Choose Adventure

Safely Navigating the Challenges of Third World Travel

Assessing Neighborhood Safety- Gang Graffiti

Assessing Neighborhood Safety- Gang Graffiti 480 640 Greg Ellifritz

In my book Choose Adventure- Safe Travel in Dangerous Places I have a section of advice discussing how to assess whether an area is “safe” or not in a foreign country.  I wrote:

 

“Given the massive differences in culture, customs, and income, how can you tell if the neighborhood you are visiting is safe or not?  These guidelines may be pretty basic, but using them will give you a quick assessment of your relative safety in any neighborhood in the world:

            1) Are there lots of armed guards?

2) Do the properties seem to be run down or uncared for?

3) Are people in the area walking in pairs or small groups rather than walking alone?

4) Is there a lot of graffiti present on the walls?

5) Are there obvious security measures (like broken glass embedded atop walls, electric fences, barbed wire, etc.) present?

6) Are there lots of people are aimlessly “hanging out” in the street?

 

If you answer “yes” to most of these questions, you may not be in the world’s safest place.  It’s time to move on.

 

Beyond looking at these six factors, take a second and observe your environment to get a subjective “feel” for the location.  Is there more order or disorder?  Broken windows, graffiti, trash, fireworks, and items out of place are all signs of disorder.  Recent criminological studies have shown that there is a corresponding increase in crime as disorder increases.”

 

I’m living in Mexico right now.  I was reminded of this passage as I was walking around my neighborhood.

 

I’m renting a condo in a very nice and secure building in Playa del Carmen.  My neighborhood is fine, but I’m right on the boundary between the “tourist area” and the area where the locals live.

 

I’ve discussed transitional areas before.  One block away from my condo is the transitional area between high dollar tourists and economically disadvantaged locals.  It’s far from a dangerous place, but if you aren’t paying attention, you could quickly find yourself in a bad neighborhood.

 

Yesterday, I was running sprints at a local track that was maybe 10 blocks away from my condo.  As I walked to and from the track, I noticed a lot of graffiti.  As noted above, graffiti is generally a sign of disorder and a likely indicator that you may be in an unsafe area.  But context matters as well.  That’s what inspired this article.  Not all the graffiti I saw was a danger sign.  How does one know the difference?

 

I am far from an expert on gangs.  We didn’t have any gang violence in the town where I worked as a cop for 25 years.  That being said, I’ve always been curious about gang communications and I’ve been to quite a few gang-related police training classes over the years.

 

I’ve read lots of books on deciphering gang graffiti as well.  I’ve concentrated much of my research on the Latin gangs as I spend so much time in South and Central America.  I’ll use some pictures I took along my walk to help you understand some things about graffiti.

 

Here’s the first gang tag I saw on my walk.

 

 

If you can’t read it, it says “Sur 13 Pacas.

 

Sur” indicates “Sureno,” meaning “Southerner” one of the big Mexican gang confederations.  They are rivals with “Nortenos” or “Northerners.”

 

The number 13 indicates the group’s affiliation with the Mexican Mafia gang.  The Mexican Mafia is called “Eme” (the letter M) for short.  M is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet.

 

“Pacas” is Spanish for “bales” as in bales of marijuana.  I’m only guessing here, but I’ll go ahead and make the assumption that this particular set runs in the neighborhood and that they might be involved in drug dealing.

 

One of the other factors that helps identify gang graffiti from more innocuous “tagging” is the presence of certain stylized words or letters that form a symbol recognized by gang members.  It’s like a secret gang language.  See how the letter P has a dot that looks like an eye?  I don’t know what that means, but I can make a guess.  Turning letters into symbols like an eye, a crown, a star, an arrow, or some other object is indicative of gang graffiti.

 

When the particular neighborhood is jointly claimed by more than one gang, you will often see one gang sign crossed out and overwritten by another gang’s symbol or name.  Nothing like that here.  No other gang names anywhere around and this one appears to have been there awhile without being defaced.  That most likely means that the Sur13Pacas have reasonable control over the territory.

 

I saw a lot more graffiti on my walk.  None of it was gang related and wasn’t indicative of anything other than the fact that the police don’t likely patrol the area a lot at night and the property owners don’t really care about their property.  How can you tell the difference?

 

Take a look at these two photos.

 

 

 

See how these are bigger, more colorful, and more ornate?  Notice how they are individual names or nicknames and not names of a group?  Notice how they are adjacent to one another without being crossed out or defaced?

