I’ve been a lucky traveller. I haven’t been mugged, I haven’t had anything stolen (although I’ll never know what happened to my camera in France :(), I haven’t missed a flight although I’ve been close, or had my luggage lost. The scariest thing that has happened to me (apart from getting struck by lightning) is getting lost.
I had loved my time in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. I thought it was a thriving new city with a beautiful old town. After spending a decent time happily and aimlessly wandering the old town, I thought I’d best head back to the new town to get lunch. I’d slept through my alarm that morning and skipped breakfast in order to make my bus so it was fair to say I was famished.
The old town is on a hill and I walked down the steep, uneven, cobblestone path back to the road. I crossed the main road and that’s when I realised something wasn’t right. There had been a church right before the traffic lights and now there wasn’t. I ruled out the possibility it had been demolished in 2 hours and decided I’d just come down the hill at a different spot. Easy, I thought, I’ll just turn left and walk back along the road to where I was certain the new town was. Little did I know I had come down the hill on the other side…
10 minutes later I came across a market hall. Now alarm bells really started ringing. I had definitely not walked past this earlier. “It’s ok,” I thought. “There has to be a sign or map somewhere.” Yes, there were plenty of signs but they were all in cyrillic. I felt a panic attack starting. I started to breath really quickly and my palms started sweating. “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok,” I tried to reassure myself. “You can ask someone for directions.”
5 minutes past. I didn’t see a soul. Of course at 11am on a Sunday morning there will be no one about. “Go into the market place. Surely there will be someone there.” Good idea brain! I went back and … CLOSED.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Suddenly I saw some people. I ran over to them.
“Dobro utro. Angliiski?”
They shook their heads and kept walking, paying no attention to the lost, lonely traveller.
By now I really couldn’t breathe. My heart was pounding. I was sweating from both the heat and the fear. My mind was racing “You’ll never get home, you’ll be lost forever, you’re in some remote area of Bulgaria, you are an easy target, your story will be the inspiration for the next Taken movie.” Now not only did I have all these horrible thoughts racing though my mind but horrible images of being thrown into the back of a van and being a sex slave for the rest of my life because my dad is Liam Neeson.
I have no idea why I did what I did next and I am deeply ashamed.
I called my mum back in Australia.
“Sam! Hello! What are you doing? Is everything amazing? What’s the weath-”
“I’m lost. Help.”
“Ok, where are you?”
“IF I KNEW THAT I WOULDN’T BE LOST,” I cried.
“Alright. What country?”
“Bulgaria. Plovdiv. I need to be at the bus in 20 minutes!.”
“Sam, calm down, I can’t understand you.”
“Dad’s getting up google maps. How do you spell Plod – what is it?”
“Ok, Plovdiv, Bulgaria. That’s an interesting -”
“I’M LOST. I NEED TO BE BACK AT MY BUS!”
“Can you see any street signs?”
“THEY ARE ALL IN CYRILLIC!”
“LIKE RUSSIAN SYMBOLS. I CAN’T READ IT!”
“Can you spell the street name?”
“CYRILLIC, MUM! SYMBOLS! I’M GOING TO DIE HERE ALONE!”
I started crying then. Real classy.
“Sam, can you please calm down. It’s ok.”
“I CAN’T. I’M LOST. NOW I ONLY HAVE 10 MINUTES!”
“Can you call your tour guide?”
Silence. Well that would have been the logical solution wouldn’t it? Damn panic.
“Sniff, yes, sniff, I have her number, sniff, she’ll hate me, sniff…”
And then a miracle occurred. I walked around a corner and suddenly I knew where I was!
“I’VE FOUND IT! I KNOW WHERE I AM! BUT I STILL WON’T MAKE IT TO THE BUS ON TIME! I’M STILL GOING TO DIE ALONE IN BULGARIA!” I panted as I started sprinting down the street.
“Call your tour guide. Tell her you’ll be late.”
“I – pant pant – can’t – puff puff – ”
“I can’t understand you, Sam.”
At that point I hung up on my poor mum and ran and ran and ran past the restaurants with food – oh food my stomach rumbled, past the cafes with the jugs of water – oh water my throat screamed – and I made it back to the bus as everyone was leisurely climbing on.
I ran to my seat, put my sunnies on so no one could see and started to cry – in fear, in relief, in hunger, in exhaustion, in thirst. I let the silent tears fall and started to breathe normally again as I admired the sunflowers out my window. I sent an apologetic text to my mum.
“I’m SO sorry mum. I completely freaked out and reverted to a child for a minute and thought mum will fix it. I’m back on the bus now and I’m ok. Plovdiv is a really awesome place. I loved it. I’m so sorry again. xx”
She replied immediately.
“Even big brave travellers need their mum sometimes. You’re still my little girl. Glad to know you’re ok. Enjoy your day! xx”
Oh dear … I’ve been lost plenty of times before but I guess the heat, the language barrier, my hunger and exhaustion just got to me that day.
I still can’t believe I thought calling mum in Australia would fix it! That’s travel for you. Utterly crazy!!