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Greg Ellifritz

Worldwide Conflicts

Worldwide Conflicts 681 217 Greg Ellifritz

I saw this long form article and thought many of you might find it of interest.  It summarizes all of the active conflicts around the globe and is much more valuable than the State Department’s travel warnings when planning future trips.

Wars Update: An Unexpected Near-Peer War

 

 

How Do Drug Cartels Get Their Weapons?

How Do Drug Cartels Get Their Weapons? 320 181 Greg Ellifritz
Some facts for the folks who believe the mainstream media narrative that lax American gun laws are the primary way that the Mexican drug cartels get their weapons. The truth is that most of the cartel weapons have been stolen from the police/military, illegally imported from other corrupt Latin American countries, or made by the cartels themselves.

 

Read the article below.  One of the most dangerous cartels has set up numerous gun manufacturing facilities in Mexico. They are building their own AR-15 rifles and selling them on the street for over $5000 US dollars each.

 

CJNG, The Only Cartel To Have Had Its Own Arms Factory

 

I will suggest a slight correction to the title of the article.  The CJNG is the only cartel to have been caught with their own weapons manufacturing facilities.  You can be 100% certain that the other large cartels are doing the same thing.

 

Grocery Baggers in the Developing World

Grocery Baggers in the Developing World 1280 1062 Greg Ellifritz

Have you ever thought about tipping the folks who bag your purchases at the grocery store?  If you are from the USA, probably not.  But things work differently in other countries.

 

When visiting these places, it’s important to notice and abide by the social mores in your host country.  Doing so will avoid any drama or ill will.  It also helps to destroy the “Ugly American” traveler stereotype.

 

Take a look at the photo below.  The people in the Santa hats are bagging groceries at the large supermarket near the condo where I am staying in Mexico.  Most of the baggers in the store are senior (or perhaps “señor”?) citizens.

 

Guess what?  They aren’t being paid by the grocery store.

 

They work entirely for the tips shoppers give them.

 

This type of “working for tips” gig isn’t universal in any country I’m aware of, but I’ve seen it a lot in Mexico, Colombia, and some of the more impoverished South American countries.  I’ve only seen it at the very large chain grocery stores.

 

Failing to tip these aging baggers is a social faux pas.  It’s the foreign equivalent of leaving your shopping cart in the middle of a store’s parking lot instead of in the cart corral.  People simply think you are an asshole.  That’s not cool when visiting a country where you have few local contacts.  If everyone thinks you are rude, you will not have a good travel experience.

 

How do you know whether or not to tip your baggers?  Watch the locals.  Pull your head out of your phone and observe what the people in line ahead of you do.  Follow suit.

 

You may also notice small stacks of coins near the bagger.  That’s another clue.

 

There are no set amounts for the tip.  Most people just give the bagger the coins they received in change after paying for the groceries.  If you are paying with a credit card, give up to a US dollar or so.

 

I always carry some small coins in my pocket when traveling.  They are handy in situations like this where you are expected to give a small tip.  You will also need those coins to pay for access to a public toilet in much of the developing world.

 

 

Skin Problems While Traveling

Skin Problems While Traveling 2016 1512 Greg Ellifritz

Have you considered what happens when you get a strange skin rash while traveling far away from medical care?  I didn’t until I took a trip to Belize in 2005.  My back was itching, so I took off my shirt to find this.

I didn’t know much about wilderness medicine at the time and had no idea it was just a simple heat rash.

 

Many of you might be in a similar position, having a strange rash, but not knowing what caused it.  That’s a common condition in the developing world.

 

A handy solution I carry in my medical kit now is a cream like this one, available over the counter at almost all developing world pharmacies.  I got this one in Mexico and it was about $1.50 US.

 

 

This cream contains a corticosteroid, an antifungal medicine, and an antibiotic.  One of those three drugs should fix almost any dermatological condition you might have

 

I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice.  I’m just sharing something I’ve found handy that is an everyday medical solution in developing countries, but would require a prescription to get in the USA.  It resides in all of my travel medical kits.

 

If you are looking for more information on similar topics, I have an entire section about remote and travel medicine in my book, Choose Adventure.

