Quirky and amusing travel tales
An enjoyable collection of short travel essays
written with a touch of humour and humility by Roy Romsey. A
new tale of randomly recalled travel anecdotes, incidents and
observations added every ten days. Come to
for a mystery tour of the world. Enjoy the journey.
(30) - Horseback across the
The six-hour struggle in high
seas from the island of Chiloe back to the southern mainland
of Chile had been tedious. We arrived in darkness at a small
cove. The ferryboat lowered its ramp like a huge yawn,
allowing a dozen cars to poured off, trailed by a lone
Japanese girl on her small motorcycle, they disappeared into
the night. We followed a small group of foot-passengers into
the driving rain and joined a huddle of people under a
solitary quayside lamp. A bedraggled teenage girl
approached and touted us with an offer of accommodation; we
glanced briefly at her wet plastic book of photographs and
hurriedly accepted. A waiting van took us to her hospedaja
above a family laundry shop,
(29) - More Route 66...
Erick, (Pop; 1,012 on a good day)
is the kind of place that the world is happy to bypass. We
were there with no purpose other than to look for a reason
to visit. We learned that Main St, was bisected by the 100th
meridian and had been renamed Roger Miller Boulevard after
the musician, Let's make music We also discovered the
happy sound of live music drifting from behind the wooden
storefront of ‘The Meat Market’. We ventured in and found, a
delightful and talented couple of singing bohemian rednecks,
Harley and Annabelle Russell. Their cluttered store of
musical bric-a-brac was devoid of customers, but that did
not stop them from giving us friendship, music, tall tales,
music, free beer and yet more music. They entertained
us for two hours and then as we were leaving, a roving CBS
TV crew from New York dropped in to film the couple as part
of a Route 66 feature.
(28) - Route 66...
A cold Chicago wind whipped off
Lake Michigan, it reminded us that winter was around the
corner. We should be on our way. We eased Betsy our beloved
campervan into the stream of traffic and headed down the
canyon of skyscrapers toward the setting sun. We were a
couple of highway hobos about to ‘Get our kicks on Route
66’. Jackson Blvd and Michigan Avenue We had a two month
journey of almost 2,500 miles ahead of us, It would take us
along a collection of roads and tracks that had been
connected together in 1926 to form Route 66 from Chicago to
Santa Monica California - but which has long since been
abandoned in favour of modern interstate highways. We
were anxious to discover how much of it still existed; would
the diners, motels, gas stations and nostalgia of the 1940s
and 50s still be there. We left the suburban maze of Chicago
behind us and found the original two-lane byway that wended
its way across 300 miles of black fertile plains through
small farming and mining townships, each with a tale to
(27) - A taste of India...
The world famous Lake Palace Hotel
at Udaipur, India, sat like a beautiful white marble wedding
cake, perfectly mirrored in the still, quiet waters of Lake
Pichola, For two nights we had wallowed in Mogul opulence
enjoying its faultless service, but it was now time to
return to the reality of India and all that it had to offer.
The splendour of Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur. A smoke
and grit laden steam train, swayed and trundled its way
slowly north, taking us to the bustling city of JAIPUR;
famous for being India’s first planned city, for its
astronomical observatories and for its nearby Amer Fort.
The old city is by law, painted pink as a sign of
welcome and hospitality. At sunset, it glows with the
intensity of fire.
(26) - In search of Hill
Tribes of Thailand...
Not only have I a liking for
cats but I also share their same sense of curiosity. I guess
it’s my inquisitive nature that has often landed me in
interesting situations and caused me to meet so many
fascinating people. Fortunately, my wife Jean shares
the same traits; we thrive on change and relish the unusual.
It’s for those reasons that we choose to wander off the
beaten track as travellers. In doing so, it often means
travelling with the minimal of baggage, on local transport,
eating the local diet, and sleeping in whatever shelter is
available. We are often in areas where hotels are
seldom found and have to make do with whatever can be found
locally. This varies from sleeping on floors of village huts
to custom-built bamboo chalets, occasionally rooms are
rented in private homes where some of life’s comforts are
(25) - Japanese Disease...
