War Torn In Belize
“Belize City. Belize was one of our stops for the cruise we were on. I always heard about how gorgeous Belize was (and I’m sure there are beautiful parts of Belize) but Belize City was an absolute craphole.
They pretty much dropped a majority of white, US citizens and thought it would be ok to let us roam a city that was torn by local civil war.
The city was full of armed military guards standing at street corners and the city canals and streets were incredibly polluted.
I live in Baltimore and have seen some bad neighborhoods, but Belize City seemed way worse than anything I’ve seen. Many stores had armed guards who would unlock the door to let you in and once you were inside, they would lock the door behind you.
We didn’t experience any issues with anyone or violence but it was the strangest feeling getting stared down from every angle.
We stayed for about an hour and then decided it was time to get the heck out.
As we were leaving, there were three people standing near the port. They looked at us and said, ‘Welcome to the real world.’
Once we got back to the ship, we strolled past the lobby. There may have been four or five employees working the customer service desk. Each employee had a deep line and the chatter was all centered around angry complaints about dropping us off at Belize City.
Needless to say, that same cruise line took Belize off their itinerary soon after.”
Down And Out In Hollywood
“Hollywood Boulevard. It’s almost dystopian-like. Last I went, there was just a homeless guy lying on the ground looking totally dead inside as a speaker above him blasted one way or another. There was a wasted person in a really dirty Minnie Mouse costume stumbling by, tourists everywhere as if it’s no big deal that there are poor people suffering everywhere in this spot that’s portrayed as this glamorous, illustrious place on TV. We left after five minutes (or tried to, there were crowds of tourists everywhere).”
Injustice in Marrakech
I’d been twice with male friends, but the third one went with a mixed crowd. We stayed together as a group through all of the holiday until the final day when the girls went out shopping in the markets on their own.
We found them an hour later, crying and shaking. One of the market sellers had been really aggressive with them, pulling them into his shop and physically holding them there until they bought something. Then he pinned one girl against the wall and tried to kiss her. He insisted it was part of his Berber tradition to kiss her, but eventually just settled on kissing her on the cheek while she gagged.
It gets worse.
We reported this to the tourist police and they went absolutely mad. They made us wait in the station while they found the market seller and dragged him out in front of us. The guy was crying buckets and collapsed on the floor in front of us. He begged us to forgive him but the police, behind us, grabbed our arms and said, ‘Fhis is a very bad man, we need you to tell us you want to prosecute him. Don’t waste our time.’ We were really intimidated by this, particularly as we don’t speak French or Arabic and the police were grabbing us. We were genuinely scared they would hold our passports and stop us going home.
So then the police told us this man was going to go to prison for SEVEN YEARS for the crime. But we needed to give a written statement. So we told the full story to a man in an office and he wrote it out in Arabic. We couldn’t read this but he read us his translation. It was completely wrong. According to the report, it was a serious assault and he pinned the girl down on the floor. We went back and forth trying to fix the statement for hours but ended up settling on the best we can do. He kept saying ‘the details aren’t important,’ and adding details like ‘he forced me to the floor and put his hands all over my body’ – which did not happen. They also took our passport details.
But wait, there’s more.
We now needed to go to the main police station to report the crime. So they got us into a taxi, with six people in the back seat, and we went to the main police station. It was an absolute craphole. It looked like a massive derelict factory that was converted into a crack house. We were led to a room where the market seller was standing in a lineup with other men. He was still crying his eyes out and could barely stand, so the lineup is pretty pointless. There wasn’t any glass separating us, he’s literally standing in front of us, in the same room, which was really distressing for the girl that reported this. He was begging us to make this stop but we were too scared to say something to the police. We had no idea where we are. The building was huge, trashed, empty (only, like, five policemen), the toilets were flooded, and it was getting late.
We eventually told the police we were flying home the next day and they got really annoyed. They said we needed to be at the courts tomorrow to stand in front of this man and accuse him of a crime in front of a public audience. But we couldn’t because we’d be on a flight at that time.
It now looked like things will work out. They said the man cannot be prosecuted without the victim coming forward, which was a relief to us as we no longer wanted this. Remember, we’re stuck in a strict foreign country, not speaking the language, and being pushed around by the police who are notoriously heavy-handed. They seemed fed up at this point and drove us back to our hostel in a riot van.
We flew home and thought it was all over.
A month later, the doorbell rang. There was a Moroccan man stood there. He told us the man was still in prison and he needed our help. The man has traveled miles across the country (he’s here on a work visa) to ask us for help. Apparently, the merchant’s lawyer gave the family our home address from the passport details so they could try to get us to go back to Marrakech and tell the courts that he was innocent. We didn’t know if this is a scam or if the man was armed or anything so we told him to write us a letter and we’d respond to that.