 

These are most likely not gang graffiti.  This is probably the work of teen graffiti artists known as “taggers.”  Some taggers do artwork for gangs, but many of them are independent street artists.  They are the same kind of people who paint their names on water towers, walls, and train cars in your hometown.  These indicate that a neighborhood doesn’t get much police contact at night, but aren’t necessarily indicative of danger.

 

On the same wall I saw this piece of graffiti.  I couldn’t figure it out.  Any guesses?

 

 

Remember how I stated “context matters?”  The context became clear when I walked the same route home after my run.  Here’s what I saw.

 

That was the normal parking location of the local French Fry truck.  The “gang graffiti” was merely an advertisement painted by the truck owners to stake out their territory and keep other food trucks from parking in the area.  Graffiti may be about territory, but it’s not always about gang territory.

 

More contextual stuff.  What would you think if you saw this?

 

 

Doesn’t look good, does it?

 

But in context, as part of this large mural, do you feel the same way?  Does this look more like disordered and random graffiti or more like a public art project?

 

 

I did some research.  This is a wall surrounding an elementary school playground.

 

 

According to the locals I spoke with, a group of local taggers and artists (represented in the photo above) got together and artistically decorated the walls of the school playground as a public service to make the area more fun for the children and less unsightly for the residents.

 

Spray painting school walls may not be a common thing in America, but different cultures have different ideas about what is appropriate.  This mural had widespread public support and no other tagger would dare deface it.

 

This is a sign of neighborhood cohesion, not neighborhood disorder.

 

Many times graffiti is a sign that bad things are happening in a neighborhood.  Sometimes it’s the exact opposite.  A skillful and informed traveler will understand the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

Health Insurance for Long Term Travelers

Health Insurance for Long Term Travelers 652 935 Greg Ellifritz

As we are in the middle of a global pandemic, health insurance for expats and remote workers is pretty important.  Paying cash at a local clinic for strep throat treatment is a very different event than a multi-week Covid-19 hospital stay.

 

The article below explains some of the best options for travel health insurance.  For what it’s worth, I’m spending part of the winter in Mexico right now.  I booked my insurance with Safety Wing.

 

New! Global Freelancer Health Insurance for Self Employed and Remote Workers

 

 

 

 

What do psychics say about the future of travel?

What do psychics say about the future of travel? 541 402 Greg Ellifritz

Here’s an entertaining article the likes of which I’ve never seen before.  In it, five different psychics report their predictions for the future of travel.

 

Here’s What Travel Will Look Like in 2021, According to Psychics

 

If you don’t trust the psychics, you can see what a lot of travel experts are predicting in the article below.

 

No return to ‘normal’: Travel industry leaders weigh in on the future

 

I don’t think either group can possibly predict what will happen in the years to come.  I find it best not to get my hopes up.  I’ll just wait and see what happens, adjusting my travel plans as necessary.

 

 

Facebook Travel Groups

Facebook Travel Groups 600 900 Greg Ellifritz

I’m fairly active on Facebook, but I tend to avoid a lot of the groups.  I can’t stand the constant arguments and bickering I see in so many of them.

 

With that said, some of the travel groups have top notch information.  Check out the post below for a list of 40 of the best Facebook travel groups.

 

The Top 40+ Active Facebook Travel Groups to Join in 2021

How Not To Get Killed at the Airport

How Not To Get Killed at the Airport 569 1024 Greg Ellifritz

Written by Greg Ellifritz

 

LAX Shooting 2013 5

Since the shooting at LAX airport on November 1st, I’ve received lots of questions about how to stay safe in an airport when traveling.  Most of my readers carry weapons that can’t be carried past airport security.  Thus, their commonly relied upon means of defense isn’t available and they need an alternate defense plan.  It’s actually hard to give solid self protection advice for surviving airports.  Few good options exist.

 

America is one of the few countries in the world that allows relatively free access into the ticketing area of an airport.  In other countries, you will see lots of rifle-toting soldiers, checkpoints, and bomb sniffing dogs even before passengers get to the ticket counter or security lines.  It was only a matter of time before a terrorist or criminal chose to exploit this weakness.

 

Think about it…a terrorist could cause exactly the same result (mass casualties and a crippling strike to our economy) as bringing down a plane without ever having to board.  If terrorist groups bombed or shot up the unsecured ticketing areas of several airports sequentially, they would kill thousands and force Americans to stop flying.  And the terrorists could do it without having to remove their shoes at the security check or try to smuggle a bomb past the body scanner.  It would be easy.  That’s why the shooter at LAX chose that location to fire his weapon.

