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Strange Places

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I went to Ethiopia and was driven around on an afternoon city tour. “The streets are so bad here,” my guide said. “And the traffic in Addis is terrible!”

I looked out the window. Sure, it wasn’t Scandinavia, but I’d seen far worse. “You should visit Liberia,” I said. “This looks pretty good to me.”

Over two weeks of travel, I flew a series of random airlines: Royal Air Maroc, Ethiopian, and Aeroflot. It was my first time on Aeroflot, and I’d heard plenty of horror stories. “You’re flying Aeroflop?” someone asked. “The safety card in the seat pocket has a warning about not bringing goats on board.”

That sounded fun. But my three hours to Moscow and four hours to Bishkek, all in Economy class, passed peacefully and uneventfully. There was more seat pitch than any U.S. airline I know. The safety card didn’t say anything about goats. I had half a cup of awful white wine, but no vodka.

Had I finally become the jaded traveler I so dreaded? I hoped not … I just decided I was experienced.

***

My current trip has been a challenging one, with lots of middle-of-the-night arrivals and departures, and the afore-mentioned Egypt Air, which provides three complimentary children with every row of coach seating.

On the final leg, I landed late at night in Abu Dhabi with no plan. Technically, I had a proposed plan—I was supposed to go on to Somaliland the next day, and then to Djibouti a few days later. The tickets had come down to the wire, and when I boarded the flight to Abu Dhabi in Frankfurt, I was assured by email that all would be well. In a perfect storm composed of an unreliable travel agency and a non-existent airline, however, I got stranded.

The travel agency I attempted to work with was called “Timeless Tours and Travel,” an appropriate name since their response time was… wait for it… timeless. The airline was called Jubba Airways, and the best thing that can be said about them is that you should probably find a different carrier on your next trip to Somaliland.

Thanks to the useless timeless travel agency and the “don’t call us, we’ll never call you” airline, I found myself in Abu Dhabi with no onward ticket for a flight that left in eight hours, and strange as it sounds, absolutely no way to buy another one. The messages in my Inbox were confusing: supposedly a backup ticket via Nairobi might have been issued, or it might not have been. Who knew? It was also nearing midnight, and I had nowhere to go.

I set up shop at Costa Coffee and ordered an emergency macchiato and iced donut (I always eat healthy on the road). I used Google Voice to call Kenya Airways, which confirmed that a ticket had in fact been issued in my name, but was already canceled by the great Timeless Tours and Travel. Wow. Experiences like these are why I prefer to handle my travel arrangements myself, but the good news was I now had the opportunity to do that again. An Alanis Morissette track was playing in the gates near Costa Coffee, and I decided to take her words to heart: you live, you learn.

An hour later I was on the road, riding up to Dubai and making a plan on the go. I first went to DXB Terminal 2, home of every Middle Eastern budget airline known to mankind. When I mentioned Jubba Airways at the information desk, the Pakistani woman burst into laughter as if it were the funniest thing she had heard all night.

“Uh, what’s so funny?” I asked.

“Jubba is kind of a joke around here,” she explained. “We don’t know how to call them, they have no office, and sometimes their staff doesn’t show up for the flights, leaving fifty Somalis waiting around for three days.”

I looked around at the rest of the terminal, which hardly inspired confidence. I remembered coming here a few months back when I flew to Kish Island, Iran with a planeload of Filipino visa runners. Elsewhere, flights were being announced to Yemen and Libya. Africans were returning to their home countries with microwaves and TVs as carry-on luggage. If Jubba Airways was the bottom rung of this ladder, perhaps it was for the better that the flight hadn’t worked out.

It was nearly 3am at this point, and I decided to take the news as a sign: I’m not getting on that Jubba flight, certainly not now and hopefully not ever. I went to a cheap hotel and fell asleep as the sun was coming up.

***

I finally ended up in Djibouti two days later, where I’m writing this update. Upon check-in at another hotel, I was informed that my entire minibar was complimentary. What, a free minibar? And not only that, but this free minibar was extremely well-stocked. Some places give you a bottle of wine; in Djibouti they give you three full liters of liquor. I’m not sure if this fact reflects on the hospitality of hotels in Djibouti, the extremely cheap price of tax-free alcohol for travelers coming from pricey Dubai, or the lack of things to do in the nearby vicinity. I didn’t actually need or want three liters of liquor, but I appreciated the gesture.

That night I ran for half an hour around the small city and the port, making it as far as I could with the difficult conditions of African heat and too many iced donuts consumed over the previous week. On the run I thought about my usual things: where I’ve been and where I’m going, what I’m trying to craft and build over time. Lately I’ve been unfocused, unable to summon the energy or concentration to work on the projects I’m excited about. What’s my problem?

I’m still not entirely sure, but I think I’ll make it. I also think part of the answer is to find the magic in different ways. To value experience, to appreciate the iced donut, the midnight bus ride, the 3am arrivals and departures. To say a little prayer in appreciation that I’m not actually flying Jubba Airways after all. To face the challenge that comes through travel without letting it get to me. And when actual hardship comes my way, in visa denials and timeless travel agencies, to swallow it down, like a jagged little pill, and to keep pressing onward.

One of the things I frequently remind myself is that I get the chance to do things that almost no one else does. For years before I started actively traveling, I dreamed of it. I read everything I could and envied people I knew who traveled for work or simply in pursuit of adventure. I don’t read much about travel anymore; I live it instead. As I’m on the road to Djibouti and beyond, I call places like these “strange,” implicitly understanding that they are mostly strange to me and not necessarily to people who actually live there.

I also think you can find the magic wherever you are. True, not everyone gets the chance for a midnight adventure through the United Arab Emirates, or a twilight run in the port of Djibouti with a full bottle of gin waiting back at the hotel.

But every day, you might find yourself in strange and random places of your own. When it happens, I hope you’ll pause for a moment and think about how unusual it all is, and how beautiful it can be if you remember to appreciate it.

***

Question for those who are still reading: What’s the strangest place you’ve ever been?

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103 Comments

  • The island of Utila, Honduras. So small. Everyone definitely had island fever. Unlike the mainland, people spoke English, but it was a strange dialect and I couldn’t understand them.

  • I haven’t done much traveling outside of the US, but my husband and I have been making a priority of exploring the areas near us until our budget situation allows otherwise.

