Travelers' Tales

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From our November issue: a bull in a (china?) shop in India, a cheesy friendship develops in the Czech Republic, a persuasive snake charmer in Marrakech, and more.

Dream Trip Gone Wrong?
For our March Dream Trips issue, we're looking for True Stories about once-in-a-lifetime trips that didn't go quite to plan. Whether it's thinking there's a snake in your bed while you're on safari in Kenya or trying to wash your hands with a condom during Carnaval in Rio (don't ask, but these are actually from the magazine!), we want to hear your tale of woe. E-mail TrueStories@BudgetTravel.com, and include any photos.

For ideas about what a Dream Trip is, see here and here.

Next Prize:

Cruise For Two The best tale of a dream trip gone wrong that we receive between Nov. 2, 2009, and Nov. 30, 2009, wins a seven-day cruise for two in an ocean-view stateroom on Princess Cruises, departing from Fort Lauderdale or L.A., courtesy of American Discount Cruises & Travel. Valid for sailings in 2010; winner must select cruise within a month of notification. For more info: 866/214-7447, americandiscountcruises.com.

How to enter: E-mail us at TrueStories@BudgetTravel.com or mail us at True Stories, Budget Travel, 530 7th Ave., 2nd Fl., New York, NY 10018. Full guidelines: BudgetTravel.com/truestories.

Trip Winner: Attack of the tent temptress
November's winner is Angela Hullinger of Olathe, Kans. She won a seven-night trip for two in Vietnam, courtesy of Vietnam Vespa Adventures. Her story: My boyfriend and I were camping in Banff when we were awakened at 3 a.m. by loud music. I went to the office in the dark to complain. When I returned, I crawled into my tent, snuggled up to my boyfriend, and said, "Now we can get some sleep." An unfamiliar voice said, "You're in the wrong tent." I was in bed with a complete stranger—and his wife and baby were lying next to him sleeping! Worse, I saw in the morning that his tent didn't look like mine at all.

If only this was a china shop
In the U.S., it's not unusual for a store owner to bring his or her dog to work for companionship. But on a recent trip to Varanasi, India, my boyfriend and I came across a bull that a man had brought into his store—that was a new one for us. Alexandra Watkins, San Francisco, Calif.

We're just glad you're one of the good guys
While I was on leave from Iraq last year, my girlfriend and I planned a Mexican getaway. I used my Army-issued assault pack since it fits well in overhead bins and has a lot of pockets. When my bag went through the airport X-ray, the TSA inspectors told me they needed to scan it one more time. The second time it passed through, they called another inspector over, dug into my bag, and pulled out...my military knife. It was still buried in the bag from a training exercise; I'd forgotten it was there. The Massachusetts State Police were called, and they stormed me by force! The officers did an extensive search and interrogation, but eventually I was able to convince them that it was a huge mistake, and they let me go (minus the knife, of course). The only thing that kept me from being arrested was the fact that I was in the Army and on leave from Iraq. Incredible to think that I almost spent my precious time sitting in jail rather than on the beach. Chief Warrant Officer Kent Shepherd, Fort Drum, N.Y.

Puppy love
Last April, my husband and I and our 3-year-old son, Julian, went to San Francisco. Julian carried a backpack with his things. We loved our walk through Chinatown, but after lunch we discovered that Julian's backpack was nowhere to be found. He insisted that he had left it with Bubba, our beagle—who was back home in Kansas. After dismissing that idea and walking around for over an hour trying to find it, we gave in to Julian and followed him. He led us straight to the store where he had left the backpack. He'd taken a small statue of a beagle from a shelf in the store and laid it down on his bag on the floor to give it a nap. Jessie Smith, Goddard, Kans.

You're supposed to wait for the fat lady to sing
On a recent trip to Budapest, I surprised my girlfriend with tickets to the Hungarian State Opera. The only tickets I could get were for the very night we arrived, after four connecting flights and more than 30 hours of travel from southern California. We were extremely jet-lagged, and even though the production was fantastic and the opera house itself is a masterpiece, I was nodding off in my seat. An hour and a half into the performance, the curtain fell and everyone grabbed their things and started walking outside. As much as I had enjoyed it, I had to admit I was relieved the opera was over. But we got a second wind and made our way next door to a restaurant for a nightcap. About 15 minutes in, we couldn't believe this convenient after-theater spot was virtually empty. An hour later, though, the place completely filled up—and we realized that we had left the opera during intermission. Ralph Velasco, Corona del Mar, Calif.

