.

2. Eventually you will leave the country.

Ultimately you can get away with being strange or a little bit crazy. Even better, if it’s necessary, the excuse that you’ve moved to another country can legitimately be used.

I suggested that my principal use that very excuse on my behalf the next time Gertrude Brown called to demand I give her $1,000. In two weeks, I would be returning to the United States after one year of teaching in Adelaide, South Australia. So, indeed, I was leaving the country. Maybe that knowledge would finally shut Trudy up.

© Stephanie Glaser

Mitchell (right) and his minions © Stephanie Glaser

Early in the 2010 academic year, I had confiscated her son Trent’s mobile phone after he took it out during class to text and show it off to his classmates.

When Trent, who was a whinger to begin with, argued that I had no right to take his phone, Mitchell, the class clown, piped up, “You know she told us we can’t use mobiles in class, Trent.”  Ignoring that Mitchell next leaned back in his seat and placed his feet up on the table, I stood in front of Trent with my arm extended, palm upright.

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Travel Oops: Packing Weapons of Mass Distraction

449px-SA_police_force

© Wikimedia Commons

Phoenix, Arizona, USA. 2011.

In a bulky badass stride, a muscular police officer with a military precision haircut approaches the security scene at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. He wears a flak jacket while pepper spray, handcuffs and extra clips adorn his gun belt. Clearly, this guy is packing heat.

Moments earlier, a group of TSA agents had clustered around a confiscated item. Redirecting everybody but us, one agent shut down an entire row of security and called in the cop.

Travelers shoot withering looks our way while my husband Kurt and I, along with our kids Eddie and Kasey, stand at the end of the conveyor belt. Returning from Mexico, we need to make our connecting flight to Denver.

Although no one actually informs us, Kurt and I know exactly what is wrong. I look over at Kurt, who rolls his eyes. Then our six-year-old son Eddie asks the all-important question:

“Am I going to get my marshmallow gun back?”

© Stephanie Glaser

Eddie (left) and his friends armed with their marshmallow guns. © Stephanie Glaser

Months earlier, Kurt had made Eddie a marshmallow gun out of PVC piping after he had seen one at a carnival. You can actually fire marshmallow “bullets” from the toy by blowing them through any of the pipes’ openings. Like a veteran SWAT team member, Eddie assembles the entire thing, which sort of resembles a white sniper gun, in about 29 seconds.

So now we wait at the Phoenix Airport for the marshmallow gun to either be cleared or confiscated for good. Apparently, due to the Transportation Security Administration’s protocol, a professional must inspect the contraband — especially when it’s material that people use to make bombs.

“I don’t know, Bud.” Kurt answers.

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Signs of the Times: Wildlife? Really?

© Stephanie Glaser

© Stephanie Glaser

Pikes Peak Parking Lot, Denver International Airport, United States. Often people think of Colorado as an idyllic setting  for wildlife. However, usually an airport parking lot is not part of the wildlife landscape. I guess you never know — some bunny or bird of prey with longing in their eyes may approach, prompting you to give them some “drive-thru” McDonald’s  morsels.

© Stephanie Glaser

Cars parked in the Pikes Peak parking lot © Stephanie Glaser

© Stephanie Glaser

Driving on plenty of wildlife friendly asphalt. © Stephanie Glaser

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Travel Oops: The Outback or the Rainforest?

This isn't the actual road to Uluru, but this was common to see when we arrived in Alice Springs.

This isn’t the actual road to Uluru, but this was common to see when we arrived in Alice Springs.

It was pretty obvious a minivan could not plow through the goopy, sloppy red Outback route to Uluru. Essentially, the roads were open only to the burliest of vehicles. No matter how much the Honda Odyssey believed it was a Mad Maxian four-wheel drive, there was no way we would make it. No way. It was time to find another mode of transportation to take us to the most famous monolith in the world.

todd river raging

Uncharacteristically heavy rains had churned and upturned the soil of Australia’s red center. Water wrecked havoc on the town of Alice Springs, and the Todd River had overtaken some of the city’s streets.

