What to do When You’re Faced with the Unexpected

In every journey or adventure, there will be the unexpected, the low points, the funky stuff that happens.  This is true for travel or for life.  And there are always lessons to be learned.

It was shocking.  And scary.  And life changing.

It all started a little bit wonky, the beginning of our trip to see the live volcano on Tanna in the South Pacific island of Vanuatu. 

That tropical morning we got off the plane from the main island of Vanuatu.  I pulled out my reservation sheet & for the life of me, I could not find the name of the hotel we were booked in.  There were people everywhere, pushing, shoving, loading up people and baskets in trucks.   

Jo Hatcher Retreats

Boarding the Air Vanuatu flight to Tanna

A Ni Vanuatu man ran up to my husband and I and looked at our papers. I’m not even sure he could read English but he said something like…”you got the voucher, come with me.”  

Suddenly he was hoisting our backpacks and belongings in the back of a pickup truck and we were hopping up, too, along with a young French couple. It was thrilling to be able to ride in the back. 

There were 14 people all crammed into one vehicle.  Several tourists were squeezed in the double cab truck and the rest of us in the back. Everyone was laughing & smiling.  We were all happy & ready for adventure. 

And as we rode for three hours on the island towards the volcano, I felt free and brave, and like a kid.  

Little did I know what was to come.

The coral road was in appallingly bad repair and full of potholes and bumps.  There was nothing to do but laugh when we bounced up in the air.   

Jo Hatcher Retreats

Around the island of Tanna

My husband whispered in my ear, “well, they’re probably taking us to the volcano and then they’re gonna boil us up in a pot afterwards.”  Perhaps they were tenderizing us in order to get us ready for the boiling pot.  We both snickered.

Vanuatu was known for cannibalism…back in the day.   The last reported case was in 1969.  And some expats who live there say they’re not quite sure of what goes on in some of the outer islands. 

We were in one of those “outer islands.”

Still, I felt completely safe.  I had lived in Vanuatu for five years over twenty years ago.  And I always felt safe.  Then. 

We arrived at the Treetop Hotel which was five thatched roof houses with steep stairs leading up the tree where the one room was.

Jo Hatcher Retreats

The Treetop Hotel

By now I had located the name of our hotel. We told the Ni Vanuatu men who had brought us here, “hey, we’re staying at the Hidden Treasure Hotel, not here.”

The three  men scratched their heads and looked dumbfounded when we told them.  They said our hotel was two hours back near the airport.  What ????

Later we discovered that these particular individuals had a habit of abducting tourists from the airport to stay at their hotel. 

Once again, an image of a boiling pot came into my head.

My husband, Thom, and I had a few snarkey words. 

He said,  “I told you that was not the right hotel truck…it had Treetop Hotel on the side of the truck.”  Me, I was thinking, they’ll drop us off at our hotel. Where I came up with this idea is illusive to me now. 

There was nothing to do but wait until the truck came back to take us up to the volcano.  We waited for two hours and sat in the two hammocks on the Treetop property,  devouring the snacks we brought as we knew there would be nothing to eat anywhere else.  

We both chalked up our dilemma to being in a third world country and applauded ourselves for being flexible. 

After all, we were on an adventure, right?   We would get to our hotel later, after we had visited the volcano.  Somehow.

One of the men from the Treetop told us that we would begin walking up to the volcano.  Along with 3 other couples who were legitimately staying at the Treetop, we began walking.  We later discovered that there was no truck.  Fortunately, Thom & I hopped on the back of a passing truck while the other guests good spiritedly kept walking the 1 mile up to the volcano.

Mt. Yasur volcano did not disappoint. It was one of the most spectacular adventures of my life.  You can read about it here.

We agreed to pay one of the drivers $50 to take us to our hotel.  At this point, I didn’t care how much it cost.  We had just had a riveting experience of being so close to an active volcano.

It was dark now and we just wanted to get back to our hotel, take a shower, and savor the events of the day. 

After riding all day in the back of the truck & when all the tourists had been dropped off, we got into the truck cab. 

I gathered my backpack which contained nearly all my belongings, including my wallet and Thom’s very expensive camera.  It was so odd, since he always, always has his camera around his neck everywhere he goes. 

But he was tired, we knew the roads were hideously bumpy, we knew it was going to be a long ride, we were trusting, we let our guard down.  One of the men said, it’s okay, you can leave your stuff in the back.”  So we did.

About an hour into the drive to the hotel, the driver stopped the truck in the middle of the road turned off the engine and lights, plunging us into pitch blackness.  Everything was dead silent. 

I looked over at my husband whose face I could barely see although he was right next to me, looking for reassurance.  At least we were together, I told myself.

After what seemed like a very long time, I heard the driver say, “we just need to get petrol.”  The “gasoline station” was a large white plastic tub with a spout on the side of the road.  That much I could see when they turned the lights back on. 