An innocent motorcycle journey
through north-eastern Thailand in search of a remote Hmong
hill tribe, had already involved us in a cremation and an
overnight stay at a ‘Love Hotel’. What more could happen?
Before leaving our night of reflected sleep at the
multi-mirrored ‘Love chalet’, we ate an exotic breakfast of
Thai fruit salad. It included ripe mango, juicy rambutan,
and sliced papaya on a bed of sweet sticky rice. All washed
down with fresh coconut juice.
We were ready to leave. I gunned the engine of our
motorcycle and our Thai hostesses waved goodbye with smiles
and a few sideway winks.. Read more...
(24) - Dead Sexy...
We were in Thailand again. The
weather was hot and steamy; Bangkok was noisy and
oppressive. It was a good time to take a night bus to the
north of the country where it would be cooler and quieter.
We whiled away time in the lush tropical gardens around
Chiang Rai University. At its library we happened upon a
recent paper written by Jon Boyce, an Englishman living
among the Hmong hill tribes of northern Thailand.
I wonder if he would welcome a visit from some fellow
Brits. I thought. We decided that he would and within
twenty-four hours, I had rented a motorcycle, bought a
rudimentary map, packed some provisions, and were headed
northeast toward the mighty Mekong River that separated
Thailand from Laos.
Australia, jobhunting ...
Within days of landing in northern
Australia I had found work as a bush-cook; it had been fun
and life enhancing, but now it was time to move on. There
were new things to see and experiences to have. 'I haven't
been everywhere, but it's on my list'
With a lightly loaded rucksack and high spirits I set off to
hitchhike back to Darwin. Upon arrival, I did what all good
Australians do; I went for a beer at the pub.
The bar was a noisy throng of colourful characters in
shorts and singlets; those wearing flip-flops were townies,
whilst those wearing boots were blokes in from the bush;
they were from cattle stations, mining ventures, government
survey teams, prospectors and fencers, all in town for a few
days break, to pick up supplies or look for new work. They
swapped tall stories, enjoyed the golden amber and revelled
in the much-needed company of others. ’
G'day Australia - safe at last...
I hate mosquitoes. I hate them with
a passion. How can something so small be the cause of so
much irritating discomfort? The earnest 'Bush Cook'
For a few unfortunate people, malaria is the painful
consequence of a single mosquito bite. but most people
suffer thousands of bites yet never contact malaria. The
daily fight and suffering caused by the constant buzz, bites
and sleepless nights can send a person up the wall. They
make one’s life a misery. I am not
a vengeful person, but I once spent a whole night in Alaska
killing mosquitoes with a high-powered, battery operated,
zapper bat. It was payback time. Sheer bliss!
Night-time in Darwin, northern Australia, is alive with
mosquitos; I and my three compatriots, with whom I had been
rescued from the island of Car Nicobar, had just landed by
air from Singapore, and we were being eaten alive whilst
seeking sheltering in the Darwin Sports Pavilion.
Rescued from Car Nicobar Island ...
...continued from stories No
16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 As told in
previous excerpts, our attempted voyage in a 23 foot sampan
from Bangladesh to Singapore had ended in failure. For all
intents and purposes, we were destitute, castaways on the
small island of Car Nicobar in the Indian Ocean and
therefore totally in the hands of a local Indian
Administrator. Word had been sent
of our plight to the district government office based at
Port Blair on the Andaman Islands, and from there on to the
Indian Government in Delhi, then onto the British foreign
office in London and eventually to our parents.
My mother received a short but polite letter from the
Foreign Office to say, ‘Your son, and friends, have drifted
by boat to the island of Car Nicobar and is without funds.
Arrangements are in hand to get him to Calcutta and in the
event of repatriation would you be prepared to sign a legal
undertaking to pay any costs involved?’
