Choose Adventure

Safely Navigating the Challenges of Third World Travel

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)

 

Eating Around the World

Eating Around the World 320 221 Greg Ellifritz

A fascinating look at how people in other countries eat differently than we eat in the USA. The article also has some great tips for healthy eating while traveling.

Well worth your time to read if you are either a traveler or a health nut.

 

What I’ve Learned from Eating Abroad

 

Developing World Problems in the USA

Developing World Problems in the USA 640 480 Greg Ellifritz

I was once on a snorkeling excursion in Aruba.  On the boat, I heard an older couple speaking Spanish with a very distinctive Argentine accent.  They were the only Spanish speakers on the boat and seemed a bit confused with the captain’s English snorkeling instructions.

 

I introduced myself in Spanish and translated the captain’s instruction for the couple.  We began chatting in Spanish.  They told me they lived in Bariloche, Argentina, but were trying to get residency in the United States.  Bariloche is a beautiful, high dollar ski resort town.  I had visited the city on past trips to South America.

 

The couple wanted to move to inland Florida.  I was kind of confused.  I asked them why they would leave their beautiful home to live in a Florida swamp.  The woman replied “Because everything works in America.

 

She went on to describe how in Argentina, none of the utilities worked reliably, food supplies were inconsistent,  the roads were bad, and  government corruption was rampant.  She said that as the couple aged they learned to appreciate the boring reliability of an American existence.

 

The woman had a good point, but things have changed significantly in the five years since I had that conversation.

 

I’ve been traveling quite a bit all over the United States.  So far this year I’ve taught or taken 37 days of out-of-state classes.  I was in eight different states last month.  In addition to my busy teaching schedule, I’ve taken two short vacations in Florida and one in California.  I’m starting to think that the United Sates is rapidly becoming a third world country.  The things that once “worked” don’t work the same way anymore.  The decline is stunningly similar to what I’ve experienced in my travels in the developing world.

 

Here are a few things I’ve noticed in the last couple months of my domestic travel.

 

Airline issues– Up until about five years ago, when taking a flight in South America or Africa, one had to call the airline the day before the flight to ensure that the flight was still scheduled.  The flights were notoriously unreliable and the airlines wanted to avoid dealing with irate customers at the airports.

 

I’ve flown 46 flights this calendar year.  Twenty-nine of them were delayed or cancelled.  American airline reliability is now no better than some of the worst airlines in rural Africa.

 

Police uniforms- In the developing world, cops have very inconsistent uniforms.  They often wear jeans with a uniform shirt.  They lack equipment that American cops would consider mandatory.  Seeing a cop with only a handgun and no ancillary gear is really common in third world countries.

 

Last month I was stopped for speeding in rural Oklahoma.  The cop approached my car.  He was wearing a polo shirt and khaki pants.  No body armor.  No camera.  He was wearing a leather trouser belt instead of a duty rig.  He had a Glock in a thumbreak leather pancake holster and a police radio hanging off his trouser belt.  Nothing else.  No OC spray.  No Taser.  No handcuffs.  No baton.  No flashlight.  He looked like a security guard from El Salvador.
The cop was very nice and graciously let me off with a warning.  Given the uniform he was wearing I half expected him to solicit a bribe like his third-world counterparts.

 

Gas station irregularities.  I was driving in rural northern Texas and needed to stop for gas.  I pulled off the highway and up to a gas pump.  The attendant came out of the station to tell me that the station had no gas and wouldn’t be getting anymore for several days.

 

I went across the street to another station.  All the pumps had signs stating that the credit card processors were all broken.  It took stopping at a third station to get my gas.

 

 

A week later, I stopped at a gas station in rural Arkansas.  They had functioning gas pumps, but I noticed the doors to the store were propped open and fans were blowing.  I walked in to use the bathroom and the attendant apologized for the lack of air conditioning.  He told me that the station’s aircon had been out for a few days and they couldn’t schedule a repair person to come fix it.

 

I proceeded to the restroom and saw this sign over the toilet.

 

 

Such signs (coupled with a small trash can next to the toilet) are commonplace in South and Central America where they have substandard plumbing and water pressure.  I’ve never seen one in the United States.

 

On my way home during the same trip, I stopped at a gas station in Louisville, Kentucky.  I tried my credit card and the machine flashed a message stating “see attendant.”  I went inside the station.  The attendant told me that none of their pump credit card readers had worked “for weeks.”  He had no idea if they would ever be repaired.

 

I would expect such conditions at a third world gas station, but I’ve never seen so many gas station issues in the United States.

