We travel for pleasure and adventure and as author Pico Iyer so succinctly wrote, “We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world.” The excitement of exploring new landscapes, forging new friendships and discovering cultures so different from our own is, however, tinted with fear of the unknown, an awareness that the world is not always as welcoming and safe as imagined. Finding oneself alone and stranded — particularly off the beaten path and in a compromising situation — can frighten the bravest among us. A parent watching their child board a plane alone for the first time, a rite of passage but gut wrenching nonetheless, is terrifying. Travel is amazing for the soul but we all know in the depths of our beings that a fun adventure in the sun can turn into a life-altering nightmare. In honor of All Hallows’ Eve, here are 5 terrifying accounts of traveling gone horribly wrong.
Journalist Jason Motlagh travelled to Colombia and followed the journey of migrants who risk it all for the dream of a better life by hiking through the Darién Gap — “a lawless wilderness on the border of Colombia and Panama”. Risking robbery, kidnapping and death, Jason treks with a group of migrants accompanied by shady “guides” who don’t think twice of abandoning you in the jungle if you can’t keep up. A chilling travel reportage. Read it here.
I can feel the veins pulsing in my forehead, the fury of being left behind cut by sudden alarm. I am retracing my steps to the junction I passed earlier, unsure of my judgment, when the rustle of leaves stops me in my tracks.
Introducing your children to nature and teaching them wilderness skills is positive parenting yet in this case a father’s love of caving — and his desire to share it with his young sons —turned into a nightmare that nearly cost them their lives. Gary Lutes, a 20-year caving veteran, took his two boys on a road trip from their home in Florida to explore the New Trout Cave in West Virginia. After a series of unlucky events they ended up trapped in the cave for five days without water, food or light. Read it here.
Plunged in utter darkness, the three went numb. “Nobody really said much of anything other than the kids asking, ‘Are we gonna get out of here? Are we gonna get out of here?’ ” Lutes recalls. “I said, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna get out. I just gotta think.’ ” For two hours Lutes weighed the options. He thought of trying to crawl out with the boys clinging to his feet, but “I realized I couldn’t even find my way to the pack with a light,” Lutes admits. “How was I going to do it in total darkness?”
Sometimes a wrong turn can mean the difference between life and death. James and Kati Kim, and their two young daughters, were travelling from Portland, Oregon to the southern coast when they missed a turnoff and ended up on a treacherous road on the mountains. After calling it a night, their bad luck compounded when they woke up surrounded by deep snow. What happened next would change their lives forever. Read it here.
“We were in this big clearing,” she said. “We thought there was a good chance that a helicopter or an airplane would fly overhead and be able to see that.” Kati said.
But no one did.
The couple worried about tiny Sabine and Penelope, who was tired, cold and wanted a hot meal. By the third day, Kati Kim decided to breastfeed both her children.
“That was a big turning point for James,” she said, “as he was concerned about me getting enough food because he knew that I needed to have enough energy to breast feed both of the children.”
By the fifth day, the gas had run out and, along with it, the heat. Sabine had stopped smiling, Kati Kim said, and her cries became “very sad and thin.”
Erin was visiting South Africa when she joined a tour group who were going bungee jumping over the Zambezi River at Victoria Falls. It was a popular tourist destination and Erin was the 105th person to bungee jump that day. The bungee cord snapped, presumably due to wear and tear, and she plunged 111 meters into the crocodile-infested Zambezi River below — her feet still bound together by 10 meters of rope. She was pulled downriver and underwater into whirlpools, at some point, the cord got stuck and she was trapped below the surface. A terrifying tale that is sure to make you want to take bungee jumping off your bucket list. Read it here.
“After a few seconds, I felt a jolt across my chest. It seemed as if I slowed down for a second, then sped up. I could hear the wind rushing past my ears. Instinctively, I brought up my arms, locking my hands together. Then I felt myself hit the water – that’s when I realised something had gone wrong.
The sound of bubbles was so loud. I felt as if I had been slapped all over. My hands had stopped me hitting the water headfirst and blacking out. My lungs were on fire and I was struggling to breathe.”
In 1981 Yossi Ghinsberg — fresh out the army and travelling solo from his native Israel to Central America — meets a couple of fellow muchileros and decides to join them on a jaunt through the rainforest to discover a hidden tribe. After traveling on foot for weeks, the harsh environment, the lack of food (shooting monkeys for sustenance) and different personalities create tensions among the new pals that only intensify when they realize they are lost in the Bolivian Amazon. The party decides to break up into pairs: Yossi and a friend build a raft to float down river but get separated in the rapids. Yossi spends 3 weeks alone wandering aimlessly in the Amazon before collapsing and miraculously being rescued. Read it here.
“Disaster struck when they lost control of the raft as it neared a huge waterfall. Kevin somehow scrambled to shore but Ghinsberg was thrown over the waterfall.
“There were moments of great despair, but falling down that waterfall wasn’t one of them,” he says. “It was a rollercoaster ride which lasted for 15 or 20 minutes. It was all I could do to keep my head above water. When I finally arrived on the shore, I had a moment of complete exhilaration that I had survived. A few seconds later came the first feeling of disaster and despair. Even then, I thought it would only be a few hours until we connected again. The toughest moment was after a few days, when I realised that I was completely alone.”