A month passed and nothing happens. Then the doorbell rang again and this time there’s a French woman standing there. She tells us she’s flown over from southern France as a friend of the family to beg us for help. Apparently, she used to live in our city and so was staying with friends nearby. We arranged to meet in a cafe the next day.
Turns out this was all true or really a very elaborate con. She showed us newspaper articles, the police report, and websites. We saw a clipping from a whole page of the ‘Marrakech Times’ which described the event as an ‘assault.’ The lady told us that other merchants paid the police to put Hassan away because he was taking their business. We don’t know if this is true. We refused to go back to Marrakech and go in front of the courts because we still didn’t know for certain if this is a con or what might happen to us. We wrote a statement and got it signed by a local policeman as a witness. In our statement, we said he did grab at the girl but that nothing else happened and that the man was innocent. The French woman said that she knows the merchant and he would never grab at a woman, but obviously, that isn’t true.
So the French woman left with our note and says she’ll stay in contact to let us know he gets out ok. She never wrote back to us and we still don’t know what happened and how much was true. We certainly won’t be going back to Marrakech and are left with bad memories.”
Christmas In Atlanta
“The Atlanta Greyhound bus terminal.
I ended up getting stuck there for an entire day one time. I forget how many hours it was, but I got there around 3 in the morning and didn’t leave until late in the evening. When you ride Greyhound, your ticket doesn’t guarantee you a seat when you get to your transfer, it’s first come, first serve. Me, being the genius I am, tried to ride home across the country…a couple days before Christmas. When I got to the Atlanta terminal, the lines for ALL of the buses were going out the door and around the corner, and everyone was crammed in shoulder to shoulder. You couldn’t really go anywhere or you’d forfeit your place in the line. If you had to use the bathroom, or go outside to smoke, you had to leave your bags unattended to mark your spot in the line.
Even though I was early for my transfer, there was two busloads worth of people standing in front of me. I watched half of the people in front of me get on the bus. Ok, no big deal, the next bus was coming in 3 hours. 3 hours later, I watch the other half of the people in front of me get on that bus. Ok, no big deal, the next bus is coming in 3 more hours. 3 hours later an announcement comes on the P.A. system – all military personnel in line were being given priority over the civilians. I was a little irritated by this, but I kind of understood where they were coming from. As I watched the troops boarding my bus, I thought no big deal the next bus is coming in 3 hours.
3 hours later, that bus was also reserved for military personnel. At that point, some of the people in line started jeering the troops. There was some grumbling and a few boos. It was at that point I noticed some motion out of the corner of my eye. It was a candy machine flying through the air. Apparently, someone became very irate and threw a gumball machine across the room. In seconds, police were all over the dude and they dragged him out. Another few hours later my bus came, and I was finally allowed to board – yay! Greyhound is bad enough on its own if you have to ride it, though never do it at Christmas time, and avoid Atlanta at all costs.”
Crime In Russia
I moved to St. Petersburg, where people are said to be nice. Suffice it to say that in two years, I was mugged by two guys whose car I helped fix, my roommate’s elderly father had to be hospitalized after being assaulted in an elevator (nothing was taken, he was just beaten) and on three separate occasions, teenage children of colleagues were assaulted by adults in broad daylight in public places.
This isn’t to say that everyone who lives there is violent by any means, but there seemed to be a general attitude that it is preferable to see someone lose, fall or be injured than improve one’s own life which can lead to some messed up things.”
Knowing When To Bribe The Cops
I was having an awesome day with my mates, driving rented motorcycles into the mountains with no license. Great times! Then some policemen pulled us over for ‘failure to present yourself to an officer’ and threw my Cameroonian friend in jail, conveniently not willing to risk throwing me and the other white foreigners in jail too.
The jail was a 3 by 3-meter cell with about 10 people in it, some of whom had been there for over a month.
Clearly, a bribe was going to be necessary to fix this. We went to the commander’s office to sort it out. His ‘office’ was full of hundreds of bottles strewn everywhere and also a streetwalker was in there with him. He informed me that he was off duty and I’d need to talk to a colleague at the bar next door.
Went to the bar, found the guy, asked him what it would take to get my friend out. He said 10 thousand CFA (about 10 bucks at the time). I told him we had a deal. He wanted me to give him the money in this dark corner where no one could see the exchange. I was thinking, ‘Eff this, if I am going to bribe this prick, I at least want all of his colleagues to know what is happening,’ and I insisted we exchange in a well-lit place in front of his colleagues.