We hope it was a big tip
When I loaded my rental car in the parking lot of the Panama City, Panama, airport, I accidentally left my backpack—with cash and my passport, MP3 player, and camera—on the ground and drove away. It took me four hours to realize I had left it there. I made many phone calls to the airport and the airlines, but no one had located my bag, and I expected the worst. I went ahead and got a replacement passport. But on our return to the airport a week later, I took a stroll through the parking lot, just in case. I recognized a car washer I had seen before. His English and my Spanish were extremely limited, and I was about to give up when we finally communicated: He pointed excitedly and walked toward where I had parked a week earlier. He took me right to the spot and said, "I bring to policía." Then he led me to the airport security office. I got my bag back, and a quick look confirmed that all of my belongings were still inside. I gave the car washer a tip and returned to my traveling party triumphant. They had ridiculed me for going back to the parking lot! Clint Kuipers, Coon Rapids, Minn.

What happens if you don't pay?
In Marrakech's Jemaa el-Fna square, I was intrigued by the snake charmers, despite my fear of the reptiles. I worked my way through the crowd to an umbrella where cobras slithered on the pavement under the loose control of an old man. Crouching, I began shooting photos from what seemed a safe distance. Suddenly, I felt something heavy and alive pressed firmly around my neck. I didn't realize that one must pay up front for the privilege of taking photos. Moroccan snake charmers enforce this rule in a way that discourages argument: They drape erring tourists with snakes, creating a compelling reason to cough up some money. I croaked to my fiancée, "Kate, give them some money, fast—and get a picture!" She did both, the serpent was removed, and I learned a lesson about observing local customs. Mike Vogl, Fort Collins, Colo.

Were they pampers or cloth?
It was party time in Kiev: Brightly dressed people filled the streets, music played, and parades marched by in honor of Kiev Day. A guy was offering his cute monkey for photos at 50¢ a pop, so I paid and he put his pet on my shoulder. The man placed him so his tail wrapped around my neck. Just as my husband snapped the photo, I felt warm liquid pour down my back. Later we noticed that all the other monkeys posing for pictures were wearing diapers. Jan Burak Schwert, Seattle, Wash.

We'd still be hanging from the tent pole
Near the end of my first day of game viewing in Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, my guide spotted a boomslang: a slender, venomous snake that spends most of its time in trees and hunts chameleons. Its bite can kill a person. Back in the camp, I worried about how snake-proof my accommodations were. Were they capable of keeping out puff adders, black mambas, and cobras? When it was time for bed, I slipped under the covers and felt something warm and clammy under my legs—and with snakes on my brain, I instantly levitated a full foot into the air. Whipping the blankets back, I discovered that some thoughtful soul had placed a hot water bottle under the sheets. What a relief! Dave Gibson, Nederland, Colo.

Restaurant, funeralit's an easy mistake
On a recent three-week trip to Southeast Asia, two friends and I were in Laos, and we were tired and hungry after riding bikes and playing ball with some kids on the grounds of a temple. We went looking for a restaurant filled with locals. Spotting a particularly crowded one, we walked in and stood looking for seats. Two old ladies came to the rescue and brought us each a low stool. There was no table or menu in sight, but we sat down and waited. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning around, I saw a young man who told us that we could not eat there. I asked why not. He said, "This isn't a restaurant—this is my mother's funeral." It was incredibly embarrassing, but we were thankful that we had been greeted so warmly, especially given the circumstances. Janie LaBree, St. Cloud, Minn.

But at least your French was good, right?
As part of my personal program to learn French a few years ago, I watched French news on cable; I saw many reports from the National Assembly, located in the Palais Bourbon. When I finally visited Paris for the first time, I went to the National Assembly to see if I could take a tour. A couple of guards were at the front gate, so I approached and asked in French about visiting the building. I surprised myself at how easily the French rolled off my tongue, but I was more surprised when one of the guards asked if I was a French citizen! "Non, je suis simplement un touriste américain," I explained. They complimented me on my French and, just as I thought they were about to invite me to enter, advised me to make an appointment to visit. John Watson, Sacramento, Calif.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship
My husband and I were on an extended trip to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. I had a terrible time trying to tell a lady at a deli counter that I wanted a certain amount of cheese, sliced. She was very patient with me. The next time I went in, about a week later, I had learned how to ask for what I wanted in Czech. As I approached the counter, the woman smiled and I smiled back. I said to her in Czech, "I need 10 grams of cheese, please." And she replied, "Sliced?" in the English that she had taken the time to learn. Kimberly King, Chicago, Ill.

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