Travel Stories » Lifestyle Strategies, Travel, Adventures--Todd's Wanderings

Travel Stories

A lot of weird and wonderful things happen on the road. This section explores them all in a narrative style.

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A Night with a Sri Lankan Gangster

Some names and circumstances have been changed to protect my ass. Not too many things get your heart beating like downing a half a bottle of Black Label whiskey and being hugged by a killer… In the bathroom I called my friend who worked for the Sri Lankan government. It was 3 am and yet somehow he answered. “Where are you?” “Have you ever heard of (name to remain anonymous)?” “Of course I have. Where are you?” “I’m in his suite at the (fancy hotel to remain anonymous).” “What? Get the fuck out of there! I’m coming to get you.” Whiskey does strange things to people, and after downing a half a bottle the world seemed like a gentle, gummy bear filled place. A night out, or rather in, with a group of gangsters sounded like a great idea. I hung up on my friend with assurances I was OK Read full article…

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My Karate Kid Moment: Bar Fight in Japan

Three to one. Three soldiers, to me. An ex-girlfriend on my arm, scared. How did I get myself into this situation? More importantly, how did I get myself out of it? When we are kids we all have dreams of being the karate kid. No, not being lanky and whiny (I didn’t have to dream about that part), but being the guy who fights the bullies in the bar…and wins of course. In the summer of 2002 I had my own karate kid moment in Tokyo, Japan. I know, a very cool setting for the story. Yes, it seems I jumped straight to Part 2 rather than training on the beach in California with a small Japanese guy who can act really really well. Despite not being in Okinawa, I still managed to find a group of US Soldiers. Note, I really respect all US military personnel and thank you Read full article…

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My Experience During the Japan Earthquake

The Japanese Earthquake On Friday 11 March 2011 just before 3:00 pm the largest earthquake in Japanese recorded history hit with a magnitude of 9.0. I was in Tokyo at the time visiting my wife’s family. As I sat at the kitchen table, happily posting pictures of Japan on Facebook, the room began to shake. The quake started small, but with a sudden jolt. When the shaking didn’t stop I started to worry as the large cabinet rattled at my back and the light above me began to swing violently. I moved to the middle of the room, away from anything that could fall on me. The preparation drills tell you to get under a table, put a cushion over your head, and open the door to make sure you have a way out if the house collapses. You are also supposed to shut off the gas to prevent a Read full article…

When to Bribe, How to Bribe, Do you Bribe?

If you travel long enough eventually you face the dilemma of how and when, or even if to bribe. But before we get into the nitty gritty of corruption I want to state right off the bat that corruption, the giving and taking of bribes, is an insidious practice that destroys the very fabric of the rule of law in countries and the trust between citizens and those elected to positions of authority. Now that I’ve sounded off on my public service announcement let’s have a discussion about the realities of travel in potentially unsafe areas, in countries where the rule of law is loosely followed, and situations where it is in your interest to hand over $20, not because it doesn’t do any harm (it does) but because that $20 could save your skin. Shake Down by Local Cops The year was 2008 and I was traveling through Indonesia Read full article…

The First Time I Almost Died-Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

By the end of this story a number of people will be dead. The compact dirty white van left the tourist choked streets of Hanoi, Vietnam’s French Quarter early in the morning. We were a group of 10 strangers bound together by our desire to see the turquoise beauty of Ha Long Bay, and its breathtaking limestone islands thrusting out of the waters. We were also cheap, backpackers looking to save money but desperate to spend 3 days living on a boat, cruising the pearl culturing backwaters of Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage site, and exploring the natural caves dotting the area. Sixty eight dollars was a lot to us for two nights on the boat, three meals a day, and an English guide. Sixty eight dollars almost cost all of us our lives. What you get for 68 Dollars Seagulls screeched as the van jerked to a stop at the Read full article…

When Japanese Toilets Fight Back

I was excited, nervous and sweaty. It was 2000 and I was on a date in Japan. I chose the perfect spot, the 11th floor bar overlooking Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake and where I spent 5 years of my life after university (near the lake, not the bar). The bar was called Medusa. Small and smokey (like most Japanese bars at the time) the dark room was sandwiched by glass. One side was wall to wall panoramic views of the lake, distant mountains  glowing in the sun’s retreat for the day. A black light lit massive aquarium claimed the wall behind the bar. At first glance it looked empty. “Look again,” the bartender advised. He didn’t look up and kept at his task of shaping a large cube of ice into a sphere to accompany the scotch destined for a group of black tied salary men. We found two small Read full article…

Fighting Fires in Luang Prabang, Laos

This article won the People’s Choice award from the Southeast Asian Travel Writing Competition. Thanks to everyone who voted! No, Thank You Laos How many people can you feed with a 600 pound catfish I wondered as I walked down the deserted street in northern Laos. Somewhere, in the darkness close by, the mythical Mekong River snaked its way through the intense blackness, hiding the massive catfish and the largest population of gigantic species in the world. It was just after 9:00 PM but there was no one else on the streets. I walked cautiously, afraid to disturb the romantic stillness in the air and the humming wildlife from the encroaching jungle. I was in Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. Lost to a bygone era, the French inspired Indochinese houses surrounded me, converted to coffee and gift shops but Read full article…

Sri Lanka Engagement Surprise in Unawatuna

After almost 2 1/2 years I decided it was time to propose to Kay. As many who are following my wanderings are aware, I had been stuck in the United States for about 3 months as I waited for my work visa to be approved. During this time I began planning the proposal for March and relying on friends to help sort out the details as I sat halfway around the world. Kay had no idea what was being planned behind her back. Once I returned I insisted that we go away for a weekend of scuba diving and relaxing on Unawatuna Beach. Kay had planned to do some work over the weekend….thankfully the computer never made it out if its case. Diving turned out to be a disaster. The sea was rough, and we were the only people crazy enough to give it a try. Withing 5 minutes our Read full article…

The Hermit in Seclusion

Deep rumbling chants rolled out of the cedar temple, pushed by the rhythmic precision of the perfectly timed drums, as the Buddhist monk led the daily dawn service. The morning air was crisp and carried the scent of pine and earth from the remote Japanese mountaintop. Prayer beads wrapped around my left hand, 108 plastic balls reminding me of my earthly sins, I knelt Japanese style in a dimly lit temple wondering if feeling would ever return to my feet. Gold ringlets hung from the ceiling, radiating above a thousand armed statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion sitting directly in front of me. One hour later, my prayers were answered. The monk concluded the ceremony and encouraged us to relax our legs before he spoke about the Buddha’s teachings. Sighs of restrained relief and pain filled the dim temple as seven Japanese pilgrims sitting on either side of me shifted Read full article…

Thankful Thanksgiving

Sometimes life is not so easy and what can start out as a great time can devolve into a very stressful one. This story has been occupying my mind for the past week and I feel like I need to get it out. Last weekend I took a trip down to Hikkaduwa, a beach town about 2 1/2 hours south of Colombo, to surf. I was planning on buying a surfboard for the season and spent the first day out on the waves and walking around the beach looking for anyone looking to get rid of a board. I had a great room looking out over the ocean, with a nice balcony just above the palm trees. View from my balcony Everything was in place for a great weekend: good surf, friends all around, and plenty of tables on the beach full of beers to drink under tropical palm trees. Read full article…

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