Updated on August 9th, 2020
Here I share some of my crazy travel stories featuring the times I have ended up at some very special parties across the world…without an invite. Have you ever attending a wedding where they sacrificed a chicken, become the lead dancer at a christening or broken into Universal Studios? A little bit of cheekiness & enthusiasm can go a long way!”
Siberut Island, Pandangaran & Bukittinggi in Indonesia
Antigua, West Indies
Travel has given me some amazing experiences over the last 30 years & recent events have given me the opportunity to reflect on some of the funniest moments I have had. I spent many years building a career in sales where I have always maintained that a little bit of cheek & charm can go a long way. Travel is no different & even when you don’t speak the same language, our differences & similarities connect in a magical way. Through the years I have had the opportunity to be part of many special moments…often without an invite. Here I present my favourite stories, including 2 weddings & a christening. Thankfully not a funeral in sight!
Crazy Travel Stories: Gatecrashing the party
Definition; Gatecrash – to go to a party or other event when you have not been invited (Cambridge English Dictionary)
Siberut Island, Indonesia. 1995
I was on a 10-day trek on Siberut Island, in the Mentawai archipelago off the coast of Sumatra. The Mentawai are the indigenous people who inhabit the island, living in isolation & maintaining their traditional way of life. During my time so far, I had hiked up to my thighs in mud, crossed rivers by walking straight through them & balancing on precarious log bridges. I stayed in local houses, built from wood. They were constructed on stilts to allow the precious pigs (a sign of wealth) & chickens to run around below. I had tried my hand at fishing in the river (& failed abysmally) & learned how to make a loincloth out of tree bark. It was a unique & amazing experience.
Our next stop on the journey was visiting a family. Their son was the youngest medicine man on the island & had just got married for the 2nd time. Our arrival coincided with a ceremony to bless their union. The event began with the banging of a gong before our first course was served – taro cooked in bamboo. It was a delicious way to start the ceremony as we braced ourselves for the unknown theatre that was about to come.
We were not disappointed as the chief medicine man emerged, chanting & holding a live chicken. He proceeded to go around the group, brushing all our faces with the tail feathers while he held the bird to prevent it from lashing out or getting free.”
Sacrificing a Chicken
The chicken was then taken away into the back room before being returned, dead. The medicine men were not permitted to kill the bird themselves. There was a fire burning in the centre of the room. He held the chicken’s body over the flames to remove the feathers. As a woman, I was then ushered off to the kitchen where I helped to prepare the wedding feast. We mashed taro & grated coconut before rolling balls of the taro in it. By the time we went back into the main room, the men had cut up the chicken & it was being boiled in bamboo.
They were intensely examining something which initially was hard to distinguish. Then we realised it was the bird’s intestine. This part of the anatomy is incredibly important as they can identify either good or bad signs for the future of the marriage. I assume it was good news as the rest of the evening was filled with sampling a delicious dinner, playing a few games & sharing songs to celebrate. Overall it was a very unique & special experience, after all, it’s not every day you get to attend a wedding where they sacrifice a chicken, is it?
Bukittinggi, Indonesia. 1995
I had stayed in Bukittinggi for a number of days, made some friends in the local café & got to know the place pretty well. It was Sunday & I had been invited by one of the guys, Am who worked in the café to join him at his friend’s wedding. I rarely say no to these offers however, as I accepted, I was already panicking about what to wear. He said it was not a problem, but my backpack contained very little which was suitable. In the end, I opted for jeans & a t-shirt. Being covered & respectful was more important than anything else.
After a short bus ride, we went to pick up Am’s friend, Titin. She was very sweet, didn’t speak a word of English & for some reason found me hilarious & just kept giggling!”
The 3 of us then walked to the wedding venue, across a couple of fields. On the way, I slipped & ended up getting my foot covered in mud. So much for my “smart” appearance for the big day! I was a bit nervous about the event as I wanted to make sure I was respectful to the traditions & wasn’t sure what the eating etiquette would be. Am reassured me with the words “I’ll help you but just remember to eat with your hands, don’t take everything all at once, watch & copy everyone else”. It all sounded simple enough!
The Happy Couple
It turned out my muddy shoes weren’t an issue as we all had to remove our footwear before we entered the event. It’s fair to say that I garnered a lot of attention for the whole 2 months I was in Indonesia. I had got used to people stopping & staring at me & the wedding was no different.
