There are a number of times in my life in which I am told by many, many people that what I am going to do is dangerous. Ok. There have been a lot of times. Many of these have ended up well, and I have had some pretty awesome adventures. Many times they are not as dangerous as they are perceived, and many times I have gotten through and realized Yeah, that was a pretty big risk.
On two such occasions, things did not work out at all as any of the advisors to me would have expected.
The first was on my trip to Romania. I had met a professor of the University of Arizona in the hostel there that was not far enough from home. We decided to see if we could take a trip out to find Vlad Dracula’s tomb. The guidebooks said you had to go to a lake in Snagov and bribe a person to lend you a boat. Then, you had to row out to the island where the inspiration for Dracula’s body resided.
The first attempt at this, we took a bus out to Snagov, got there in the mid-afternoon, and could not find the lake. Well, that didn’t work. It was also the last bus of the day, so we were stuck hitch hiking. No problem. We were almost immediately offered a ride by a random guy who was going back to Bucharest, but he needed to stop by a school first to pick something up. We were then paraded in front of a classroom of children in their high-tech computer lab. They were fifth graders and adorable. They even had the class stand to greet us. So much for Dracula, but hey, that was a cute class.
Round number two of this adventure was that we went to the front desk ladies at the hostel and asked for some help. The hostel organized for trips out to the dismal island, so we were set up with a driver that would then handle the bribing of a person for a boat. We found two other intrepid explorers, and we were off the next morning.
We got to the lake, bribed a boat off someone, and took turns rowing across the lake to the island. This was in May, and the flowers were in full bloom. The island was an idyllic little paradise no more than two acres surrounded by a picturesque lake and covered in wildflowers. The church itself was a miniature red-brick church accompanied by a miniature nun that could not have been more than four foot five.
She took our admittance, told me (I was translator for the trip with my five whole chapters of Teach Yourself Romanian) that pictures were not allowed, and politely turned her back while we took all the pictures we wanted. There were informational posters that talked about who Vlad Ţepeş really was. He had repelled an invasion by the Turks (good according to Romanias). He also impaled the captives of war and some criminals (bad according to Romanians). This invited retaliation from the Turks who defeated and beheaded him. The head apparently is still in Turkey today, and they refuse to give it back to Romania. We were really just looking at Dracula’s body’s tomb in a cute church, with a cute nun.
We went outside to play with the adorable puppies wandering around before we had to hide from the Romanian minister of culture.
The second occasion, I was encouraged by my sister to take a trip to Juarez, Mexico to celebrate the 60th birthday of her father in law.
As this trip was coming up, I had mentioned it to a number of people, particularly at my school, and the general attitude was: That is the most dangerous city in the world. You’re going to be kidnapped and executed by a drug cartel.
This was enough to get me a little nervous, but my brother in law was from there and I had already bought the tickets. I few into El Paso, and her family picked us up. We drove down, found parking and walked across the border.
One weird thing about the border between El Paso and Juarez is that it looks like a military war zone delineated by the Rio Grande. They don’t really seem to care if you are going to Mexico though. No border check, no immigration, just a nice walk across the bridge into the most dangerous city in the world.
We arrived, and my brother in law had notified his family, who were waiting for us. We piled into the white mini-van and off we went through the streets. We eventually turned onto the road full of multiple colored houses, a park, and a tree-lined sidewalk. We got the bags out of the mini-van and went in to meet the family.
The first thing they did was hand me a puppy named Gordito (Little fat one) to hold. Hi! Welcome to the most dangerous city in the world. Here’s a puppy!
A little while later we went to a park and played on the see-saws.
The second time I went to Juarez, we spent hours chasing toddlers around the sunny park.
The caution about this is that from all reports, including some from my extended family that lives there, Juarez really is a dangerous place. I would certainly not want to wander around alone there, and it seems to have earned its reputation. There is certainly evidence of this in the strong bars on all of the windows, gates and gated communities, and very serious spikes and glass traps on the tops of everything. The oddity is in that we know people who have lived there for a very long time and know the ropes. They kept us safe, and we experienced a little seen side of the city by foreigners. DO NOT go to Juarez expecting puppies from strangers!