 

In reality, this has been done before.  Have you heard of the Moscow airport bombing?  It happened in January 2011.  Up to three Islamist suicide bombers set off bombs in the ticketing area of the Moscow airport, killing 37 people and injuring more than 180 more.

 

Here’s a brief video of the immediate aftermath…

I predict that we will see more attacks like this in coming years.  So what can we do to avoid getting killed?  Here are a few suggestions….

 

1) Don’t rush.  Get to the airport with plenty of extra time to spare.  When you are hurried and worrying about catching your flight, you aren’t paying good attention to what’s going on around you.  Not rushing to catch your plane will give you more time to keep an eye on your surroundings and avoid anything that makes you uncomfortable.  Download the My TSA App for your phone to get real time updates on delays and specific security wait times at the airport of your choosing.  Check the data and plan ahead so that you don’t have to hurry.

 

2) Do as much as possible to avoid standing at the ticketing counter.  Check your luggage at the curb (not allowed if you are checking firearms) or travel with a carry on only to avoid standing in the ticketing line.  Print your boarding pass at home.  The less time spent where people gather (especially lots of clueless people) the better.

 

3) Get through security as quickly as you can.  Even though our airport security is a farce, you are still safer inside the checkpoint than outside.  Don’t eat or have coffee in restaurants outside the security checkpoint.  Clear security quickly and then find a place to eat.  The best advice for clearing security quickly is in this Wired Magazine article.

 

Airsecurity2

4) Once you clear security, find your gate, any emergency exits, and any place where you might be able to acquire weapons for a more serious hostage situation or terrorist bombing.  Food preparation areas will generally have knives.  Maintenance areas will generally have tools.  Look for cleaning carts to find irritant chemicals.  You might need any of those items if things go bad.

 

5) Get away from as many people as possible.  Terrorists target large groups of people.  I’m a big fan of avoiding such groups and thus, I’m also a huge proponent of using airport lounges.  You will most likely have access to a lounge if you are traveling in Business or First Class or have preferred status with a certain airline.   Lounge Buddy is an App you can put on your phone that will tell you all of the available lounges and what the requirements are for entry.   You can also become a member of Priority Pass.  For an annual fee, you can get a set number of free lounge visits every year, even if you are flying coach.

 

Lounge Buddy Screen Shot

Lounge Buddy Screen Shot

 

6) Weapons and Equipment.  To be honest, for most terrorist attacks, any weapons that you are able to legally carry through security are likely to be inconsequential to the overall outcome.  I really don’t think you will take out multiple suicide bombers with your “tactical” pen.

 

But most of you carry weapons on a daily basis, so I’ll go over a few options for airport carry.  My first recommendation is to NEVER SMUGGLE ANYTHING ILLEGAL THROUGH SECURITY.  Yes, some things may make it through, but I don’t think the risk of spending years in prison is worth the advantage of having a small knife or something of the sort.  There are better defense options available that won’t get you thrown in prison.

 

– Canes: Canes are legal on an airplane.  You don’t even have to feign a limp.  As long as the cane doesn’t have a sword inside, it’s pretty much allowed to go through….even nasty fighting canes like the TDI/KaBar model.  While I don’t think canes are the best weapon to use ON a plane, they work well in the airport and in the terminal.

 

– Flashlights:  You should definitely have a flashlight in your carry-on.  I always carry at least two.  One of them is a headlamp that allows me to see and operate without tying up my hands.  It also works great when you are trying to read and you happen to be in the seat with the malfunctioning overhead reading light.

 

In addition to the headlamp, I also carry a flashlight that I can hit someone with.  I usually end up carrying a Surefire or Fenix brand light that uses two CR123 batteries.  They are bright, durable, fairly light, and perfect to use to defend yourself from a serious criminal

 

– Tactical pens:  Some pens are made stoutly enough to serve as impact weapons.  I would avoid the ones that are spiky or look like a weapon.  Those may be confiscated by TSA.  I prefer the lower profile tactical pens.  I carry one made by my friend Rick Hinderer all over the world and have never had an issue.

 

It’s probably a good idea to pack a pre-stamped, self addressed envelope in your carry-on bag.  If for some reason the TSA doesn’t like your pen or flashlight, you can mail it home to yourself.

 

-Improvised impact weapons.  Think along the idea of “a rock in a sock.”  A couple of D-cell batteries inside a long tube sock (put together after you clear security) makes a very nasty impact weapon.  I generally use an old biker weapon instead…a bandanna threaded through the hasp of a padlock.  You are limited only by your imagination.

