Problems arriving somewhere is not a new issue for me. In fact it happened my very first day of travelling as I got caught up in French train strikes that would affect my plans for the entire month I was away. It took me most of that first day to make the relatively short journey from Calais in northern France across the border to Bruges in Belgium. It wasn’t a great start and it’s a wonder I continued travelling as much as I have. Or maybe that’s why I have so many problems arriving now?
Having already discussed the issues I’ve faced in Africa, Asia and Australasia, it’s now time for the problems I had trying to reach my destination in the other continents. Starting with…
As I already mentioned, my first trip didn’t start so well. There were a few incidents on that month spent travelling Europe by Interrail. However, I haven’t had too many issues since, despite exploring a lot of western Europe and living in Spain for most of the last three years. Although I did have a 12 hour bus ride from La Coruña in North-West Spain down to Lisbon. It started well enough. Incredibly comfortable leather seats with so much leg room. The bus even had a vending machine! But at the first stop in Vigo there was a problem and we had to change to a much smaller bus with not so comfortable seats and no leg room (or vending machine). Coupled with the fact it took an hour longer than scheduled to arrive and it wasn’t my best day travelling.
Bruges to Leeds
The train strikes which so badly impacted my first travelling experience did have some advantages. Whilst I had to miss several cities I really wanted to see, I was able to visit other places I hadn’t originally planned on seeing such as Ljubljana and Prague. However, the journey home to Leeds at the end of the trip wasn’t smooth sailing either. Quite literally.
The final stop of my trip had been back in Bruges, seeing what I’d missed the first time. On the day I left for home I caught a train to Lille around 10am. I was hoping the train strikes, which had now eased somewhat, weren’t going to disrupt my journey too much. Whilst it wasn’t as bad as my first day, I was still held up a few hours waiting for the connecting train to Calais. I was beginning to get a little nervous as I was tight on time to catch the ferry to Dover. However, the train was making good time and I began to relax. That was until we had a long unexplained stop and the minutes began to slowly ebb away again.
By the time we reached Calais train station I only had a few minutes before the ferry left and I still had to make the long walk to the port. It was raining by this point and with my heavy backpack over my shoulders and my smaller bag filled with things I’d accrued over the last few weeks in my hand I ran for the ferry terminal.
It was twenty minutes after the scheduled departure when I eventually arrived but luckily the ferry had been delayed by the bad weather and it hadn’t left just yet. I bought my ticket and rushed through security dripping wet from the rain. I still had enough time to joke with the UK passport control officials about feeling refreshed. The crossing was straightforward despite the rough sea and we arrived safely.
Once at Dover train station I bought a ticket for the long journey up to Leeds, feeling just a little shocked at having to pay a little over £100 for the privilege. I was then ready for the final leg of my journey after a month away. There was still time for one more delay as my train stopped just outside Nottingham for half an hour due to technical issues before I finally arrived home at about 2am. 16 hours after leaving Bruges that morning.
What was it about that first trip and so many problems arriving at my accommodation? On that same month away in Europe I managed to confuse myself trying to find my hostel in Berlin. I’d written the directions down from the train station and followed them only to find myself in front of the Reichstag with no sign of my accommodation. Cue panic!
I was just ten days into my first trip outside England and had no idea what to do. I sent a few anxious messages home to ask my family to check where the hostel was (this being pre-smartphones when everything became so much easier). Eventually I arrived at my hostel and it was then that I realised my mistake. For some reason I’d written the directions down on two separate pieces of paper! I’d followed the half that led me out of the train station and then with my hostel nowhere in sight I began to worry. Realising my mistake sooner might have helped me relax a bit more and enjoy my time in Berlin.
It had been a nice sunny day and the Reichstag looked so picturesque in the early evening light. Unfortunately I was too preoccupied with finding my accommodation that I didn’t take the time to stop and enjoy it. Worse still the next few days turned out to be grey and miserable and this was the only time the sun was shining while I was there.
It’s not always the journey that causes problems. Whilst in the middle of my Interrail month I was still having to deal with the fallout of the French train strikes. Reaching Spain from Italy was looking too troublesome so I needed an alternative. I was about to leave Venice and still looking for my next destination. The only problem was there were no buses to cities I wanted to visit. And those that did had no available accommodation. Even my hostel in Venice had no space for that night.