    Without a doubt, the strangest place I’ve visited is Calumet, MI. It’s an old copper rush area that had close to 100,000 residents at its peak, but now has a population of 800. I have family members in the area and the only way I can describe all of the abandoned buildings is spooky.

  • Michelle says:

    The strangest place I’ve been was Senegal airport on my way to a lush Club Med resort on the west African beach. Our luggage was tossed from the open belly of the plane onto the tarmac then it arrived on a luggage turnstiles with sections of the floor missing, soldiers with AK47’s standing everywhere. Then boarded the bus to the resort, driving on crazy roads filled with people, goats, all manner of vehicles loaded to tipping point. Signs on adobe like buildings so many impressions coming at me I couldn’t keep track. Thrilling, frightening, exhilarating, loved it. Compared to Istanbul, Seoul and Lisboa I still think Senegal was my most exotically strange place. Love all your blogs Chris, keep on truckin’!!

  • Wookie1974 says:

    I think it was the Hilton in Bishkek, actually. It was weird for several reasons:

    – Bishkek is a long way from home, and underemployment makes it feel …er…uneasy
    – I had just spent ten days in a Yurt ski-touring in the Tien Shan, wearing the same clothes the whole time and living a rugged manly-man lifestyle
    – My flight was cancelled, so I splurged and had a 5 course western meal in the Hilton followed by cocktails at a western-style bar and a sleep in 5 star style.
    -My friends and I were wearing our gear and hadn’t bathed in two weeks.

    The juxtaposition of Anglo-European Luxury with Post-Soviet Apocalypse just outside the door, and the instantaneous change upon walking into the place was surreal. The knowledge that 99% of the people outside would never in their lives be able to experience it was exhilarating and depressing at the same time.

  • Aaron says:

    You struggle with focus? You don’t have a problem, you’re human. Whew. I was beginning to wonder.
    Strangest Place? Inside a federal prison in Tijuana Mexico with an evangelist. At the bottom of the deepest hand dug well – in Kansas. In the bottom of an abandoned missile silo in the middle of night – also in Kansas.

  • A bar in the port town of Kerala, which was male-only, and about 6 metres by 6 metres in size. My friend and I ventured in on a university trip, we were staying in the port to study the spice market. Wandered in, the only western people there, no-one batted an eyelid, and proceeded to get absolutely plastered with the locals!

    A very refreshing change to the so-called ‘bars’ in London. I would happily go back to that place again…

  • Marthe says:

    The strangest place I’ve been has to be Battambang in Cambodia. We arrived there after a wonderful (although very hot) boat ride up the river and Ton Le Sap from Siem Reap. Upon advice from our hotel receptionist in Siem Reap, we had booked a room at Battambangs finest hotels (he was totally earning a fortune on setting up this arrangement, of course). The hotel was like being on film set, there were no other guests, everything looked suspiciously clean and just too plain perfect to be in Cambodia.

    Something was just odd, and I can’t to this date put my finger on what it was. It’s like they pretended to be this high standard, cold and correct service hotel, and like they were just playing some kind of pretending game and that behind the scenes everything was probably like the rest of cambodia – a little dirty, a little weird, very strange – and very very nice too.

  • Hollywood at night while the street performers and tourists are still out always feels like something out of a strange dream.

  • Anita C says:

    Aaron, I am from Kansas and have on occasion taken friends from other states there to visit it’s many interesting places (like the largest hand dug well). One of the strangest places I have been is the home of S.P. Dinsmoor in Lucas, Kansas (grassroots art capital of KS!). We got there at night with a full moon rising over Dinsmoor’s concrete house (complete with mausoleum in the backyard) and his concrete flag creakily turning in the wind. Lucas has so many really odd artists that I swear there must be something unusual in the water! 🙂 Another great night adventure was digging up crystals under a full moon at the Oklahoma Great Salt Plains State Park. Full moon adventures are awesome!

  • risseth says:

    Surprisingly enough, the strangest place I’ve been was a hostel in the heart of NYC. Me and my friend were supposed to stay at a friend’s house but since they never showed up at the right Starbucks (which they are in every corner) we ended up wandering the streets of NYC with bags and all. So we ended up stumbling upon a little hostel in one of the streets that lead to Times Square, $40 the night and sharing a room with other two travelers. It was super comfortable, free internet and a starbucks right in front. 🙂

  • Roger Ellman says:

    Strangest place: being shown a hydroelectric power plant on the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan. My guide a government employee who was proud of the project, overstepped the bounds of this outing when he suggested we jump over a low wall to get a better look – he was promptly “apprehended” by military personnel, ever present and zealously protesting this strategic asset, who appeared from behind a clump of trees.

    We were left to return to the capital after much negotiation, lack of official identification on the part of my guide – but a clearly persuasive manner – and some apparent warnings were uttered.

    This was a few years ago – at a different stage in Afghanistan’s history.

  • Jenny says:

    A marble quarry in Carrara, Italy, that my sculpture professor took us up as a class trip. We hiked through marble dust like a sand dune, the same one the block for David came from he told us. This venture was completely legal.

    As an aside – despite your difficulty with Jubba Airlines and Timeless Travel, and how I don’t wish that kind of mess on anyone; it reminded me of my experience this past May with US Asian Tour, a standby Trans-Pacific ticket and an overnight at LAX next to McDonalds…it goes on but I’ll stop.

    I trusted the recommendation of someone, I should have checked the Better Business Bureau. And it’s good to be reminded these things can happen to anybody, even the most seasoned traveler, because I felt like such an idiot novice and it’s taken a lot to just learn and go forward.

    Speaking of going forward – I am visiting a new country this week on a ticket I booked myself. 🙂

  • Willow says:

    Wow, what an awesome sentiment! And good timing for me to hear it, too. I’ve been in a rut for quite awhile now, and the whole time feeling guilty that I don’t appreciate my situation more. I have it good in many, many ways, and yet when things are even in the slightest bit difficult I feel completely defeated by it. It’s a breath of fresh air to take a step back, and look at things with perspective. As soon as I do that, it reminds me why I’m on the path that I’m on and where it is I’m trying to go. It’s easy to forget to look at things that way, so every reminder to appreciate the moment is important. Thanks for another incredible post!

  • Bryce says:

    Right on Chris. Well said. Important words to remember even when things don’t go ‘our way’.

