Thursday, December 2, 2010

Travel without regrets

If I had to pick the worst place I've ever been, it just might be Termez, Uzbekistan (pictured). But I don't regret passing through one bit. I had gone with some friends to the southern town to cross the border into Afghanistan for a short visit to Mazar-e Sharif. (This was back in late 2004, when the situation there seemed relatively optimistic.) Though our paperwork was all in order, the Uzbeks didn't want us to leave. As we seemed to be the only four tourists in the entire country at that particular time, I guess I don't really blame them. After a day wasted at the dusty border, shelling almonds and eating them with the guards, we were stuck. Most of the town was blacked out and running water was in short supply as well. By calling on some connections, we learned there were two places we could stay: a hulking empty school building, or a little house that didn't look like it had been occupied since the 1970s. We chose the house, picking our way down a dark back alley to reach the door.

Thus settled in, we found a surprisingly lively little restaurant serving the usual fare of kebabs and grease-covered soup, and then made for the local "disko bar," a sleazy number in the basement of the Hotel Surkhan patronized largely by German and Dutch soldiers stationed at the nearby military base and the Uzbek women who come to try and snag a foreign husband or at least some cash on the bedside table. Fueled by plenty of beer and vodka, the night we spent dancing there is one of my most murkily memorable.

I've been lucky in that I feel I've had very few -- if any -- truly regrettable travel experiences. Though there's been plenty of times I've kicked myself for embarking on some ill-thought-out venture -- usually an endless walk along some unpleasant thoroughfare, or perhaps an interminable bus ride to some shuttered sight -- it's stumbling upon the best darn shawarma joint in Tripoli, cracking jokes with the bored ticket-takers at an empty resort area near Fethiye, or getting a private tour in the pouring rain of the ruins of an old Irish church that stick with me. Though I do still regret not shoving my way onto that packed minibus to the Rila Monastery in Bulgaria. Next time I won't take no for an answer.

NOTE: Tomorrow I'll be featuring stories from other Lonely Planet-affiliated travel bloggers about their own "regrettable trips."

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