Travel Log

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

Travel Log- Costa Rica

Travel Log- Costa Rica 620 477 Greg Ellifritz

*My Travel Log series describes various past travel adventures and provides perspective about living and traveling in different countries.  This particular segment covers a trip to the Guanacaste, Costa Rica in December of 2018.

 

I had been to Costa Rica twice before.  I did a family tour of the country way back in 2002.  I followed that up with some white water rafting and surfing on another trip down there in 2011.

 

In both of those trips, I went all over the country, but I never made it up to the northwest corner (Guanacaste).  It was time to remedy that problem.  We had a few days off and decided we wanted a relaxing beach trip without much stress.

 

Our most recent prior “vacations” involved living in the Peruvian rain forest and some desert camping in Nevada.  Fun, but not really relaxing.  We needed someplace chill for this trip.

 

I booked us a condo near the tiny town of Playas del Coco and we hopped on the plane.

View from our condo

 

We were only down there five days and quite honestly didn’t do too much.  It was perfect.  We laid around on the beach, went snorkeling, and took a sailboat ride.  We ate some amazing fresh seafood (the Restaurante Citron was my favorite) and I read six books.  It was a nice break.

 

Our beach

Knowing that you all like guns and tactics, I usually do a brief report on gun issues whenever I visit a new country.  I don’t have much to report on this trip.

 

Playas del Coco is a very sleepy little town full of friendly locals.  There is very little crime.  We had no altercations with criminals.  Despite the recent murder of an American citizen in the country, we didn’t see a even a hint of violence.  In fact, the cops we saw in town were unarmed, save one guy who had a huge riot club holstered across his back ninja sword style.

 

I saw one armed security guard (at the local grocery store) carrying a Smith and Wesson Sigma in a cheap nylon holster with the thumbreak cut off.  He had no spare magazines, handcuffs, or any less lethal options.

 

The cops at the Liberia airport were wearing what appeared to be Sig traditional double action automatics (maybe P226?) in Safariland ALS holsters.  I was happy to see that they weren’t using the Serpa as that seems to be a Latin American standard.

 

The cops had a nylon double spare mag pouches, but none of them were filled.  The airport cops generally wore the empty mag pouches either behind the gun or in the small of the back.  They had a handcuff case, but that’s the only gear they carried.

 

I didn’t see anyone carrying long guns.  Like I said, it’s a pretty chill place.  Costa Rica does not have a military and devotes the money it would normally spend on an army to education instead.  The country has a stunning 98% literacy rate.  Battling the sand flies on the beach was the most violent challenge we faced.

 

If you are interested, citizens and permanent residents in Costa Rica can get firearms ownership/carry permits.  The process involves taking a class, completing a psychological evaluation, and a criminal background check.  Carry permits require a short qualification course.  According to the locals I spoke with, citizens are barred from owning “military weapons” or “weapons of war” but I’m uncertain how that rule is actually enforced.

 

Interestingly enough, handguns are more common than long guns in the country.  That’s the opposite of many other Latin countries where citizens can own hunting firearms but not handguns.  Hunting is illegal in Costa Rica.  If you move down there, you won’t be able to justify your home defense pump shotgun or lever action rifle as a “hunting” gun like you can in other Latin American countries.

 

I found it amusing that when I was down there, my Facebook feed seemed to be filled with people posting their hotel “pocket dumps.”  This is my hardcore carry selection for when I went into town.

 

 

When I’m home my pocket dump looks like a lot of other folks’.  I carry a gun, spare mag, a couple knives, OC spray and a flashlight.   The picture above is what I rolled with down in Costa Rica.   There’s honestly not many problems I can’t solve with a blade, some OC spray, a flashlight and a bunch of cash.

 

Oh, and don’t forget a local beer. Not import (that implies you are too good for the locals), but the favorite local brew. Buying a few of those has gotten me out of way more trouble than my Glock ever has.

 

To be honest, my normal carry load out at home doesn’t teach me anything. I learn a lot more when I’m forced to interact in a strange and potentially dangerous environment relying on my charming personality and some cash instead of my gat.

 

It’s a practice I’ve found really valuable over the years.

 

For what it’s worth, I packed a Sabre Red stream pepper spray dispenser,  Fenix P35 flashlight and a Spyderco Ark neck knife.  I chose that one because its excellent resistance to salt water.  I could carry a decent weapon even when out in the ocean.

 

Honestly, the most dangerous condition you will likely face in C.R. is the horrible driving.  Other than the main highways, roads are in deplorable condition with massive potholes everywhere.  Narrow roads are shared by ATVs, bicycles, pedestrians, big trucks, motorcycles, and cars.  Often several of these are jockeying for position on the narrow roads at any given time.  The roads are dark and neither pedestrians or bicyclists use lights.

 

There are few street signs.  Addresses are difficult to find and the Ticos (what Costa Ricans call themselves) drive like crazy people.  You are risking life and limb every time you hop in a car in Cost Rica.

 

A lot of my friends who have never really traveled talk about retiring to Costa Rica.  While it’s certainly possible, the days of a truly cheap retirement down there are long gone.  It’s become one of the most expensive destinations in Latin America.

 

Property here is relatively pricey.  It isn’t California expensive, but probably on par with beachfront property in Florida.  A two bedroom 1200 square foot house on a cliff overlooking the ocean (no beach access) was $247,000 US.  A really nice house right on the beach in Guanacaste can easily run up to $700,000.

 

Cars are subject to a very large import tax and road conditions are really bad.  Food in restaurants is approximately 2/3 what you would pay in the USA.  Local produce and fruit is cheap.  Any imported electronic items are approximately 50% more expensive than in the USA.

 

The only thing cheap down there is manual labor.  Many expats have gardeners, maids, and cooks.  Talking to some of the locals, they say that manual laborers make the equivalent of about $2.00 US an hour.

 

It would be fairly easy to live there, but unless you want a huge bevy of servants, you probably won’t be saving a significant amount of money doing so.

 

We had a relaxing trip.  Back to normal programming tomorrow.

 

 

Costa Rican sunset from a sailboat in the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

 

 

Travel Log- Texas in the Pandemic

Travel Log- Texas in the Pandemic 640 480 Greg Ellifritz

I would like to be enjoying my police retirement and writing a lot more of these travel log articles, but Covid-19 has put a damper on my international travel adventures.  I tried to make up for it last week by exploring a bit of Texas instead.

 

I flew into Dallas to teach at the annual Pat Rogers Memorial Revolver Roundup class.  As I no longer have a full time job, I was able to extend my stay and explore a bit of Texas that I hadn’t seen before.

 

I’ve long considered relocating to Texas in my retirement.  The weather is much better than in Ohio and the gun culture is strong (therefore good for my firearms training business).  My goal was to explore some of the territory down there and have some fun with friends in an environment with fewer Covid-19 restrictions than in Ohio.

A warm Dallas sunset from the hotel’s outdoor pool.

 

I had a direct flight from Columbus to Dallas on American Airlines.  The flight went smoothly.  In Columbus. I checked in (with three guns) and made it through TSA security in a timed seven minutes from walking into the terminal.  If you aren’t afraid of the Covid-19 virus, now is a really easy time to fly.  The only downsides are that many airport restaurants and shops are closed and drinks aren’t served on most flights.

 

My flight down to Dallas was about 3/4 full.  My flight home was only about 50% full.

 

After teaching my class in Dallas (and eating an amazing chicken fried steak with my friends at Babe’s Chicken Dinner House), I hit the road to Austin.  I had never visited the city before, but I’d heard good things about the area.

 

I got a room in the iconic downtown Holiday Inn- Austin Town Lake in the heart of downtown Austin.  The hotel rooms were a bit dated, but they were clean and very inexpensive.  The location was perfect and it was the only hotel in the downtown area to offer free parking.

 

Driving in, I was honestly surprised at the numbers of homeless people inhabiting the downtown area.  Every city park had its own tent city.  Even more people were camping under highway overpasses.  I’d heard there was a problem, but I didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was.

 

As soon as I got in town, I walked to nearby Rainey Street for lunch.  All of the establishments were open, but business was a bit slow because of the pandemic.