  • Chris Walter says:

    I’ve given a lot of that to that concept. How can I find beauty anywhere and everywhere. I think it’s possible just not all the time. Sometimes you have to survive for now in order to flourish later. But I do think the potential for beauty and happiness is everywhere it’s just up to us to be open to it.

  • Matt Smith says:

    Two places. One – downtown San Jose, Costa Rica: hard to use a map, because there’s no good way to identify where you’re at. Few/no street signs, and nobody can tell you. I kept going into businesses and asking for their address, and most of the employees couldn’t even tell me. Bizarre, not what I expected from a big city.

    Two – a weird shop in Jerusalem’s Old City, in the Arab Quarter. I was shopping for something for my sister. The shopkeeper then asked if I wanted something for my girlfriend. “Oh, you don’t have a girlfriend? Do you like girls? Maybe you like boys. Some boys like boys. Do you like boys?” I was kind of at a loss and didn’t say anything. He just kept talking until he’d proposed dinner plans with me for the following night. I don’t have a problem being hit on in a straightforward way, but that was just icky. I made my escape as gracefully as I could… which was not very graceful. How do you respond to that? I felt bad for him… just not bad enough to date him. ;-|

  • Chloe says:

    Being bused to our Club Med resort in Tunisia (I was eight) and hoping we had a nice hotel room and the pool had a slide as I looked out of the window and saw desolate dessert and a family walking by the side of the road with two emaciated goats. As one of the children looked at me our eyes locked I couldn’t look away. It must have been moments but felt like forever, I have never had such a profound eye opening experience.

  • CharlesR says:

    The places we find ourselves in sometimes, are strange indeed. Even so, we are there nonetheless. I was struck by your sensitivity to your surroundings when you were rolling with the punches that the duff travel agency served up and your catching the Alanis Morrissette tune as a signature of that particular moment. Very nice. And again your encouragement to be grateful for wherever we find ourselves – even in the most mundane circumstances – which is where I find myself most of the time. To quote Hafiz: ‘This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.’. Thanks Chris. A beautiful and inspiring post.

  • Anna says:

    Keep on trucking Chris! As a travel Agent, it always pains me to hear stories like this. In this career it is all about service, and when one agent does a bad job it can make all of us look less valuable. I’m sorry to hear about all your troubles, and hope you keep an open mind for travel agents in the future. 🙂

    As far as the strangest place I have ever traveled, I will agree with Sarah, areas in the upper penninsula in Michigan can truly be a world all its own!

  • Jim Wilkins says:

    Canoeing on the Saco River near Fryeburg, Maine. Paddling along on this calm meandering river with my wife and four children, we rounded a blind curve and felt like extras in the movie “Apocalypse Now.” Ahead on the sandy beach was a massive group of people half dressed, drinking massive quantities of beer, roasting all sorts of meats, blasting music from boom boxes and absolutely trashing the surrounding area. We paddled on to find a quieter spot, but even there, the volunteer river ranger kept checking on us to make sure things were OK. The kids were just bug-eyed at the scene.

  • Ann says:

    I wouldn’t say strangest but the most different as it was a very nice experience. Must be 20km outside Baku in Azerbaijan at a Cement plant. Very friendly people and great food with lots of koriander :0)

  • Jason says:

    Southern Illinois, if you can avoid driving through Illinois, please do, it may be longer to go around but believe me it’s well worth it. I was taking a road trip to Louisiana and we had planned to stay at Cave In Rock Campground. On the way we passed a sign that read “Burnt Prairie Road” when suddenly we were in a small town that was completely on fire, all of the buildings were either already smoldering rubble or burning, on both sides of the road. The grass field behind the town was on fire, an nobody was around, no police, no fire crew, no random townsperson watching the blaze.

    We later stopped for gas and the attendant, recognizing our accents, began asking about our trip, we told her the name of the campground we were planning to stay at and she froze. Said not to go there, especially with girls in the group. The place was known for making meth, rape, and home-porn videos in the cave. She then recommended a different campsite nearby, (Garden of the Gods) and we thanked her and went on our way.

  • Matt says:

    I would say a small jazz bar in The Hague (Netherlands) was the strangest place I’ve been. The major venues in the bar district weren’t allowing Americans (or at least us) in so we wandered around a bit looking for a place to sit and grab a fresh Amstel. I feel like we walked into a bar where everyone knew each other. But, after taking in my surroundings while sitting and listening to the jazz band play I realized we had stumbled into a pretty interesting situation.

    I really need to come upon those kind of situations more often. Feeling uncomfortable usually makes for the best, or worst, memories.

  • Mark says:

    Bucaramanga, Colombia in the late 90’s when the rebels kind of controlled all the territory outside the city. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish and no one in Bucaramanga speaks English, except my friend from college, whom I was visiting. “We can drive to the edge of town to look around, but that’s all the farther we can go by car.”

  • Todd Jagger says:

    Many strange places when you start thinking about it.

    Wandering into one of many tiny villages named “Agua Fria” in Central Mexico late at night, asking for a hotel and being taken to the whorehouse by a 12 year old boy. He thought that was a hilarious prank. The madam was disappointed we did not stay.

    Performing music at a Youth Offender (boys 13-18 yrs old) prison in Russia with 16 clog dancers from North Carolina swishing and swirling to the delight of the boys there. “You see,” the warden said, “about 60% of our prisoners are here for rape.” Then, getting ridiculously and mostly involuntarily drunk with said warden and the prison guards in the gym.

    Same trip, being the first westerners to ever visit the collective farm at Vastinky, Russia, performing our show then returning to the bus finding it overflowing with fresh cut flowers.

  • Zaina says:

    I have always wanted to go to Ehiopia! Sounds so exciting. Loved the post!

  • Anne Scott says:

    Great Post Chris. It’s not often you reveal your frustration and was great to see how you recovered. Sometimes that peptalk comes in the form of a song, a workout or a good old fashion introverted tongue lashing for me too.

    The strangest place I’ve ever found a little unfounded magic was at the bottom of a cave in the Dominican Republic. Walking deeply under the earth following a stranger with a flashlight, wondering what I would find at the end of the descending tunnel. My imagination was no match for what I actually found – a soft crystal clear pond, lit by a single swinging light bulb, filled with naked Germans. The result was so unexpected that it makes me smile every time I think of it.

