Quite a few years ago in the Province of Xinjiang in far western China, we were driving over dry, harsh hills toward the capitol of the area after many weeks of touring. We were coming from a town known as one of the most arid places in the world when we encountered a sudden storm that rapidly filled the ancient river bed which ran alongside the temporary, dirt road on which we traveled. It was not very long before the desert scenery was enveloped by dark clouds, heavy rain and the rising river. At one point, the river reached the roadside right in front of us and we faced a choice- either try to drive through a large, growing stream to reach higher ground, or sit there and pray that the rain would stop in the next few moments and we would not go floating down the river as did some other people as well as lots of trees and other flotsam. We decided to forge ahead and the motor stalled right in the ditch before us. We were trapped as the water began to engulf our car. Fortunately, the driver of a van just ahead of us saw what was happening, got out of his vehicle and tossed a rope to our driver who had made his way to the front of the car. The driver tied it onto the bumper and the van pulled us up to higher ground where we were safe. We lived through the worst moments but were stranded with little food or drink along with dozens of Chinese cars and trucks as the road collapsed before us and behind us. As luck would have it, road workers got through to us two Americans and we were rescued and taken through the desert on a back road to a small city. We felt bad leaving our new Chinese companions stuck where they were but all of our pre-made arrangements required that we do so.
The only event that came close to that one was our experience in a van returning us from a rainy visit to Tikal in Guatemala to our hotel in Belize. We left late from the Mayan site and were driving slowly on a muddy and desolate road toward the border. All was fine until we saw a man in the middle of the road. He was wearing a red bandanna and pointing an AK-47 right at the driver telling him to pull over. The driver was clearly very frightened and told us all (we were seven tourists) to do whatever the bandits said and give them whatever they wanted. The van came to a sudden stop; two men in similar guise came on board carrying machetes and guns which they pointed at each passenger in turn demanding all the valuables we carried. We were glad we had learned not to carry anything of value in our Third World travels, so we had little to lose besides our lives. They moved quickly, took whatever they could and all three quickly disappeared into the jungle alongside the road. It was clear that they did not want to spend any more time in that spot than necessary, and neither did we. No one got hurt and only one passenger had made the mistake of wearing things she valued.
There were other similar titillating scenarios from an attempted robbery on a back street in a small town in Bolivia to a broken propeller on our houseboat on a river leading into the jungle of Borneo, from attempted pickpocketing in a couple of cities to encounters with folks who were decidedly unfriendly and threatening. These events were all part of taking chances in order to experience the Third World and learn about how others live on our planet. Were they worth it? I am not a mountain climber nor do I plumb the depths of our oceans by diving deep below. So the happenings I describe were about as close as I am likely to get to the adventures of people who seek thrills that way. But I did not pursue such experiences; they just occurred as I journeyed to discover the riches of Third World travel. And that is part of such exploration. You bet it was worth it. I would not trade a single one of those scary episodes for a week at the beach. What would I talk about at cocktail parties?
Onlookers, Pushkar Camel Fair, India