 

I had dinner plans with a high school classmate who lived in the area.  She turned out to be Austin’s best ambassador and an amazing tour guide.  When we were talking, I told her I wanted to explore some of the suburbs (I’m not an inner city kind of person) and hopefully see some live music (difficult to find in Ohio where the bars stop serving alcohol at 10 pm).  She organized some perfect excursions for us.

 

We started off by exploring the southern and western areas outside the city.  They were a bit remote, but quite fun.  Dinner (“truck stop enchiladas”) was at the Hays City Store.  It was a great outdoor venue with live music and was completely packed on a Monday night.

 

A photo from the Hays City Store’s Facebook page showing the outdoor dining venue and a tasty desert.

 

 

W.C. Clark playing on the outdoor stage

 

After eating and catching up a bit, we adjourned to the Moontower Saloon.  It was another outdoor bar filled with picnic tables and comfy chairs surrounding a series of gas fire pits.  It was nice having a couple adult beverages outside around a modern campfire.

 

From Moontower Saloon’s Facebook page

 

I wish Ohio has some places like these two venues.  I suppose the cold winters probably would make outdoor dining a harder sell.

 

I woke up the next morning and went for a walk around Austin’s Lady Bird Lake, enjoying the sun and 75 degree temperatures.

 

I met my friend in the afternoon for a tour of some of the northern suburbs where she and her family lived.  We started out with lunch at the Red Horn Coffee and Brewery.

 

We then drove around some of the northern suburbs and visited her house nearby.  We picked up her family and some friends and ended up in downtown Georgetown at 600 Degrees Pizzeria for some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.

 

I found Georgetown to be a fun, quaint, little town with a country feel.  The downtown area was filled with lighted up Live Oak trees.

 

Part of the downtown square in Georgetown.

 

The next day, I woke up with a hike around the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

The facility has formal gardens and several long hiking trails surrounded by native Texas plants.  My undergraduate degree is in natural resource management and I’m a bit of a plant and tree geek.  At home I can identify just about every plant and tree by sight.

 

I was at a bit of a loss in Texas.  On my hike, I only recognized two plants!  Texas has 53 different species of oak trees and none of them look like the oak leaves I see in Ohio.  If I move down here, I’m going to have to learn a bunch more plants.

 

A sign you won’t see in Ohio

 

After my hike, I headed back towards Dallas with a pit stop halfway in Waco to check out the Texas Ranger Museum.  It was a very cool piece of history that should be on every gun lover’s agenda.  It was a relatively small museum, but the exhibits were well done and fantastically illustrated the history of the Texas Rangers and some of the more legendary rangers themselves.

 

 

The .30-06 Colt Monitor machine gun that stopped Bonnie and Clyde along with the rifle Frank Hamer used in the shootout.

 

Once I got back into Dallas, I met Caleb Causey (of Lone Star Medics fame) along with his his wife and son for dinner at Mariano’s Hacienda Ranch, the home of the frozen margarita.  After a great meal and some fine conversation, I headed to the hotel to hit the bed in preparation for my early flight home.

 

At Mariano’s. Isn’t this what you are supposed to do in Texas? Having a pull from the whiskey bottle while sitting in a saddle.

 

Thank you to all my friends who showed me a wonderful time.  I really enjoyed Texas and will be back soon.  I have at least two and as many as five more classes scheduled down there (depending on the Covid-19 situation) next year.  I’m looking forward to returning.

 

Caleb, Lincoln, and I with a random stuffed bear.

 

Those of you who don’t want to travel outside the USA yet should consider a few days’ vacation in the Austin area.  It’s a guaranteed good time.

 

Gretchen, my amazing friend and tour guide

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Log- Compliance IS an Option

Travel Log- Compliance IS an Option 1024 731 Greg Ellifritz

As the taxi driver saw the roadblock and screeched to a halt, a man wearing a tattered uniform leaped out of the bushes and stuck his AK-47 through my open car window.  I remember noticing that the safety was off as he jabbed my cheek with the muzzle and said “Don’t move” in halting English.

 

What would you do if you were placed in that situation?  I’ll tell you what I did.  I complied with the disheveled African cop who was jamming the AK in my face.  I quickly ran through the options in my head.  I was in Tanzania and didn’t have a gun.  Do I draw my hidden knife?  Do I attempt a disarm?  Do I feign compliance and flee on foot?  All of those were the wrong answer.  I complied with the soldier’s demands and I’m still around to tell the story.

 

I’ve been reading quite a few articles and Facebook posts lately criticizing crime victims for complying in the face of an armed threat.  The writers talk about how compliance is cowardly and how resistance (preferably armed resistance) is the only “proper” course of action when one is attacked or threatened with a deadly weapon.

 

Making statements like that is both short-sighted and wrong.  While there are many situations that are best solved by armed resistance, there are some where compliance is a better option.  I know I’m going to lose a few readers who will instantly label me into the “He’s a cop.  Of course he’s going to tell you to comply” camp.  Those of you who know me and those of you have been reading my articles for a while should know that I’m the last person on Earth to criticize armed resistance….when it is appropriate.  If you don’t believe me, see my articles HERE and HERE.

 

We start having problems when we listen to “experts” who have never truly faced violence and have never had to make the comply/resist decision when their lives are  at stake.  It’s easy to talk about resisting an attacker armed with a gun from the safety of the computer keyboard in the writer’s cozy home.  It’s a bit different when there is a gun wielded by a crazy man stuck in your face late at night.

 

Let me tell you the rest of the story I started above.  It’s a story where I’m not the hero.  It’s a story about a time in my life where I chose to comply in the face of an armed threat rather than resist.  And it’s ultimately a story that has a positive ending.

 

In 2008, I decided to climb the highest mountain in Africa.  Mount Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania and stands 19,341 feet (5895 meters) above sea level.  For perspective, that’s more than a mile HIGHER than those big mountain peaks in Colorado.  The trek up the mountain takes between five and eight days (depending on route) and starts from the desert plain at roughly sea level.  It makes for a difficult hike, with not much time to acclimate.  I booked a trek with a licensed guide and made my travel plans.

 

While looking for airfare, I found that I could save over $2000 if I flew into Nairobi, Kenya rather than the closest airport to Kilimanjaro.  Nairobi is about an eight hour public bus trip away from the town in Tanzania where I was going to start my climb.  I elected to fly into Nairobi and take the public bus across the border rather than paying the extra money.

 

I scheduled a couple extra days in Nairobi and did some sight seeing at some nearby game parks.  On the morning I was scheduled to depart from Tanzania, I caught a cab to the bus station and hopped on my bus.  It left on time and we headed off across the African plains.  It was a “luxury bus” and a fairly comfortable ride.  After a few hours of watching the scenery, I put my Ipod headphones on and leaned up against the window to take a nap.  Shortly thereafter, I was awakened by a deafening crash and a huge jolt.  A dump truck hauling gravel for a road construction project had backed into our bus as it was traveling about 60mph down a remote highway.  The bus shuddered to a stop and the driver exited without ever even checking to see if any of his passengers were injured.

 

I looked around and saw that most of the passengers were stunned, but none had any obvious injuries.  Everyone was frantically speaking in Swahili.  I was the only foreigner on the bus and couldn’t understand what was going on.  A young college girl next to me spoke English and said to me “Get off the bus.  There’s going to be a fight.”

 

Just before the fight began....

Just before the fight began….

 

All of the passengers disembarked and watched as the driver of our bus and the dump truck operator screamed at each other.  They yelled, then began pushing each other, and then a full-on fight broke out.  All of us watched as the two drivers struggled and punched each other in the heat of the African plain.

 

The English-speaking college girl translated the fighters’ words for me.  She explained that neither driver had money to pay off the police if they were called.  Instead of paying bribes to the corrupt cops, the drivers were going to fight.  The loser would accept fault for the accident when they turned the damage in to their respective insurance companies.

