Finding our Zen in tasc
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Finding our Zen in tasc

tasc Performance

Carrie and Chris are two newlywed New Yorkers with a passion for adventure, traveling and the outdoors.  Exactly one year after their wedding, they embarked on a six-month backpacking trip around the world. Throughout their worldly adventures, Carrie and Chris traveled to destinations with wildly different climates.  They needed to be equipped for every situation and tasc Performance was their go-to for gear.  From backpacking in the sizzling heat of Brazil to hiking high in the frigid temperatures of the Himalayas, or even sightseeing in Italy, their tasc gear proved to be the right choice without fail.  Check out their blog to hear more about their excursions and how tasc Performance gear enhanced their experience along the way!

By Chris and Carrie

It’s easy to feel Zen in a beautiful, exotic place. We had a lot of these moments on our trip, like watching the sun rise over the towers of Ankor Wat or doing yoga on the beaches of a small Thai island or experiencing a candle-lighting ceremony at a Buddhist temple. When surrounded by stunning beauty, it’s hard not to feel calm and peace. Sometimes, the feeling of Zen enveloped us like a thick fog, melting away any stressors and bringing us back to our center.

But there were also moments when the going got rough, and shook us straight off our balance. Want to learn about our three favorite panic moments and how we dealt? Great. Read on.

A Hostile Hostel Experience

Our very first hostel experience in Brazil was like a bad reality TV show. Dirty floors, stained sheets, bugs everywhere, stuck windows, broken AC, a green pool, and the company of loud hostel-mates pumping techno until 2am, making it impossible to even try to get some shut-eye in our rickety old hostel bunk beds.

 

We survived 1 long night (thanks to bringing our silk sleep sacks and never letting our bare feet touch the floor), and then promptly left for more suitable hotel. It may have been 3X the price, but it was worth it in spades for the sanity and sleep that we got in return.  The hostel owner didn’t seem to understand why we wanted to leave, but luckily the language barrier protected both of our feelings.

The Flight From Hell

As seasoned travelers, we know the score when it comes to air travel. Plan for the unexpected.  So when we planned to fly from Buenos Aires to our home in NYC for Christmas, we chose to to give ourselves a little 24 hour buffer in the event of delays. What we didn’t plan for was 36 hours of travel HELL. We left Buenos Aires on a Dec 22nd 5PM flight bound for Sao Paolo, where we would transfer (with a generous layover) to a red-eye flight to NYC. The first plane left right on time and we let the visions of sugar plum fairies dance in our heads as we envisioned a happy Christmas with our family. But just 10 minutes before our scheduling landing in Sao Paolo, I noticed something funny on the flight’s realtime travel map: The plane’s destination had changed to Rio de Janeiro. There was no announcement from the pilot. No indication from the flight attendants. No ding or sound. It was like we blinked, and suddenly the little red dot moved from one Brazilian city to another – and not the one in which we had a scheduled flight to NYC.

Passengers started to ask questions, some started to panic about connecting flights. After what felt like an eternity of uncertainty, the pilot came on and explained that due to strong storms in Sao Paolo, the plane would have to land in Rio. We’d refuel and then fly back to Sao Paolo when the storms cleared. Chris and I had 3 hours to make our next flight home for Christmas!

We sat on the tarmac in Rio for hours. Chris stared out the window, anxiously waiting for the fuel truck to arrive. The pilot made more announcements, more apologies. We watched the clock tick away. 9:45. 10:00. 10:15. 11:00. They served us some water and hard candies. There was no food; everyone was hungry, everyone was tired. Passengers began to commiserate about their holiday plans and the sinking realization that they wouldn’t make it. The woman across the aisle told us that she was supposed to host Christmas Eve dinner for 26 people in her Florida home in less than 24 hours, and still had to do all the food shopping and cooking. I didn’t have the heart to tell her how foolish her plan sounded. She already knew.

Finally, the fuel truck arrived! A few minutes later we were airborne back to Sao Paolo. We touched down at 12:30am. This was over an hour after our connecting flight was due to depart, but the storms had caused delays in departures as well as landings. There was still hope. We frantically de-planed and raced around the Sao Paolo airport to find out if our plane home was still there. Turns out it had taken off 15 minutes ago.

Now came the fun part: Get in line with hundreds of other angry and cranky passengers and try to get on a new flight home in time for Christmas.

 There was ONE gate agent. He was flailing. We split up: Chris stood in line while I called our travel company. They couldn’t help us, since the airline had to make the rebooking and manage the overflow of passengers. After a few minutes of lots of pushing and shouting in Portuguese, Chris realized that the idea of an orderly line was not being respected by anyone, and doing so would only mean he got helped dead last. So he wiggled his way to the front, shoved our passports at the gate agent and begged for his help. UNBELIEVABLY, we got on a flight. We couldn’t get a flight out until the next evening, but beggars can’t be choosers. We were scheduled to get home on Christmas Eve and that was good enough for us.