Thom told me later he had already planned a defense in case this was the moment we were to be taken to the boiling pot. 

He would use his tripod to fend off the aggressors by whacking them with the tripod while I made a run for it into the jungle. 

Looking back on the whole experience, I realized that this moment was a turning point in our debacle. 

We were in a pickup truck literally in the middle of nowhere (I am not exaggerating) and no one knew where we were with three large island men that we didn’t know from Adam.  Naively, I still did not feel afraid. 

We drove on for another hour, across gutted roads full of rocks and boulders.  By now my body had grown used to the side to side sway and the constant bumping up and down.  All I wanted to do was get to our hotel and lay down.  It had been a very fun day but I’d had enough.

We arrived at the hotel.  At last.  It was 10:00pm.  We moved to the back of the truck to get my back pack & purse out of the bed of the truck.  I stared in disbelief.   The bed of the truck was completely empty.  

Jo Hatcher Retreats

Mt. Yasur volcano in the background

       Stay tuned for the rest of the story next week…

The first lesson I learned on this adventure was when you’re faced with the unexpected:

STAY CALM.  It seems like a no brainer, but when you’re not sure what to do next this is your first line of defense.  It lets your system know that you can handle whatever comes your way.  When we get upset over the unknown or try to control things, we lose our ability to problem solve, we go into panic mode.  And we all know that this technique does NOT work.

When have you been on a scary adventure and you didn’t know what would happen?  What do you do when you’re dealing with the unknown?

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  1. Jo,

    I must say you have us “hooked” now wanting to know what happens next :). I sense a consistent theme with the last couple of submissions: letting go of the need to always be in control and being able to handle the unknown with grace and “chillness” when we do lose control (and throw in the fear (AKA panic mode) somewhere in the middle, of course). I have yet to surrender enough to count myself amongst those who can do this well. But I keep hoping…:)
    I have traveled alone and with other girlfriends in many parts of the world, so I have had some scary adventures, for sure. I try to gather myself, meditate (if possible), breathe deeply and tell myself positive thoughts. Obviously, it’s much scarier when alone, but the solitude allows for more “gut checks” as well.
    What I find interesting and, in many ways, even more difficult is when my “scary adventure” is not on a trip, but in my daily life. Big decisions and choices are extremely challenging for me at times due to my nature to thoroughly research, think things through, be well-planned, take time, resist major change until I “know” I’m “ready for it,” etc. But does this personality trait deplete me of beautiful spontaneity or is it a wise characteristic to have in life? It’s not like I “follow the norm” lifestyle (single 41-year old woman with no children living on the other side of the world from where I grew up), but I do love to feel as if I will “make” everything happen as it should at the right time. I’m getting old enough now to realize this isn’t always the case, but I also realize that my ability to have followed a path of adventure in life itself has allowed me to even ponder these major concepts such as surrender and control. I always go back to the question of the relationship between fate and choice. Always working on that one…
    Thanks for making me think and keeping me entertained and wanting more…

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      Angie, what you have said challenges me to think, too. The word “surrender” in your comment struck me as so important here as we try to “control” things in our daily lives or in unexpected circumstances. Surrender always makes me feel peaceful. You are a woman who knows so much about what it means to let go of your fears and live life fully. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  2. Hi Jo Great to read this again and yes me too, I am hooked and can’t wait to hear what happened next. I am not the sort of brave traveller who thrives on those kinds of adventures and it certainly made me decide those islands are not on my ‘to do’ list but of course those sorts of experiences can happen anywhere and everywhere even when we feel most ‘safe’. What I like about this story is that even when the worst nightmare happens – out in the wilds with possibly threatening people and losing your bag which contains so many important things and is symbolic of your very identity – even then, you can survive as obviously you have! The worst worst that can happen is fairly rare and so perhaps I don’t need to be so cautious and scared about taking risks.

    Great talking stories – I hope you get lots of readers and discussions Kate X

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      Kate…I agree, that we can survive even when disaster strikes. And that we have to remind ourselves that the worst usually doesn’t happen as you say. And didn’t in my case. Love that you are part of this discussion. So value your comments.

  3. I love the first lesson – to stay calm. Usually a good idea anyway but most important when panic seems a reasonable alternative. Great story Jo! Did you ever get your belongings back?

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      No, Leila, no backpack has surfaced yet. I have a teeny hope left. Staying calm is hard but works, doesn’t it?

  4. Yet another engaging story – and the pictures are amazing! Thank you Jo.

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      Thanks, Brett! And thanks for fixing the comment box 🙂

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      Tania…I love your statement,”living is challenging and therefore stressful.” Amen. And yes, me must get out there and travel, stretch ourselves and see how others live. Thanks for your input.

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