Locals said if you saw the Todd River even flow at all at three times you were a local. Considering the river’s raging water, we definitely were one-third local.

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“I Have a Problem with the Blood of a Woman…”

women's restroom
Barcelona, Spain. 1995

Stationing myself next to Ba-Ba-Reeba’s restroom, I stopped every woman who entered and asked, “Perdon, tiene usted un tampon? TamPONE? Tampax? Playtex? Kotex?”

Just moments earlier while enjoying a beer and tapas at the Barcelona bar with some Americans I had met on a train from Madrid, I discovered the added company of my period.  Yikes — my supplies were a few miles away back at a pension off Las Ramblas. I asked my new friend Allie if she had a tampon. Nope.

Back in the bathroom, there was no dispenser in sight, and no one who came in seemed to have any spare tampons or pads. Didn’t anyone carry backups?  It was time to act since I didn’t want my only pair of jeans to be ruined. Leaving Ba-Ba-Reeba, I searched the streets near Plaça de Catalunya. Surely, Wal-Mart had invaded Catalunya.

It was siesta time, and the nearby shops and stores were closed while shopkeepers observed the afternoon break. It seemed inevitable. I would have to approach the intimidating women of Iberia on the streets.

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Travel Oops: People Really Do Win These Things…

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A lemon cake. That’s what I won at a school carnival in third grade at Forest Hills Elementary in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, USA.  Contestants walked around a circle marked by numbers on the floor while music played until the cake walk ringleader stopped the song. If the ringleader announced your number, you won the cake.

Despite the fact I didn’t particularly like lemon cake, I was quite impressed with my prize and my luck. It’s a good thing because that is essentially the only award by chance I have received. I’m not really counting a pair of ski gloves I won at a raffle last year since, basically, almost all raffle contestants  were out skiing or in the lodge drinking beer when the tickets were drawn. Due to several no-shows, I claimed the gloves with one of the last remaining tickets.

However, my luck karma reached jackpot levels at the end of 2012. After entering a Facebook contest sponsored by Lonley Planet, Tourism Australia and Virgin Australia Airlines, I won two roundtrip tickets to Australia. Yeah. I know. HUGE. MASSIVE. MEANT TO BE!! People really do win these things.

And the winner is all in photo

The Universe must have been listening. Ever since my family and I returned broke in 2011 from my exchange teaching stint in Adelaide, I have joked that I need to find someone else to pay for or sponsor our travel. The Universe came through — BIG TIME.

The contest involved writing a 25-words-or-less bit about who you would take to Australia and why. Of course, I chose my husband, Kurt. I must admit that in my entry writeup, I didn’t want to admit that we had lived in Oz already. So I wrote something rather vague and cheesy. Here’s the spiel:

“A real homebody,  my husband Kurt has just recently given travel a go; I want to share the world with him!”

I figured the part about “recently giving travel a go” was vague enough to cover…”he hadn’t really traveled outside the country until we moved to Australia, and then we traveled HEAPS.”

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The Unfortunate Photo: Checking out the floor tiles of the Taj Mahal

© Jane Whitmere

© Jane Whitmer

My friend Jane Whitmer was kind enough to let me use this photo of her at the Taj Mahal. Talk about trooper: Jane had bedbugs, Delhi Belly, and it was 120 degrees fahrenheit on the day she visited this Wonder of the World.

Here’s the Travel Oops Interview about Jane and her travels to India.

Travel Oops — “Did I tell you I had a bad experience the last time I was here?”

© Ciell

A show at the Melkweg © Ciell

I think it was while my college friend Amy dumped water all over my face as I lay on the concrete floor outside of the Melkweg’s concert hall that I decided hashish in Holland was not for me.

The “Black Afghani,” which I had tried earlier in the evening, took over during the show at Amsterdam’s famous venue. As everyone gyrated around me, I stood still. Staring at my feet, I was focused and determined to synchronize my heartbeat with the drumbeat.