 

Shut Your Mouth

Shut Your Mouth 375 500 Greg Ellifritz
A reminder to be careful talking to taxi, shuttle, or ride sharing drivers.

 

On my latest trip to Mexico, I rented a condo about an hour drive from the airport. I booked a ride from the airport to my place with a transfer company I’ve used for years.

 

As per my life, of course my flight was delayed. I was tired from the delay and the insanely crowded airports. I didn’t have the mental energy to talk to the driver for an hour. I pretended to be the stereotypical gringo and greeted him in English. Even though I speak passable Spanish, I didn’t speak any Spanish to him. His English was not good.

 

On the drive, he made a phone call in Spanish. I’m listening to the conversation when the driver mentioned his previous customer was unique and worthy to be watched. He said the last customer was a single man in his 40s who was traveling by himself with eight large suitcases.

 

The driver went on to say how the man had told him that he was a wealthy businessman and owned several hotels. The driver pulled up the phone app he was using to track his rides and shared the previous customer’s full name, email address, phone number, and the hotel where he was staying with whomever he was speaking.

 

The driver told his friend that the rich businessman should be watched. For what? I’m not sure, but it can’t be for anything good.

 

I didn’t hear them plotting any nefarious actions, but why would the driver share all that info?

 

Taxi drivers, especially in the developing world are true hustlers. Many do far more than just drive tourists around. They often serve as a connection to get people information, drugs, and prostitutes.

 

Be careful what you tell your driver. If questioned, make up a boring middle class job. If you are alone, you should tell the driver that you are meeting a large group of friends soon. Don’t tell the truth when they ask you about how long you will be staying.

 

Don’t give the drivers any reason to think you have money. Don’t give them information that could later be used to facilitate a scam or a criminal act.

 

Have a believable boring cover story ready before you get in the cab. Hopefully you won’t be “watched” like the passenger with eight suitcases.

 

If you want to dig a little deeper on the topic, read my article about best practices for a safe cab ride.

 

 

Jamaica “State of Emergency”

Jamaica “State of Emergency” 1200 800 Greg Ellifritz

Jamaica recently announced a “State of Emergency” and announced “no-go” zones in both Kingston and Montego Bay.  Read about it here.

Planning To Vacation In Jamaica? New State Of Emergency Has Been Declared

 

You wouldn’t have gone to any of those areas on your trip to Jamaica anyway.

 

I promise you are not going to get killed in Jamaica.  That island was my very first foreign destination before I started traveling for real.  I’ve been there five more times since that initial trip and have a pretty clear understanding of the dangers..

 

I was once chased around a parking lot by an angry local restaurant owner armed with a butcher knife when she realized she failed to charge me $2.00 for the Red Stripe beer I drank with the meal.  I stayed out of her reach and gave her the $2.00 she was demanding.  Problem solved.  That’s the only issue I’ve had in Jamaica.

 

The shop/booth owners in the markets are more aggressive than in most places.  They may step in front of you to stop your movement or gently grab your arm to steer you to their stall.  Just smile, say “Your merchandise looks great, but I’m not looking for any of that.  Thank you for inviting me into your stall.  I hope you have a great day.”

 

The shop owners will smile and you will be free to move on.  It grows tiresome saying the same thing to every shop owner, but it’s the best way to handle things.  You smile.  You compliment them on their wares.  They smile.  You walk away.  Rinse and repeat.

 

This warning doesn’t really affect tourists.  Enjoy your trip to this unique island.

Fighting in Airplanes

Fighting in Airplanes 800 521 Greg Ellifritz

I get lots of questions about self defense in airplanes and airports.  If you are interested in the topic, I commend the linked article to your attention.  In it, Michael Janich provides a long form article about close quarters fighting in airplanes.

 

The Unfriendly Skies

 

 

 

Guns in the Philippines

Guns in the Philippines 1500 844 Greg Ellifritz

In my travels around the world, I always enjoy visiting foreign gun stores and talking to shooters about their country’s gun laws.  Here is a quick look at gun availability/legality in the Philippines.