 

The two men fought for about 20 minutes along the side of the road.  Neither landed a single good punch.  It was mostly just pushing and stand-up wrestling.  They suddenly stopped, shook hands and then separated.  The driver of our bus dug a crowbar out of the luggage compartment, pried the damaged quarter panel away from the bus’ rear tire and we were on our way again.  It was mind boggling, but you quickly learn to accept such events as commonplace when traveling through remote Africa.

 

Damage to the bus after the driver pried the sheet metal away from the tire

Damage to the bus after the driver pried the sheet metal away from the tire

 

The fight has some lasting consequences, however.  Because of the delay, I missed my connecting bus in a little border town in Tanzania.  It was 11 pm and I was stuck in a dodgy African border town with no accommodations.  No more buses were running.  I was about 100 miles from my hotel.  My choices were to either spend the night in the border town and wait for a bus in the morning or hire a taxi to get me to my destination.  I chose to go with the taxi.

 

I found a taxi driver who spoke relatively good English.  He quoted me a $30 fare for the 100 mile drive.  I readily accepted.  As I got in the unmarked cab, the driver suggested that I ride in the front seat with him.  He said that if people saw I was riding in back they would assume that I had money and would target us for a robbery.  By sitting up front, it just looked like I was the driver’s friend and it would attract less negative attention.  I took the driver’s advice and hopped in the front seat for the two hour journey.

 

It was after midnight and I was both tired and hot as we drove to my destination.  I had my window down because the cab didn’t have any air conditioning.  There were few cars on the road and we were making good time when we rounded a curve and saw something in the middle of the road.  The driver skidded to a stop when he noticed a kerosene lantern in the road sitting on top of several pieces of lumber with huge metal spikes driven through them.  The spikes were pointed up to flatten car tires.

 

As soon as we stopped, a Tanzanian cop jumped out of the bushes and jabbed me with the AK-47.  A thousand thoughts crossed my mind.  What should I do?  Even though I wanted to fight, my gut told me to comply until I had a better opportunity.  I didn’t know if the armed man was alone or if he had additional backup hiding in the bushes.  Even if I killed him or took his gun, I still might have to fight several of his buddies.  It didn’t seem like fighting would have a high likelihood of success.

 

He kept the AK-47 pointed at my head as he explained in poor English that I didn’t have a permit to be on the road we were traveling.  I knew that no such permit was necessary.  I also knew that the Tanzanian National Police make approximately $7 US dollars a day.  Any foreigner with enough money to hire a driver would likely have more money than the cop makes in a month as pocket change.

 

I evaluated my options and decided to play it cool.  I knew the cop could shoot both of us on this rural highway and have us buried before sunup.  I kept my hands in sight and told the corrupt policeman that I was sorry.  I asked him if I could pay the “fine” on the spot.  He lowered the gun and told me that the fine for my “offense” was 300 Tanzanian Shillings.  It was the US equivalent of  25 cents.  For a quarter, the dude was ready to shoot me in the head.

 

I paid my “fine”, the cop moved the roadblock and we were again on our way.  For the rest of the trip, I just kept replaying the incident over and over in my mind, wondering if I should have handled it differently.  I analyzed what prompted me to make the decision to comply in that situation.

 

While I admit the thought of him having possible friends hiding in the bushes was a big consideration, the main factor that kept me from fighting was simply a gut feeling.  The guy was dangerous, but seemed rational.  I had to think of his motivation.  If he wanted to kill me, he could have done so without uttering a word.  No, he wanted something else.  And I was willing to give that up in exchange for not having to go against a cop with a rifle using my Spyderco folding knife.

 

I can say without hesitation that I made the right decision.  But it wasn’t heroic.  It wasn’t badass.  It was just using my brain and my instincts to keep myself safe.

 

I would never presume to tell you what decision to make when you are facing the threat of lethal violence.  All I can tell you is that you should do what your gut tells you to do.  Every scenario is different.  You may make the wrong decision or you may get away without injury.  It’s hard to predict.

 

Compliance doesn’t always ensure your safety, but sometimes it’s the best option given a whole lot of bad choices.  If you make it through the encounter to live another day, I’d tell you that you made the right choice.  You are the only one who can truly make the decision to fight, flee, or comply in the face of danger.  Some internet experts may think that complying isn’t an option…but those guys probably haven’t been hit in the face with the barrel of an AK-47.

 

Despite the delays, the climb was a success...sunrise atop the highest mountain in Africa.

Despite the delays, the climb was a success…sunrise atop the highest mountain in Africa.

 

 

Travel Log- Peruvian Amazon

Travel Log- Peruvian Amazon 723 960 Greg Ellifritz

*My Travel Log series describes various past travel adventures and provides perspective about living and traveling in different countries.  This particular segment covers a trip to the Lima, Peru and the Peruvian Amazon in July of 2015.

 

Amazing fish ceviche lunch at a sidewalk cafe in Lima

Amazing fish ceviche lunch at a sidewalk cafe in Lima

 

I went down to Peru for two weeks.  I had visited Peru about 10 years ago and have already done all of the normal tourist activities like hiking the Inca trail, visiting Machu Picchu, and hanging out in Cusco and Lima.  This trip was a little different.

 

I started out with a couple days in Lima and then flew to Iquitos, where I boarded a boat for the jungle.  I stayed eight days in the Amazon jungle learning about traditional Amazonian plant medicine from a jungle “curandero” who has been practicing almost 50 years.  It was an amazing experience to cultivate the medicinal plants, blend them together, turn them into medicine, and see how they are used in traditional healing ceremonies.  The work I did down there will definitely enhance my teaching skills back here in the real world.

 

Unusual in most of South America, but in Iquitos, the "tuk-tuk" motor taxi was common. The town very much reminded me of Cambodia.

Unusual in most of South America, but in Iquitos, the “tuk-tuk” motor taxi was common. The town very much reminded me of Cambodia.

 

After my stay in the jungle, I flew back to Lima and spent a couple more days there (with air conditioning, warm showers, and all the incredible food available in that city).  As I usually do, I spoke to a lot of folks about what kind of crime dangers the locals and tourists face, how the police operate, and the gun situation for Peruvian citizens.

 

My jungle accommodations at the plant sanctuary

My jungle accommodations at the plant sanctuary

There are both local and National police forces in Peru.  Both are seriously underpaid.  The general consensus is that both groups do a fairly good job investigating and prosecuting (the rare) violent crimes, but virtually ignore property crimes.  There is so much petty theft that the police are completely overwhelmed.  If you want them to investigate a property crime, you’ll have to pay them some bribe money to do it.

 

Speaking of bribes, the going bribe for a traffic cop is 50 Peruvian Soles (about $15).  Taxi drivers were very adept at avoiding the cops on the take.  One driver explained that almost all cops working in pairs or as a team were extorting bribes.  It was rare that a single officer would be soliciting bribe money.  Thus the taxi drivers were very alert and instantly changed directions whenever they saw a pair of traffic cops working a roadblock.

 

The National Police wore Beretta 92 pistols in full flap belt holsters.  Most of the holsters were angled muzzle forward on the belt almost like the 1970’s era LAPD swivel holsters.  It was rare to see a National Police officer carrying anything other than a pistol on his belt.  Occasionally I would see a set of handcuffs or some type of short rubber truncheon, but none of them carried any other gear with them.  There was talk about an upcoming switch to the Beretta PX-4, but I didn’t see any of those pistols actually being carried.

 

The local cops carried the same Berettas, but often had nylon tactical rigs with extra magazines, external body armor, and assorted gear.  The motorcycle cops wore tactical vests and shoulder holsters.  I didn’t see any cops with long guns.

 

Security guards all carried .38 revolvers.  Most were 4″ K-Frame Smith and Wessons, but I saw a couple Taurus revolvers as well.  Interestingly to me, almost all the revolvers wore rubber Pachmayer grips.  Spare ammo was minimal and consisted of a couple of cartridges carried in open loops on the outside of the holster.  Most guards carried somewhere between two and five spare cartridges.  One other interesting thing I noted was that all the security guards had holsters with dual retention straps.  The holsters had the old school “suicide strap” over the hammer, but they also had an additional strap around the trigger guard on the revolver.  It’s important to note these types of things when traveling.  If you need a gun quickly, a security guard is a good place to look.  It’s best to figure out how to remove the gun quickly.