We entered the room to greet the happy couple. They were immaculate, her in a long white dress, him in a black suit. Both had white gloves on & if I’m honest, didn’t look particularly happy. On the floor was a tablecloth covered in bowls of food – Padang style.
As the uninvited & unknown guest, I held back to sit incognito near the door. However, that wasn’t how this was going to pan out! I felt a polite push in my back as I was thrust forward, then came Titin, followed by Am & a small selection of other guests.”
Guest of honour
I had somehow ended up in the position of the guest of honour, next to the groom! Nobody else spoke as I settled into my seat on the floor, so I apologetically thanked them for allowing me to come with lots of smiling & head bowing.
It turned out that the groom spoke excellent English & we started to chat. He & his bride were incredibly welcoming & I started to relax. We all stared at the food while I waited for someone to start serving so I could copy them. Then Am indicated that they were all waiting for me! Brilliant! In my head, I did everything perfectly. I’ll never know but once I started to tuck in with my hands, as Titin giggled helpfully in my ear, it all felt very special. Despite not getting an official invite, I had become the guest of honour & left with the address of the bride & groom to go & see them when I was next in Pekanbaru.
Pangandaran, Indonesia. 1995
I had spent the last few days in Pangandaran, enjoying the rainforest & made a few friends along the way. One day I decided to join a couple of the guys on a walk to visit the cottage industries of the area. Our first stop was a place where they made the traditional puppets & we watched as he showed us the intricate work he did carving the heads out of wood. One puppet took him 10 days to complete.
At the end of that path, we found it, along with a large group of people. The origin of the music was from a gamelan band & the group were enjoying themselves singing & dancing.”
We were spotted by a guy who spoke English & welcomed us into what turned out to be a birth celebration. He took us to see the gifts & meet the tiny new arrival as again, we became the centre of attention. We were then encouraged to help ourselves to some of the food. It was delicious & very special to have been welcomed with such open arms.
Becoming the Lead Dancer
We took some seats to relax & watch the dancing…but of course that didn’t last long. Somehow the boys managed to stay where they were as I got pulled up to join in. There were 3 ladies in the middle, surrounded by a circle of men. I became an honorary man.
The dance started off slowly & then began to gather speed as they watched, bemused, while I tried to get my 2 left feet to emulate their moves. The faster it became, the more lost I got & the more they all seemed to enjoy it.”
Each time I tried to leave & have a seat, they refused to let me & in the end, the speed was so much I was totally sabotaging their dance. They pushed me into the centre with the other ladies. Thankfully their moves were a lot simpler, but I felt very conspicuous (bear in mind I am slightly awkward & almost a foot taller than everyone else involved in the dance!).
I actually think I was dancing for about 30 minutes before the end came & I was able to go back & join the guys. We gave them a donation as our way of saying thank you before heading back on the bus. We may not have found the soy sauce factory, but we’d had another amazing experience. It just reinforces the power of curiosity!
Orlando, Florida. 1998
Terry (my husband) & I had just spent an excellent couple of weeks on a driving holiday around Florida & were reluctantly ready to get on the flight home. When we got to the airport it turned out there had been an issue & we were being delayed by 48 hours. The airline was great & had already organised for us to be put up at a local hotel.
The hotel turned out to be next to Universal Studios which Terry & I had spent a day at earlier in the trip (or probably a morning as Terry never had a very long attention span for queueing & crowds!).
That evening we got dressed up & went over the road to the Hard Rock Café. The feature of the restaurant was that it sat on the border of the theme park so people could enjoy the facilities whether they were visiting the park or not.
Terry was never one to shy away from an opportunity (or be bound by rules), so as we entered the restaurant he muttered the immortal line “You go & get the beers in… I’ll check it out!” By the time I had 2 Budweiser’s he was back, looking suspicious & saying “Follow me & look casual”.”
Breaking into Universal Studios
We headed for the back of the bar where we had a clear view of the turnstile into Universal Studios & studied how the whole thing worked. We tried to perfect the art of eyeing up the security guard on duty while looking like we were relaxed & disinterested. After a few minutes, we were lucky when he had an issue with a poor woman who was struggling to get her pushchair through the gates.
As he started to shout & reprimand her, we quickly secured our bottles of beer up our sleeves, did a left & a right & we were through the gates!”