  • Dezy Walls says:

    In a McDonald’s in Macau looking across at a Body Shop and thinking can you come so far and go nowhere!

  • Kristine says:

    I loved this article. My strange place right now is on top of a 180 horsepower tractor in a field in Illinois driving an auger cart. I’m 62 and this is my first fall season of hauling in soybeans for my brother the farmer. I never drove the tractors when I was a kid growing up on the farm so to do this now is a great new adventure and I’m loving it. Keep inspiring people!

  • I love this one, Chris. Especially how you mention a sort of disinclination to work. I’ve wondered how you stay focused on work while traveling so much; it’s hard for me to do much more than maintain when I am on the road.

    I haven’t been to many strange places, but the strangest would be Andorra. Crazy, heartbreaking time of my life in 24 hours there.

    Hang in there with those glitches. It sounds like you’re a very patient person, and also trusting of the whole process.

  • Nailah says:

    You made it to Djibouti! I’ve never been to a place with so few things to do that ended up giving me so many funny (and fustrating) travel stories. Have you left the country yet…be careful with that “free” minibar. In our hotel we had “free” internet access which was totally “free” after we paid about $15.00 USD for it. Doesn’t paying for something make it “not free”? Not in Djibouti. If you run out of things to do, go check out the Djibouti Bowl entertainment complex. Bowling, dinner, dancing, karaoke and a decent bar.

    I’d have to say Djibouti wins as the strangest place I’ve been.

  • Kate Rodde says:

    Well I felt the strangest in a nightclub in Addis Ababa – had just spent 2 weeks mountain biking in the Bale mountains in the South of Ethiopia and descended on this nightclub on our last night in our “dress up clothes” complete with walking boots – felt very strange alongside the tall, dark beauties boogying away (but we had so much fun and the music was excellent)

    Strange depends on your point of view really!!

  • Gene says:

    Lunch in a small SE Asia Muslim village near an Al-Qaeda training facility.

    I’ve also had the privilege to fly on Egypt Air and – almost – Aeroflot. In 1979, my parents and I were stuck for a week in Cairo. In an attempt to get to Tanzania, we went to the Aeroflot office in downtown Cairo. We were told that we could go to the airport and meet the pilot and he would decide whether or not we could board their weekly flight to Dar Es Salaam.

    My folks were afraid that we would be flown to Siberia instead of Tanzania so we passed. Egypt Air finally delivered us to Tanzania.

  • Jackson says:

    I’m in Djibouti now!! There is actually some great scuba diving and snorkeling here. You just have to know where to go. Did you ever make it to Somaliland? I assume you got your visa in Ethiopia or London?

  • Debi Marti says:

    My strangest place was definitely a visit to the Urarina tribe in the Peruvian Amazon. They are a stone age tribe located about 40 hours by boat up the Amazon (and other rivers) from the jungle city of Iquitos. We took a medical/dental/well-drilling mission there. The people are still hunter-gatherers. Wealth is shown by the number of bead necklaces the women wear and some ladies and children wear (live) monkeys in their hair as adornments. They have very little experience of white people and it wasn’t unusual for children to shriek when they saw us. It was an incredible experience.

  • Jess says:

    Yay! I’m so glad you tried out Aeroflot. 😉

    Pushing a taxi at 1am on the border of Xiamen + Guang Zhou.
    Same trip…My Taiwanese broker taking me to a foot massage parlor at midnight in Guang Zhou. Really strange when he fell asleep and began snoring.

    Eons ago….Being stranded in the Moscow airport waiting for my flight to Kenya for almost 40hrs… of course waiting on Aeroflot.

  • Gabrielle says:

    The uros islands in the middle of Lake Titicaca. These strange islands, made of nothing but bamboo, float in the middle of the lake. There are many generations of pre-incan inhabitants who live on them complete with schools, hospitals, and houses made of reeds. There is even electricity powered by generators which was donated by Peru’s former president President Alberto Fujimoi. I saw the islands about 13 years ago but have learned that the islands now have less and less people living on them and have become more touristy.

  • Tracey says:

    Crammed into a tiny van/bus along a dirt road between Phnom Phen and Siem Reap. The driver was a madman, the vehicle was on its last leg.
    Our luggage was piled throughout the aisle making any exit impossible. A Scottish woman turns around and says “if this vehicle turns over we are dead.”

    Our motor dies inevitably and we take shelter at a shack selling coke and chips. It was HOT – amazing and unforgettable moment.

  • The most strange and wonderful place I recall from my travels was taking a small skiff to the Matava eco-resort on the island of Kadavu, Fiji. We’d flown from airport to airport, took a small truck across the island from the tiny airport and watched as our gear was tucked under tarps on an aluminum skiff. Frigate birds wheeled overhead, abandoned cement foundations sat across the street from the dusty loading dock. The next ninety minutes were spent bouncing over waves as we huddled beneath torn yellow slickers in a tropical downpour. I wondered what the h**l I’d gotten myself into.

    Wonderful though to round a densely green jungle point and see the tiny resort. We were welcomed with tea and flowers then led to our hillside bure to take in the view of the tropical sea.

    The next three days were magical – my first encounter face to face with a curious giant Manta, incredible coral gardens, wonderful international companions and the happy, kind and sweet Fijian villagers who were as curious about us as we about them.

    I can’t imagine being able to return but go there often in my dreams.

  • The joys and excitement of visiting strange and offbeat places is certainly a highlight of travel. During our six-year sailing odyssey around the world, we visited many places that were only accessible by boat and that made them even more exciting! Some of the most harrowing and lonely stories in my book, The Boy Behind the Gate, are from the Red Sea.

  • Efrutik says:

    You went to Ethiopia?!!!!! I had a feeling you would since you wondered off to East Africa 😉 I am going in 16 days? Any major advice on ET? I will be there in 16 days but only for two weeks sadly. Any advice or insider tip is highly appreciated especially with internal flight experience. Also will you write more about ET by any chance?

  • Chris says:

    @Efrutik,

    Yes, I had a great visit – I actually plan to return for a much longer visit with a group in 2012. But in short, I recommend the city tour from this agency.

  • cloudio says:

    The strangest place is my actual home in Cali. My neighbor is a well know pretty tv journalist whom all my colombian friends know by fame, while to me, even after 6 months here, since I don’twatch tv, she is just my neighbor that appreciate chatting with me, as I don’t look at her as a celebrity.