Gun Shops and Gun Laws of the Philippines

 

Weird Colombia- Part Two

Weird Colombia- Part Two 217 347 Greg Ellifritz

Back in July, I  spent 17 days in Medellin, Colombia.  Customs there were very different than in the USA. I wrote a previous post about some of the strange things I saw titled Weird Colombia.

 

I was going through my photos from the trip and I realized that I had seen a few more unusual things that I failed to mention in the original post.

 

Here are the additional things I found odd.  Some of them were definite improvements over the American system, but some were far worse.

 

An interesting warning sign on the door of a busy nightclub in the wealthy area where I stayed.  The “no weapons” and “No One under 18 allowed inside” signs would be right at place in any American city.  The other warnings aren’t so commonly seen here.

 

The first one says “It’s prohibited to consume drugs or hallucinogens.”  The third one says “No to child prostitution.”

 

Travelers should be alert for signs like these.  Hanging out in places where drugs are regularly used and where juvenile prostitutes operate may not be the safest choices in a foreign country.

 

Think about it.  Why would they need the sign unless the conduct was commonplace in that facility?

 

Colombian ATM key panel

 

All the Colombian ATM machines had grids like this placed over the keypad.  The grid is designed to prevent people watching the ATM from seeing your PIN when you enter it.  It also helps prevent losses from ATMs equipped with card skimmers and micro video cameras.

 

I think it’s a brilliant idea, but like the signs at the nightclub in the photo above, they should give an alert traveler a warning about the area.  If people weren’t getting jacked for their ATM/Credit cards in the neighborhood, there would be no need for such a keypad covering.

 

Pharmacy at the Medellin airport

Like many countries in the developing world, drugs that require prescriptions in the USA are often sold over the counter without prescriptions at the local pharmacies.

 

Many folks in these countries can’t afford quality medical care.  They go to the pharmacy and tell the pharmacist what symptoms they have.  The pharmacist knows the drugs commonly prescribed for those conditions and then simply sells them the drugs.

 

Every developing-world country has different laws about which drugs require prescriptions.  Colombia seems to be one of the more lenient vacation destinations.  Just about anything is legitimately available if you ask the pharmacist.

Hydrocodone and Tylenol sold over the counter.

Take a look at the box above.  This is the generic version of the more potent mixture of an opiate and Tylenol commonly called “Vicodin” or “Lortab” in the USA.  In the states, these pills have a street value of $10-$15 each.  They are sold over the counter in unlimited quantities for about 70 US cents a pill.

 

For those of you who are wondering, it is legal to bring back a limited quantity of prescription medicines from foreign countries.  If the drug isn’t scheduled by the DEA, the limit is a 90-day personal supply of each drug you want to bring home.

If the drug is controlled or scheduled (like the Sinalgen max in the photo above), the maximal quantity you may bring back with you is a total of 50 “unit doses” combined for all controlled prescription medications.  I have additional information about buying foreign prescription drugs in my book Choose Adventure.

 

Pick up a copy of my book at the link above. It has a stellar 4.8 out of 5 star rating on Amazon

 

Walk up dessert window at a KFC

 

American fast food restaurants are very common in South America.  McDonalds and KFC are the most commonly seen.  I’ve seen KFCs all over the world, but I’ve never seen one with a walk up dessert window.

The window was like a separate restaurant.  You couldn’t get any of the regular KFC food there.  They only sold pastries, cakes, cookies, and soft serve ice cream.  It was right up the street from my hotel and I never passed it without seeing at least one customer waiting in line.  The dessert window was even more popular than the regular restaurant.

Foreign travel always provides amusing experiences and insights.  It’s cool for me to see how differently we all live across the planet.  Observing quirks like these keeps international travel high on my list of rewarding pastimes.

Real Venezuela

Real Venezuela 560 314 Greg Ellifritz

I’m not much of a YouTube watcher, but this Venezuelan travel documentary sucked me in.  I highly recommend that you check it out if you would like to see the reality of life for Venezuelans.

Venezuela is the one Latin American country I haven’t visited.  I regret not going there 15 years ago when it was much safer.

 

2 WEEKS IN VENEZUELA (full documentary)