 

Hotel Problems- I stayed the night at a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee on a trip to Ohio.  The hotel was cheap, but promised a hot breakfast.  When I went to the common area to eat the next morning, I found it locked.  The hotel worker said that they haven’t had hot breakfast since Covid began.  They can’t find the staff to cook and man the breakfast station.

 

I’ve noticed that even in nicer hotels, there is no air conditioning in the hallways, stairwells, and common areas.  That’s a common money saving trick in the developing world, but I don’t remember ever encountering it here.

 

I was checking in to a Holiday Inn Express near Little Rock, Arkansas.  The front desk person answering the phone told all the callers that the reservation system was down nationwide and they would have to call back tomorrow and try to reserve the room again.

 

Having been tricked by the lack of breakfast in the Memphis hotel, I began packing my own breakfasts.  In a nice hotel in Boca Raton, Florida I went to the lobby to get some coffee to accompany my packed breakfast.  No luck.  All of the hotel’s coffee makers were broken.  When have you ever seen that in the United States?

 

Most American hotels are still not providing room cleaning on a daily basis.  I’ve spent some time this year in both Mexico and Colombia.  Those developing world hotels at least had daily maid service.  Not in America.

 

Food shortages–  Last weekend I taught near Dayton, Ohio.  I stopped at a local Chipotle to get some food.  These signs were hanging over the cash register.

 

 

When spending time in Bolivia, Cuba, Tanzania, and Cambodia I became used to restaurants not having items that were listed on their menus.  I don’t recall ever dealing with that problem here in the USA.  This national restaurant chain restaurant was out of coins, salad dressing, lettuce, and vegetables.  Not very encouraging.

 

The grocery stores I visited in Colombia were better stocked than most of the places I’ve shopped in the last few months.

 

Heightened security– In poor areas of the developing world, stores keep valuable items behind the counter to prevent theft.  I’m seeing more and more security countermeasures being employed by grocery stores and carry outs here as well.  I stopped at a carryout near Los Angeles and was shocked to find that all the refrigerated cases were secured with padlocks.  The store clerk said that the shoplifting problem is so bad that they couldn’t leave the beer, milk, and Gatorade unlocked.

 

It reminded my of this convenience store I visited in a dodgy area of Medellin last month.  All the goods were behind bars.  You told the clerk what you wanted and he would pass the items to you through the iron bars after you paid for them.

 

One characteristic of the developing world is that all of the residents have lost complete faith in their police officers.  The cops are corrupt, scared, or ignorant.  They don’t do much for the local populations.

 

Residents with money hire private armed security guards to keep crime out of their neighborhoods.  A couple years ago, I predicted that this would soon become a trend in the USA as well.  My prediction is coming true.  I just read this headline today Crime in New York Causes a Block to Hire Armed Security.

 

I don’t know what to think of these disturbing changes.  I don’t know how to fix things.  I think it’s only going to get worse in the future.  Within the next decade, it’s possible that the United States will be downgraded to an economic “second world” nation.  All the signs are here.  Pay attention and have a plan to live a far less luxurious lifestyle in the future.

 

I never thought I would be considering my travels in the developing world as critical training and experience for navigating everyday life in the USA.  I predict a rough ride ahead.

 

My Argentinian friends were wrong.  Not everything “works” in America.  It might be time to start looking at other places to live.

 

Second Passports

Second Passports 888 499 Greg Ellifritz

Some of my readers peruse my site because they are looking to acquire either residency or citizenship in other countries.  The desire to get another passport may be to achieve more freedom, relief from taxation, or easier availability of certain foreign visas.

 

I recently listened to a podcast that does a great job discussing options for a second passport.  If you are interested in the topic, click the link below.

 

Katie the Russian on Plan B Passports – Epi-3170

“How To Travel Smartly”

“How To Travel Smartly” 960 662 Greg Ellifritz

There are some fairly sensible travel safety tips in the article linked below.

 

Project Gecko Tells You How to Travel Smartly

 

If you are mostly interested in international travel, you should also check out this article on South American taxi scams.  These are all very common.  Use Uber or Lyft instead of relying on local taxis as a gringo.

Social Violence in the Developing World

Social Violence in the Developing World 634 356 Greg Ellifritz

British family ended up driving into a violent slum after a language mix-up

This is a very curious case study in social violence.  This family was driving in Brazil and misunderstood directions.  They ended up in a gang controlled favela.  A drug gang shot up their car and the mother ended up with a bullet wound before they were able to escape.  It’s important to understand that this wasn’t a “random” gang shooting.  It wasn’t a robbery either.  The gang members did not take anything from the family.