© estakiweb.deviantart

© estakiweb.deviantart

Finally synched, I saw a blue light shoot forward. Then blackness settled in. Only vaguely aware of anything, I fell forward, slamming into the people ahead of me. A barely audible “Steph,” Steph,” STEPH seeped in with the black. “Man, you are dead weight!” I heard someone say in the fog.

Also altered, my friends dragged me out of the main music hall and into a busy corridor. People whooshed by without even looking down as I lay on the ground. Tourists passing out in the bars of Amsterdam was about as common as tulips blooming in spring.  Fortunately, my friends, whom I had only known for three weeks when we began our Dutch study abroad program, surrounded me.

steph steph

The first coherent thought that came to mind was: “Damn! My parents are going to find out about this!” That thought, along with total embarrassment, contributed to the major paranoia I experienced for the rest of the night. On the train back to Leiden, I was convinced that all the passengers returning from Amsterdam at 2:30 a.m. knew what had happened and judged me for it.

During the rest of my stay in the Netherlands, I avoided further encounters with THC. I also avoided telling anyone I really just didn’t like it.

Six years later and back in Amsterdam:

“So it’s 25 guilders for 2 grams of Black Cobra light hash. You also serve space cakes, magic herbs and herbal elixirs, correct?” I asked. “All righty, that should do it.”

© Mr. Clean

© Mr. Clean

“Would you like to sample something?” suggested the hash bar’s balding owner. Wearing gold hoop earrings, he so strongly resembled Mr. Clean that I thought he should be hawking kitchen cleanser rather than drugs.

“I can’t. I’m working, but thank you for the offer. Dank u wel” I said while scribbling a few bulleted points into my notebook.

I was back in Holland. This time I was revising and writing for the 1996 Berkeley Guides Europe edition. Fodor’s created the Berkeley Guides, compiled by UC Berkeley students, to compete with Harvard’s Let’s Go budget travel series. Although I wasn’t a student, I worked as a copywriter for the university. My job and past experience in the Netherlands were connection enough.

© Stephanie Glaser 1989

Amsterdam © Stephanie Glaser 1989

As travel writer/updater, it was my job to ensure that travelers read new, accurate and reliable information. Fact checking is a huge part of the job.

Consequently, I confirmed hours of operation, prices, bus routes, wheelchair accessibility and cultural norms. I visited museums, parks, cafes, hostels and, of course, hash bars. This was for the Berkeley Guides after all.

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Signs of the Times: Is there something newer than silicone?

© Stephanie Glaser

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Maybe the company has come up with a new marinade for their famous hot wings. Regardless, we know there’s something saucy.

Travel Oops: Interrupting the Rapture — Roosters in Bali

© Stephanie Glaser 2010

© Stephanie Glaser 2010

While your chi may be in balance, your senses go ballistic in Bali. After all, you’ve got the sweet smell of incense and plumerias wafting while wooden chimes clonk together in the humid, tropical breeze.

© Stephanie Glaser

© Stephanie Glaser

And then, overworking your retina, Technicolor greens of jungle vegetation, rice paddies and terraces pop. Meanwhile, soothing golds of National Geographic sunsets and ornate costumes calm down the pupil palpitations.

You may experience the wet brush bristles that a Hindu priest gently dabs on your skin before he places rice grains on your forehead to deliver a blessing. At the end of the day, with a semi-warm Bintang, swallow down all of those sensory details along with the lingering taste of turmeric and chili peppers from Nasi Goreng, Indonesia’s national dish.

© Muhammad Mahdi Karim

© Muhammad Mahdi Karim

It’s enough to keep you completely zenned out for life. However, a specific sound on the Island of the Gods easily shatters that inner peace and jars your senses into consciousness. A rooster. At 4 a.m. Every morning. On the dot. (Aren’t they supposed to wait until sunrise?)

For centuries, roosters have strutted their stuff as part of the scene in Southeast Asia, where they were originally domesticated. In fact, today, these cocks are like scooters in Southeast Asia — persistent, aggressive often competing and always demanding attention. In Bali, cockfights are sacred and have always been part of “Tabuh Rah,” an important Balinese Hindu ritual.

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