  • The American Legion bar in Archer City, Texas.

  • Isadora Arielle says:

    This was a funny post Chris. I’m still chuckling about a few of your anecdotes.
    I’ve been practicing present moment awareness for a while now, and I like your advice to “find the magic” and “value the experience.” I’m discovering that simply accepting your current circumstances and noticing that magic that does come when you’re open to it, is like altering your reality just with what you choose to focus on. No drugs required. Great examples these are from your fabulous travels. And, I haven’t traveled much so I’m living vicariously through your stories. Thanks Chris.

  • Joe Valley says:

    FORT WAYNE, INDIANA. Hands down the strangest place I have ever been.

  • alua says:

    “Lately I’ve been unfocused, unable to summon the energy or concentration to work on the projects I’m excited about. What’s my problem?
    I’m still not entirely sure, but I think I’ll make it.”

    I rather appreciated those words in your post. I have struggled with this over the past few months as well (and am still struggling now, though I dare hope to say that it’s getting better).

    What’s the strangest place I have ever been? I’m not too sure. What classifies as ‘strange’? I will have to ponder that before I can come up with an answer.

  • Richard Eldridge says:

    The main streets around Waikiki on Halloween have been the strangest thing I have ever seen. Imagine what a Japanese tourist would wear trying to look like he thought he might need to blend in, and add competition from the locals. There was one guy wearing only saran wrap around his tally whacker and another woman wearing a grotesque mask and otherwise nothing except body paint. Plenty of grim reapers, dozens of Sailor Moons and Pokemen, and myriad pirates, priests, zombies and Palyboy bunnies.

  • Lea says:

    This a bit off the subject, but when you say to someone in Ethiopia that they should visit Liberia, do you ever feel sensitive to the idea that they may not be able to travel freely? I don’t know about Ethiopia …

    but I’m asking because once upon a time I was exploring Romania with a friend that I met in the hostel that I work with in Budapest where I ended up because I was disillusioned with my life in Prague …. Well, when I talked about the glory of the the Carpathians with people from Bucharest they expressed feelings of jealousy telling me that they didn’t have the means to travel to the mountains in their own country let alone abroad.

    I would say that I am a rather hyper-sensitive person, but experiences like these (and I have had similar experiences elsewhere as well) make me feel inhibited. Are you sensitive to this kind of thing, and perhaps more importantly, are you able to empower people in the countries that you visit in some way through your business through which you empower so many?

    Just curious, really should be working right now! 😉

  • Chris says:

    @Lea

    When I say “you should visit Liberia,” I’m not actually suggesting they do so – instead I’m complimenting them on their country’s infrastructure, which is much better (at least in the city).

  • “Lately I’ve been unfocused, unable to summon the energy or concentration to work on the projects I’m excited about. What’s my problem?
    I’m still not entirely sure, but I think I’ll make it.”

    I’m sure you will, Chris.

    My experience with this is that when a project is ready to be born, it will be born.

    Sometimes it’s almost as if you’re just being dragged along in its wake! That happened to me just last week when my Creative Ignition Kit and Creative Ignition Club, which I’d been *thinking* about doing for months, finally DEMANDED TO BE MADE and pulled me into a week-long Creative-Obsession Cave to bring them to life. I’m still recuperating. 😉

    Until a project is ready, though, trying to force it doesn’t usually work.

    I look forward to seeing what does emerge when it’s ready. And thanks, as always, for sharing your tales from the road!

  • Sam says:

    One very strange place is The Diefenbunker, a huge four-storey bunker build under a hill near Ottawa, Canada in the late 50s to house the Canadian government in the event of a nuclear war. It is now a museum and is creepy and fantastic and strange all at the same time. I watched the animated movie “WHen The Wind BLows” about an elderly couple during a nuclear attack when I was down in the bunker. My husband got so claustrophobic during the movie he had to escape to the surface. Made one pause!

  • Frank Zappa called. He said to be sure and say hi to Sheik Djibouti (Yerbouti) and his brother Sheik It Down-Down. Bwahahahaa

  • Jabba Airways? OMG. They are now at the top of my short list. I flew Aeroflot around the world. No pigs or goats–only the most disgusting crapper-in-the-sky. Ever.

  • Absolutely hysterical, Chris!

    Strangest place I’ve ever been: The “Rest Area” at the border of Syria and Jordan. It was a dilapidated run down shack that had 3 holes in the ground. In and around the border crossing seriously felt like the most lawless place on earth. Throw in there an unkempt bathroom of mammoth proportions and you get the ‘ol, “Well what the hell am I doing here?” moment.

  • Anne Adams says:

    Chris, I’ve enjoyed your last few posts more than any others you’ve written. I especially like your advice to find the magic in our everyday lives. And I really like the notion of swallowing that jagged little pill from time to time and moving onward. Thanks for letting us follow along with you.

  • David says:

    Geting dropped on an Indonesian island east of Flores, I’m still not sure what it was called, after 7 days on a local trading yacht. It took two more yacht trips and a few days to eventually get to Flores – back in 1974. Children on this island had never seen a white person. I was told the trading yacht would drop us on Flores after 5 days – it didn’t quite work out like that.

  • Jen Waak says:

    On my Aeroflot flight we lost an engine (or so I was told), so you had a pretty good run of it.

    Strangest, I don’t know. Best stories: being chased down the street in Barcelona by a man in a duck costume, talking blood doping with a Canadian doctor in a hotel restaurant in Moshi, Tanzania, New Years Eve in Istanbul (more surreal than strange), and my entire trip to Moscow (in which there was much, much, much too much vodka).

  • Hi Chris, great post that I could identify with–I often fly to Zambia and Zambezi Airlines has become a bit of a joke amongst passengers as well. Hope you get your groove back soon!

  • Your stories are a consistently great read, and this one really stuck with me.

    Also, here’s a hat tip and thanks for the huge laugh I got from “which provides three complimentary children with every row of coach seating.” Priceless…

  • Lisa says:

    I haven’t traveled much outside of the US, so Elko, Nevada would have to rank as the strangest place I have ever traveled to. You should check out the Cowboy Poetry Festival there. That’s all I’m gonna say!

    Love your posts, Chris!
    Lisa

  • Mat Trevors says:

    Arrival area of Ougadougou airport. It was worse than an unfinished basement, I was surrounded by armed members of their national defense, and the guy at the immigration desk took my passport, put it in his shirt pocket & handed me a signed slip of paper with a dollar (CFA) amount on it. With a smile on his face the whole time.

