Do not open till February 2011

Tim Cahill once said “In good travel writing, something on the trip always has to go wrong.” If this is true, then after my most recent Lonely Planet research trip in Romania and Moldova, I should have a book deal landing on my desk any second. At least I hope it’s a book deal. With the way my luck has been lately, it could just as easily be a talking, vampire gorilla.

This was easily the most calamity-ridden LP research trip I’ve ever had. While this cluster bomb of misfortune, this cyclone of discomfort, continuously assaulted me like starving Venetian pigeons, well-meaning bystanders kept on saying that, hey, this will probably all seem really funny six months from now. So, I’ve decided to write a letter to Future Me to see, in retrospect, how effing amusing he thinks everything was.

Dear February 2011 Leif,

How are you? Did you ever go see “Inception”? If so, what the tap dancing Buddha was that all about?

Oh, and I hope the over-night, lucrative book deal that should have arrived soon after I wrote this letter has gone well and that the film adaptation is progressing smoothly.

Anyhoo, I just wanted to recap that catastro-f*ck trip you took last summer. You know, now that you’ve had time to heal and get your lithium dosage just right so you aren’t drooling too much and your sphincter control has returned to socially acceptable levels, I thought we could reminisce a bit and see if maybe things weren’t as bad as we thought they were at the time.

As you may remember, when you first landed in Chisinau, Moldova, it was about 115 degrees in the shade. This, obviously, was uncomfortable, but since you were cross-eyed with jet lag, you managed to fall right to sleep in your rented apartment that first night.

When the phone rang at 2am, you were understandably confused. After all, you were in a strange place, brain damaged from exhaustion and the ring tone sounded like the hourly siren they use at the sleep deprivation cell block at Guantanamo Bay. When the pounding on the door and hollering in Russian started, including when they bafflingly started yelling your name, it’s understandable that, teetering on irreversible insanity, you scattered broken glass all over the entryway and tried to lock yourself in the refrigerator. We’ve all been there. Bangkok 1991 comes to mind. Anyway, that it later turned out to simply be downstairs neighbors, panicking over a leaky pipe in your bathroom that was flooding their apartment, and that you were able to manually close it and save the day was, in the grand scheme of things, a rather painless outcome.

Three boiling hot days later, during which time you perspired freely without pause, borderline dehydration really shouldn’t have come as a surprise, particularly when every muscle in your body cramped up, your gums receded and your eyeballs turned orange. Yes, I know you drank something like two liters of water every hour, so your deteriorating condition was a bit confusing at first, but dammit Future Leif, you have got to start salting your food in those conditions! How does a veteran world traveler not know this? You really are an idiot sometimes.

I bet after that unpleasantness, those first few days of cool rain in Bucharest came as a relief. Yeah, by the forth day it was a bit tedious. And on the ninth day, you can be forgiven for tearing apart your belongings to see if someone might have slipped a cursed idol into your backpack that makes every wish spectacularly backfire, like that enchanted monkey fist from The Simpsons. Incessant rain has been known to spark a delirium or two. Ask anyone in Seattle.

Then, there was that incident in Sinaia when, for the first time in 30 years of having a cash card, that Banca Românească ATM ate your card and it was still only the first week of the trip so you really needed to get it back, but it was a Saturday and the bank was closed and you had to drive all the way back to Sinaia from Brasov on Monday to retrieve it and the bank manager held your card right in front of you and said she couldn’t give it back until your bank at home faxed a formal request which, with the eight hour time difference and all, would have required you to drive back to Sinaia again two days later from, who knows, Sighişoara?, burning, in total, over two days of critical research time and so in desperation you deluged them with five kinds of identification, including your passport, LP business cards and the LP Romania book itself with your name and picture on the inside until their steadfast dedication to pointless bureaucratic nonsense wilted and you walked out of there triumphant, having only wasted a total of ½ a day.

Nicely done.

And remember two hours later when your car was towed away in eight minutes flat while you were checking prices inside a bus station? Keeping in mind that this is Romania, where, since the beginning of recorded history, parking one’s car has been a lawless, creative art, with sidewalks, parks, handicapped ramps and even the middle of the street being fair game. Do you think they were targeting you specifically because you’re so enviously handsome? Probably.

It was kind of amazing that, the odd food poisoning episode aside, in over 20 years of international travel you had never been extravagantly ill while on the road. So, really, you kinda had it coming when you were struck down with the Transylvanian Flu mere hours after arriving in Sibiu, where you thought that you might, finally, be able to relax a bit and enjoy yourself. Arguably, the 17 bed bug bites that you suffered that same evening, several of which were on your face, might have been just a teensy bit uncalled for.

Remember how 10 days later, just when those bed bug bites were finally fading, suffering six more bed bug bites seemed like a bizarre, but conceivable bit of bad luck?

And, being that our notes get a little frantic here, can you describe exactly how you felt when you were attacked again seven days later and it became rather obvious that the bed bugs were living in your backpack? Was it like a psychosis or closer to full-on hysteria?

On a scale of One to Hilarious, how funny were those last few days of the trip when, instead of unwinding and recovering from the baffling, unremitting torment of the previous five weeks, you spent that time boiling/scalding all of your possessions, scrubbing them with detergent, sun-baking them in black plastic bags, boiling/scalding everything again and generally suffering low-level, jittery paranoia day and night, believing that every itch, every tickle, every single form of exterior stimuli, was a bed bug that was preparing to repeatedly chomp you like a shark on a chum line?

Oh, that reminds me, how go the inquiries that you’ve been making that God may be specifically out to get you?

I think we’ve covered all the key incidents here. It’s difficult to be sure, since our final couple pages of notes have been rendered indecipherable due to the shredding, teeth marks and extensive fecal damage. So, if you could just get back to me with your thoughts on how funny this all seems from the safety and security of February 2011, that’d really help me out.


Past Leif