Something to declare

There's nothing worse than being trapped overseas. Wait, that's not right. There's nothing better than being trapped overseas.

Who are these people who whinge about having their travel plans disrupted and being forced to stay in their destination for a few more days? It's your holiday. String it out for as long as you can.

I've always had a secret wish to be stranded. It's probably one of those things that's far more enjoyable in theory but I'm sticking to my guns: I dare you, Mother Nature, trap me. Give me all you've got.

I've followed the news recently of the poor tourists trapped in Europe by volcanic ash, forced to extend their holidays by weeks on end, doomed to sit in little cafes drinking the world's best coffee in Roman piazzas rather than get back to the real world of cubicles and traffic jams and "hold" music.

I watched the poor sods stuck at Aguas Calientes in Peru, after the mudslides around Machu Picchu denied them the chance to take the train back to Cuzco. I thought about the terrible time they would have hanging out deep in the Andes with only hundreds of fellow travellers for company, forced to while away the days stockpiling water and staring wistfully at the mountains.

Both times, I've thought: I want a piece of that action.

There hasn't been a single trip where I haven't rocked up at the airport at the end and secretly hoped for some sort of cancellation. I'm not talking natural disasters , just a mild annoyance such as volcanic ash or an airline strike would be fine by me.

There's got to be no greater feeling in the world than calling your boss and saying, "Sorry, it's the volcanic ash. See you in a fortnight."

The reason for my wish isn't just the extended holiday. It's the fact that, once something goes wrong, things start to get interesting.


I've only really been properly stranded once. (But almost stranded twice; I was in Buenos Aires, praying the fog would buy me one more night. Sadly, it cleared and we flew.)

The real stranding was in a place called Lalibela, in Ethiopia, which you'd have to agree isn't quite up there with the Parises of the world when it comes to ideal places in which to find yourself stuck. While famous for its rock-hewn churches (much like Petra in Jordan), there were no quaint little cafes or upmarket bars or famous art galleries in which to while away the extra days. Just a dusty square and a shack that sold "spaghetti with meat".

So it took me a while to get used to the idea of my stranding. There was no reason for it, after all. The weather was fine in Lalibela and there was a plane that could fly - it's just that Ethiopian Airlines had decided there weren't enough passengers, so they wouldn't bother making the trip. The only alternative was a torturous two-day mini-bus ride through the mountains back to Addis Ababa, so I decided to take my chances and stay put.

The upside was immediately apparent: to make up for the disruption, the airline put me and my three fellow wannabe passengers up in the best hotel in town. It had comfortable beds, clean sheets, a bar with cold beer and a swimming pool that, although it had no water, was nice enough to sit around.

We ended up staying three nights because the airline was unable to drum up enough business to justify flying. Each morning we would pootle down to the airport in our minibus, stand around for a few hours, then pootle back into town.

Town wasn't nearly as bad as I feared. For the equivalent of 20¢ , we could sit under a tarpaulin in a clearing with a group of locals and watch Premier League football on a small television. After the game, we would get invited to someone's house to drink some of the best coffee in the world, only without the piazza to drink it in. Even the spaghetti with meat was quite good.

I was actually a little sad the day the airline decided we had enough people to fly back to Addis Ababa. I'd made new friends, drunk great coffee and seen some amazing things. And I was probably missing a good game of football.

See Ben's blog, The Backpacker, at