My five scariest travel stories

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Photo by Chait Goli on

Halloween is here everyone! It’s my favourite time of year but last year I was too busy being depressed to actually enjoy it. This year, I’m going all out. I’m re-watching American Horror Story back to back, I’m wearing all-black on purpose, and I’ve shortlisted my Halloween costume ideas down to 57. In my teaching job, I work with everything from adults in their 50s to little kids and I’ll be damned if I don’t try to scare the shit out of every last one of them. I LOVE Halloween.

I got so caught up in bulk buying fake blood that I forgot to draft the post I was going to write this week, so instead, I thought I would give you a countdown of some of the scariest things that have happened to me during my travels.

No actual ghosts are involved, it’s just a collection of first world problems, but it fits with the time of year, so whatever.

5. Bloodbath in (an area moderately close to) Barcelona

In my younger and more alcoholic years, I played a lot of university sports and with that came many excuses to binge drink and be a general mess. In the second year of my degree I was charged with co-organising a sports tour to Salou, which might be really nice now, but in my memory exists as a horrific tourist trap full of inebriated teens and people from Barnsley. Despite this, we had an enjoyable few days making out with football players and being sick in bushes.

The bloodbath part of this tale occurred during the third night of our stay. A group of us procured some 89% proof absinthe and in a haze of near-blindness, ended up taking part in a dares contest outside a nightclub. One of our team slipped in the middle of a cartwheel-off and landed face first on the ground, splitting her head open in the process. As co-organiser of the trip I was supposed to be the authority figure and was therefore tasked with taking her to hospital. Unfortunately, I had ingested so much absinthe that I had gone temporarily blind.

Long story short, we made it to the hospital, they stitched my friend up and she was fine. But still ranks highly in scary moments for me, twenty years old at the time, trying to pretend to be a responsible adult when I couldn’t even remember my own name. I was also removed from the hospital for taking photos.

Moral of the story – don’t drink and cartwheel. Matter of fact, don’t drink and do anything, just stay indoors.
4. Fighting a werewolf in Virginia

When I was seventeen I got to experience a proper, balls-out American Halloween. I was temporarily living in Suffolk, Virginia, on a school exchange, and to celebrate Halloween, our host families took us to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.  It’s still up there amongst the top ten best days of my life because we got to eat deep-fried Oreos and then puke them up on amazing rollercoasters. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was when it began to get dark and the theme park turned into a full-on fright fest, complete with actors in worryingly realistic costumes, terrorising visitors.

My sister – who is significantly braver than me – some friends and I, stumbled across a haunted house, which involved aforementioned actors in very convincing makeup jumping out at you from all angles. It was TERRIFYING.

We all know that the human brain, when faced with abject terror, tends to adopt a ‘fight or flight’ response. Despite being a huge wimp, I definitely fall into the former category. When a ‘werewolf’ came out from under a table as we turned a corner, instead of screaming like a normal person, I roundhouse kicked him in the head and sprinted out of the house screaming profanities. It probably looked really awesome, but I would like to publicly express my deepest apologies to the poor haunted house worker.

3. Accidentally joining a gang in Beijing

I took a cheeky trip to Beijing five years ago to visit my boyfriend at the time, who had been working there. This being my first time in Asia, it was a bit of a culture shock, but nevertheless a great experience. After spending 36 years trying to find some semblance of a bar one evening (we weren’t in the expat area), we found a small, relaxed place with an adjoining terrace. It was very busy and about an hour into our beers, a group of young guys turned up on motorbikes. Thanks to a long-standing creepy obsession with Sons of Anarchy, I’ve always secretly wanted to join a biker gang, so I was understandably excited.

The biker crew sat down at a nearby table and almost immediately, people started leaving in droves. The bar staff started being exceptionally nice to the group, even ignoring other customers at their expense. The whole atmosphere changed.

It turned out they were a real life biker gang – confirmed when the leader removed his leather jacket to reveal a full back tattoo, apparently a sign of gang affiliation in the area. They were actually super nice and, even though they didn’t speak a word of English and I can only curse in Mandarin, we had a cheeky shot from across the bar. I was sceptical as to whether they were a real gang, they seemed too friendly.

The next day we saw the tattooed guy beating the living crap out of an older dude down an alleyway. He waved at us as we scuttled past.

My membership is still pending.

2. Almost getting arrested in Marrakesh

Same travel companion as China, different continent. Travelling in Morocco was an amazing but also slightly weird experience, not least because we almost ended up in jail.

On our last morning in the city, we were wandering around the main square when, for no apparent reason, we were surrounded by police who started shouting at my then-boyfriend in Arabic. When he made it clear he didn’t understand them, they tried again in French, which made things worse, especially when he started arguing back to them.

It quickly became apparent that they had no idea interracial couples existed and instead, thought he was a street seller, one of the many  young guys who’d come up to Morocco from further south on the continent – many of them were selling souvenirs on the street to make some cash and often, weren’t doing so legally. It turned out that the cops had seen us together and assumed that he was harassing me.

Luckily, I am very good at pretending I know several languages (I mean, I know two, so that’s pretty good), and I managed to remember enough French to tell them he was my husband and we were on our honeymoon. The officers stopped shouting, suddenly remembered they were fluent in English and were instantly super nice to us and let us continue on our way.

I didn’t realise at the time how close we had been to getting arrested – a similar thing happened to a friend a few months later. She met a local boy who offered to show her around on his motorbike and, due to a similar comical misunderstanding, that guy spent the night in jail.

1. Almost getting taken to an angry god in New Mexico

My mum used to live in the States and our family has subsequently cultivated a connection to the state of New Mexico and to the Zuni, a Native American community based there. When I was ten, I spent some time on the Zuni reservation and also had the scariest experience of my damn life.

The Zuni still practice their own religion and traditions and have their own unique children’s stories and legends. I’ll never forget the day one of them literally came to life. I was sitting in a school with my friend B when a bunch of shirtless dudes rolled through wearing clay masks. They were silent and they were moving slowly, in a pack. They were obviously human men in masks but everyone lost their shit, even one or two of the teachers were freaking out and hiding under tables. Nobody appeared to be trying to stop them.

When I tried to ask B what was happening, she motioned for me to shut up and we stayed silent until they left. Nothing happened, nobody got kidnapped or beaten up, but it was a deeply unsettling experience. I found out later that the group were a representation of servants to a Zuni deity. Their focus was on badly-behaved children
and if you were out of line, they would scoop you up take you to their boss. Most of the kids, especially the older ones, were well aware that they were real people and not ghostly figures, but that didn’t stop them from cacking themselves and, to be honest, I was right there with them.

B later told me that her parents had once even called them to her house, following a big fight with her brother, and the threat of that happening was enough to keep a large proportion of Zuni kids in line. I know I stopped being naughty after that.

That concludes my five moderately scary things that happened to me or in the vicinity of me. Happy Halloween everyone!

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