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Fly The Fiery Skies [Sulleysque]

Come fly away to exotic locales!

Come fly away to exotic locales!

[Here’s an amazing yarn from our first octogenarian contributor, Bob Nielson, age 86…we’re not worthy! —Ed.]

Back in 1960 the Toronto Star sent me to South Africa to report black-white violence.  I boarded an American Airlines 6-propeller plane in New York, which crossed the Atlantic and stopped briefly at a few East African cities while heading south.  I had a window seat over the right wing and saw the nearest engine catch fire, shooting flames 30 feet high.  Called the flight attendant who ran to the cabin.  Turned off, that engine glowed like a red-hot coal.  We were over the jungle with no place for an emergency landing…

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Dumbo Strikes Back [Call of the Wild]


They say an elephant never forgets your face.

They say an elephant never forgets your face.

Gabon, New Year’s Eve, 2002:

She was about seven feet at the shoulder, with sixteen-inch tusks, and weighed two tons. I used to have zero fear. Zero. I could walk up to any elephant I saw. So when she charges, I bluff back, but it doesn’t stop her. I run to get between her and the group I’m with, including my girlfriend. The elephant’s got her head down, ears tucked, doing this kind of shuffle. I’m thinking, I’ve got about a second to stop this thing. She’s thinking, I’m going to kill you. Do I straight-arm her, or do I run? But when she gets within three feet, I take three steps to run and — boom — I trip and hit the ground.

I immediately turn… Continue reading

Love on the Road, Love on the Rocks [War of the Roses]
February 10, 2009, 9:58 pm
Filed under: Africa, Air Travel, Rough Landings, Uncategorized, War of the Roses | Tags: , ,

Your fault.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’re gathering stories about romantic debacles while traveling. Who could possibly not have one to share? A good friend once prefaced a shocker of his own with the sage advice, ‘Never go to Europe with a brand new girlfriend.’ Now, just maybe, you’re wincing in recognition. This is good. Tell us why.

Names can be changed. Names probably should be changed. Send your story of 300 words or less to:

Lost Highway [Close Calls]

Hey, hello, where are you from mister? You like soccer? It was January of 1997, and I was enroute from Kara, Togo, to Ougadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, hoping to continue on to Mali and Timbuktu. Flights were pricey, so I was going by taxi brousse, or bush taxi, one of the zillion converted Peugot 504 station wagons that ply the washboard highways at suicidal speeds, piled high with baskets and passengers and the odd live chicken. And this guy – call him Mister Friendly – who wouldn’t leave me alone. He wore a dirty windbreaker and spoke with his head tipped to one side, leering, and a bit goggle-eyed.

You American? I lied that I wasn’t, but it didn’t faze him. Sitting in the front seat, the cabine, I hand-rolled cigarettes and stared dead ahead, ignoring him, until the taxi suddenly lurched to the side of the road. Time to pray. Several of the men, including MF, dropped rugs in the dirt and prostrated themselves in the direction of Mecca.

Suddenly a gigantic woman who had been sitting in the last seat blotted out my window. “You see that man?” she hissed in French, staring at me with bulging eyes. “The one talking to you?” He glanced over, but couldn’t hear. “You stop talking to him! He works this line,” she said, going on to describe in colorful French how I was soon to be attacked for my worldly possessions, such as they were. She parked her enormous self in front of my window, a sentinel. Merci, I croaked, trying to seem unconcerned, but my blood had turned to ice. I was alone, hundreds of miles from a phone or embassy. I pulled out a knife to pare my nails, but it didn’t calm me. Getting out was unthinkable—it would be getting dark soon. I tried to make friends with the driver, but he ignored me. This is not good, I thought. Not good at all.

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Gentlemen, Destroy Your Engines! [Hall of Infamy]

Thought your last drive to Long Island and back was tough? In his April 2006 feature story ‘Gentlemen, Destroy Your Engines!‘ writer Jason Daley braves something, well, meatier: ‘The Banger Rally, a 4,500-mile blitz from England to the Sahara in which globe-trotting wrench-heads, posh speed freaks, and sand-blinded adventurers crank up the crazy and stomp on the gas.’  ( Enjoy!

Excerpt: THE SONS OF HASSELHOFF, GEOFF AND MARK, slipped their newly minted driver’s licenses into their wallets, donned custom-printed t-shirts displaying the album covers of the beloved Knight Rider/pop singer, hopped into their tiny 1986 Volkswagen Golf 1.6 CL, and headed south out of Reading, a commuter suburb west of London. Down in the English Channel port of Poole, meanwhile, the Conedodgers, a team consisting of brewpub designer Declan Hicks and marine mechanic Ed Parke, were playing Tetris with 12 cases of Carlsberg beer, concealing the suds beneath a plywood pantry they’d crammed into their 1992 Volvo Estate wagon. In London, Benja Hedley and Denis Meehan, the Badger Racing boys, hitched the shabby camper they’d purchased on eBay behind their 1984 4×4 Mitsubishi Montero Magnum, then gave each other ceremonial Mohawks before motoring out of town…

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High In Hell [Narcotourism]

In 2007 the writer Kevin Fedarko got himself all the way to Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, to take khat, a chewable, psychoactive diversion shared by 99.9% of the male population. Here’s his amazing, hilarious account, from Esquire, November, 2007. 

Excerpt: So if you ever happen to find yourself skimming through the troposphere high above the Horn of Africa, the engines of your cargo jet clawing at the currents of sub-Saharan air rolling off the lip of the Ethiopian plateau and down toward the Red Sea, there will come a moment when you’ll have to admit that the cockpit of an aging DC-8 with a broken oil-pressure gauge and a washed-out picture of a Ugandan mountain gorilla emblazoned on the tail offers a damn fine view of the most wretched place on the planet…