 

Neither bandannas nor padlocks are prohibited by the TSA....

Neither bandannas nor padlocks are prohibited by the TSA….

 

7) Medical Supplies.  Don’t forget medical supplies.  The first aid kits on airplanes are laughably sparse.  And if something really bad happens in the airport, you shouldn’t expect to get help quickly.  Check out this article if you don’t believe me…

 

LAX security officer bled for 33 minutes as help stood by

 

In addition to the large medical kit I have in my checked bag, I also carry a smaller kit on my person or in my carry-on.  All the items inside must be TSA-legal and small enough that they don’t take up much room.   Mine is carried in a small Blackhawk nylon pouch.  Inside, I carry the following:

 

– A “snivel kit” with bandaids, OTC meds, antibiotic ointment and the like

– A CAT Tourniquet

– A Triangular bandage, carabiner, and key ring.  The bandage can be used for many conditions.  When I put the three together, I can make another tourniquet ala Paul Gomez (see video below)

– Duct tape

– Chest seals

– Pressure Dressing

Celox Hemostatic Gauze

– Prescription pain meds, anti-nausea meds, and broad spectrum antibiotics

– Safety pins

– Gauze pads

-Water purification tablets

Blister treatment

Here’s my “plane kit”…

 

Open

My airplane first aid kit (since photo was taken, I’ve replaced the TK-4 tourniquet with a CAT)

 

Having traveled to more than 50 countries in the last 15 years, this stuff is important to me.  I hope I gave you a few ideas to help keep yourself safer.

 

 

 

 

Unhappy News

Unhappy News 1280 855 Greg Ellifritz

The US government announced yesterday that all air travelers arriving in the USA after January 26, must have evidence of a negative Covid-19 test within three days of their travel.  It will be a horrible blow to the travel economy and will limit a lot of Americans’ travel plans.

 

U.S. Will Require All International Arriving Passengers To Have A Covid-19 Test

 

 

This is a really poor public policy. The USA has the worst rate of infection of any country on the planet. Who are we “protecting” at home when we bar someone from entry when he is coming from a nation that has a lower infection rate than the USA?
Countries in the developing world do not have the same capacity for testing that the US has. Travelers simply may not even be able to get tests.
I’m in Mexico right now. Currently, without a testing requirement, the labs down here are scheduling PCR tests 7-10 days out. Mexico doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to do them any faster. As soon as the USA implements this requirement on the 26th, there will be massive new demands for testing and no ability to satisfy those demands.
People estimate down here that it may take two to three weeks to get tested after the new requirement is in place.
And keep in mind that I am in a very developed part of Mexico looking at a long wait for a test. How are you going to get tested in rural Uganda or the Peruvian jungle?  I had plans to travel to both of those locations in 2021.  This ruling will either prohibit me from traveling there or force me to stay an extra three days in a big city in one of those countries waiting for my test results to come in.
The requirement will effectively stop any “long weekend” international travel.  It will also make larger families stop traveling internationally.  With the tests costing $100-$150 each way, it gets really expensive to take your spouse and three kids on an international getaway.
What I also find curious is that you will be able to fly with a negative test or proof that you’ve already recovered from a past case of Covid-19.  Having taken both doses of the vaccine isn’t good enough.  What does that say about the government’s true opinion of the efficacy of the vaccination?
The only thing this restriction will do is to further destroy the travel industry and create a huge market for forged testing results.
It’s a good thing I got a six-month travel visa here in Mexico.   I may be stuck for awhile.  That might not be a bad thing.  Overall, people in Mexico seem to be far more sensible about effective precautions than the politicians in the USA.

Travel Log- Brazil

Travel Log- Brazil 480 640 Greg Ellifritz

A week ago I arrived home from an eight-day trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.   As I’ve written extensively about Brazil in past articles, I’m not going to cover the normal tourist stuff.  Instead, I’m going to discuss travel during a worldwide pandemic and the different perspectives other populations have regarding Covid-19.

 

I love Brazil.  I first traveled there in 2007 and this was my seventh trip to the county.  I last visited in 2015 and was missing the atmosphere.  I didn’t have any real purpose for my trip other than getting some time on the beach and eating some good food.  I was also growing tired of the cold Ohio winter and the ridiculous curfews and Covid-19 restrictions my state has implemented.