I was frantically trying to find something on the hostel computers whilst trying to reply to messages from home as my family did their best to help. Unfortunately they only succeeded in frustrating me further as the stress of my first trip began to take its toll. Eventually I found a route out and spent the next few days in a very wet Turin.
I don’t think I’ve had such long bus journeys as I did during the three months I travelled South America. It took 24 hours or longer to reach many of the destinations, especially around the wide-open expanses of Patagonia. I did face a long wait whilst trying to leave Buenos Aires. The ferry to Colonia in Uruguay was delayed by almost three hours with no explanation as we sat and waited. Some people eventually got off, never making it to Colonia yet still had a Uruguayan entry stamp in their passports as the ‘border’ point was before embarking the ferry. However, I didn’t have too many issues arriving at my destination. I actually had more of an issue trying to reach South America in the first place.
Frankfurt to Rio de Janeiro
Early mornings are not when I’m at my strongest. I was about to leave for South America and woke up to a message from Lufthansa to say my flight was delayed. I was a little confused at first, unsure if the flight had been delayed by 9 hours or until 9am the following morning. Eventually I realised it was the latter and the second leg of my journey from Frankfurt now involved an 11-hour layover.
Not looking forward to that experience I arrived in Manchester for my first flight and asked what the situation was. The Lufthansa staff told me it would be dealt with when I arrived in Frankfurt, but it was likely they would provide a hotel room for the night. I quite liked the idea of a free room. Especially as I would be sharing hostel dorms for most of the next few months. However, when I reached the customer service desk in Frankfurt I was given an alternative option. Either take the hotel room or there was a flight leaving for Sao Paulo now, with a connecting flight to Rio.
I had a few seconds to think about it. The alternative flight would arrive in Rio just a couple of hours later than originally planned and even before the delayed flight had left Germany. I agreed to the change and had 30 minutes to make it through airport security. Making in just in time before flying off for my first South American experience.
One of my biggest delays in South America happened while trying to walk just two streets. I’d arrived in Buenos Aires and despite a little initial confusion found my way from the bus station to the metro and arrived at my intended stop. When I appeared out of the subway I was suddenly met by an incredible mass of people. There were huge banners, vociferous chanting, clouds of smoke and enormous bangs. I wasn’t sure if this was a protest or a celebration!
The street I needed was blocked by barriers as a parade passed through the main street. I had no way around it or through it. Instead I spent the next forty minutes struggling passed the dense crowd with my large backpack pulled close as I searched for an alternative route. As the parade thinned out I found a way across the street. Forcing me to take a wide detour before I eventually made it to my hostel just two minutes away. It was quite an introduction to Argentina’s somewhat volatile capital city.
Puerto Natales to Ushuaia
I was making my way south to the very bottom of the continent after spending five incredible days hiking and camping through one of the most spectacular areas in Patagonia; Torres del Paine National Park. I booked my ticket to Ushuaia at the bus station in Puerto Natales. The ticket seller told something about changing buses that I didn’t quite understand at the time. I didn’t think too much of it until the next day. A couple of hours into the journey the bus pulled over at the side of the highway and we waited. We waited some more and then we waited a little longer.
There were only six passengers on the bus and nobody else seemed to know what was going on either. By now I’m thinking there’s a problem with the bus and we were waiting for a replacement. Another bus eventually arrived and we were instructed to board. Imagine my surprise when I spotted a couple I’d met during the Torres del Paine hike. We each looked at one another with a ‘what are you doing here?’ expression.
It turns out this was all planned. The bus my friends were on from Punta Arenas was the main bus down to Ushuaia. I was happy to be with familiar faces. Especially during the long wait as we crossed the border into Argentina with plenty of standing around, filling in forms and being sniffed at by dogs.
All was going well on the new bus until we arrived at Rio Grande. Everyone heading to Ushuaia, including me and my friends, had to get into a minibus. This included around 20 people, their luggage and a huge 40-inch TV. We were packed in like a real-life game of Tetris before setting-off on the twisting snow covered roads to Ushuaia.