This weekend I played tourist in my hometown and took the Metro to the Olympic Stadium for First Fridays, a massive food truck gathering on the first Friday of each summer month. We arrived early, so we opted to hit the cafe inside the stadium before the doors opened. When I leaned back against the counter, I felt a searing pain on my right butt cheek. Wondering if I was simply conducting an alarming amount of static electricity, I shot forward and swatted behind me.
A huge yellow jacket fell to the floor, stunned. He or she must have been sitting on my ass for who knows how long. My heart raced, my leg felt numb, and my tongue started to swell. I’ve never reacted with anaphylaxis from a bee or wasp sting before, but I’ll be following up for a potential allergy because it was a very different body response.
And then I had to pleasure of telling friends that I was stung in the butt by a wasp.
Sharing Embarrassing Travel Stories
The reaction from said friends was, “Jodi WHY does this always happen to you?” Which is a really valid question given the wildlife mishaps during my travels.
First, the problem of all the birds that have crapped on my head during my years of travel (14 birds and 1 bat, to be specific). Then, the iguana that mauled my leg in Belize — more on this soon, I promise — when he thought I was a tree and tried to climb me to eat my shirt.
There is the spider that ate other spiders in my room in New Zealand, not to mention the possum that attacked me at three in the morning in the same country, launching himself at me like a grenade while I screeched, half-asleep.
But none of these mishaps qualify for embarrassing travel stories. I have others that do. And since the blog veered toward the solemn with my Vipassana piece and the post on mechanics of jet lag, let’s get back to taking things a little less seriously shall we?
Banging a Bus in Argentina
I visited Argentina for the first time the year before I started working as a lawyer in New York City. Up until that point, my Spanish vocabulary consisted of very basic words I learned and strung together while visiting Spain. It was in Barcelona, in between tapas and wine, that I learned some phrases that kept me afloat in more rural areas.
Where is the bathroom?
How are you?
I am from Canada.
My name is Jodi.
Where can I take the bus?
It was the latter sentence that got me into trouble in Argentina. Coming off a long bus ride, I couldn’t find my connecting bus. I approached two men wearing the Andesmar uniform, thinking they might know.
“Permiso donde puedo coger el bus?” I asked timidly. I thought what I was asking was, “where can I take the bus?”
I was met with raucous laughter.
“Donde quieres, chica!” one of them said.
Confusion reigned until I remembered what my friends in Uruguay told me: coger was slang for “to fuck.”
So I basically asked where could fuck the bus, which led to the mirthful, mocking response of “wherever you’d like, lady.”
Face flushed with shame, I blurted out, “lo siento, estoy tanto embarazada!”
The gentlemen doubled over with laughter once again. One looked me up and down slowly and drawled, “I think not” (“pienso que no”).
And that was how I learned that in Spanish, embarazada is the word for “pregnant,” not for embarrassed. In case you were wondering, embarrassed is avergonzado or desconcertado.
For those learning Spanish, there are several other words that resemble English words but aren’t. A few:
- Librería is a book store, not a library. A library is a biblioteca.
- Decepción means to be disappointed, not deceived. A deception is an engaño.
- And one of my favourites: carpeta is a file folder — a carpet is the awesome alfombra. Carpet never sounded so satisfying.
As for Argentina, I was appalled to manage not one but two disastrous language mistakes. To assuage my shame, I wrote a group email back to friends and family at home.
“I did the impossible,” it read. “I not only asked to have sex with a bus, but insisted that I was pregnant while doing so.”
Ants in my Pants at Angkor
The Great Butt Sting of 2016 reminded me of another ‘when nature attacks’ story from my time at Angkor Wat, a far more embarrassing turn of events. I was on a date with a very cute boy from Switzerland, who I had met in a different country. We stayed in touch in the interim and coordinated a trip to Angkor at the same time. His friends were working at an NGO in town. We spent our days climbing hidden treehouses and roaming the temples in awe, and the evenings eating and listening to stories from people who knew the city better than we did.
During one particularly lovely evening, he suggested that we sit and watch the sunset over Angkor Wat while listening to Michael Galasso’s track Angkor Wat Theme II from the In The Mood for Love soundtrack. This sounded like a great idea. As the sun began to set behind the ruins, we curled up on a stone bench and put on the song.
I even took a photo, since I loved the symmetry:
All seemed to be going well: stunning sunset, a gentleman I enjoyed sitting next to me, crumbling temples from a former kingdom. Except for one thing: I didn’t know it at the time, but I was sitting on a pile of fire ants. I found out pretty quickly.
Stinging pain, followed by more stinging pain. I leapt up with a shriek, and ran around in circles smacking my behind as that “great guy” laughed so hard that tears poured down his face. To make matters worse, there were several monks nearby, also waiting for a quiet sunset. I gave them a sincerely authentic burst of entertainment, and they had a field day laughing along with us.
Flashing a Tribesman in Myanmar
I was in Myanmar in late 2009 for over seven weeks, extended my trip from the initial few. The country was still under military rule, and you were allowed to see what you were allowed to see, and no more. I was encouraged to visit by friends who worked for NGOs in Northern Thailand as well as friends who had visited previously. They urged me to explore and take care to stay at local guesthouses and eat on the street, giving money to the local economy instead of the junta. At the time, it was a controversial decision to visit. I wrote a long “before you go” piece to reflect my thought process.
My travels took me up to the Kachin State Fair in Myitkyina, then back down to Mandalay by boat during a solar eclipse. They took me to Bagan (one of the worst bus rides I’ve ever experienced!) and to Inle Lake, and then south of Yangon to Hpa-An and its crazy caves and limestone cliffs.
It was in Inle Lake that I experienced an embarrassing travel faux pas. Throughout my time in Myanmar, I wore a traditional wraparound skirt called a longyi. It was easy to use, doubled as a towel after the shower, was comfortable, and wasn’t indecent in a very conservative country. To put on the longyi as a woman, you pull all of the fabric to one side, fold it back at the hip while holding it tight against your waist, and then tuck it into the opposite side. Women often sew in a thin band of black cotton at the top of the longyi, where it sits at the waist, “for the sweat”.
During one of many dawn boat trips around Inle Lake, I stepped out of the boat to attend one of the beautiful morning markets. While exiting the tiny boat, my longyi got caught on a protruding nail. In two seconds flat, the longyi untucked from my waist and lay in a pool of fabric at the bottom of the boat. Given that many Burmese women I met wore thick flannel bloomers under their longyis, my thong underwear was likely quite a surprise. And I highly doubt that the entire boat behind me full of Pao-O tribesman had seen a traveler’s pasty white butt before.
I went out and bought a safety pin immediately, but it didn’t stop the Inle boat drivers from giving me a smirk and a thumbs up when they passed me during the duration of my stay. News travels fast in a tiny town, especially when it involves a mistaken strip-down in front of a boat of elderly tribesman.