Have you all been reading the tweets and reports sent back by journalists covering the Olympics in Sochi? I have.. and feel compelled to comment. Some are very entertaining, and others, well sort of need to be viewed through a larger lens, a lens that only world travel can sharpen.
My trip to Moscow, 1990
I was fortunate enough to visit Moscow back in 1990. I was a graduate student at Northwestern University, and two other students and I received a grant to study journalism changes in the face of glasnost, or government transparency, under Mikhail Gorbachev. Wow – what a time, what a trip.
Moscow isn’t Sochi, it’s actually 840 miles away, and was the capital of the Soviet Union at the time. But I am seeing many similarities in the same region – and want to share my experiences traveling to Moscow and other areas to put all these reports from Sochi in perspective.
–Reports of stray dogs – I haven’t seen the animals in Sochi, but for the traveler who has journeyed to developing countries, this is something you frequently see. Bali and India have huge problems… and in Bangkok, there are approximately 200 stray dogs per square kilometer, according to world reports.
Stray dogs in Peru
In Peru, there are dogs running all over… and of course, on a recent trip, my youngest son always tended to befriend them before I could stop him. I just prayed the dogs didn’t have rabies.
I was told in Peru that many of the homes are not large enough to accommodate a family and a dog, so the dogs roam, but come back to their homes to eat. Seriously, if you saw the poverty, this would be no surprise. I looked into adobe houses that cost about $2000 US dollars to build, and some had no furniture. The residents sat and slept on the floor.
However, in other countries I was told that roaming pups are semi-feral creatures that stay alive by scavenging on human garbage. Bottom line – In Sochi, the problem is not unique – however, what seems unique to me unique is the way they are talking about controlling the stray population by poisoning.
—Plumbing: I also saw texts from journalists surprised by restricted throwing of toilet paper down the toilet.
In many developing countries the plumbing can’t handle toilet paper. South America, Asia, Africa all are regions where this is common.
Even in the nicest of hotels on a family trip to the Sacred Valley, Peru, we had to do the same thing. My daughter, didn’t quite get it, and thought nothing could go down the toilet. So in the middle of the night, while adjusting to the altitude, she vomited in the bathtub instead. Sorry for TMI, but it is just one of those “only on the road” stories that makes travel more colorful. And no – I didn’t have the maid clean it.
—Accommodations: Some journalists seem surprised by the hotels, from the service to the creature comforts. I am always surprised too, as we are lucky to live in the U.S.
When I was in the what was then the Soviet Union, my doctor advised that I not drink the milk or eat too much meat because of Chernobyl effects, so I ordered the vegetarian meal that came with our hotel room. My appetizer every night was pink cabbage, and my entree – yellow cabbage. Needless to say I was starving!
We decided to stand online at the then new McDonald’s for hours – the line stretched around the corner – until finally we bribed the armed guards up front (they take their Big Macs seriously) with cigarettes to let us cut to the front of the line. We were that hungry. It wasn’t easy to find food, because the Russian alphabet is totally unrecognizable, you couldn’t tell if a shop was a restaurant or a shoe store. Every storefront was a plain grey structure… and you couldn’t see anything marketed in the window. You couldn’t get a reservation in town either. It was one crazy, but unforgettable trip.
And… like the Wall St Journal reporter Brian Costa who tweeted : “It’s just past 4:30am here. Someone just unlocked, opened my door, saw I was in bed and scurried away without a word. Seems about right.”….
We, too, had someone break into our hotel room in the middle of the night. We thought it was the maid, so my brave friend naively got up and chased her out. We had locked the room. It didn’t matter.
Safety is something you should take seriously in other areas of the world. Just because you are in a hotel, don’t let that give you a false sense of security.
Bottom line: The beauty of travel IS the completely far-out, crazy, wild, experience…Ultimately, you’ll probably come home thankful to live in the good ol’ U-S of A.
Go for gold America! (And good luck to my partner on my trip to Moscow, Anne Marie Tiernon, who is back there again covering the Olympics for her news station!!)