    The baggage area made me laugh, though: it had a plywood frame for a conveyor belt, but not belt. Three guys muled a massive cart in and just started throwing luggage into the crowd. I stopped laughing when my duffel bag of work equipment went sailing over my head & two people started fighting over it. Make that three people, after I walked over to it…

  • Kristyn says:

    Nice post Chris, thank you. I love reading about everyone’s strange places (I’m taking notes)!

    One strange place I visited was Bako National Park in Sarawak (island of Borneo), where the Proboscis monkey lives. To get there, you had to hang around a small dock until the tide was right, then ride on a motorboat to the park area (there were absolutely no other tourists there). There was something about the feeling of the forests and mangroves, plus the hues of the water and beaches, that was a bit otherworldly and…isolated. We never did see the monkeys though. Apparently they prefer to frolic at dawn, but otherwise are difficult to find.

  • Mamta says:

    I love your newsletters and the one about rules was fantastic.

    About the strangest place I visited, this was a temple and an ashram for devotees to gather and worship. Approximately 10 years since my visit, it still makes me feel weird.

    I wanted to run away. The atmosphere, the people, the guru all seemed to unreal. I was so mad at myself for being in such a situation in life that it brought me to that place.

  • Carla says:

    The strangest place I’ve been is right here in central Oregon. McKenzie Pass goes through an old, volcanic crater, and it’s so unexpected to see all this black rock rising up after driving through forests! I felt like I was on the moon (or what I would expect the moon to look like)! Incredibly awesome sight!

  • Jen Brown says:

    I have travelled quite a bit but the strangest thing by far is Lightening Ridge in far western New South Wales, Australia. An old mining town (for opals primarily) but now full of hippie’s & other ‘unique’ individuals. It’s attractions include a momument to astronomers & a house made of glass bottles. Strange, strange place but one I am glad I have experienced!

  • Sabrina says:

    A bar with crazy Finns, Australians and Irish in Madrid, while the local Madrilenos just looked on (3am on a Tuesday morning and they are just having a quiet glass of wine), and much closer to home (for me!), the Coroglen tavern in the heart of the Coromandel (New Zealand) on the night of the Rugby World Cup Final, just a few weeks ago. That was not for the faint-hearted…

  • MacDonald’s in Rotorua.

    New Year’s Day (beautiful) and, 6 days into our amazing trip around New Zealand, my boyfriend and I hired some mountain bikes and headed for the lake, aiming to cycle round it, armed with a map but not much else. We dutifully followed the trails, which were well-trodden and easy going to start, with lots of daytrippers and tourists saying hello.

    But a couple of hours in, the trail on the map petered out into pure dense forest on the ground, with overgrown paths, fallen trees, broken bridges and very strange noises. We’d come too far to turn back, so we just kept going. It got darker and darker, stranger and more alien with every passing minute. Panic and fear crept in too. In those strange days before mobile phones, no-one knew we were there and we hadn’t brought supplies… what if?

    Finally, after 6 hours, we picked up the other well-used end of the trail, then the car park, then – yeah! – back to town. We were cold and hungry, but NYE in Rototua, nowhere was open… except MacDonalds.

    Such a strange place – too bright, too out of place, too alienly familiar… it seemed far more of a shock to the system than anything we experienced ‘out there’.

  • Haha just realised I spelt McDonald’s wrong! What a relief – the branding hasn’t quite permeated everywhere…

  • I started reading you for the vicarious travel experience and because I appreciate your manifesto bravado. But these days I read you for the beauty and emotional truth of your prose which makes me feel less alone. Thank you for taking me with you wherever you go.

  • The strangest place I’ve ever been? The recesses of my own mind. LOL but true!

    Things in general have been strange lately, it’s not you Chris, it’s just the general vibe, zeitgeist, energies we’re going through. I spent most of October reflecting on “where I’ve been and where I’m going, what I’m trying to craft and build over time.” And like you “Lately I’ve been unfocused, unable to summon the energy or concentration to work on the projects I’m excited about. What’s my problem?”

    When that happens I find the more I go with the flow of what is *right in front of me in the here and now*, even if it’s not what I’m aiming for, the more the Universe (or whatever you want to call God/spirit/life) takes care of it all and keeps what I want flowing to me. Sometimes that’s simply the lesson (increasingly I think that’s the only lesson) we’re supposed to learn.

  • I think on any long-term plan that involves a lot of steps there will be times when you wonder why you’re doing it. This year I am building a house, the culmination of a 5 year journey, and I still have days when I wish I just bought one that was already built and saved myself the bother! You have to keep finding your reasons along the way, and those reasons often change from what they were when you started on the path of your goal. Strangest place ever been – anywhere in the remote desert country of Australia – the strangeness is in the vastness and seeming emptiness of the landscape, and the out of this world beauty that is found there.

  • Jonathan says:

    My strangest place may well have been in an underground shooting range in Latvia with possibly the most hungover people I’ve ever met. Maybe not the most exotic place for those of you in the northern hemisphere, but most folks in Australia haven’t even heard of Latvia!

  • sally says:

    The strangest place? After a heady bus ride from Merrakesh, where me and my traveling companions were singing and clapping with the locals- impromptu, the bus arrived in Essouira at twilight and a weird hush came over everyone on the bus. People in burlap hoods and clothes were passing in and out of the city gates. I couldn’t see anyone’s face under those hoods because of the shadows. I swear, my hair must of stood up on my arms. Just that moment- like a swirl of nightmarish fantasy..very very strange.

  • Strangest place – my first visit to Namibia I arrived just in time for Oktoberfest. I found myself in a warehouse with hundreds of german/namibians eating schnitzel, and sauerkraut and singing german drinking songs. Then the final act of the night came on and we sang along to a Smokey cover band singing Living Next Door to Alice…

    It was surreal.

    Travel agents can be curious – husband just flew for 30 hours to get to an airport that is three hours away. What’s best is that he transited his destination at the beginning of his flight, but was not allowed to get off the plane.

    Next time I’ll do the booking…

  • marissa says:

    My own mind. It’s a wild and terrific place but it leaves me befuddled and bewildered almost every day.