 

A friend of mine had some time off work and had never visited Brazil.  She wanted to go and needed a tour guide.  We booked the trip on short notice hoping to enjoy the largest New Years celebration in the world on Copacabana Beach.  It didn’t hurt that at the time of the booking, Brazil was one of only five countries in the world accepting American tourists without Coronavirus testing or quarantine.  Since our trip, Brazil now requires a negative PCR Covid-19 test in order to enter the country.

 

The normal New Years celebration involves three million people on the beach.  It was cancelled this year because of the pandemic.  That was a disappointment, but we still had a good time.

 

Many of my friends questioned my travel during a global pandemic, especially to a nation like Brazil that is consistently rated among the top three countries in the world for coronavirus infections and deaths.

 

I think a little perspective is in order.  The United Sates leads the world in Covid-19 infections and deaths.  Going ANYWHERE ELSE in the world lessens my chance of infection as compared to staying home.  I’m certain the medical care in Brazil may not be as good as I would achieve at home.  That’s why I bought a travel insurance policy through Safety Wing to cover medical expenses related to Covid-19 and emergency evacuation back to the USA.

 

As of today, I’ve been home eight days and neither myself nor my travel companion have shown any symptoms of having acquired the virus.

 

Here are the stats as of today:

Total Coronavirus Cases

Brazil- 8,105,790

USA- 22,910,140

Total Covid-19 Deaths

Brazil- 203,140

USA- 383,242

 

Brazil has a population of 209 million people (roughly 2/3 of the population of the USA), yet has roughly 1/3 the number of infections as compared to the USA.  Death rates for both country are rated at three percent.  I don’t think it’s any riskier traveling to Brazil as it is staying in the USA.

 

In speaking with lots of local Brazilians, I learned that the Brazilian death rates are being exaggerated by the government.  My local friends told me that if a Brazilian citizen dies with Covid-19, the government would pay all his medical expenses as well as his funeral expenses.

 

In a poor country with minimal health insurance coverage, there is a huge incentive for doctors to categorize the death as having been related to Covid-19.  The family pays nothing for the health care or the funeral.  Hospital costs are all covered by the government.  My local friends state that anyone dying after having tested positive for the virus  is categorized as a Covid-19 fatality.  They say this makes Brazil look bad in comparison to other countries.

 

So what was it like to travel during the pandemic?

 

Not really much different than traveling at home.  In Brazil, masks are required in enclosed public spaces and on public transportation just like at home.  That proved a bit more difficult than one might expect.  Masks are also required in airports, airplanes, and cabs to and from the airport.  It’s one thing to wear a mask at the grocery store.  It’s a little different to wear it for 20+ straight hours.

 

We had to be at the airport two hours before the flight left (completely unnecessary as baggage check and security took us a timed 12 minutes from arrival).  We had a two-hour flight to Miami, a four-hour layover, a nine-hour overnight flight, and two more hours in baggage claim and a cab from the airport to our hotel in Ipanema.  Our flight home had an additional connecting flight in Sao Paulo which added another two hours to the process.  Twenty hours in a mask isn’t fun, but it’s the cost of doing business if you want to travel right now.

 

Modern air travel

 

Once we arrived in country, it was pretty much like at home without any lockdowns or curfews.  If anything, the Brazilians were doing more than the Americans to prevent viral transmission.  Use of hand sanitizer was mandatory when entering restaurants and large shops.  Many public locations took temperatures of each guest and denied entry to those who had a fever.

 

Signs like this were everywhere. I found it interesting that in Brazil, the “socially distant” space requirement was only 1.5 meters rather than the USA’s 2 meters. I don’t think anyone really knows the true distance one needs to keep away from others without risk of catching the disease.

 

The issue of wearing a mask has a cultural component that I had never really considered.  My Brazilian friends all mentioned that it was much more difficult for Brazilians to get used to the mask in public.  It’s a very appearance-driven culture.  Brazil is the plastic surgery capital of the world.  There are more than twice the number of plastic surgeries done in Brazil (by population) as compared to the United States.  The Brazilians tended to resent covering up their expensive facelifts, nose jobs, and lip implants with a mask.

 

The culture also prefers very close proxemics.  People stand close to each other when speaking and universally greet one another with hugs and kisses on the cheek.  The locals I spoke with said they had difficulty adjusting to public masks as it was so anathema to their normal everyday customs.  That’s something I hadn’t really considered before visiting.

