Consider for a moment a place you’ve never thought you’d visit.
Is it dangerous?
Is there some strange noises that you can’t quite comprehend?
Do you find yourself holding a baby baboon in nappies while you sleep?
Or maybe pulling an eye mask over your eyes and earplugs in your ears to help you pretend you’re not surrounded by spiders, bats and giant bugs that you fear the names of.
Shouldn’t this place be more, like unique? Where’s the culture?
Are you suddenly overcome with emotion that you can’t turn off? Has something from the past that you never knew about suddenly taken hold and shook you to the core?
This month’s travel linkup is all about unexpected places. I’ve had my fair share of them. To be honest, nearly everywhere I’ve been has had its own little (or large) piece of unexpectedness, otherwise chances are I wouldn’t have gone there in the first place!
Unexpected places create experiences and memories to cringe at, laugh, cry, share and shake your head in wonder.
Waking up in the Pampas, along the Amazon River in Bolivia.
It was this moment that I heard a noise. A loud frog-like noise coming from a loudspeaker, vibrating through the trees into my room on stilts. I thought it was just the alligator under the stilts letting me know it was morning. But no. Across the river were some monkeys. Not just any monkey though. These were Howler Monkeys and boy could they howl!
Struggling to sleep with a baby baboon that thinks you’re its mother.
I had to shower with her… oh yes that was interesting…
Feed her a bottle in the morning and night.
Get her to sleep… far earlier than I was ready… and keep her asleep…
Try not to roll over and flatten her in the night.
Have fun of changing her nappy in the morning when she really just wanted to play… oh that was super interesting…
All fun and games until you realise you look like utter crap the next morning, probably covered in a bit of it too, and this little monkey is just tormenting you for the fun of it. Then on to another full on day of volunteering with animals!
Eye mask is your best friend. (Ear plugs are the second best friend)
What you can’t see (or hear) can’t hurt you right? That’s how I feel asleep some nights in Africa and Latin America. I’m a complete and utter wuss, but these creatures are drawn to me and sometimes these unexpected places come with unexpected friends in the form of giant insects, eight legged freaks, winged creatures and slimy ones… I often opted to pull the mask over my eyes willingly and imagine a different place just to get to sleep.
Red Square. Russia. Surely if you want a culture shock Russia would be the place to go right?
Staring out at Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow I’m pretty amazed. The Kremlin and Lenin’s Mausoleum are on one side, a gothic museum behind me and a stunning Cathedral ahead.
Then I look to my right.
Possibly the most expensive shopping mall in Russia takes up a vast space on the side of Red Square. Gone is the history when I look at that. Gone is any culture and unique aspects to Russia. It’s westernised. It’s unexpected and a bit sad.
Going somewhere you’ve never heard of and discovering there was a genocide there.
Yup. May sound horrible, but I think of it as an eye opening experience that I will never forget. Travelling through Bosnia and Herzegovina one day, we were taken to the small derelict village of Srebrenica. We ate lunch in an eerie quiet cafe, then went to the memorial grounds. It was half empty of white pillars, for the people that haven’t yet been found.
Then we were directed to the warehouse opposite, the Dutch base. Here we heard a survivors story and watched a video on a large screen about the genocide.
This was one of my most unexpected travel experiences. It took my heart, squeezed it so tight that I was lost for breath and words, all that could come were tears for those who died, for the families and the people that survived and have to live with what happened.
This wasn’t like visiting Rwanda’s memorial or Auschwitz. Those were sad and brought tears to my eyes, but I was prepared. In Srebrenica I wasn’t prepared.
There are many unexpected places around the world that you just don’t know what to expect. The first time I went to Africa I thought it would be all dirt and heat, I’d be lucky to see a wild animal. Yet, Africa blew away any expectations I had and filled me with joy seeing so many incredible animals. The dirt and weather were minor details in the greater experiences that I had there.
Likewise, South America was meant to be dangerous and I really didn’t know what to expect. There was the expected language barrier, but the unexpected ability to somewhat understand through gestures and the odd recognisable Spanish word or phrase. There was the sheer beauty of landscapes that change from country to country on a continent that is so vast and densely filled. The danger wasn’t prominent and while I didn’t go seeking it or feel 100% safe at any point, it was unexpected that I didn’t feel more in danger and scared. It was just part of the travelling, having your wits about you and being travel-smart.
I’m so pleased that I didn’t let my fear, danger or lack of knowledge stop me from visiting any of the places I have visited. The unexpected travels turn into incredible experiences!