The 25 times I almost died
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1) When I got Malaria 4 times in one summer in Ghana, West Africa. I was traveling alone for the summer, was 19, and had never heard of a guidebook (can you believe that?) So, basically I was totally on my own, and kept getting sicker and sicker, until the doctors in the African hospital really thought I was not going to make it. Well, I eventually got strong enough to get on a plane and fly back to the States, where I fully recovered.
2) When I climbed Pacaya volcano in Guatemala and it exploded while I was at the crater's edge. This was a really stupid thing to do, but when you travel you kind of feel invincible. I had heard that it was a really cool place to hike, so I went up with one of my friends. We had heard there was a path all the way to the crater's edge. What we didn't realize was that that meant the old crater. We found the path a little too easy, so we went off the path, and headed toward the crater making our own way. But we headed to the new crater, the active one. When we got to the top, we could see the lava boiling down at the bottom. All of a sudden the mountain started to shake and roar louder than a lion, and stones of molten lava were being thrown up into the air. By some amazing miracle of God, none of the rocks hit either one of us, although our hair was burned off by the explosion, and our faces were covered in black ash. We looked like coal miners when we came off the mountain.
3) The time I decided to follow my buddy along a cliff-side path high above the crashing waves in Puerto Vallarta. The drop off got higher and higher, and the path got narrower and narrower. I'm afraid of heights, so I don't do well when I have to make decisions at that height. We were a couple of hundred feet above the rocks and waves, when the path came to an end, and we had to hug the cliff--no ropes, no safety nothing. My friend just kept going, and I kept following. For some really stupid reason, I took I a step with the wrong foot and almost slipped, so I grabbed the cliff, but ended up with my back to the cliff and me facing the open ocean. Only the heals of my boots were on the cliff, the rest of my boots were hanging out into the clear air. I froze. I just stayed there for minute after minute as my friend tried to talk me through it. There was a huge gap in the rock face between my feet. I contemplating just diving off head first into the rocks to make sure I would die quickly, but then thought, what if I don't die? What if I end up paralyzed? So I just stayed, there for something like 5 mintutes. Finally, I decided to go for all or nothing. I pushed myself off the rock and spun around one heal. My buddy was on a ledge a little above me, so as I spun I threw him my arm. He grabbed my arm, just as my boot slipped, and I was dangling in the air held up only by his arm. I regained my footing, this time facing the cliff again. My friend convinced me to keep going, and we actually climbed up further and higher, and got up to an amazing overlook. Then we had to go back! But I survived.
4) The time I double booked myself on two dates with two different girls on one night. Let's just say, it wasn't pretty. I was young and I was stupid. I hope they forgave me.
5) The time I got stopped by corrupt policemen in Mexico in my new BMW. I swear they were going to kill me and take my car. They separated me and my friends and took me around back. Just then, one of the cops got a call on his radio, and they had to leave, and I got back to my friends. We were all frightened, but ok, and we went on with our trip.
6) Mexico City, September 19, 1985. This was the day of the massive Mexico City earthquake. You never feel so scared as when the earth beneath you shakes. There is no where to go, all you can do is listen to the buildings crack, the glass break, and people scream. All you can do is hope that the place you are standing does not get burried in rubble. I survived, many thousands of others didn't.
7) The time I took a 6 man raft down the Gauley River. This river has the wildest of white water that is commercially raftable. Most people go down in 8 or 12 people rafts. We thought we were tough, so we went for the little raft. We flipped at the worst place, along with three other large rafts. I got caught in a washing machine, and spun around about 12 times before it finally let me go. One guy went under an undercut rock, and luckily got spit out. I got banged up by rocks, and managed to get on the raft again only to have to ride it alone with no paddle. Everyone survived, but no one was left without cuts, bruises, and a wounded ego.
8) The time I was 15 and decided to go on my first solo backpacking trip--to the mountains of Oaxaca. I don't know why I didn't choose an easier trip. I spent two weeks hiking through the Indian villages sleeping on the mud floors of friendly families. The problem came when I found out that the village I was staying had slain two Evangelical Christians the week before, and had proclaimed itself off limits to non-Catholics. Well, my family has for generations been part of the minority Evangelical community in Latin America, so my life was under threat. They asked me point blank if I was Catholic, and since I could not even say a rosary, there was no point in lying. They decided to let me off the hook since they could see that I was basically harmless, but I left feeling that I should definitely not have wandered up there on my own.
