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
(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
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 tell.
(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
(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 found.
(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
(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.
(23) - 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. ’
(22) - G'day Australia - safe
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.
(21) - Rescued from Car Nicobar
...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 alive.
Once 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
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 beach.
(17) - Adrift in Bengal
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
(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 of Portaloo
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:
(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
(11) Borneo - Yorkshire
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.
(10) Sarawak - Headhunters of
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
(9) Spain - Buccaneers of
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
(8) England - 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.
(7) Finland - 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
(6) Don't mess with
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 of discovery.
(5) Thailand - Mekong Swimmer's
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
(4) Morocco - A Christmas Tale
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
(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 ‘En'grand’.
(1) 'Roland the Rat' in
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 local architect.