Encore des faux pas

Typed on Gionny’s repulsive Olivetti Lettera 22

More foot in mouth adventures

While writing our previous blog about embarrassments I realised there was not enough space for all my foot in mouth experiences. Here’s a few more. Now I’m beginning to think there maybe enough for a book – a very large book!

encore des faux pas, a ferry in Guatemala
Encore des faux pas
Not an airport in Korea but a ferry in Guatemala – but then, what the heck, what’s in a name?

Indeed, what’s in a name?

1997, in transit in Seoul, South Korea with several hours before my next flight. I was in the middle of a really good book and after eating I decided to go to my gate where I could simply read, people watch and relax.

Gradually the departure gate began to swell with people for the flight prior to mine. The usual pre flight announcements were made none of which I paid attention to. Why should I, my flight was not for another two hours? People dutifully started to board the plane. I casually listened to a PA announcement about a Doctor Oberts who was late. I wickedly sniggered to myself that Doctor Oberts was about to miss his flight. 

Then, as it became apparent they were about to close the gate, one of the airline staff approached me.

She asked me: “Are you Doctor Oberts?”

“No, my name is David Roberts.” I correctly replied, a little indignantly.

“May I see your boarding pass please?”

At this precise moment my brain engaged!

With a mixture of horror and embarrassment I quickly computed three things:

1. Doctor Oberts was actually remarkably similar to D Roberts.

2. I had not changed my watch to local time – my ‘flight in two hours’ was actually NOW.

3. Dr Oberts was about to miss his flight and he wouldn’t be having the last laugh!

The gate attendant confirmed all my calculations with a simple: “There’s a typo on your boarding card.” Said with more than a little righteous indignation!

You know that feeling when you are sitting on the plane and it’s not leaving because of a late arrival? And how you make exasperated gestures and tap your watch as the scoundrel scurries up the aisle all sweaty and flustered? Yep, I was made to feel justifiably guilty.

Encore des faux pas
North American Black Bear
Encore des faux pas
North American Black Bear

Bears: big fluffy and cuddly animals.

Way back in the 90s, I think. Oh god, since starting to write these blogs I’ve begun to regret not keeping a diary or journal. The stories I relate are always clear and fresh in my memory. But dates and names are a real problem. If any of our readers were present during any of the stories I relate and see an anomaly in dates, names and places please speak up.

Anyway, during the latter end of the previous century I was in British Columbia in western Canada. I was there as part of Greenpeace’s Forest Campaign. I’d been mandated to help organise a series of direct actions around old growth timber extraction sites. The first action was on a logging camp with 15 activists.

The Hurry up and wait

Generally during the early stages of most direct actions there is the “hurry up and wait” scenario.

Everybody is psyched up with adrenalin and apprehensive as to what might happen; how will the workers react, will there be violence, how will I react, will I be arrested etc. Sometimes the action can indeed be just a “hurry up” situation and be over very quickly, with or without violence. Often though, the workers and management are taken by surprise and will wait for the police to deal with the situation. This is the “wait” stage.

In this particular situation we’d successfully stopped all the logging operations and the workers simply reacted by getting in their trucks and leaving. A bit of an anti climax, but it was obvious they’d return, either with reinforcements or the police. We settled down to wait.

Generally people started to relax and unlocked themselves from the various machinery they’d been chained to knowing we’d have plenty of time to eventually re-position.

Suddenly there was an enormous commotion from the bushes. My first thought that who ever was taking a toilet break was making an enormous noise and doing a lot of damage to the undergrowth while doing it. I did a quick head count and realised nobody was missing.

Then the cause of all the kerfuffle appeared. A FUCKING GREAT BIG BEAR.

Several things very quickly went through my mind at that moment:

1. One of my responsibilities as the co-ordinator on an action was the security and safety of the activists. And this was one scenario I definitely hadn’t thought about; even less prepared for.

2. Any high moralistic thoughts I had about saving the planet dissipated very quickly as the only thing I had in mind to save just then was ME. ‘Fuck the environment’ I think was my mantra at that moment.