 

I noticed a trend when I was down there.  The more affluent neighborhoods had much higher rates of mask usage for people just walking down the street.  In Ipanema (very wealthy), I would estimate that more than 80% of the people wore masks even when outside.  If you drop down a notch to Copacabana (still nice, but not as snooty), mask wearing rates were about 50%.  On our visit to a local favela (slum), I would guess that fewer than 25% of the population was wearing masks outside.

 

It’s hard to know why there was such an extreme variation in mask use between neighborhoods in the same city.  It might be that the affluent are more educated and have more resources to buy masks.  It might also just be a pandering status thing as well.  The well off suffer more from social shaming than the poor do.

 

One other interesting fact about masks I learned from one of our tour guides was that there was a cultural expectation that tourists wear masks at all times.  Since the virus did not originate in Brazil, it was brought there by travelers.  The locals think that it’s the travelers’ burden to wear a mask to help protect the locals from the “foreign” virus.  Locals were cut more slack with regard to mask enforcement than tourists.

 

It’s a fascinating perspective.  Why don’t Americans feel the same way?  The virus was brought here by tourists and business travelers.  Why don’t we have the same fear of strangers that the Brazilians have?  I’ll probably never figure it out, but I generally wore my mask as much as possible so as not to make waves with the people who live in the city I was visiting.

 

The concept of  “social distancing” wasn’t really a thing in Brazil, even though it is widely suggested by Brazilian health authorities.  No one seemed fearful of close physical contact like many people are in the USA.  There was no two meter separation in any lines.  Parts of the beach were absolutely packed with people.  On the beach, no one wore masks.  No one feared being in very close proximity with a bunch of strangers.  People were friendly and talkative.

 

As soon as people stepped off the beach and onto the street/sidewalk, the masks came on.  It seemed like a weird form of hypocrisy to me.  It’s not like people are immune to the virus only when standing on the sand.  Odd, but that’s what I saw.  It was almost like the Brazilians reluctantly accepted most public mask wearing, but drew the line when it came to masking up at their beloved beaches.

 

No “social distancing” at the Christ the Redeemer statue

 

The photo below the most famous spot (Posto 9) on Ipanema beach.  It’s where all the “pretty people” hang out.  You can see how crowded that section of the beach is, despite there being lots of room to spread out.  Brazilians were willing to sacrifice a lot, but they wanted their important beach recreation to be as “normal” as possible.

 

Kilometer post #9 on Ipanema beach from our hotel balcony.  It was completely packed without a mask in sight.

 

As my traveling partner had never been to Rio, we did a lot of the traditional tourist activities.  We spent a lot of time on the beach.  We walked all around Ipanema and Copacabana.  We took a guided tour of the Christ statue and the “Sugar Loaf” mountain.  We also did a half day favela walking tour.

 

If you need a tour guide in Brazil, I would highly recommend the services of Vicente Thomas.  He gave us an amazing tour of the city.  His website is Sunrise Turismo.  He can also be reached on Facebook and Instagram at Brazil Sunrise Turismo.  Vicente speaks excellent English and is very knowledgeable about both the history and the politics of his home country of Brazil.  Book him for a tour if your don’t want to explore on your own or desire a Brazilian perspective on current events.

 

Our guide Vicente introducing us to a fruit smoothie made from a jungle fruit I had never tasted before.

 

Besides the tourist attractions and beach, I really enjoy the food in Brazil.  If you are a meat lover, you will be in heaven.  There is a great “cafe culture” in Rio with almost all bars and restaurants having ample outdoor seating along the street and sidewalk.  It’s really enjoyable to have a great meal and a few drinks while people watching from a warm patio.  When we weren’t on the beach, we spent a lot of time relaxing on patios.  I think I could do that every day for the rest of my life and remain happy.

 

Smiling as I consume my first patio Caipirinha of the trip. This scene would be repeated daily for our entire trip.

 

This was a “meat platter” for two at a local restaurant. It had chicken, sausage, pulled brisket, and filet mignon. It probably would have fed four normal people. We made a good dent in it and then gave the leftovers to a homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk on the way back to our hotel. This massive plate of meat cost $18.

 

One of the many reasons I enjoy Rio is the amazing beaches.  You can rent a chair and an umbrella from a local vendor for about $10 a day.  There is a constant parade of merchants selling every food and drink item imaginable on the beach.  Local beers on the beach were less than $2 each.  Vendors sold fruit, mixed drinks, grilled chicken and shrimp, empanadas, and acai bowls everywhere.

 

My favorite beach snack was the “quejo” stick below.  It is a block of cheese on a stick.  Sellers carry them down the beach in a cooler.  When you order them, they heat the cheese on a charcoal grill until warm and then dip the cheese block in oregano.  Going rate was three cheese sticks for five US dollars.  The walking vendors even took credit card payments via their smart phones.