 

One of the biggest misconceptions I regularly hear is the erroneous notion that people who live outside of America can’t own guns at all.  I’ve visited more than 40 countries in the last ten years.  The vast majority allow their citizens to own guns of some type.  The restrictions are usually far greater than those in the United States, but most people in other countries CAN own guns if they jump through the correct hoops.

 

I spoke to a couple of Peruvian citizens who are gun owners.  There is a pretty straightforward process to get a gun permit in Peru.  It consists of:

– Background checks through three different government agencies

– A psychological test evaluating logic and basic hand eye coordination

– A psychiatric test to ensure that the gun owner is not mentally ill

– Passing a basic gun safety class taught by the National Police

– Handgun permits also require a shooting test.  The qualification is shot on a silhouette target at 50 feet.  Five shots are fired.  One hit anywhere on the silhouette (or paying the tester 20 Peruvian Soles…approximately $7 dollars) passes the test.  No shooting test is required for a long gun.

 

According to the folks I spoke with, the entire permit process takes about two days to complete and costs around $150.  That doesn’t seem bad based on our salaries, but the average Peruvian income is around $500 dollars a month.  Considering that a separate permit is required for each gun owned, the $150 price is a steep cost for the average Peruvian.

 

The interesting thing about the Peruvian permit process is that the ownership permit also doubles as an unlimited concealed carry permit.  Once you can legally own the gun, you can carry it anywhere.

 

The government limits the caliber of handgun that Peruvians can own.  Peruvian citizens are not allowed to own any “military caliber” weapons.  In handguns, .38 special/.380 acp are the largest calibers  private citizens can own.  The Peruvian folks I spoke to who actually know and understand guns carry high capacity .380 autos.  They think that 10+ rounds of .380 acp is a better choice than a five-shot .38 revolver.  The guns of choice for those in the know in Peru are the Glock 25 (.380 auto not available in the USA that is the same size of a Glock 19) or the Beretta Model 85 in .380 auto.  Both of these guns cost more than $1000 in Peru because of high import tariffs.  Even at that price, it’s rare to find those weapons in a Peruvian gun store.  Most folks can’t afford the Glock, so the vast majority of gun store stock consists of Taurus revolvers.

 

The rural folks who hunt generally use single shot shotguns.  Surprisingly, most are in 16 gauge rather than the more commonly seen 12 gauge in the USA.  Hunting licenses are required, but the law often goes unenforced with regard to subsistence level hunting by locals.

 

Peru is a beautiful country and well worth your time to visit.

 

From my 2005 trip to Peru. A much younger and skinnier Greg on the Inca Trail.

 

 

 

Travel Log- Mexico During a Pandemic

Travel Log- Mexico During a Pandemic 620 827 Greg Ellifritz

I’d been twitching for awhile.

 

I hadn’t been out of the country since February.

 

In a normal year, I travel outside the USA at least four times for a total of about six weeks.  This is the first year since 2006 that I haven’t already taken at least three international trips by this time of the year.

 

International travel makes me happy.  I wanted to celebrate my retirement.  My girlfriend hadn’t had a vacation in more than a year.  She wanted to go someplace to relax where she “didn’t have to think.”

 

Relaxing without thinking?  Mexico sounds perfect.  I booked the trip to Cancun.

 

Lots of people criticize Cancun as a destination, but I truly enjoy the city.  I’ve been to Mexico 21 times since 2002.  Most of those trips were to destinations in and around Cancun.  They have a very easy tourist infrastructure.  The people are happy and friendly.  Most tourist industry people speak English.  The beaches are some of the most beautiful on the planet.  It’s as close to a paradise destination as I have found anywhere in the world.

 

I booked a luxury all-inclusive at a five-star hotel.  Due to the pandemic, rates were $300 per night cheaper than the last time I stayed there.  I got first class airline tickets on Delta for $400 each.  Coach is usually a couple hundred dollars more than that fare.

 

When I started telling my friends about my trip, I got some strange responses.  Lots of folks questioned our desire to travel during a pandemic.  I didn’t get it.  I had flown to Arizona for a training class last month and everything went well.  At the time, Arizona had a far higher rate of Covid positive patients than Cancun.

 

Then I learned about the concept of “travel shaming.”  Some folks think it isn’t proper to travel during a pandemic and attempt to shame those who do so.  I’m generally immune to shaming efforts, so I don’t really care.  The concept baffles me.  If someone wants to perform an intelligent risk analysis and decides to travel, why would anyone care?  I guess sometimes I forget that we are in the age of “cancel culture” and anything that departs from the cultural norm is punished.

 

“Two-thirds of the nearly 4,000 Americans surveyed in June by Ketchum Travel, a public relations agency, said they would judge others for traveling before it’s considered “safe.” Half expected to censor their social media posts to avoid being “travel shamed” themselves. Compare that with last year, when about 80 percent of the 1,300 respondents in a Skift Research survey said they posted trip photos on social media.”

 

Having never been one who cared much for cultural norms, I booked the trip.

 

We had a wonderful time and I’ll share my travel narrative and pictures without fearing anyone who wants to target me with their “travel shaming” efforts.  Busybodies who “travel shame” need to get some new hobbies.  If you are worried about being shamed for traveling, you need to start hanging out with a higher class of people.  Travel shaming, like so many other modern indignities is absolutely ridiculous.

 

 

So what has changed in the world of travel as a response to the pandemic?  Quite a lot.

 

There are only a few countries and a couple of Caribbean islands that will accept travelers from the USA.  Most of the other countries are planning to stay in tourist lockdown until November at the earliest.  Don’t book a trip to a country that bans your entry!

 

Each airline has its own Covid procedures.  All of the airlines require you to wear a mask for the entire flight unless you are eating and drinking.  The catch is that most airlines have suspended meal and drink service during the pandemic.  If you don’t bring your own food and water, you won’t be allowed to take of your mask any time during the flight.

 

Traveling in masks was a strange experience.  At least now I can take a selfie without attempting a fake smile.

 

Speaking of food, the airports are like ghost towns with only about 25% of the passengers they had at this time last year.  Because of the light traffic, almost all the airport stores and most of the airport restaurants and bars are closed.  Bring your own food.  It may be a long day if you have tight connections and pass through airports with fewer open restaurants.

 

There were a couple positive changes in the flight procedures.  The first is that as you board the plane, the flight attendant hands you an individually wrapped Lysol disinfectant wipe.  Everyone used the wipes to sanitize their seats, seat belts, tray tables, and computer screens.  I actually advised doing that in my travel book published before all the Covid changes.  It’s a good practice and I hope it continues.

 

The airline I flew also altered boarding procedures.  In order to avoid a line at the gate and a traffic jam in the aisles of the plane, the flight attendant boarded just a few rows at a time, starting with the rear of the plane.  I have no idea why the airlines didn’t do that before.  It just seems incredibly more efficient and avoids keeping passengers jammed together in a close line while boarding.

 

The only other airline change was the fact that they handed out paper Covid-19 questionnaires on the plane.  The questions were the standard ones about feeling ill or having close contact with anyone testing positive for Covid-19.  The flight crew told us to fill the forms out and give them to immigration officers while landing.  No one ever asked for or looked at our forms.  These forms were required by the Mexican government, yet no one ever looked at them.  A stunning example of government inefficiency if I ever saw one.  Welcome to Latin America.

 

Speaking of forms, if you are planning a trip to Mexico, you can now do the immigration tourist card and the customs forms online before you leave for your trip.  That will save you time on the ground and speed up your entry into the country.  Highly recommended because airlines regularly run out of the forms and regularly don’t have enough to provide them to all the travelers on the plane.

 

Once we arrived in Mexico, disembarkation procedures changed as well.  The airlines funneled all arriving passengers through an automated temperature scanner.  Presumably, if you had a fever, you would be sent back home or placed into mandatory quarantine.  The dude monitoring the scanner was dressed in full PPE with a Tyvek suit, respirator, goggles, gloves, and a face shield.

