Misfortune favours the brave

There’s a reason some roads are less travelled than others, but don’t let that stop you going down them, says our guest columnist Ben Trovato.

Boats milling about in Mozambique. Photograph by David Stanley.

I am smitten with travelling. Whether it’s in the back of a Bangkok tuk-tuk or in the back of a South African police van, the concept of moving towards an unfamiliar destination fills me with exhilaration. And, in the case of the latter, a fair amount of dread. Indeed, fear and loathing are as much my travelling companions as are intoxication and euphoria. Here, then, are some of my less pleasant experiences on the road.

Senegal
Hopelessly lost in a densely packed market in Dakar at dusk, then lured into a labyrinthine maze of interlocking stalls that got progressively darker the deeper I went. Eyes streaming from clouds of impenetrable ganja smoke and surrounded by indistinct, mumbling shapes, I was relieved of all my cash and given a small djembe ‘talking drum’ by way of compensation.

Mozambique
Spending a couple of weeks on a 4×4 expedition along with 20 beer-bellied brutes, who cheered every time we passed a bombed-out Frelimo tank and who openly mocked the villagers for having so little, forgetting that it was their chommies in the SADF who were largely responsible for creating such destitution in the first place.

The Gambia
Threatened with arrest by heavily armed guards inside the grounds of State House in Banjul. They accused me of working for President Yahya Jammeh’s enemies and secretly filming the premises as part of a plot to topple the government. I swore that the camera was off, even though I had indeed been covertly shooting from the hip. Astoundingly, they took me at my word.

Kenya
Lying in a tent, sweating heavily and shaking like a lunatic, on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro River in Samburu National Reserve, miles from any medication and convinced that I was dying of cerebral malaria. Only much later I conceded that I might have been suffering from something less serious. Like alcohol poisoning.

Namibia
A short trip to Windhoek in the 1980s resulted in marriage and a 10-year stay in this strange town.

Spain
Inadvertently ingesting a semisynthetic psychedelic drug of the ergoline family and finding myself at 3am, lost and alone in the narrow streets of Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic, being trailed by a gang of Algerian muggers. I took refuge in a small subterranean bar that was still open. After getting a beer, one of the locals unzipped his trousers, placed his prodigious member on the bar counter and proceeded to have the barmaid baste it with tomato sauce and mustard. I left shortly afterwards.

Greece
Standing on the near-deserted road between Iraklion and Chania in crushing heat, the only shade provided by my backpack. Dehydrated to the point of delirium, I found a tap at an abandoned building site. The water was literally boiling and impossible to drink. Eventually a taxi driver found me and helped me into his cab. His temperature gauge read 45˚C. Some weeks later, after picking grapes for a pittance and selling my camera to buy a ferry ticket back to Athens, I wound up living on the docks at Piraeus harbour along with the flotsam and jetsam of European travel.

One night a young tattooed German whipped out his hunting knife and insisted we become blood brothers. So, mad with retsina, we did. Another night a degenerate Greek fisherman tried to join me in my sleeping bag. Then there were the dock rats as big as cats. After more than a fortnight of sleeping on the wharf, stealing food from markets to survive, the South African Embassy finally relented and gave me just enough money for a three-day bus ride back to London.

London
Breaking into an empty council flat in the East End, only to find that certain essential amenities were lacking. I lived in that squat for almost an entire winter without electricity, ruining the romance of dinner by candlelight for the rest of my life. One of the perks of working at Shell headquarters was that I could shower after my shift ended. Less impressive was the fact that I worked as a dishwasher in their kitchen.

This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Getaway Magazine.