At this point, my Cameroonian friend was out of jail and standing next to us, and the cop said, ‘No, you are trying to disrespect me, the deal is off.’ And he threw my friend back in jail and walked back to the bar.
All of the above had taken many hours. I was exhausted and needed to just get out of there with my friends. So I went to the bar and asked the cop what it would take to get my friend out. He looks me straight in the eyes and said, ‘You disrespected me in front of my colleagues back there. There is a penalty for disrespecting an officer. The penalty is two drinks.’
So I bought him his drinks, gave him the 10 bucks, and finally got my friend out of jail.
It’s a shame because the areas around Buea (and Cameroon in general) are beautiful, but you get pricks like these corrupt cops bringing the place down and making the very few travelers who have been there say, ‘Nope, not worth going to.'”
Hating Everything In India
I’m a very experienced traveler and have lived in undeveloped countries before, so I thought I was prepared. I was a fool.
- Crowds. Crowds. Crowds. Even in the mountains. Even in the forest. Even in remote back alleys. The cause of many of these other problems. Far far far worse on the:
- Roads, if you can call them that. Rivers of chaos is probably more accurate. Massive lines of rickshaws, tuk-tuks, vehicles, animals, and pedestrians. An unending death knell of honking, screaming, shoving, and crashing. All in a cloud of filthy dust and smog that gets into your hair, your eyes, and your throat. I coughed for three weeks after I left the country. There is nowhere out of the way. There is nowhere to take a breather for a moment. It takes a lot of the pleasure out of the awesome street food, one of the best things about the country. I personally witnessed 6 accidents in my one month in India. Going virtually anywhere results in plunging into traffic. Of course, this might not be so bad if not for the:
- Rudeness. Beyond rudeness- China and Korea have absolutely nothing on the pure nastiness that means going outside of a private residence in India. Shoving, being screamed at, cars driving directly at you because they want to use the place you’re walking for a parking spot then blaring their horn in your face, being grabbed, being cheated. Very tied into what is probably the world’s worst
- Tout culture. You know when you go to a temple in Thailand and you get 5-8 people bugging you with scam tours, the unwarranted advice they then ask you to pay for, useless goods, etc.? Well, multiply them by 5 and ramp up the aggression by a factor of 10. There are dozens of them, and they are EVERYWHERE. On random streets, highways, outside banks, on buses whenever they stop. They run up to you, shoving, grabbing, pressing their goods into your hands to demand you pay, harassing you so you’ll pay them to leave you alone, screaming in your face, following you, going to find their friends to harass you if you buy anything from them because you’re an easy mark. Worse, almost every service provider not inside a professional business (which make up less than 10% of the workforce in India) feels entitled to try to rip foreigners off. The worst is, they act so initially friendly, then flip a switch as soon as they smell money. It’s creepy and it’s everywhere- that friendly security guard asking you where you’re from and asking for a selfie? He’s going to ask for money. Wandering through a village and some smiling farmers ask where you’re going and give you directions? Their smiles fall away like clockwork and they begin demanding money as soon as you thank them, becoming angry and shouting if you don’t pay up. Particularly because of the:
- Massively overdeveloped tourism industry that has obliterated the cultures and landscapes that they’re ostensibly celebrating. Rampant animal abuse (but never of cows!), environmental devastation, garbage garbage garbage everywhere, massive tourist lines, horrific traffic bringing the rudeness and congestion even into remote mountains and forests. Experiencing anything involves getting harassed, often groped by security (even to get on a subway), and then seeing that it’s actually falling apart and has already been manicured for photo ops. To its credit, certain spots are very heavily policed by security to keep this from happening, but it’s already happened to a massive extent. The islands of Thailand are in danger of being destroyed by tourism, but it’s already happened in India. Of course, remote temples and ashrams where you can stay are an exception, islands of peace and serenity away from the crowds and the:
- Crime. Besides the aforementioned touts and aggressive bargaining culture, there are pickpockets everywhere in the crowds, but that actually might be better than being alone in them at night, where you’ll be seen even more as a mark. Of course, even if it were safe you wouldn’t want to walk in the dark, because you’d step in the:
- Garbage. So, so, so much garbage. In the forest. In the national parks. On the streets. On the roads. In the rivers. In fields. Much of it is burned, but even more, is dumped. This is understandable because of the:
- Lack of infrastructure. Even in nice hotels, even in the major cities, power outages, loss of hot water, and the internet going out are common.