 

Airport employees sprayed a sanitizing solution on all of the bags before they were put on the luggage conveyor belts.  Some of our fellow passengers’ bags were literally soaked in disinfectant.  If you pack valuable clothing, food, or electronics in your checked bag, you may want to put those items in a plastic bag inside your luggage to keep them from getting wet.  Our bags were also hosed down upon arrival at the hotel.  be prepared for a lot of liquid disinfectant spray covering all of your luggage.

 

In Cancun, the primary international arrivals/departures terminal was completely closed down due to the pandemic.  We flew in and out of what had normally been the domestic terminal.  The regular luggage X-ray machine and the “traffic light” customs inspections are no longer in place.  Once you get your checked bag, you are free to walk out without any customs inspections.

 

In general, the Mexicans seem to be doing more to prevent viral transmission that the Americans.  Like here, masks are required indoors in a public place.  They are not required on the beach, but it is mandatory to wear a face covering even while walking around outside in the city.  Everyone was wearing a mask, without exception.

 

All the hotels and most of the businesses had a pool of disinfectant solution that guests were required to walk through before entering  public establishments.  Each hotel, every restaurant in the hotel, and every business had a person with a thermometer gun standing at the entrance.  If your temperature was more than 37 degrees Celsius, you would be denied entry.  As hotel guests, we were forced to have our temperatures checked multiple times a day whenever we ate or entered the hotel from outside.  We were also forced to use hand sanitizer at every hotel, restaurant, or business entrance.

A screen shot of my travel temperature readings.

When checking in to the hotel, we were instructed to download the hotel app to our phones.  The hotel app allowed us to check in and out, see what events were happening, view restaurant hours and menus, book spa reservations, order room service, and report any problems.  That was really very handy and a unique way that the folks in Mexico are trying to remove almost every element of face to face interaction between employees and guests.

 

By law, the Mexican hotels can only book no more than 30% of their previously-allowed guest numbers.  The hotel had guests, but was far less busy than other times I had stayed there.  Take a look at the photo below.  That was the most crowded it ever became at our hotel’s pool and beach.  There was a very noticeable difference between this trip and my previous experiences at the hotel.  On this trip there were far more vacationing Mexicans than any other nationality.  Among the Americans staying at the resort, I would bet 50% of them were African American.  On previous visits, I seldom saw a black guest or a Mexican citizen at the resort.

 

My assumption is that when the hotel is priced at 40% of its usual rate and airfare is half price, it encourages more people to visit.  It makes me happy to see anyone traveling and having fun.  I’m glad that the cheap prices have allowed folks to enjoy an international luxury they may not have previously been able to afford.

 

View of the virtually deserted 5-star resort from our room’s balcony.

 

We had a very relaxing trip.  We spent most of our time enjoying good food, free margaritas, and a beautiful view.  It was a perfect mindless beach vacation.  We did book one excursion and had a blast.  We did a two hour speedboat rental and snorkeling trip through Jungle Tour Cancun.  The excursion allowed us to race speedboats on the lagoon side of the island before taking us out to an underwater national park for snorkeling.  It was a lot of fun for $50 a person.  The snorkeling was much better than I thought it would be.  We saw a sea turtle, a sting ray, a manta ray, and lots of colorful tropical fishes.  If you get a chance to go, I’d highly recommend a the trip.

 

It was her first time piloting a speed boat. I promise I’m not holding on for dear life.

 

Besides our boating/snorkeling excursion, the only other time we left the resort was to have dinner in my favorite Cancun restaurant, La Habichuela.  As usual, the food was amazing.  Unfortunately, we were the only guests dining there on what would have normally been a very busy Friday night.  The tourist industry in Mexico is having massive problems right now.  Lots of restaurants are closing.  Taxi drivers are finding new careers.  The tour industry has been completely decimated.

 

Near the restaurant, there is a large public park that is normally full of locals on every weekend night.  We walked down through the park after dinner.  I would guess that it was at 10% of normal capacity.  It was sad that there were so few people enjoying the nice weather on a summer night.  I’m not sure if the lack of people was caused by fear of the corona virus or the fact that local families didn’t have any money to spend because of the economic impact of the pandemic.

 

My favorite restaurant in Cancun. We were the only diners there during the prime time dinner rush on a Friday night.

 

Today marks the two week mark from the day that I left for Mexico.  I’ve been tracking my temperature daily,  No fever and no respiratory symptoms yet.  It appears that we made it to Cancun and back without getting the ‘Rona.

 

If you are called to travel, I urge you to do so.  Most of the destinations you choose will have a similar or lesser viral infection rate than your home state.  Travel is tremendously cheap right now.  Take advantage of that fact and support the local tourist economies that you enjoy.  They need all the help they can get.

 

 

 

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Travel Log- Colombia

Travel Log- Colombia 2560 1920 Greg Ellifritz

*My Travel Log series describes various past travel adventures and provides perspective about living and traveling in different countries.  This particular segment covers a trip to Colombia in 2013.

 

I just spent the last couple weeks doing some adventure travel through Colombia.  It had been one of the few South American countries that I hadn’t visited.  While there I checked out Bogota, Medellin, Santa Marta, the Tyrona National Park, and Cartagena.  I paraglided for the first time, hiked, swam, body surfed, and attempted to experience as much of the local culture as possible.

 

Colombia has changed drastically from the days of FARC and Pablo Escobar’s narcotraficantes.  It is one of the safer Latin American countries I’ve visited.  The people are very pleasant and the police are professional.  I would highly encourage those of you with an adventurous spirit to check the country out.

 

Since this website is primarily about self defense, firearms, and training issues; I’ll stop rambling about my travel adventures.  I will share some photos that you might find interesting….

 

From the National Police Museum in Bogota, some guns you’ve probably never seen:

 

The most obscure collection of break-top revolvers I’ve ever seen.

 

The local slang for this one is “chongo”…a home made pistol. One of the reasons why gun control laws will never be effective.

 

Custom stainless steel Iver Johnson Enforcer with an M-2 full auto switch

 

A 28 gauge revolving shotgun

 

Since we are talking guns, you may be interested to know what the locals carry.  The national police carry SigPro 9mm pistols in Blackhawk Serpa holsters.  More than half of the National Police (there are no local police forces) in Bogota also carried Galil (an Israeli version of the AK-47) rifles.  The cops in Cartagena carried M-16 A-2s as a supplement to their Sigs, but the M-16 had an empty magazine inserted and a visible yellow empty chamber flag!

 

All the cops are also armed with a PR-24 style baton, handcuffs, and a radio.  That’s it.  Most of them carry empty spare magazine pouches at the small of their backs.  I never saw any cops with full magazine pouches.

 

Explosives Detection cops on random patrol in Bogota. Note the empty mag pouches on the belt of the cop on the right.

 

The national police around the Presidential Palace carry HK G-36 rifles instead of the Galil.

 

I saw several citizens walking the streets of Bogota with pepper spray in hand and even saw one young man working the front desk of a hotel with an ASP baton sticking out of his jacket pocket.  Security guards were almost always armed with 4″ S&W revolvers, although I saw a few 3″ round butt J-frames on some security guards’ belts.  All the security guards had cartridge loops sewn to the outside of their nylon belt holsters.  The loops were full of round nosed lead .38 special ammo.

 

According to the police with whom I spoke, it is relatively easy for a citizen to get a gun permit down there.  The guns are limited depending on geographical location.  In the cities,  people can get permits only for handguns.  Rifles and shotguns are not allowed.  In the rural countryside where hunting is common, “almost everyone” has a long gun, but pistols are prohibited.

 

Very different gun laws as compared to the USA, but unlike many foreign nations, in Colombia there is some ability for the “average Joe” to at least own (if not carry) a firearm.

 

 

 

Medellin, Colombia

 

 

Travel Log- SE Asia

Travel Log- SE Asia 620 488 Greg Ellifritz

*My Travel Log series describes various past travel adventures and provides perspective about living and traveling in different countries.  This particular segment covers a trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand in 2013.