 

No, this was pure social violence.  Take a look at this link from Rory Miller explaining the difference between social and asocial violent crimes.  What happened here is more similar to the idea of the “educational beatdown” than any other motivation.  How do I know?  This quote explains it all:

 

“But due to a mix-up they were directed to the slum – and were challenged by an armed gang.

When Mr Dixon refused to heed their demand to turn back, they fired a volley of bullets, one of which hit Mrs Dixon in the stomach.”

 

Social violence almost always comes with a warning.  In essence, the drug gang was telling these folks “You don’t belong here.  Get out.”  When the husband refused, the gang took that as a challenge to their authority and broke out the pistols to punish the infraction.

 

It’s dangerous to attribute your own values and morals to the members of a criminal subculture who do not share your worldview.  Travelers need to understand this concept well in order to stay safe.  There are some places where tourists are not welcome.  Open air drug markets (which are the mainstay business in the favelas) are an example of such places.  There are many others.  Pay attention to how people react when they see you.  If you are greeted with scorn, disdain, pointing, insults, and the shaking of heads, it’s time to get out.

 

Just because you would never shoot a lost tourist who mistakenly drove down your street does not mean that the locals will afford you the same consideration.

 

For more information on this topic, I highly recommend reading Rory Miller’s books Facing Violence and Conflict Communication.  You should also read Marc MacYoung’s book In the Name of Self Defense.  Both of these authors are at the top of the heap with regards to researching how social violence occurs.  Pick up these books.  Your combative education isn’t complete until you internalize the message these authors are trying to spread.

 

Masks for Travelers

Masks for Travelers 940 940 Greg Ellifritz

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and am seeing a gradual increase in public mask wearing across the country and worldwide.

 

 

I was in Colombia last month.  There were no mask requirements when I arrived.  In less than three weeks, masks were required in the airport and on all flights to and from the country.  At the same time I had friends traveling in Germany, Iceland, and Bali.  All reported that masks were mandatory in those countries when utilizing any type of public transportation.  In fact, Germany is considering reinstating travel restrictions in addition to mandating masks.

 

 

Two weeks ago I flew through the Columbus, Ohio airport.  All airport staff (police, airline staff, TSA, restaurant employees) were required to wear masks in the airport.  The US Government even suggested masks as a preventative measure against monkeypox (but later retracted this advice).  Clearly, masks don’t seem to be going anywhere soon.  I worry that they might become mandated everywhere again when Covid-19 kicks up this winter.

 

 

I personally question the effectiveness of wearing cloth masks.  I caught Covid last year in Ecuador despite wearing surgical masks in all public places in the country.

 

Wearing a mask while waiting for a Covid test as I was dying in Ecuador

 

The evidence is pretty clear that if you really want to protect yourself, you need to wear an N95 or equivalent respirator.  I would never discourage anyone from wearing one of those.  Here are some options for acquiring them.

 

 

It’s the cloth masks that bother me.  They seem useless in preventing the wearers from getting sick.  They may have some utility in preventing already sick people from spreading large liquid droplets to uninfected folks.  In my mind, a better option is encouraging sick folks to stay home rather than putting everyone in cloth masks.

 

Not looking forward to going back to this

 

Even though I don’t believe the hassle of wearing cloth masks is worth the marginal protection they provide, I don’t like to make waves.  I prefer to be “the grey man” as much as possible.  Nothing attracts unwanted attention from many different types of people than refusing to wear a mask where it is a community standard to be masked in public.

 

 

There is another answer.  For the last year, I have been wearing masks made by Fake Masks Worldwide.  The masks are comfortable.  They are super thin and don’t impede my breathing nearly as much as other masks.

 

 

While the company makes fake N95 masks and fake surgical masks, I have no experience with those.  I have been wearing the Double Incognito and Triple Incognito masks.  Of the two, I prefer the Triple Incognito.  It’s very easy to breathe through and appears to be more solid than the Double Incognito.

 

The Triple Incognito Mask

 

I’ve worn the Triple Incognito all over the world during the pandemic.  No one has ever noticed that it is virtually sheer.  I haven’t found any other masks on the market that are as comfortable to wear.

 

 

I will caution you that the Fake Masks Worldwide site is very clearly right-wing and sells items making fun of Progressive politicians.  I just ignore that junk.  I don’t do politics.  Fair warning that if you are left leaning, you probably won’t like the website that sells these masks.

 

 

If you’ve taken training with me, you know I’m all about providing people with options.  This is an option for those of you who want to appear like you are complying with mask mandates while still being able to breathe somewhat normally. I think this is a far safer solution that refusing to wear masks and attracting negative attention from folks that may endanger your physical safety.

 

I set up an affiliate link with the company to get you all a discount if you are interested.  If you buy them through this link, you’ll get a 10% discount on your order.

