***Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this article may contain images or names of people who have since passed away.***
Surfing with Great Whites off Australia’s coast.
Getting altitude sickness on Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Backcountry snowboarding in the wilderness of Hokkaido.
Over the years, we’ve set out on some questionable (and often unintentional) adventures. But we’ve always waited until we’ve lived to tell about them before writing home to mom.
From extreme sports in Asia Pacific to culinary escapades in Africa, border crossings in the Middle East to a bit of recklessness in Central America, we’ve compiled a list of 8 real situations we chose to not write home about, should mom decide to steal and hide our passports. And we’re curious to know — what travel experiences have you kept from mom?
Northern Australia has three temperatures: hot, hotter, and as hot as ____ (fill in the blank). That type of heat lends way to some not-so-bright ideas. Result: While spending an afternoon on the beach, Gabriel and friends decided to play bocce ball. But without an official game set, they were forced to get creative. Coconuts were procured for each team to use as balls. And for the pallina (target ball)? Gabriel may or may not have decided to use a nearby crocodile that was sunning itself on the beach.
Each team took turns rolling their coconuts as close to the crocodile as they dared. But the real excitement kicked in when it came time to retrieve the coconuts from the crocodile for the next frame.
One time, while exploring the Middle East, we found ourselves between two minefields. In Qasr al-Yahud, an area along the Israeli-Jordanian border at the Jordan River, we were at the site where Christians believe Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. It is also where Jews believe the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land after wandering in the desert for forty years. Deemed a holy site, it was not accessible until 2011 when a narrow path was cleared to allow access to the river, creating two very explosive fields on either side.
Motorcycling in Africa
“Cheapest transportation option” usually doesn’t translate to “safest transportation option” in Uganda. While living there, we decided to go local and buy Bajaj Boxer motorbikes. With only 150cc, the motorbikes looked like motorcycles but only had the power of a scooter. We didn’t mind — the African roads were so crazy, we never had the opportunity to go over 45 mph (72 kph).
With potholes a foot deep, seemingly suicidal matatu drivers, chunks of road simply missing, huge trucks hauling shipping containers overland and hundreds of boda drivers weaving in and out of traffic, we said a prayer before hitting the road each day. Really, we did.
Jumping out of planes
The now cliché item on many a person’s bucket list, modern sky diving seems more tame that it did 100 years ago when Leslie Irvin successfully recorded the first free fall jump in 1919. But just because it’s easier to find a parachute and a plane doesn’t mean there isn’t danger still involved. While the recreational extreme sport has refined its equipment and techniques — giving way to safer and more successful jumps — the States still see an average of 24 deaths per year from sky diving.
Our favorite jump: Guam at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters), celebrating Sarah’s 25th birthday.
A glimpse of Syria
Mom, we’re sorry, but we forgot to mention that we visited the Golan Heights and interviewed a UN soldier stationed at the border of Syria. And then we toured a bunker. Dug deep into the mountainside, it offered a cool respite from the Middle East’s baking sun. After winding our way through its intricate tunnels, we made it to the bunker’s exterior wall and gazed out its window across Syria.
That’s some pig…
While living and teaching in Australia’s most remote outback, Gabriel was “adopted” by an Aboriginal man named Waka. Together, they went spear fishing and hunting for kangaroo and sea turtles. That’s why one day, when they stumbled upon a wild pig in the bush and Waka said "I think I'll get that pig, gato..." — Gabriel stood alert. Waka picked up a large stick and Gabriel got his camera ready, thinking he was about to film Nat Geo’s next documentary on traditional Aboriginal hunting methods. He watched as Waka threw the stick in the prey’s direction, where it landed a foot or two in front of the pig’s nose. The pig, not the least bit startled, continued to graze.
Waka picked up a second stick and threw it. This one landed only centimeters in front of the pig, which responded with an angry grunt as it took off at a surprisingly fast gallop towards Gabriel and Waka. Gabriel continued to stand for a moment, sure that Waka had a plan. But Waka just turned to Gabriel and shouted “RUN!” Together, they darted to a tree and climbed it as the nearsighted, tusked pig continued to charge past them.
Sharing a meal in the village
One time, while visiting a village in Uganda, a woman prepared lunch for us. Creating a stew with her limited supply of casava, beans and cabbage, she ladled out a heaping bowl for us — her honored guests. Unsure of where her water came from but sure it was not safe for us to eat or drink, I looked to Gabriel. He whispered back to me in Japanese to ensure no one else could understand — “Ganbare! Just pray for it first.”
Exploring the Occupied Palestinian Territory
When we set out to see the Holy Land, we wanted to leave the region with a better understanding of the dynamics of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That meant leaving behind the beauty of modern Tel Aviv and the fertile green slopes of Galilee and heading into the West Bank. We traveled through Ramallah — the de facto capital of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the headquarters of Palestinian Authority. And we spent time in Hebron, a once thriving city that now crumbles under the weight of hatred and fighting between the Jews and Arabs who both believe they have claim to the land. We walked along Shuhada Street, caught glimpses of snipers on roof tops and crossed through military checkpoints with our Hebraic tattoos covered.