We knew we only had about an hour before the park shut so we ran straight for our favourite couple of rides. Not wanting to push our luck, we quickly finished the beers, disposed of the evidence & got in the short queue. Somehow everything was even more exciting bearing in mind we weren’t supposed to be there.
After enjoying a couple of rides, we stopped to watch the firework celebration & couldn’t hide our glee about how we’d beaten the system. Once the party finished, we headed back through the turnstile to resume our positions at the bar & celebrate our triumph!
Falmouth Harbour, Antigua. 2018
I had just arrived in Antigua & had a bed in an Airbnb booked for the night. As I pulled my backpack out of the boot of the taxi, a couple walked past. “Are you here for the party?” they called. I explained that I was just staying for the night & followed them up the steps.
Once we got through the gate I tried not to knock people over with my bag as I attempted to identify who was in charge. All the time I kept being asked: “Are you here for the party?” Eventually, I tracked down a guy who led me through the open-plan property, past a & number of beds. It was all a little weird.
He showed me to my room & then said he was off to get me a welcome drink while I sorted myself out. There were no windows in my room, but instead beautifully draped net curtains & a view of the marina. The sun was setting & the sky was lit up above the yachts with all shades of pink.
He quickly came back with a strong rum punch & told me there was a party on & to come along. I asked him for the room key but he responded: “We don’t use keys here”.
So, it was my first night on a new island, I didn’t know anyone but there was a party in my guesthouse & I didn’t have a key to the room. Not a perfect start!”
I unpacked a little before securely & suspiciously locking my bag up. Then I headed off with the intention to go & explore the local area & find some food.
Gatecrashing the Party
As I was leaving, I heard my name called. I turned around & I saw Libby, the owner who I had been communicating with on Airbnb. “Where are you going?” I explained, to which she told me to sit down & ordered one of the guys to make my cocktail. My plan was to have one drink & head off, but the best-laid plans…
It was the start of Antigua Sailing Week (which of course lasts a month) & the party was being hosted by the crew of a classic yacht which was racing again tomorrow. I ended up making a lot of new friends & setting up an opportunity to join the crew on one of the classic yachts as it raced the next day. I just needed to be down on the dock for 7.30am.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make the race the next day. I ended the night in the police station…but that’s a whole other story!
Above the door at Pineapple House is a sign which says it all:
I ended up staying here for 3 weeks & loved every minute. I slept in 4 different beds as I just wanted to stay, but the rooms had already been booked. My final stop was one of the beds in the living room. I made travelling companions for the remainder of my time in the Caribbean, including sailing to St Martin & housesitting in Grand Cayman. There’s a lot to be said for crashing the party!
Taste Festival, London UK. 2017
One of my favourite outings of any summer in England is the Taste of London Festival. I have literally flown halfway around the world to make it home in time for this event. Numerous times. For the last few years, this has involved my wonderful friend & partner in crime, Gemma.
Taste is a restaurant festival held in Regents Park in Central London every June/July. It is a celebration of all thing’s food & drink & an opportunity to try samples from some of the best restaurants & bars across the capital. Basically, a fantastic foodie day out!
Each day they have 2 sessions, one in the afternoon & another in the evening. A few years ago, Gemma & I were attending in the afternoon, on a Friday. It had been a great day so far & for our final session we had booked in for a beer tasting & dim sum making class. The beer was great, making dim sum slightly less successful!
Outstaying your welcome.
We chatted to the guy who had been running the session. The festival was closing & everyone started to leave. A security guard came over & asked us to do the same, so we of course agreed. But we kept on chatting until Gemma asked if there was any chance we could stay. He gave us both an apron & a broom & left it to us to see how far our luck would go. Another security officer came along & when he told us we had to leave we informed him that we were clearing up the stand before the next session. He looked suspicious but wandered off anyway.
Gemma & I couldn’t believe our luck & celebrated as we were asked if we would mind taking part in a promotional video they were filming. We just had to “pretend” to be enjoying a beer & some dim sum. It was the least we could do, so we happily obliged!”
After an hour, the festival started to invite the next session of foodies in. Gemma & I looked at each other with a smugness which indicated that we couldn’t quite believe we got away with that! And so, we went on to enjoy the second helping! Since then it has become a tradition that we always attend both sessions. These days we have a fully legal way of making it happen, but I will not disclose our methods … if everyone does it, it takes the fun out of the experience!
Enjoyed my stories? I have plenty more to tell!
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