(20) - Island Paradise
...continued from Stories Nos
16, 17, 18 and 19 Our attempted voyage from
Bangladesh to Singapore in a 23-foot Sampan fishing boat had
been a brave but foolhardy venture. We had been a whisker
from being wrecked on a wildly churning reef off the coast
of Car Nicobar when, out of nowhere, the India patrol launch
had appeared and pulled us clear. We were lucky to still be
the four of us were on board the Indian naval vessel, we
related how we had been lost and without clean water and
food for the past eleven days. They
immediately supplied jugs of water and hard tack biscuits;
not exactly the wine, steak and gently sautéed potatoes we
had dreamed of. However, the hard tack biscuits caused our
soft gums to bleed, so they produced plates of cold, but
very spicy curry, which burned the open sores of our gums.
As we struggled to eat, the launch made its way through a
channel into a small bay, where we were transferred into a
rowboat, and had to wade ashore onto a beach of snow-white
silky sand edged with towering coconut palms.
(19) - Island Disaster
...continued on from
stories 16,17 and 18, It was on the thirty-third
night of setting sail from Chittagong, Bangladesh in a
23-foot open Sampan boat bound for Singapore, that the stars
of Life and Death fought for supremacy. We were four
inexperienced young sailors, lost at sea and without food
for the past eleven days. Not the expected paradise - Photo
by Ian Austin Our last landfall had
been a disaster; we had unknowingly beached the boat at high
tide and then gone ashore on an unsuccessful scavenge for
food. When we returned the tide was out and the boat sat
stranded high and dry. We waited
for the next high tide but were unable to fully re-float her
before the tide dropped again. It took a full, gut-wrenching
and exhausting day of digging a channel and two further high
tides before we were re-floated again.
(18) - Lost at Sea
...continued from Stories No 16
& 17, The unexpected beaching of our 23-foot
Sampan on the small Burmese island of Regon and subsequent
friendship with its village community was a blessing in
disguise, for we were able to enlist the help of the local
villagers to replace a broken kicking strap and repair a
sail. Burmese children - by Bob Martin
We were also given a walking tour around their community,
and a supply of fresh coconuts, before being assisted to
sail out over the surf into open water on our quest to reach
Singapore from Bangladesh. We had
cause to venture into shore again a few days later, this
time to caulk some minor leaks and repair another torn sail.
As we busied ourselves with chores, we were approached by a
group of tribal Burmese, whose village was just along the
(17) - Adrift in Bengal
...continued from story
No 16, As explained in the previous episode,
the three lads from Manchester and myself were about to
steal away from Chittagong in, southeast Bangladesh, under
the cover of darkness, to sail in a 23-foot open fishing
boat to Singapore. Despite stocking
our Sampan boat with enough provisions for three weeks and
having the enthusiasm of youth, we were nevertheless ill
prepared; none of us had any experience of sailing a boat.
Our departure was a fiasco! It took two hours of cursing in
whispers as we untangled ropes and figured out how to haul
up the huge heavy canvas sail in the dead of night, though
quite why we did so I'll never know, for there wasn't a
breath of wind anywhere.
(16) - Adrift in Bangladesh
An adventure-packed overland journey through nine
countries had brought me to the shipping port of
Chittagong; a city that lies tucked away in the southeast
corner of Bangladesh close to the Burmese border. I was low
on funds and in need of somewhere to sleep. Travelling
through Persia I traipsed the dust
filled streets and alleyways of Chittagong until I found
cheap accommodation at the Hotel Flushing, so called because
it had what was laughingly considered a flush toilet. In
fact, it was nothing more than a pair of concrete footprints
astride a long open gully into which water from a bucket
could be sluiced. However, it was a great improvement upon
many of the places I had stayed at in the months since
leaving England. I peeled the
rucksack from my aching back and dumped it at the foot of
the rope-strung Charpoy bed, then without undressing, I
stood under the cold shower and felt the dust, perspiration
and worries of the day wash away.
