The World’s Scariest Travel Stories… #1 in a series

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve all had our share of spooky moments while on the road. Some were actual threats of death. Some were merely amusing in hindsight. Here is the first in a series of articles from our contributors. Clare O’Donoghue shares these…

It’s always the quiet ones…

Back in my on-a-shoestring days, I was working at a backpacker hostel in Punakaiki, a tiny beautiful village next to the temperate rainforest on the South Island of New Zealand. One afternoon I was relaxing down the back of the garden, enjoying a drop of New Zealand wine, when I was joined by one of the hostel guests. He didn’t say much and seemed perhaps to be a fan of the wacky tobaccy, but we shared a glass of wine and a bit of polite conversation before he headed on his way.

Later that evening, another guest came running into the reception, covered in blood and screaming for an ambulance. She and her husband had been washing dishes in the kitchen when my mild-mannered friend from the garden walked over to them, picked up a bread knife, and stabbed her husband repeatedly in the chest, before running into the rainforest nearby.

It took almost an hour for an ambulance to reach us, so remote was the village, and while the police helicopters scoured the rainforest with search lights, we were told to stay indoors with all locks bolted, as we should consider him ‘armed and dangerous’. Thankfully the guest’s injuries weren’t too serious in the end, and after a number of hours the stabber was caught, but that whole time I kept thinking of how, if the guy could snap so quickly, it could just have easily have happened to me, alone in the garden, with nobody around to run for help or hear me scream.

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Abandoned on the Road of Death…

The deadliest road on the world, that which sees more fatal accidents than any other, is just outside the hightest city in the world, La Paz, Bolivia. A steep, narrow, crumbling path, it somehow tries to accommodate two lanes of traffic, with one muddy lane perilously gripping the edge of a 2,000 foot precipice. On average, a vehicle goes over the edge every two weeks, causing certain death to the driver and any other occupants. So, in the spirit of adventure, I somehow thought it would be a buzz to cycle down the infamous Death Road.

There are numerous tour companies vying to guide you down the 38 mile long, 11,400 foot descent, and as we reached the top of the road and mounted our bikes, I felt confident that our guides were decent, responsible guys and this was all going to be a bit of high-adrenaline fun. I noticed, however, that all the other cyclists seemed a lot more confident than me, who hadn’t been on a bike since I was about 12 years old. As I wobbled and tried to find my balance, they practiced wheelies and perfected which gears could give them the fastest downhill action. As we took off, I realised everybody else was going to be cycling a lot faster than me, but I wasn’t too bothered, as our guides had assured us there would always be one guide in front of us and one guide behind, to make sure we all kept together. I was coming up last. Then the last guide overtook me.

Realising I was now alone, with the rest of the group hundreds of feet in front of me, my wobbling became even worse as I lurched over the omnipresent potholes, my hands clammily gripping the handlebars. The brakes on the bike were making a strange clicking sound, and not being well-versed in the ways of the bicycle, I took this as ominous. And then the fog intensified, coming down thick as soup around me. I couldn’t see further than 4 or 5 feet in front, could no longer see the other side of the road, couldn’t see the depth of the drop on my left hand side. As I started to feel my eyes sting and well up, a massive truck charged out of the fog towards me, forcing me to screech to a halt on the crumbling edge of the precipice. Rocks fell away beneath me, and as my entire body started to shake with fear, I realised that if I kept going any further, I would without a doubt either fall and cut myself to ribbons on the rough tarmac and dirt, or worse yet topple over the edge. I sat down on the side of the road and started to cry. Surely somebody would realise I was separated from the group and would come back for me?

After what felt like an hour but was perhaps five minutes, finally a bus from our tour company came up behind me, and I flagged him down, tearfully proclaiming how he’d saved my life. The journey down the Death Road in the back of the bus was scary enough, but at least I wasn’t on that cursed bike, and I wasn’t alone in the dense Andean fog. I haven’t gotten back on a bike since.

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Attack of the Giant Amazonian Cucaracha…

I’ve always been nervous of bugs and creepie crawlies, but knew that a trip to Ecuador would not be complete without venturing into the Amazon. After an incredible day spent hiking through the lush forest, swimming to secret waterfalls, marvelling at beautiful tropical birds, we retired to a jungle camp, complete with tree houses and hammocks — the perfect place to relax after a long day. As night descended, we could hear the jungle coming to life, as the bugs got closer and bolder. Safe in our camp huts, however, I happily played cards with friends at the table, and was about to play a winning hand (I was sure) when from the rafters above me fell a cockroach the size of a large rat. No kidding, a good ten to twelve inches in length, with a hard glossy brown back, landed flat in the middle of my lap. My screams could have been heard in Europe.

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Do you have a scary travel story to share that made your skin crawl? Please share your worst travel moments below.

Posted by Clare on October 27, 2006 in Travel

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