  • Brad Moore says:

    I suppose of the coast of the Big Island in Hawaii, 35 feet under the water, in the middle of the night shining a flashlight up to the surface of the water. All this while giant manta rays glided within feet of us.

  • Carroll Owens says:

    Wunder Beach in, what was then, South Vietnam.

  • John Cordeau says:

    Sophia, Bulgaria after an all night train ride from Thessaloniki, Greece. So tired. Then coming into a city with a totally different culture where shaking your head up and down meant NO and back and forth meant YES. All the signs were in cryptic. But I found an Angel by chance; an old lady that let me stay in her apartment even while she went on vacation.

    After a few days dealing with gypsies and cold November weather, I hopped a plane to Budapest. After 6 months in Europe, I was ready to go home, but that experience in Sophia was the one experience I remember above all others.

  • Lying down in the sarcophagus of one of the pyramids in Cairo.

  • I spent last night partying in a Oaxacan graveyard (San Felipe) complete with a bazillian gorgeous flowers, tostadas, plenty of mezcal, and a roaming mariachi band. At one point my companion turned to ask me are they serenading him (meaning the guy in the grave) or us? Fantastic times!!

  • IainH says:

    Great post Chris, really enjoyed it.
    Strange places – too many to mention but some come to mind as I type:
    Getting the giggles with my fingers deep in the mud on the way up to a longhouse in Sarawak (knowing any slip leads to a wet and muddy end) was a classic.
    So many others here in Vanuatu but sweltering under a HOT tin roof in a village meeting and then drinking kava in the heat of the day in SW Bay Malekula was a doosy too!
    Look forward to seeing you here in Vanuatu when you finally manage it.
    Thanks again for a great post!

  • Victoria says:

    What a wonderful post. Thank you.

    Two places for me. Bangalore, India and Silverton, Oregon, USA.

    The former because it was where I discovered India, a country that I fell in love with because it is so beautiful and touched something deep in my soul that makes me almost desperate to go back.

    The latter because it was a place I re-discovered on a trip home (I live in France). We went down to work on the family farm in the Willamette Valley and for the first time I opened my eyes and really looked around me at the farms and the churches and the people. And I saw that it was beautiful too and incredibly exotic to my French husband.

  • Trevor Bide says:

    A place called Nakhon Sawan in Thailand about 2.5 – 3 hours drive north of Bangkok. It was not such that the place was strange (although no tourists went there and no English was spoken), it was more the situation. It was early days on the travel front and Thailand was completely new to me, so I hired a guide to see interesting things from Bangkok to Chiang Mai about a 7 hour trip.

    The guides family came from Nakhon Sawan so we stopped off to say hello to them and that was fine by me it was on the way. I was left with all the guides family mostly her brothers who were drinking large amounts of rice whisky and who found it interesting to teach me some not too pleasant Thai language. The strange place I woke up in was the back garden with long grass surrounding me, I had literally fallen off of the garden seat where the evening had been spent. Never again did I allow any stop off’s and the vow to retire from alcohol was made after the next two days feeling some what fragile.

    Incidentally years later I returned to Thailand and married a lady there and yes you got it she came from Nakhon Sawan and no it was not the guide. Nakhon Sawan is no longer strange and neither is Thai language, but that first trip is still etched in the memory. The advice in Thailand I still know today is beware of the message ” I am just going to stop off here a moment”

  • Eurobubba says:

    Strangest place I’ve been, and not in a pleasant way, has to be the Friedrichstrasse subway station crossing into East Berlin while the Cold War was still on. Like being in the bleakest chapter of a John Le Carre novel.

  • Post-night market party in Zanziabar, populated with rastas and Tanzanian prostitutes. It was the first time I ate barracuda. I would highly recommend it.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I am currently living in Africa. If you don’t step back and laugh every now and then, the frustrations can really get to you.

  • Efrutik says:

    So glad to hear you’ll be going back. I might have to join you in 2012! Thank you for the tip, I’m going to definitely work a tour into my schedule.Never really done a tour but in ET must give it a try. Perhaps a followup later… I’m thrilled for my trip.

  • Rob Ward says:

    The strangest place I’ve been was Salyersville, KY. Before going there, I had no idea areas like that existed in the U.S. It truly is a different world compared to other parts of the country (I grew up in Jersey near NYC). Being there was stranger than when I went to the Dominican Republic, because I expected the Dominican to be different.

  • Tania says:

    The strangest places I’ve been:
    The USA in general and Macau!!!

  • Karen Bowden says:

    My strangest (and scariest) place was at a beach somewhere south of Lima, Peru with an outdoor market nearby. I was not told to look as inconspicuous as possible until *afer* we got there. I was not dressed appropriately. I was carrying my big Canon digital SLR which I quickly stuffed into my brightly colored cloth back-sack. Then on top of it all on the way back to the car I slipped and brought even more attention to myself and my group when I almost fell. I couldn’t have yelled Rob Me! Target, right here! more loudly without ever saying a single word.

  • You were maybe lucky not getting on that plane After I read your post I was curious and checked out Jubba Airways on the ‘ G almighty’ and it really is a joke. Actually, that is the airline, where it should be said ‘no goats’, on the safety car.

    I am sorry you could not visit Somalia, it would have been good to hear what is going on there from a first hand source…

  • Rebecca Kane says:

    Nome, Alaska.

    On the third and final leg of my journey to Nome, a carpeted wall separated me and the other 10 passengers from the rest of the 757 that was mostly cargo – ironically the blankets were up with the cargo.

    I saw a pet (?) reindeer that someone kept tied in the back of their pick-up trucks around town. There were 12 churches, 11 bars, a handful of die-hards using homemade machines to mine for gold in the Bering Sea, 3 roads that led out to the tundra and back into town (but nowhere else), 1 Subway/movie theatre combo, zero stoplights, and an airplane pizza delivery service. They seemed very busy.

    It was super. strange. I did see a moose with her calf, a bear with her two cubs, a fox, a whole herd of reindeer, and a baby seal. Quite the interesting, weird, wonderful trip.

  • Jim says:

    Chris, I love how you write, and help me feel your adventures. Thanks.

  • Barbara Lester says:

    The strangest place I have ever been…the border of Afghanistan in 1973 on the road between Mashhad, Iran and Herat. The “doctor” at the border crossing said I didn’t have the right vaccines, but I could choose between letting him give me the shot (saying this within view of an old sink with rusty needles in it) or sleeping with him. I finally realized that there was a third alternative, a small bribe. The other border agents looked on while smoking from a hookah. The Afghanistan of 1973 was a wonderful place full of adventure.