3. Could I make the safety of a nearby log cabin with a record-breaking sprint? I must have been thinking of that t-shirt: “I’m an explosives expert, if you see me running try to keep up.”

We all made it to the cabin and turned to look at the bear. It stood there watching this spectacle unfolding in front of it; then turned and sauntered nonchalantly away from us up a dirt road. I’m sure it was shaking its head.

Soon after, a media van turned up and we related our encounter to the film crew. The journalist explained that black bears are the least aggressive species of bears in Canada and very easy to disperse by making yourself seem as big as possible and by making as much noise as possible. There was a postscript to this advice. What to do if you got between a mother and her cub. I eagerly waited for him to continue: “run like fuck,” he said. Oh great!

A rather humbling and, most definitely, humiliating episode

Encore des faux pas
No night out in Mexico City is complete without Mariachi band.

How to miss a bus – this time without a chicken in sight.   

On January 7th 2020 at 1830 I took a bus from Mexico City to Chetumal, on the Caribbean coast. Given the earlier statement about my problems with names and dates this is a curiously pedantic and precise date and time. Well, it was only a few months ago! Actually the reality is rather more prosaic. A few days ago I was clearing out my backpack and loitering in the detritus at the bottom was the actual bus ticket!

I’d arrived in Mexico City on New Year’s Eve from Europe at the start of my Central America tour.

This is a useful tip for wannabe travellers. Very few people travel on New year’s eve and even less on Christmas day – people are generally already in position well before the festivities start. However, in order to maintain their schedules the airlines still need to fly on those days. Albeit with vastly reduced passenger numbers and, even better, heavily discounted fares.

In Mexico City I stayed with very dear friends and even started to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Alas, jet lag caught up with me and I fell asleep before midnight. No big deal because for the next few days I had a great time with my friends. Even enduring a minor earthquake. But then, to borrow an adage from my father, “like fish, visitors start to go off after a few days.” Never wanting to overstay my welcome with friends it was time to head south.

Compared to those chicken buses, that I was lyrical about in previous posts, long distance buses in Mexico are luxurious. Reservations are compulsory so there are no standing passengers. There are, wait for a small drum roll, toilets! Videos are also shown. However, there’s only one and no individual headphones. Generally the films are dubbed second-rate Hollywood garbage played at full volume. I think on setting number 11.

I was going to be on board for 22 hours

At some ungodly hour in the middle of the night we arrived in the city of Villahermosa. Here we were told we had a meal break for an hour. I ate and returned to the bus stand with 15 minutes to spare. The bus was gone.

Brain goes into overdrive!

My thought processes went something like this:

1. “Oh bother” I thought.

Actually that was a sanitised version of the reality: “Shit, fuck, bugger, damn.”

2. My luggage has gone.

3. I have the essentials (passport, wallet and book) in my small backpack.

4. Perhaps my big backpack will be waiting for me when I eventually arrive in Chetumal.

5. If backpack is gone forever I have the means to replace the contents. Seriously annoying but c’est la vie.

6. I start to get pissed off.

7. I say: “Shit, fuck, bugger damn.” again 

8. Start looking for somebody to vent my anger and frustration on.

Spying the booking office I sallied forth on my quest for explanation and justice. A very indulgent agent calmly told me my bus had not left and gave me the stand number.

I reluctantly walked away, knowing that goddam bus wouldn’t be there. I glanced back and saw the woman making a gesture, which I interpreted as “further, further.” I unenthusiastically obeyed. I reached the number of the bus stand she’d given me.

There, in all its glory was my bus!

Then I realisedI was in exactly the same place as when I discovered the bus had left without me. Except that I was facing 180 degrees in the OPPOSITE direction.

Encore des faux pas – Feel free to ask if I felt really, really stupid.

 There are other far more humiliating incidents I COULD relate. But wild horses would not drag them out of me. Particularly as some of our audience maybe of a nervous disposition!

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