 

Being cheesy on the beach

 

The cheese man warming the cheese blocks on his portable charcoal grill on the beach.

 

For what it’s worth, the beach culture in Rio is very different than in the USA.  No open container laws.  No cops in sight.  Rampant marijuana use.  Everyone brought loud music, grills, food, and their dogs.  It struck me that all these factors made going to the beach a blast in Rio, but all would be prohibited in a “free” country like the USA.

 

There was a section of Ipanema beach that had free concrete home made weights for use by anyone. It was packed with locals working out. Could you imagine being able to deadlift with a tropical drink in hand at a US beach?

 

There is a very favorable exchange rate between the Brazilian Real and the US Dollar right now.  It’s currently at about 5.2 Reis for each dollar.  To put this in perspective, on my first trip to Brazil, the Real was worth 1.7 US dollars.  Currently your US currency is worth three times more than what it was valued a decade ago.

 

The exchange rate meant that dinner at a really nice restaurant ran about $20-$30.  Fifteen minute Uber rides in the city cost around $3.00 each.  Beers were about $1.50 each and a good lunch at a local place cost somewhere between four and eight dollars.  Going to Brazil is a tremendous value right now.  The local guides say that the tourism industry has collapsed since Covid-19 arrived.

 

Guides told us that only Americans were traveling to Brazil right now.  Usually there are a lot of European and Australian tourists in the country, but the high rate of Covid infection has scared them off.  Americans recognize that infection rates are less in Brazil than their home country.  European nations can’t make the same claim, so they avoid visiting Brazil right now.

 

For what it’s worth, we only saw one other American tourist in the week we were in Rio.  Americans are the only people traveling there and we didn’t see any of them.  That tells you how bad the tourist industry is in Brazil right now.

 

Rio from the Christ statue

 

As for crime and police issues, we didn’t have any problems.  The beaches were considerably less crowded than when I last visited.  The roving gangs of child thieves from the favelas simply weren’t present on the beach anymore.

 

Almost everyone had smart phones at the beach.  That would have been unthinkable five years ago.  Back then, anything you took to the beach was likely to get stolen and no one brought valuables.  I’m happy to say that conditions have improved with regard to the rampant crime that once kept people away from Rio.

 

On the other hand, drug sales were much more prevalent.  Almost every beach vendor offered us weed or cocaine without fear.  That would have never occurred during my previous visits.

 

Cops were more noticeable and seemed to have more standardized uniforms and equipment.  All had external body armor carriers and packed either Taurus or Beretta pistols in a variety of cheap nylon duty or vest-mounted holsters.  I saw a few cops sporting six inch barreled chrome Taurus .357 magnum revolvers on patrol as well.  I hadn’t seen that before.

 

Cops riding in cruisers were generally paired up.  The passenger officer generally carried a FAL rifle with the muzzle poking out the window.  There’s no playing around down there.

 

Cop with FAL stuck out the window patrolling Ipanema

 

I had another great experience in Rio.  If you have any urge to travel there, now is a perfect time.  Flights and accommodations are incredibly cheap and there aren’t very many tourists visiting the country.  If you want a unique escape, Brazil awaits.

 

 

Sunset on Ipanema beach

Language Learning Tips

Language Learning Tips 1200 448 Greg Ellifritz

I think it’s important to learns a few words of the local language wherever you travel and covered a few language tips in Choose Adventure.  Here are a bunch more.

 

Mark Manson is a veteran world traveler and one of my favorite authors.  He knocks it out of the park with the article below.

 

25 Tips For Learning A Foreign Language

 

 

 

 

Some of the above links (from Amazon.com and others) are affiliate links.   As an Amazon associate I earn a small percentage of the sale price from qualifying purchases.

Bribery Etiquette?

Bribery Etiquette? 695 493 Greg Ellifritz

I wrote a whole chapter on the fine art of bribery in my book Choose Adventure.  I find it a fascinating topic.

 

Most Americans fail to understand that bribery is just another travel expense.  You pay extra money to have better experiences or make things happen more smoothly.  That’s all it is.  Nothing worth getting angry.

 

If you want some tips on better bribery, read my friend Daisy’s article below.  It has some very good advice.

 

The Fine Art of Bribery

 

 

 

Some of the above links (from Amazon.com and others) are affiliate links.   As an Amazon associate I earn a small percentage of the sale price from qualifying purchases.