Travel Log- Weird Colombia

Travel Log- Weird Colombia 843 1124 Greg Ellifritz

Last month I spent 17 days in Medellin, Colombia.  Customs there were very different than in the USA.  Here are a few of the things that I thought were odd.  Some of them were definite improvements over the American system, but some were far worse.

 

Gym Benches-  I went to two commercial gyms.  All of the people working out placed their bags and accessories on all of the workout benches.  No one would put anything on the floor or in the lockers.  Phones, water bottles, coffee cups (coffee was the pre-workout of choice) and clothing covered every bench in each gym.  People were annoyed when I asked them to move their stuff so I could use the equipment.

 

Chupitos Bars- There are crazy shot bars all over Medellin. Ten years ago, I was in Medellin at this insane bar where the bartender lit the ceiling on fire and we roasted marshmallows over flaming drinks (watch the video below). Then we all did backbends over the bar as the bartender poured unknown concoctions down our throats. Insanity.

 

I was walking around the city and found the place. It’s still around and does a crazy business at night.  I didn’t indulge on this trip, but was glad that the option was still available in case I had the desire to experience more ridiculous debauchery.

 

Alcohol spray– The hotel cleaning staff, the gym staff, and restaurant workers cleaned everything with 70% isopropyl alcohol spray.   There were no disinfectant wipes or commercial cleaning products.  It didn’t matter if it was an elevator button, a restaurant table, or a gym bench.  Everything was cleaned with straight alcohol.

 

Elevator buttons- Punching an elevator button twice deactivated it.  If you hit a button by mistake, you could cancel your selection by pushing it again.  What a wonderful concept!

 

Aphrodisiac Ants- Loosely translated as “big-assed ants.” Street vendors sell packages of these dried ants as aphrodisiacs.

 

Mini ice- There are no open container laws in Colombia.  It’s common for people to buy some alcohol and a mixer and make their own drinks in the street.  They obviously need ice.  Convenience stores sold small bags of ice just for the people who drink on the street.

 

Tattoos- A far higher percentage of Colombian residents had tattoos as compared to Americans.  It was rare to see a Colombian who was not visibly tattooed.

 

Gas prices- For all of you complaining about gas prices in the USA, here’s a Colombian gas station sign. The exchange rate is about 4300 pesos to the dollar. That means gas is a little over $2.00. But wait! That’s PER LITER, not per gallon. Doing the math shows that regular gas here is more than $9.00 a gallon.

Female dress- Typical of Latin countries, most women who leave the house are dressed as well as they could afford.  They all and wore makeup.  It was very different from seeing women in American Walmart stores wearing sweat pants and flip flops.  I never saw a woman on my trip wearing pajamas, sweats, or any type of lounge wear or casual clothing.

 

Hotdog obsession- The most common restaurants in Medellin were hotdog places.  People were obsessed with cheap gourmet hot dogs.

 

Drug Dealing- Men walked the streets selling cigarettes, candy, and gum from small wooden boxes.   These folks were also the drug dealers.  You could buy anything you wanted from those dudes and they were stationed about every 25 meters on the street in the busy tourist areas.  Even though all drugs are illegal there, the dealers regularly sold drugs right in front of uniformed policemen.

 

Babies in boxes-While walking to lunch one day, I came across a naked little girl (I would say around 2 years old) sitting in a cardboard box on the sidewalk. There was a dish sitting next to the box with a few coins in it.

I looked around and found mom about 50 yards away. She had two other kids less than 5 years old, each naked in their own cardboard boxes strategically located at various places on the sidewalks along a popular tourist walking route.
Mom was sitting in the shade watching her naked, boxed kids generate income for her.

Informal Recycling Program- There’s almost no place in Medellin to deposit your recyclable garbage.  Bottles, cans, and cardboard all get thrown out with the regular trash.  The homeless and low income people raid the trash dumpsters and pull out the recyclables.  They then take that recyclable waste to a recycling center to make some pocket change.

 

Day or night, you’ll always see homeless people dumpster diving for recyclables they can re-sell.  The photo below shows a taxi driver pulled over across the street from my hotel dumpster diving.

 

Dancing in the street– Kids down here break dance on the road in front of stopped traffic at all the major intersections during the day and afternoon. Drivers and pedestrians give them spare change for their efforts.

 

Hooker lights– This is Medellin after dark. Restaurants and bars put these blinding lights up on their exterior walls to keep the hookers from setting up shop and disturbing their patrons.

 

Foreign travel always provides amusing anecdotes like the ones listed above.  It’s cool to see how differently we all live across the planet.  Observing quirks like these keeps international travel high on my list of rewarding pastimes.