 

I just got home from an amazing 22-day trip through South East Asia.  Last year I visited Thailand and really liked it, so I wanted to see more of Asia.  This trip took me through Vietnam and Cambodia and ended up in Thailand.  It was one of the best trips I’ve taken in my life.  The trip included all kinds of cool activities like hiking, sea kayaking, motorcycle tours, water buffalo rides, cave rappelling, ATV riding, and visiting various temples and ruins.  I could write for hours about the fun stuff I did, but I’ll focus on the gun/fighting/training stuff that most of you are here for…

 

I started out in Hanoi and spent a few days in the city.  I visited the famous “Hanoi Hilton”, the prison where American POWs were held during the Vietnam War.  It was quite an interesting demonstration of communist propaganda.  Every exhibit talked about how well American POWs were treated during their stay.  It didn’t quite jibe with the history books I’ve read.

 

After leaving Hanoi, I made a stop at the world famous China Beach, near the city of Da Nang.  Da Nang is one of the cleaner cities in the country.  The cops there have an interesting way of handling beggars and vagrants.  The police place a $10 bounty on beggars and homeless people!  If a citizen notifies the police and identifies a beggar, the cops give him $10.  The beggar is arrested and forcibly taken to an “education center” where he is held and taught a skill that makes him employable!  I wonder how that would work in the USA?

Mediavine

 

China Beach

China Beach

 

The propaganda indoctrination continued when I reached Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and visited the “War Remnants Museum”.  Three floors of exhibits showing how evil the Americans were during the war.  I can’t disagree that some horrible atrocities occurred there, but the presentation was pretty one sided and not the most historically accurate.  Here are some pictures to show you what I mean…

Mediavine

 

This room was filled with pictures of mutilated babies and aborted fetuses allegedly from the use of Agent orange by US forces

This room was filled with pictures of mutilated babies and aborted fetuses allegedly from the use of Agent Orange by US forces

 

Photo of US soldiers using water torture against a "Vietnamese Patriot". I actually thought waterboarding was a relatively recent invention...

Photo of US soldiers using water torture against a “Vietnamese Patriot”. I actually thought waterboarding was a relatively recent invention…

 

Caption for the photo above...

Caption for the photo above…

 

Besides the blatant propaganda, there were quite a few historical inaccuracies.  There were displays of CS tear gas grenades (that the soldiers used in tunnels) labeled as “deadly chemical weapons”.  The displays of American firearms were comically inaccurate.

 

Did you know that the M-1 Garand was used to "repress demonstrations or torture suspected V.C."?

Did you know that the M-1 Garand was used to “repress demonstrations or torture suspected V.C.”?

 

Once I got over the obvious political slant, I found the museum to be quite interesting.  If you get to Saigon, it’s well worth your visit.  For what it’s worth, even though I was obviously a westerner, I experienced absolutely no animosity from the Vietnamese people.  They were incredibly friendly and candid in our conversations, even those who lost relatives in the war.

Mediavine

 

As far as guns go, I only saw one gun being carried in Vietnam the whole time I was there!  It was an MP-5 being held by a local guard employed to protect the US Embassy!  The uniformed cops there didn’t carry guns, only black and white striped batons.

 

IMG_0289

One of the few guns I saw in Vietnam! Playing with twin 20mm antiaircraft guns at the war museum. This would be a great suggestion for anyone looking to buy me a birthday gift!

 

Also in Saigon, I toured the famous Cu Chi tunnel complex and museum.  This was a huge facility that showed how the V.C. lived underground.  Actual sections of the original tunnels were available for walk (or crawl) through.  Those tunnels were incredibly small and hot.  I could barely fit into the largest tunnel and it was about 4x the diameter of the smallest one!  I really don’t know how people lived and worked in that environment so long.

 

Entrance to one of the largest tunnels

Entrance to one of the largest tunnels

 

One of my friends popping up from a camoflaged tunnel opening in the jungle. It's easy to see how difficult it was for us to locate the hidden tunnels

One of my friends popping up from a camouflaged tunnel opening in the jungle. It’s easy to see how difficult it was for us to locate the hidden tunnels

 

Within the Cu Chi complex there was also a shooting range!  You could fire most of the weapons used in the war…kind of.  All the guns had the muzzles bolted to the bench so they couldn’t be moved away from a safe direction!  That was probably a good thing after seeing how some of the Chinese tourists who had never fired a weapon attempt to shoot without supervision!

 

A bolted-down AK-47 on the range

A bolted-down AK-47 on the range

 

You thought ammo prices were bad here? This is the price list at the shooting range. Exchange rate is roughly 20,000 Vietnamese Dong to the dollar.

You thought ammo prices were bad here? This is the price list at the shooting range. Exchange rate is roughly 20,000 Vietnamese Dong to the dollar.  That’s $2 a bullet for .223 ammo.

 

After Vietnam, we crossed the border into Cambodia.  I spent a couple days in Phnom Penh.  That was the only city where I saw cops with guns.  A few carried Makarov pistols in full flap holsters (with no spare ammo).  The others were armed with AK-47s in poor condition.  Check out the local cops’ muzzle discipline and weapon retention…

 

The "cover the muzzle with your hand" position.

The “cover the muzzle with your hand” position.

 

That position must be taught in the academy..

That position must be taught in the academy..

 

How most of the cops carried their guns...

How most of the cops carried their guns…

 

The word on the street was that the Cambodian cops were universally corrupt.  They get paid about $70 US a month and are forced to supplement their incomes through bribes.  The going bribery rate to avoid being arrested for just about any crime was $5.  Tourists generally pay more.  I didn’t have any problems with the cops because I avoided all contact with them.  When in a third world country, nothing good can come from an interaction with a local cop.  It’s best to do what the locals do and avoid all possible contact!

 

While there, I visited both the S-21 prison and the “Killing Fields”.  For those of you unfamiliar with those places, a quick history lesson is in order…

 

During the 1970’s a dictator named Pol Pot rose to power in Cambodia.  He attempted to rapidly transform the country into an communist “ideal” agrarian paradise.  He forced all city dwellers into the countryside to grow rice for the good of “the people”.  The cities were deserted, except for former schools and monasteries.  Those were turned into prisons and torture chambers for political dissidents and intellectuals.

 

After the prisoners were tortured for several months in the prisons, they were sent to the “Killing Fields” where they were killed by being struck in the neck with bamboo rods.  Their bodies were piled into shallow mass graves.  In just a few years’ time, Pol Pot killed almost two million innocent Cambodian citizens.  It was quite sad to see the remnants of his regime.

 

The S-21 prison...a former high school

The S-21 prison…a former high school

 

A photo documenting the excavation of the killing fields.

A photo documenting the excavation of the killing fields.

 

Genocide monument filled with skulls excavated from the graves of the killing fields.

Genocide monument filled with skulls excavated from the graves of the killing fields.

 

While touring the Killing Fields, I got into a gun discussion with the local tour guide.  He explained that citizens were not allowed to own guns in Cambodia and that’s what makes his country so safe.  I asked him about how the citizens could protect themselves from another Pol Pot-type dictator if they were unarmed.  The guide had survived the Pol Pot regime, although both his father and mother had been killed in the fields.  He seemed truly perplexed by the question.  It seems that the spirit or idea of resisting tyrannical government isn’t common among the Cambodian people, even those who had personally experienced genocide.  He had no answer for me, just repeating that his country was “safe” because no one but the police and soldiers had guns.

 

I don’t know…two million people killed by their own government in just three years doesn’t seem too “safe” to me!

 

I had another experience that showed me how the guide wasn’t quite correct in his assumption that people couldn’t access guns.  I’ll write a separate post about this experience next week, but I was able to purchase and fire an RPG in less than two hours’ time!  The people here can get guns (and grenades, and RPGs), it just takes a little money!

 

Me, preparing to fire an RPG that I bought on the black market for $350.

Me, preparing to fire an RPG that I bought on the black market for $350. Come back next week for details…

 

After seeing the prisons, torture chambers, graves, and photos of mutilated babies, it was time for a change.  I moved on to Siem Reap and spent a day at the amazing Angkor Wat Temple complex.  It provided a much needed psychological respite.