(15) - Heart of America ...
Continuation from ‘Homeless in Billings’. Being
‘Sleepless in Seattle’ or ‘Homeless in Billings’ had not
featured in our plans when we set out to leisurely cross
America by Greyhound bus. However, on arrival at Billings,
Montana, we found that two conferences and the Montana State
Rodeo had filled all available hotel rooms.
There was therefore no room at the inn for us. And so it
was, that on a cold October night, we found ourselves
officially ‘Homeless in Billings.’ We could either, sleep on
a cold bench at the Greyhound Bus depot, or, ‘go with the
flow Joe’ and allow ourselves to be rescued by the ‘Montana
Mission for Homeless Women and Children. We chose the
latter, and were allocated a warm cot space in the ‘Bozeman
Room’ at their Lincoln Inn refuge. (Read full details in
previous story, no.14) Experiencing America by Greyhound Bus
It seemed we had hardly closed our eyes, when the shrill
sound of a tannoy system just outside our door awoke us:
‘It’s 6.30 a.m. Please rise, and git yuh rooms cleaned and
ready for inspection. Breakfast will be served in forty-five
minutes. Check your name on the chore list at the front
desk,’ shrilled the tannoy.
(14) USA -
Homeless in Billings
A chill wind blew off the surrounding plains of Montana,
sending eddies of paper and debris along the dimly lit
streets of Billings, its principal city. For almost two
hours, I had scoured the town by telephone and on foot,
looking for a hotel or motel, but everywhere was full with
attendees for two conferences and the Montana State Rodeo.
I shivered. It was almost midnight; time to admit defeat.
I had left Jean looking after our bags at the Greyhound bus
depot; she would be wondering what had happened to me.
I turned into a side street to make my way back and spotted
a dimly lit sign swinging in the wind. It read ‘Lincoln
(13) USA - Battle
It was late afternoon, the sun was low and our stomachs
spotted an American diner beckoning to us in the township of
Front Royal, Virginia. We were puzzled by the town’s name
and asked the waitress during dinner how it came to be so
called. She replied: “I graduated high school six years ago
and I have forgot all that stuff, but I know there's a lot
of history in these parts.” We later discovered that during
the Civil War, troops used to parade in front of a large
‘Royal Oak’ tree with the command: "Front! Royal!"
(12) Prague - By Pushbike
Life is a series of journeys – physically and
metaphorically – all just waiting to be made. Every journey
starts with a single step It matters little whether my
journeys have been a two-day sail in a 12-foot wooden
dinghy, a meander by motor cycle beside the Mekong River or
a camel trek through Iran, the question always asked is:
why? The answer of course is quite simple: why not? Not
really my colour Some years ago I
woke one morning and thought, 'I think I'll buy a bicycle'.
The objective was not so much to save the walk to the
newspaper shop, but more as a means of making another
- Yorkshire Lumberjack
It was almost midday, dense rainforests and the thick
humid air of Borneo surrounded us. We had slept the previous
night with descendants of headhunters at the village of
Nanga Kamalee and were now squatting on a sandbar jutting
into the Rajang River. For almost four hours, we had roasted
in the tropical sun in the hope of hitching a lift from a
passing canoe or other small craft. We needed to return down
river to the trading post of Kapit and thence to the coast
of Sarawak for our onward journey to mainland Malaysia.
- Headhunters of Borneo
There is a sense of isolation and oriental intrigue about
Sarawak; dense jungle, swampy rain forests humidity and
prodigious amounts of rain dissuade tourists from visiting
its ex-headhunting Iban and Dyak tribes. There are very few
roads, so most transportation for goods and people is by
watercraft along its labyrinth of rivers that empty out into
the South China Sea. We had landed at the capital of Kuching
during a violent monsoonal storm. We needed a few days to
acclimatise to the overbearing heat and heavy humidity, so
we found lodgings at a local Anglican Mission
- Buccaneers of Biscay
from story 8
We were somewhere off the coast of
Cherberg, France, facing a cold January storm that was
raging in from the Atlantic Ocean
My seventeenth birthday was two days ago and life could not
have been more exciting; I was on a 60-foot ex-Cornish motor
trawler; it had one main mast with a gaff rigged main sail,
used generally to steady the boat rather than propel it.