Everyday Carry Survival Kit

Everyday Carry Survival Kit 620 465 Greg Ellifritz

I spend a lot of time traveling to dangerous third world countries.  Most of the places I go are actually fairly safe overall, but there are always dangers when you travel overseas.  I worry a little more about being stranded in the wilderness…either the jungles I’m hiking through or the concrete jungles of the cities I visit during a riot or insurrection.

 

When I travel, I carry a very simple survival kit with me wherever I go.  It can be carried in a cargo pocket or a day pack.  It’s lightweight and takes up virtually no space, yet gives me the basics to survive for quite awhile in almost any environment.  If you travel, or even if you just want to be more prepared in your daily life, you might consider making and carrying one of your own.

 

Here’s a list of the supplies I carry and why I chose them:

 

The entire kit began as a Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Series Basic Kit.  It has a durable carry pouch, is cheap to purchase, and has a few other useful items.  I kept the outer carrying case and a couple of other things and then added additional items to make it more useful.  You don’t need something like this, but it’s handy.  You could put it all in a quart sized Ziploc bag and be fine.

 

Gerber’s basic kit. I kept the bag and the whistle and got rid of most of the other items in favor of some of my own favorites that will be more useful.

 

On the outside of the case (attached to the zipper), I have:

– Two large safety pins.  These are useful for everything from removing splinters to popping blisters to repairing clothing.  In a survival situation, you could even use them as fishhooks.

– The included whistle.  It’s an easy signalling device to get help to my location.  It’s louder and takes less effort than yelling.  In a wilderness area, the uses are obvious.  In an urban setting, think about situations like a being trapped in a structural collapse after an earthquake or bombing.

– A handcuff key and handcuff shim.  You just don’t know what will happen in a foreign country.  If taken hostage and cuffed, these could be useful (assuming they aren’t found in a search).

Photon Microlight II mini flashlight (red LED)

 

Inside I have:

 

– A large piece of aluminum foil.  Can be used for water collection, cooking, or emergency signalling.

– A small lighter.  Much better option than matches for fire starting.  I also have a spark lighter and some quick igniting tinder as a backup plan in case the lighter stops functioning.  Fire is an important and life saving asset, especially in cold weather.

– A scalpel blade.  The smallest knife available.  I generally carry at least one other blade, so this one is just for backup.

– Four water purification tablets and a Frontier Emergency Water filter straw.  It’s small and weighs less than one ounce, but still filters 20 gallons of water.  The water filter is good for most contaminants, but won’t get rid of viruses.  If there’s a chance that your water has been contaminated by feces, use the straw in conjunction with the tablets.

– A small roll of duct tape.  This has countless uses from first aid to shelter making.  If you can’t find a tiny roll, wrap some around a small pen or pencil to place in your kit.

– A flexible plastic Fresnel lens.  This is a magnifying “glass” that is the size and thickness of a credit card.  Useful for older folks who have lost their reading glasses, for signalling, or for removing small splinters or pieces of debris in the eye.  It can also be used as a backup fire starter.

 

Fresnel lens

 

– A small fishing kit (line, sinkers, hooks)

– Signalling mirror

– A small roll of wire for constructing shelters or making snares.

– 20 feet of paracord.  Useful for emergency shoe laces, shelter construction and lots of other handy things.

– 30 feet of waxed Kevlar cordage.  It’s the same material that is used in ballistic vests.  The strongest kind of thin, light cordage available.  It’s suitable for numerous tasks.

– A first aid kit containing: 4 caffeine pills (for additional energy or wakefulness if I am on the run), 4 Imodium tablets (for diarrhea), 2 broad spectrum antibiotic pills (for most infections or serious traveler’s diarrhea), 4 Ibuprofen tablets (for pain), 2 Hydrocodone tablets for more serious pain or a bad cough (prescription only), 2 Pepto-Bismol tablets (for stomach upset), 2 Diphenhydramine tablets for allergies or allergic reactions, blister treatment.

– Button Compass

– Wire Saw

– A couple of sheets of paper for leaving notes or as fire starting tinder.

 

 

That’s about all I can fit in a truly pocket sized container.  It works well for me.  I carry the kit everywhere in foreign countries and occasionally have it on my person here in the USA as well.

 

My kit’s contents, may not be appropriate for your individual needs.  I’d encourage you to develop your own by using my list as a starting point and then personalizing the contents to fit your own mission.  If you need any more ideas, send me an email or post a comment.

 

 

The entire unpacked kit