 

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Angkor Wat at sunrise

 

The trip ended in Bangkok, Thailand.  While there, I couldn’t miss watching a few Muay Thai fights.  I went to the world famous Lumpinee Boxing stadium and got ringside seats for 10 fights.  If you’ve never seen a Thai fight, it’s an amazing experience!  People screaming, locals playing fight music and a sweaty boxing arena combine to provide some great entertainment.

 

It may not look too impressive, but it's one of the best known Thai boxing arenas in the world.

It may not look too impressive, but it’s one of the best known Thai boxing arenas in the world.

 

I know Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand aren’t in most of my readers’ vacation plans, but they really are amazing countries.  I never felt the least bit unsafe at any time.  The people were some of the friendliest in the world and I will treasure the experiences I had visiting those countries.

 

The world is full of opportunities for excitement and fun.  I think a lot more people in the “tactical” community should make an effort to seek out some adventure and get a different perspective on life instead of spending their money buying yet another AR-15 rifle.  Not everyone is out to kill you.  Spending time unarmed in a third world country without knowing the language or customs hones your social skills and protective instincts better than any tactical class you can take.

 

In the end, adaptability to unknown circumstances, maintaining your composure under stress, and knowing how to socially interact with people from different cultural backgrounds are the best “tactical” skills you can master.  Those skills are acquired easier through third world travel than by any other method I’ve discovered.  It’s a big world.  Don’t be scared.  Go out and have some fun!

 

There is definite “tactical” knowledge to be obtained while traveling. Now I know how to cook and eat a scorpion! These were appetizers at a local restaurant where I ate. They weren’t too bad.

 

Travel Log- Australia and Hawaii

Travel Log- Australia and Hawaii 300 255 Greg Ellifritz

*My Travel Log series describes various past travel adventures and provides perspective about living and traveling in different countries.  This particular segment covers a trip to Australia and Hawaii in 2014.

 

I just got back from spending two weeks in Australia with a couple days on either end of the trip in Honolulu to reduce the jet lag.  22 hour flights just plain (plane?) suck and it’s nice when I can break that long flight in half.

 

Australia was a strange trip for me.  It’s long been on my list to visit, but it had never been at the top of the list…it just seemed a bit too tame.  I scheduled this trip with my girlfriend.  She has a goal to see all seven continents before she turns 35 years old.  So I jumped on board to help her achieve her goal.  It was a horrible sacrifice!

 

I’m a pretty veteran traveler.  I usually spend six to eight weeks a year traveling outside the country.  My girl took a look through my passport and made a pretty telling statement…

 

“You know this will be the first international trip you’ve taken in the last 10 years where you will actually be able to drink the water for the entire holiday.”

 

Shockingly, she was right.  I’ve been to a few places in South America where the water was potable, but that was only for a day or two.  I’ve spent time in the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland, but those were just stopovers on the way to or from some third world hellhole.

 

It was quite a strange sensation to actually visit someplace “civilized.”

 

In Australia, we spent most of our time in the cities of Cairns and Sydney.  We spent two days in the Outback visiting Uluru Park (Ayers Rock), rafted the Tully River, hiked in the rainforest of Kuranda, and snorkeled and dived the great barrier reef.  It was a relaxing get away and I found the Australians to be quite friendly and inquisitive.

In front of Uluru, the largest rock in the world.

In front of Uluru, the largest rock in the world.

 

DSCN1622

Uluru at sunset

What was truly shocking to me was how expensive everything was in the land “down under.”  My friends warned me, but I had no idea how bad it was going to be.  It seems that Australia has the highest minimum wage in the world (at just under $17 an hour.)  That inflated wage is reflected in the pricing of every item sold.  Gasoline was around $6 a gallon.  Two burgers and fries for lunch at any restaurant other than a mall food court would cost between $40 and $50.  The cheapest local beer was $21.99 A SIX PACK!  It was crazy!

 

On another economic note, I had a long conversation with a local tour bus operator as we rode to the rain forest.  He has been involved in Australia’s tourism industry for more than 30 years.  I started talking to him about the relatively small number of American tourists we had seen (only two couples in two weeks).  He said he just doesn’t see many American tourists anymore.

 

He went on to propose that he could judge the economic health of a country by how many of its residents had the disposable cash to visit a far off and expensive place like Australia.  He told me that there were tons of Americans in OZ  before the 2008 recession, but they haven’t been back since.  He said it was similar for most of Europe as well.  The countries that sent the most tourists?  Germany, China, and India.  My bus driving economist found an easy way to figure out the world’s economic powerhouses by merely looking at tourist numbers.  I found it quite intriguing.

 

We didn’t have any real crime problems.  I carried a Spyderco Salt knife (the best knife ever for salt water resistance) and Sabre’s Spitfire pepper spray.  I have no idea if either was legal…and don’t really care.  I’m a big boy and am willing to accept the consequences of a fine or arrest if I was caught in exchange for having the ability to defend myself and girlfriend from a life threatening attack.

 

Walking around Australia, I was quick to note that I did not see ANY clip knives sticking out of people’s pockets.  I elected to stay low profile and not attract undue attention by carrying my Spyderco clipped in the appendix position inside the waistband of my pants.  It’s handy to access with either hand and relatively quick to get into action.  No one saw it, nor did it cause me any problems.  I added the pepper spray to my pocket when going out late at night or when walking through “dodgy” parts of town.

 

The knife did come out on one occasion…

 

It seems that we were targeted by what I think were a group of bag thieves while walking in Sydney.  I noticed a guy on an opposite street corner talking on a cell phone.  He caught my attention when he seemed to be pointing us out to some unseen other person.  As soon as he pointed at us we picked up a tail.  Two guys appeared out of nowhere and started following us very closely.  The dude on the cell phone supervised from a distance.

 

I slowed down our walking pace.  So did our followers….not a good sign.  The man on the phone paralleled us from across the street.  Pre-assault indicators are universal.  It doesn’t matter what country you are visiting.  Always be alert for any predatory movement patterns or deliberate approaches in a crowd.  I made a quick stop and forced our followers to walk past.  They didn’t like that at all.

 

It was quite the study in the criminal assault paradigm.  The two men were obviously together, but walking a half step apart to seem separate.  They weren’t talking.  One guy was pretending to look at a cell phone in a very unnatural posture (trying to look inconspicuous.) The other was giving off constant “grooming cues”…touching his face, neck, and hair as he nervously kept looking over his shoulder to check our position.

 

They were obviously up to something.  I warned my girlfriend and slowed the pace even more.  The two guys slowed down as well, keeping the same distance between us.  In between nervous strokes of his neck, I saw one of the men dart his hand into his pocket.  He pulled it out and had something gold and metallic-colored in his palm.  I couldn’t tell what it was, but it looked like brass knuckles of some sort.  Go time.

 

I maneuvered aggressively between my girlfriend and the two men so that I could give her a chance to get away as I accessed my knife.  She saw what I was doing (without knowing what had prompted my draw) and was astute enough to say “Hey!  Let’s check out this restaurant!” as she pulled me into an eatery we were passing.  Smart girl.  The crooks kept walking and I didn’t have to stab anyone.  I still don’t know what they were up to, but I think we handled the problem pretty well.  Sorry to disappoint you all, but it was an uneventful trip with regards to crime or criminal attacks.

 

There isn’t much of gun culture in Australia.  Since their 1997 gun ban, it seems that not many people use guns and no one but police (and criminals) carry guns in public.  It was interesting to note that in the Outback there is quite a feral hog hunting culture.  In every convenience store there would be half a dozen glossy magazines devoted to the sport.  Most of the hunters appeared to be using red dot equipped .30-.30 or .44 magnum lever action rifles.  I suppose if I had to move down there, I wouldn’t feel too badly armed for home protection purposes with an Aimpoint equipped lever gun.  Even though it doesn’t have the cool factor of our AR-15s, realistically there aren’t too many tactical problems that can’t be solved with six rounds of .30-30 ammo.