9) The time I decided to ride in a taxi in India.
10) The time I was five minutes late leaving home for work, and a car bomb went off exactly along my route to the office. If I had left on time, I would have been right around where the car bomb went off.
11) The time I agreed to fly on Tajik Air from Dushanbe to Khojand. They don't have a checked luggage system (you load the plane up yourself), the Yak-40 was missing a good portion of the seat backs, there were no seatbelts, wires that shorted every few minutes were hanging from the ceiling, and there was ducktape holding the plane together. Why did I do that?
12) The time I forgot to look before crossing the street in Tashkent. A car sped past me going 100 kilometers an hour, barely missing me. It was all my fault.
13) The time I went to a camp in Mexico and got typhoid. We found out later they were serving us water out of the same trough that the cows were drinking from.
14) The first time my wife-to-be cooked for me. Instead of thanking her, I complained about the salt, and it almost cost me my life! Not really, but it should have.
15) On my honeymoon in Fiji, we decided to take a hike to a waterfall. As we were walking up the path, my foot slipped off the cliff, and before anyone could understand what happened, I was dropping into nothingness. I did manage to grab a root of a tree as I went off the cliff, and managed to pull myself back up within seconds. It's almost like it didn't happen, it all happened so quickly, and the only evidence of my near-death experience was the mud all along my shirt and legs.
16) The time I was 9 and got lost in the supermarket. I really did think that was the end for me.
17) The time I fixed myself a pizza, and made it with a can of botulism-infested tomato paste. I ate one slice and spent the rest of the night voilently ill, so sick I WANTED to die. After there was no food left in me, I kept throwing up the bile. It's gross, but true. If I had eaten the whole pizza, I would have died.
18) The time I took the wrong route from Kabul to Bamiyan when I had just moved to Afghanistan. Instead of taking the safe northern route, in ignorance, I took the southern route through the war zone. I didn't realize the danger until we met a convoy of American coalition forces on the hunt for Taliban fighters in the zone we had just crossed.
19) The time I decided that I would not pay a bribe to the Russian border guard in Tajikistan. He wasn't going to kill me, but did get immense pleasure out of forcing me to squat for hours in punishment for not giving him a bribe. The longer the torture continued, the more stubborn I became to not pay, and the angrier the soldier got. A passing taxi driver finally paid the 50 cent bribe, and my legs decided that it would have better to have been cut off than to endure so much pain. In the end, I survived with all my limbs intact, and a good comprehension of how angry the Russian language can make a person sound.
20) The time my and my buddy kidnapped a crooked safari operator in Arusha, Tanzania after he had scammed us of our money. We forced him to pay the money back, which he did in single dollar bills--all $1200 USD. But after we got the money back, and released the scrawny little guy, we realized that nothing prevented him from coming after us with his mafia friends. So we hid under fake names at a big hotel, never leaving the room, and hoping that no one would spot us leave for Kenya the next morning.
21) The time we went to southern Lebanon and got caught by an Israeli bombing campaign. We probably weren't in any danger in Tyre, but I'm not used to getting bombs dropped on me, so it was unnerving.
22) The time I was in northern Pakistan on the Karakoram Highway, and our way was blocked by landslides. We stepped outside our car, just to hear the next rock slide start coming our way. It was only the speed at which we could run that kept us from being clobbered by rocks. We ran one way, and the car was in the other direction, so we ended up with no money, no passports, and no clothes. We ended up hitchhiking to a Pushtun village where we spent the next several days trying to stay warm, and hoping that our driver would eventually make it with our luggage, which he did. This was not the most pleasant near-death experience.
23) The time I was surfing and got distracted and crashed into the rocks in Puerto Rico. All I could do was get my head above water before the next wave slammed me down and back into the rocks. After a few rounds of that, I managed to stumble out to shore, but I was deaf for about a week since my eardrums had been shattered by the force of the waves.
24) The time I was driving down the Jersey Pike in a massive wind and rain storm. We were going straight one moment, and suddenly we were just spinning. We saw headlights, then tail lights, then headlights, then tail lights, then a post coming straight at us. We somehow veered off the road without hitting anyone, but ended up spending a cold, soaked night on the side of the highway until we got the car towed out of the ditch.
25) This space is reserved for my next near-death experience, since my lifestyle would indicate that I'm not done yet.