There’s more, but I think I’ve said enough. I should also offer a disclaimer here that I have tremendous respect for Indian history and culture and I love my Indian friends- people who see you as a person and not a mark there are extremely warm and friendly. I recognize these problems are caused by its pioneering transition to democracy and the difficulty of managing such a massive, divided population.
However, as a traveler, India was far and away the worst country I’ve ever visited. If you’re interested in cultures similar to India’s without as many of these issues, I recommend Nepal and Sri Lanka. They’re beautiful, more preserved, and much more pleasant.”
An Elaborate Robbery In Poland
“Night train in Poland.
A friend and I went interrailing around Europe and booked an overnight ticket on a night train to Poland. Boarded the train and went to sleep in our own cabin, with locked doors and no red flags whatsoever. Woke up 3 hours later with a drowsy headache and all our electronics gone. Computers, cameras, phones, all gone.
We spent the rest of the train trip trying to get information out of the conductors, but they pretended not to understand a word of English. It was so obvious that they were in on it.
We subsequently read in the guidebook that this train on this particular route was the known for it’s night time robberies and that they used sleeping gas to fill up the cabin before entering. Explains the headache. Forget that man, not going to Poland again.”
Even From Behind Their Walls, They Knew Of The Horrors
My parents worked there when I was younger and as a minor, I came along. We lived in a gated type of community with very high walls to shield the Arabs from our liberal lifestyles.
Checkpoints everywhere to ensure that all women were accompanied by a male relative. Everything closed down several times a day for prayers. Constantly hearing that high pitched yelling on speakers everywhere made me sick. We lived nearby some kind of arena for public executions and other punishments. Seemed to be the highlight of their week.
Nothing but sand, ultra rude men, and women dressed like ghosts. Extremely hot.
A neighbor’s wife was whipped and tortured for driving a car around the block.
Saudi is terrible.”
The Poor Dogs Never Stood A Chance
“Freeport, The Bahamas.
The beaches were very dirty and I just felt like I was in a shipyard. They also have a problem with feral dogs. They were everywhere. It broke my heart to see the skin and bone dogs. I guess so many of them starve to death they cannot keep up with the body pickups. I saw too many decaying dogs to count. Seriously, would NEVER go back.”
The Absolute Poverty Is Heartbreaking
Went there to see Victoria Falls. Stayed at the Victoria Falls hotel to be within walking distance. Everywhere, people were just standing around with just two or three carved trinkets they were trying to sell. There were absolutely no buyers. Looked like something out of a Twilight Zone show. The first thing they asked when you got close to them is if you’d sell them your shoes. No kidding, every single one.”
Attacked On A Cruise
“On a cruise.
It’s kind of dark, apologies for that. My boyfriend and I got in some sort of a fight one night of the trip, something so stupid I don’t even remember. So I went to the casino. And that’s all I remember, leaving for the casino. Next thing I knew, I was waking up in a bed in a room I’d never been in before and these two dudes were standing there, laughing over me.
I ran out of the room and found mine. I tried contacting the medical team to get a kit done, they said not to waste their time. I tried notifying the cruise of what happened, they also said not to waste their time. So I was terrified and trapped on this cruise with my possible attackers and the cruise didn’t give any sort of cares.
It was Carnival, about 8 or 9 years ago. I didn’t follow up after the cruise as the window was passed for figuring out what actually happened. Or at least that’s how I felt at the time. I’m doing really well these days. I could have been smarter, I no longer go out alone, no matter where I am.”
Harassed In India
“Khajuraho, India. It’s most famous for its intricately sculpted temples, some of which depict smutty acts. I traveled through India alone for months and, as an obviously foreign woman, I got the expected unwanted attention. But Khajuraho was different. It was non-stop harassment everywhere I went and the men always became aggressive when I ignored/politely declined their advances. I was having such a horrible time that I decided to just go back to the hotel where a man in the lobby wanted to have dinner with me and I, again, declined. The lady at the desk must have given him my room number because he called my phone until I disconnected it and then started pounding on my door and telling me to let him in. It was truly horrible.
I had a wonderful time traveling solo in India. I met tons of lovely people and built some friendships that still last 4 years later. I’m from a culture where machismo is prevalent and know how to stand my ground/ignore/yell back (I learned some Hindi and did this a few times when I deemed it necessary), I don’t sweat the small stuff. I also dressed conservatively (usually a Salwar Kameez with long sleeves) and traveled with people I met in guest houses if I was going too far off the beaten path. This one day in Khajuraho was just a higher level of intensity that I’d experienced before. I wouldn’t, however, let this prevent me from traveling to India again since I had a very positive experience overall.”