Travel: When things go wrong


Rhosian Woolridge offers advice for the unsuspecting traveller:

More often than not, the best travel stories involve something going terribly wrong. That awful encounter with German highway patrol, when you thought the speed limit in the EU was only a recommendation. A very unfortunate case of mistaken identity with Indonesian thugs. The time you accidentally infiltrated a Croatian drug syndicate. You can laugh at anything from far enough away; such is the beauty of hindsight.

With two years of hindsight under my belt, I often think about my time in Spain. A forgotten passport, an allergic reaction to bed bugs and one non-trip to the Alhambra. These are the unpleasant moments that I look back on and laugh about. As the most visited monument in the whole of Spain, some 6000 vagabonds make their way to visit the Alhambra in the height of summer. Maybe it was the heat, the hangover or our inspired desire to take the road less travelled, but my buddy and I decided to ditch the Alhambra on Sunday afternoon. After all, the ticket line was awfully long and in four months of backpacking we had seen enough lavishly decorated palaces to last a lifetime. We had heard from a local about a sect of the Alhambra’s gardens; beautiful, serene and far away from the bustle of tourism. The perfect place to watch the sun set, he said.

The palace, even from a distance, is a sight to behold. It is one of the most intricate Islamic structures in Europe, complete with a network of gardens that blend light, shade, water and greenery into an otherworldly beauty. Interestingly, there are almost no documents that explain the past function of the Alhambra – it is a site with an unknown history and in some way this adds to its splendour. As we headed northwest, we made our way to the topiary gardens, which sit on a hillside facing the palace. On our way we passed a pretty important looking signpost, but even with a Duo Lingo account my Spanish was poor at best. We continued on with an air of nonchalance, the kind you can only come by when you’re young and experience-hungry.

The sun set behind the Alhambra and we rambled back through the grounds, speaking of our favourite tapas joint Los Diamantes, and a well-deserved beer. My buddy joked about coming back to spend the night in the palace gardens, but we’d need to layer up first. Granada sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, and thanks to the altitude it can get cold very quickly. It was dark by the time we made it to the entrance, which wasn’t a problem until I looked over to see my open-mouthed mate about to double over in disbelief. The gates were firmly secured by a chain link and a huge brass pad lock! We were cold, hungry, and locked inside the Alhambra’s garden with the only foreseeable way out being to climb the five-metre sandstone walls that surrounded the grounds. ‘Shit’, we said almost unanimously.

A few minutes passed. We were pretty stumped by the curve ball Murphy’s Law had thrown us. I joked about a Bear Grylls episode I once watched, and said making a fire from scratch is a piece of cake if you know how. My mate didn’t find this too amusing and cut me off before long. On the other side of the gates, he had spotted a 5ft Spaniard walking his dog, which may have been a Border Terrier but I was too busy having a cathartic crisis to notice. ‘Hola! Discùlpeme! Con permiso!’ I said every variant of ‘excuse me’ I knew. The Spaniard, who we came to know as Juan, walked over and politely pointed out that the gates were locked, in case we hadn’t noticed.

A long tout of broken English ensued, and Juan ended up suggesting we climb the wall and jump. Our new friend would catch us, or so he said. I wouldn’t usually trust a man of five feet to catch me from a five metre jump, but ‘needs must’ is what they say, right?

Juan held up his end of the deal, and one way or another we made it out of there. We organised to meet again later that night, and we had a good time with Juan and his friends. Juan called it Feliz Accidentè.

Translation: a happy accident.

So, advice for when things go wrong abroad? Just run with it. Make way for the unplanned, the unexpected and the absurd. These are the moments that make travelling magical.

Rhosian Woolridge


Words by Rhosian Woolridge.