Even though we technically had seats, we still didn’t feel at ease. We knew the plane was way overbooked and that we could get bumped. We knew more storms were possible, it is the tropics, after all. And worst of all, now our luggage had gone missing. The airline was putting all of the stranded guests up in a hotel, but we couldn’t leave the airport until we found our bags.  Together with nine other jilted travelers all bound for NYC on the same flight as we were, we banded together, refusing to let the airline tell us that they’d turn up overnight and would be automatically placed on our rescheduled flights (Yeah. Right.) This search & rescue operation took roughly 4 hours, but this unlikely posse of strangers stuck together in our pursuit for luggage, and ultimately the airline could not ignore such a large and vocal group. One by one the bags turned up, but no one left until the last bag was found. By 6:30am we arrived via shuttle bus to a shifty hotel, together. I often think about those fellow travelers… it was a bonding moment with total strangers, proving the basic goodness and loyalty in most people.

We got a few hours of sleep and got to the airport by 1pm for our 7pm flight. We didn’t care about sitting in an airport for 7 hours. We just wanted to guarantee a seat on that plane to home! And the Christmas miracle was that we made it, just in time for Christmas Eve dinner.  

Once bitten, twice shy

The biggest crisis of the trip happened in Asia: Chris got bitten by a tiger. Yes, that’s not a typo, and that’s not a tall tale. In fairness, it was a baby tiger, but have you ever seen baby tiger fangs?

We decided to visit one of Thailand’s famous tiger parks called Tiger Kingdom, where tourists can visit with trained tigers up close and personal. This sounded like a truly unique experience and we were keen to do it. None of the tigers are older than 3 years, because at that point they get too aggressive and unruly. This should have been a clue. But still, we went.

First we visited with the “medium” tigers, which are basically full-grown giant tigers. To pet a full-grown tiger just feels unnatural, and we were both feeling very uneasy, hyper-aware that at any moment, we could turn into lunch.

Next, we visited with the baby tigers. These guys were so cute! They were sort of like dog-sized house cats, but much more playful and soft. Following all of the rules set forth by the Tiger Kingdom, we pet them, laid on the floor with them, and contemplated trying to sneak one out under our shirt because they were just so darn cute.


 

But then, it happened. As we sat on the floor petting them, one of the trainers started antagonizing a tiger kitten with a toy, trying to get it to play. The little guy batted away the toy and growled. He then walked around behind Chris I heard a little sound and – what – the tiger had bitten Chris on the back! Thankfully, it was a playful nip and didn’t look so bad, at first. But apparently human flesh takes a few minutes to react to an abrasion wound caused by the sharp drag of a tiger's fangs, because the bite soon became swollen, angry, and bloodied. This meant an intense conversation with the Tiger Kingdom staff where they tried to tell us “no big deal, just go home” and then (ironically), “Here take some tiger balm, put on wound to make better.”

This is where things got really intense. We had to make ourselves heard. Chris needed medical attention, and we needed the Tiger Kingdom staff to help us. Few people of their staff spoke great English, and as soon as there was a problem, they all seemed to disappear. Finally after some serious huffing and puffing – they took us to see the Veterinarian on-call. He spoke English and was able to help us, and ultimately we did seek proper medical care in the form of two trips to the Thai ER.

The result was that Chris would need a series of five rabies vaccine shots for the next month—which meant visits to clinics and hospitals in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Nepal. Each journey to a foreign ER was like a new adventure. In one hospital, there was no medical staff. It was like a ghost hospital, where only the patients survived. After roaming the halls for 30 minutes, we found a nurse who spoke no English and actually shooed us away with her hand. We did leave immediately (because what else could we do?) and tried another hospital in another town the next day. With the next shot, we found a clinic. The staff there couldn’t administer the shot, but were willing to give us the vaccine in a cooler and told me to give it to Chris myself (huh?). So we took the shot (packed on ice) and trekked that thing in a cooler all the way across the Thai-Cambodian border on foot, sure that we would be searched and possibly arrested for having a needle. Luckily border control didn’t seem to care at all! And yet at another small clinic the “doctor” (nicknamed The Dirty Doc, I’m not kidding) came out to see us in a ratty white T-shirt with a giant coffee stain on the front. These hospital visits caused us no end of stress and worry!

Duped, Delayed and Distressed

I wish I could say these were the only moments of headache and frustration. There was a panicky Brazilian boat ride through open Atlantic waves. There was the discount airfare that was actually a scam and forced us to re-buy our tickets on-site. There was a massive storm in Bali that flooded the entire island and left us wondering if we’d ever be able to go home. There was a bus transfer in Nepal that left the entire bus full of people stranded on the side of a single-lane mountain road as they cleared away a fatal car accident in front of us. There was an overnight train in northern Vietnam that derailed. With us on it.

Luckily we survived these moments and always managed to find our Zen. Most of the time, it involved deep breaths and surrendering to the travel Gods. When you’re long-term traveling, there are a lot of unknowns. We employed the strategy of preparedness and patience when navigating all of these uncertainties. #1 – Always bring a snack. You never know when you’re going to be stuck on a train or plane or side of the mountain and need something to eat, like now. #2 – Always dress in layers. You never know when the AC will break or the bus will break down on the side of a sweltering (or freezing) road. #3 – Always stay cool. Remember that you represent your country, and that every culture is different when it comes to fixing problems. We missed buses. We were locked out of train tickets. We got lost. But we always figured it out, eventually… usually with the help of a genuine smile and some good old non-verbal communication.