In May 2010 we went on a RTW trip. Our itinerary was
- Laos (Luang Prabang)
- Thailand (Bangkok)
- Italy (Cinque Terra, Liguria, Tuscany)
- U.S.A. (New York)
- Canada (East and West)
After a relaxing sojourn in my favourite place in the world, Luang Prabang (a big call I know), we were travelling in a taxi from the Suvarnabhumi Airport to Lamphu Treehouse (excellent budget hotel) at 155 Wanchat Bridge Pachatipatai Rd. Phanakhon Bangkok.
About 1 kilometre from Lamphu Treehouse Disaster No. 1 struck. The taxi got stuck in a traffic jam for over half an hour. Our driver explained it was because of red shirt protestors blocking the road near the democracy monument. As the taxi was overheating he asked us to get out so that he could escape with his taxi, down a side street. He told us to keep walking straight down the road toward Lamphu Treehouse only 1 km distant. So we left the semi-cool of the cab and started walking in 40 degrees of humid heat toward our destination.
- Then.the.shooting.started. It seemed to be coming from the direction we were headed, so we reevaluated our situation and turned back. We decided to follow a canal we had passed a while back, toward the river. Down near Thewet flower market we met up with some Thai teenagers who offered to show us the way. Just then some injured protestors arrived in the back of two private utility trucks. They were carried beside us in their blood-stained clothes, with drips held high, by the ambulance officers who had been waiting. We all hurried away from the sounds of gunfire and toward the sanctuary of the Chao Phraya river. One of the injured men was taken away in a water ambulance, while the other lay still on the timber jetty. I often wonder why he was left on the jetty. Had he died?
- Crowds of people obliterated our view as we were thrust onto the ferry that would take us closer to our destination. Only one stop and our Thai friends bid us farewell with directions on how to access Lamphu Treehouse without getting stuck amidst the fighting. They had to stay on the ferry. I think about their kindness often. The fighting was taking place across the small canal that Lamphu Treehouse stood on. Tear gas was fired repeatedly during the evening and it floated into the open areas of the hotel and through the air-conditioning. Black threatening helicopters flew low overhead, loudspeakers blaring and the gunfire continued.
- The government called a ceasefire the next day, but fourteen people had died – I do not know if the protestor who lay on the jetty beside us was one of them. The next day, burnt out vehicles and dried pools of blood told the now silent story. The protestors continued their sit-ins, but there was no more blood shed for the next three days of our visit.
- We had two weeks in Italy and for one week we lived in a farmhouse in the Tuscan Countryside. There was only one internet connection at a hotel in the nearby village and when we finally went there, at the end of the week, we discovered that unbelievably, a Volcanic Ash cloud had grounded all flights in and out of Europe. People at the hotel were organizing cars to drive from England to pick them up in Italy! Luckily for us we were travelling by car within Italy and had another week to spend in the Ligurian hills, before we needed to fly anywhere. The cloud had gone by the time we flew out to New York!
- The day we arrived in New York, the Times Square bombing attempt took place. We went to Times Square the next day. It was business as usual, but we did walk past a group of policemen, whose attention had been drawn to a backpack left unattended on top of a phone booth. No doubt they were worried about it’s contents. I know we were – we kept walking!
Thankfully Canada held no unwelcome surprises for us and the trail of destruction had ended.
In two weeks time we will be travelling to Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Our first port of call will be Barcelona, then Madrid. I feel desperately sorry for the unemployed in Spain. It is hard to imagine that half of the population under the age of 25 is unemployed and the overall unemployment rate is 23%.
I did realize this when we decided to go to Spain, but I did not think about the possibility of demonstrations and strikes, or their repercussions, although you would think that I might. Unfortunately it is against this background of high unemployment that the Spanish government has introduced strict new labour laws and austerity measures, which has in turn led to the recent strikes. Over one million people were involved in Madrid alone. I hope that the violence does not escalate to the levels that the protests in Bangkok did.
This is the News Article that first alerted me to the strikes.
This is the link to a blog post about the recent strikes, by Erin of La Tortuga Viajera. Erin is an American married to a Spaniard and living in Madrid, so I guess you could say she has her finger on the pulse.
I have thought about whether it is responsible to travel to a country that is in the midst of such turmoil, but surely it is better for Spain to be earning money from tourism in these tough times. If tourist numbers were to plummet, the unemployment rate would surely rise even more.
I just hope that our uninvited predilection for disasters, both man-made and natural, in 2010, is not set to continue during our 2012 trip. Fingers crossed!
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