  • LisaL says:

    Timmins, Ontario – Half the place looks like face of the moon and half is ‘bush’. Or maybe it was sliding into a landing at Saskatoon for Xmas…

  • Dave says:

    In 1974 aboard a Pam Am Inter-continental 707, I was enroute to ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, ALI vs. Foreman Title Fight in Kinshasa, Zaire. Upon arrival into (Joburg) Johannesburg I rented a Volkswagen for 3 days with a stopover in Pretoria where an eventful campfire held me bound to horror stories of daring Hippos delighted in collapsing the protection of perimeter fences. Day 2, I got lost in Kruger Game Preserve, my only protection from being devoured was my VW Beatle. Bizarre screams became terror and I started the car to aim headlights to find hundreds of glaring eyes staring back. This mix of howls and growls began raising the hair on my back and a chill all the way down my spine – was I to become a sacrifice?

    SWAZILAND located between Mozambique and South Africa.

    Day 3, the road was extraordinary; it was a rust colored canal of compressed dirt, like an oversized rut. Your travel was at eye level to the ground, to the left and right – preventing you from making an exit. This aspect of travel presented challenges, the goat herder and his flock prevented you from passing. You were obviously stuck until the livestock filed past. When the road elevation leveled with the ground, these areas became Villages of thatched huts dispatched children running to greet you! Hour’s later salt water filled the air, I craved the beach. I locked the car and hid the key on top the left tire. The hot sand sent me running up the bank and then down the beach into the Indian Ocean. My mind was asking the question, what size of waves created this 100 yard trek towards the Sea. Unfortunately I dove in into a rip current which is sweeping me further out to Sea. In an instant I recall dad sharing his experience of rip-tide; the only possible means of overcoming this is to relax and hold your breath until it subsides.

    HOLD MY BREATH I DID.

  • Amylaurita says:

    After a successful year studying abroad in Jerusalem, two friends and I took a final jaunt from Israel to Cairo. On the advice of “Let’s Go,” we decided to seek out a museum listed as just outside the city. We were pleased to find seats in the women’s-only subway car, and settled comfortably in for the ride. At first, everything went smoothly, but we rode longer and longer, and still weren’t anywhere near our stop. Aboveground now, houses grew sparce. By ones and twos, the women who had been on the train with us got off, until we were the only people remaining in the car. At last, the train pulled into our station. We looked outside the windows at the barren landscape around us, and realized we had found it: bum-fuck Egypt.

  • Susan Wakefield says:

    Ah, Chris, this is what you signed on for (I think) … adventure after adventure … for yourself, and your readers who live vicariously through all of the ups and downs of your travel.
    I have been in a lot of strange places … going through Level 5 rapids on the middle fork of the “River of No Return” (Salmon, ID) when I don’t swim and am deathly afraid of water, stranded in Luxor, Egypt when the government shut down the Cairo airport and and I had no idea when I was going to get out, pinned between tour buses at the western wall in Jerusalem blocked by an Israeli soldier with an M-16 strapped on his back, walking across Angel Landing in Zion National Park, UT knowing how many previous hikers have fallen from this point to their deaths … and most recently, perhaps the strangest, wildest and most terrifying place of all: my own home office where I have been making phone calls, sending e-mails, applying for jobs in an economy that is horrible, and I cannot connect to the work I would like to do.

  • Kel says:

    I can’t recall how I found your website, but I’m glad I did and am on your mailing list. ‘Strange Places’ is a great read and reminds me of several experiences. I only travelled to about 20 countries, but spent many years in Japan and Thailand (where I currently have set-up base), and a few months in a small village in Croatia near the border with Hungary and Serbia. Like you mentioned about your feelings when you were on the road to Djiboutim, ‘strange’ is relative. A taxi ride I had at breakneck speed from Chongqing airport when the taxi driver turned off the engine and headlights at dusk and coasted down the freeway (a slight incline for 10 kms or so), avoided huge pigs (seemingly) the size of horses and potholes that would swallow the car, but the driver obviously did it all the time. Then there was the private tour I took from Saigon down to the delta area, ending up on a small boat in a minor tributary of the Mekong and dinning at a private residence chosen at random in the middle of a swamp area. Delicious but surreal! Everything about Japan was strange when I first arrived. 20 years later it is all beautiful but sadly now tainted for many years to come by recent events.

  • canilark says:

    Puerto Rico airport, in a cell. I was on my way to Martinique, had lived in ST Thomas(illegally) for the previous three years, needed to get visa to get married. I had a British passport, so told the customs/immigration I had hitched a ride in from Tortolla and headed straight to the airport. Did not buy, locked me up, made me sign some document in spanish a couple of minutes before my flight and set me free. I still have no clue what I signed. It haunted me when I eventually applied for citizenship, but all worked out. I lived illegally in the States prior to this and when I flew out of Kennedy with no incoming stamps or visa, the customs immigration person said to me “don’t let this happen again!”. This was prior to 9/11, would not attempt same today.

  • Darlene says:

    “Strange” is perspective like you said Chris. I’ve been to a few places quite “foreign” and different, maybe not so strange as some of the other commenters. Interesting read.

    My list would include:

    – the gorgeous cemetery in Savannah, GA so stunningly pretty it should be a park, yet creep cause it’s all dead people
    – Thailand in general, but I loved it at the same time
    – Fremantle prison near Perth, Australia. The stories of prisoners and seeing the cells how tiny and cramped was unreal
    – the Salvadore Dali house and museum in Spain. He was one weird guy, yet brilliant!
    – Capadocia area in Turkey, the cave houses and entire villages carved into the rocks and hills and people lived in some of them up to 30 years ago still. Built and used to escape persecution and wars I was told. Fascinating history, wanna go back.

  • Jim Mitchell says:

    Chile’s altiplano, a high desert with bizarre slow growing plants, salt lakes with resident flamingo flocks, venting volcanos and deep varicoloured canyons. We were bouncing along in a pickup truck in the middle of nowhere, miles from civilization on a barely discernible track and across our path coming from nowhere, and headed nowhere is an old man on an even older bicycle. No language in common.. forever an enigma..

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