Backpacking offers situations from the most mundane to the most surprising. There’s no way you can prepare for everything. But. You can set yourself up for favorable outcomes. Abhijeet Deshpande shares three anecdotes, each ending with a tip. Read on for ideas on how to deal with backpacking surprises.
Ice Buckets: Kick the Comforts
Navita and I reached Roing after a long, land-journey from New Delhi. It is a small town in the Himalayan Arunachal Pradesh, a northeast Indian state bordering Tibet. We hadn’t had a shower in a few days and the near freezing weather prompted us to ask for hot water. But the person at the reception answered our inquiry with blank looks. Given the local practice of going up to the rivulet for bathing and washing needs, it was a luxury to have any form of running water inside the hostel room. That too in the dry winter of December.
When visiting forests or sparsely populated areas, where availability of food or potable water can be a challenge, we usually carry an electric kettle. It comes handy to boil water for drinking or to make instant noodles. In Roing, we tried using a boiling litre from our kettle to mix with icy tap-flow. Alas, a fluctuating low-voltage supply refused to power up the appliance and we reluctantly embraced the bone-chilling, ice-bucket challenge.
To reduce the shivering after-effects, we just stepped out in the sun for a hot cup of tea. For the rest of our time in the region, we cut down our bathing and made friends with ice buckets.
Backpacking to remote locations constrains the set of available responses. Gadgets that work flawlessly in urban homes might not in local conditions (for instance, due to a fickle power supply). Whatever your situation, while backpacking, be prepared to kick comforts out of your itinerary.
Hold that Drink: Be Safe and Responsible
Recently, I explored Goa. After traveling solo for a few months, I felt like sharing social space and checked in to a dorm with two others – an Ecuadorian and a Spaniard. We met few other solo travelers and soon enough, it became a party. A few drinks too many and I crashed on the beach. When I woke up the next morning, I could not locate my day-pack (that had a few valuables including my wallet with all cards, driver’s license (DL), etc.). The Spaniard too had lost an expensive neoprene waterproof bag with similar contents.
The hostel staff helped us liaison with the administration, since a copy of the police’s statement would help to claim insurance or secure a duplicate DL. After spending that day and the evening mourning the loss, to our delight and chagrin, the next morning we stumbled upon the bags under our dorm beds! Since we had thoroughly checked before filing a police complaint, we had no recollection of how the bags got there.
Anyway, it brought the unenviable job of owning up the folly and apologizing to everyone who’d kept us company through the previous evening and eventually requesting the cops to cancel the complaint. Shit happens. It could have been worse. Goa police was helpful and professional.
It is fun to get drunk sometimes. But, watch yourself too. It took a false alarm to remind me to drink responsibly, especially when traveling solo. Wherever you go, be safe and aware of your environment.
Frog tastes like Chicken: Go Local
Few years ago, I went dining with two other fellow travelers in Bangkok. The menu card was Mandarin and the duo took the job of placing the order. When the meal was served, I noticed a large bowl of curry with a frog floating in it! With its face immersed, its limbs slit at the joints and stretched wide, it was a repulsive sight to hold. While I darted my eyes across the restaurant to avoid looking at it, an array of thoughts took over. It is food; it is cooked well; it might be rude to refuse; you wont die; you wont vomit.
I observed how my friends helped themselves with portions. Yet, sometimes, observing is insufficient. My hands quivered to cut the amphibian’s smallest limb. From another bowl, I generously poured rice over the ‘meat’ before scooping it in my mouth. The rice-coating did not last long before I felt the tiny piece, smeared in rather spicy curry, with fragments of crunchy bones underneath. And surprise, surprise!
The meat tasted like chicken. Encouraged that I did not vomit, I helped myself to slightly bigger second serving, cut from its torso. Things got better thereafter. Since that evening, I have tried them skewered and roasted or fried. And for that matter, few other peculiar items too.
Backpacking to any location is incomplete without immersing yourself in local culture and tastes. Whatever is served, just know that food aversion is not impossible to overcome. Accepting diverse food makes travel fun and helps to connect with people too. Be willing to go local.
As a first-time backpacker, you might travel to popular urban areas of the world, to a beach, or to the depths of a forest. Wherever you find yourself on your next trip, be open to new situations. You might discover things about yourself that you never imagined. Surprises can be pleasant too. Welcome them.
Do you have interesting anecdotes and surprises from your backpacking trips? We would love to hear from you (please scroll below to leave a comment).
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