I was in the company of three strangers; Alan the
28-year-old mate, Peter a 20-year-old adventurer from
Australia, and a drunken, foul-tempered skipper who suffered
intense migraines from a shrapnel wound to the head. He was
a dubious character who became more dubious the more we came
to know him. Our task was to deliver the boat to Spain, upon
which Peter and I would be given our return fares as
- Floranda No 1
The concept of luxury comes in many forms. For some, it might
be a night in a five-star hotel, or a diamond necklace; for
others it could be a good harvest or having a regular job. It
often depends on the circumstances of the person being asked.
I have several notions of what is luxury, one of which could
be considered rather odd and perhaps banal. It is, quite simply,
to take a daily fifteen-minute break from life and sit somewhere
quietly with a cup of coffee, whilst enjoying the flavour of
a bar of milk chocolate. The taste of warm coffee blending with
the melting sensation of chocolate on the tongue triggers a
journey of silent but relaxed reflection on all manner of things.
- Bath Time II
My sweat-filled eyes focused hazily on the two young naked
Finns opposite me; I marveled at how I had come to be in this
situation. They had befriended me at Helsinki railway station
less than three hours ago as I had gotten off the Moscow train.
Nordic Sauna I had asked them the way to the youth hostel and
during our conversation was told that they were waiting for
their train to take them to their family forest retreat for
the weekend. They asked if I would like to join them, as they
needed to practise their English.
mess with nature.
Driving across the isolated dirt-packed prairie road in South
Dakota had been sublime, not a soul had been seen all afternoon.
I was alone but not lonely, I had Betsy, my camper van, for
company. She was old and fat and comfortable; we had shared
many adventures together. Today we were following the Lewis
and Clark trail from Astoria to St Louis, a 4,500-mile journey
- Mekong Swimmer's club
The mighty Mekong River The world's twelfth longest
river, and the seventh longest in Asia, is the mighty Mekong
River. It flows for 4,350 kilometres through six countries,
starting in China and finishing in Cambodia, and has featured
significantly in my life on two occasions.
(4) Morocco - A Christmas
The problem with having a creative but impulsive traveller
for a husband is that it makes for an interesting, but disorderly
life. Christmas was just seven days away, and as usual, I still
didn't know whether to buy a turkey or pack a bag.
My husband Roy telephoned from his studio to ask if I fancied
going to Morocco for Christmas. I immediately had visions of
being carried off across the desert by an Arab on horseback.
'Sounds good to me,' I replied excitedly.
(3) Return to Borneo
To watch a spear thrust through a human cheek
and tongue until it emerges through the other cheek is not for
the faint-hearted. This strange masochistic Indian Hindu custom
is held once a year as a form of penance and intense devotion.
Its practice, though banned in India, is still performed in
Malaysia and Singapore by the Tamil community on the full moon
in the Tamil month of Thai.
(2) Keeping warm in Japan
Attempting to go native in Japan was never going
to be easy. It had taken a long time to find a local family
who not only had a self-contained 'furnished aparto' within
their traditional Japanese wooden home but were also prepared
to rent it to a Gaijin Sensei – a foreign-devil teacher from
the Rat' in Indonesia
Torrential monsoon rains had pursued us relentlessly for
two weeks throughout Java. At Malang, with floodwaters up to
our thighs, we waded to the bus station and made haste to the
port of Ketapang to catch the ferry boat to Bali; we needed
to seek a refuge to dry out. At the picturesque artist colony
of Ubud we found a perfect haven at which to rest for a few
weeks; it was a well-built bamboo cottage in the garden of a