The only contact I had with a gun on my trip

The only contact I had with a gun on my trip

 

I spoke to a few of the local cops.  They carried 1st Generation Glock 22 .40 pistols in basket weave leather Safariland 6280 duty holsters with two spare magazines.  They used First Defense pepper spray and only a few had Tasers.  None wore body armor.  I spoke to one police weapons instructor who told me that second handguns were prohibited and that regular patrol officers had no access to long guns.  He privately expressed fears of an active killer event that the cops would be unable to stop with their pistols.  He also told me of a new ruling that limited the use of Tasers to cases where there was a risk of “serious bodily harm.”  After a highly publicized death following a Taser application, the cops are no longer allowed to use it unless someone is likely to be very seriously injured or killed.

 

The cops said they very rarely encountered guns on the street.  The weapons arrests they made came from the drug dealers who are usually armed with either knives or brass knuckles.  Methamphetamine (Ice) is their biggest drug problem and it wasn’t unusual to see people walking down the street in Sydney who were obviously under the influence of the drug.

Even Airsoft pistols are highly regulated. This tobacco shop in a Sydney mall sold Airsoft guns, but the proprietor was not allowed to leave them uncovered in the store display case. He covered the airsoft guns with sheets of newspaper to comply with the law.

Even Airsoft pistols are highly regulated. This tobacco shop in a Sydney mall sold Airsoft guns, but the proprietor was not allowed to leave them uncovered in the store display case. He covered the airsoft guns with sheets of newspaper to comply with the law.

 

One other interesting gun-related experience on my trip occurred in Hawaii on my layover.  Because it is such a popular destination for Japanese tourists, all the public shooting ranges in the city had men on the street passing out flyers to the tourists.  Apparently renting and shooting guns is a huge draw for the completely disarmed Japanese population.

Man on a Honolulu street handing out gun range flyers

Man on a Honolulu street handing out gun range flyers

 

Ranges sold packages allowing the Asian tourists to fire one or several different weapons.  Take a look at the flyer below for the prices.  What a business opportunity!

$130 for 50 shots!

$130 for 50 shots!

 

That about covers all of the gun/crime/police aspects of my trip.  Back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow!

The obligatory Koala cuddle

The obligatory Koala cuddle

 

The most dangerous part of my trip…

Travel Log- Nicaragua

Travel Log- Nicaragua 940 591 Greg Ellifritz

*My Travel Log series describes various past travel adventures and provides perspective about living and traveling in different countries.  This particular segment covers a trip to Nicaragua in 2014.

 

I just got back yesterday from a week-long trip to Nicaragua.  Nicaragua isn’t on most folks’ travel lists, but it ended up being absolutely beautiful.  I had a short amount of time off work, so the girlfriend and I wanted a deserted beach where we could completely relax for the few days we could get away.  I found Corn Island in Nicaragua and it fit the bill perfectly.

 

Corn Island lies about 50 miles off the eastern coast of the country.  It’s a tiny island with only about 9000 total residents.  There are only about seven hotels and most of those have five or fewer rooms.  The entire island is powered by just three electric generators.  Power outages are constant.  There isn’t much of a tourist infrastructure, but the island had lots of uninhabited beaches.  Uninhabited beaches were exactly what we were looking for.  Combine that with my goal to visit every Central and South American country (I had not yet been to Nicaragua) and I booked a flight.

 

Anastasia Beach, Corn Island

Anastasia Beach, Corn Island

 

We flew into Managua (the capital city) and spent the night there.  Managua reminded me quite a bit of the cities in Cambodia.  It was hot, dusty, polluted, and poor.  It wasn’t much fun, but we didn’t have any problems with regards to safety.  After walking around the city in the morning, we caught a local flight to the island in the afternoon.

 

The flight landed and we were ushered into the airport which consisted of a single room.  It took about an hour for the customs official to manually enter the 40 passengers’ passport details into a paper notebook.  There wasn’t a single telephone or computer in the airport.

 

After our “immigration check” we caught a gypsy cab (70 cents to go anywhere on the island) outside of the airport and made it to our hotel.  I booked one of the higher end hotels.  It only had four rooms and we were the only guests.  The hotel was right on a mile-long beach and we had it all to ourselves for the week.

 

The hotel where we stayed

The hotel where we stayed

 

Not much to report from the trip.  We swam, snorkeled, scuba dived, body surfed, hiked the island’s two biggest “mountains” and rented motorbikes to check out the island.  We also ate lobster…a lot of lobster.  The island’s biggest source of income is lobster fishing and a whole lobster dinner (with salad, rice, plantains, and a couple beers) was around $12.  I read eight books and spent a lot of time just laying around.  It was a refreshing break.

 

As far as gun and crime stuff, we didn’t have any problems.  Despite Nicaragua’s violent past, it is now the safest of Latin American countries.  The island had even less crime than the mainland.  There is very little violence there, with petty theft and the occasional drunken barfight between the locals as the only criminal activity.  Most of the families on the island have been there a very long time.  Everyone knows everyone.  This cultural homogeneity combined with the accountability that comes from knowing all your neighbors leads to a small crime rate.

 

There are only about eight cops (Nicaraguan National Police) on the island.  The one time I saw a pair of cops on patrol, they were not wearing gunbelts.  I saw one cop at the airport who was wearing a Beretta 92 in a cheap nylon holster with no spare mags or other gear.  There was also a single soldier who was assigned to guard the airport runway.  He carried a folding stock AK-47 strapped to his back.

 

Interestingly enough, I saw quite a few armed security guards in Managua.  Unlike most Latin countries, the security guards looked fairly professional.  They all carried blue steel S&W Model 10 revolvers in fairly decent holsters.  The guns appeared to be well cared for. I didn’t see any spare ammunition being carried, but most of the guards had PR-24 batons, pepper spray, and handcuffs.  That’s almost unheard of in a third world country.

 

As a side note, I do a lot of third world travel.  The single most common firearm I see in my travels is the S&W .38 revolver.  If you travel internationally, you likely won’t be able to pack your pistol.  Do you think about how you might “acquire” a gun if you needed one?  I’ve thought about it extensively and have come to the conclusion that my easiest source of an emergency pistol is to disarm a security guard.  If I do that, I’m going to have to know how to run a .38 revolver and be able to do it well.  Most guards don’t carry any spare ammo, so six shots is all I’m going to get.

 

Most of us don’t shoot revolvers nearly as much as we shoot autopistols.  Because I want to be able to run a third-world .38 as if it was an extension of my hand, I make it a point to shoot about 50 rounds monthly through one of my full size .38 revolvers.  When was the last time you shot a Model 10?  If you travel internationally, I would advise that you get some practice.  While you are at it, tune up your skills with an AK-47 and FN FAL.  Those are the most common rifles I see in other countries.

 

I enjoy third world travel because it provides challenges that I don’t normally experience.  Solving the problems you encounter in a third world country will quickly make you a very adaptable person, more so than any other educational opportunity I’ve experienced.  Thinking through my self defense plans on the island, I recognized that I was in a truly unique environment that required some adaptation from my normal plans.

 

Third World problem solving. How do you protect your freshly painted speed bump if you don't have traffic cones? Just use big rocks.

Third World problem solving. How do you protect your freshly painted speed bump if you don’t have traffic cones? Just use big rocks.

 

In most third world countries, I rely on a knife (or knives) for self protection.  Depending on where I’m traveling, if I needed to use one, I wouldn’t likely report the use to the local police.  There just isn’t much of a chance of a fair trial or judicial proceeding as an American who stabs or kills a local in a developing nation.  You’ll spend a long time in prison or get killed “resisting arrest” if you go to the police.  It’s better to quickly get the hell out of the area if you have to use lethal force.

 

That poses quite a problem on my little island.  There were literally only about 20 gringos on the whole island.  There are two local flights off the island and two ferry departures every day.  Everyone knows everyone else and most are relatives.  Escape options are few.  If I stab a local in self defense, how quickly do you think the word would spread around the island that the cutting was done by “the big gringo dude?”  How do you think the locals would respond?  Besides dealing with the initial problem that caused me to use my blade, I would have the additional unpleasant difficulty escaping the rope of the lynch mob that would be waiting for me at my hotel.

 

Have you ever thought about something like that?

 

I still carried my blade, but I was also diligent in carrying my flashlight (as an impact weapon) and my pepper spray.  Even though less effective in individual combat than using a knife, smashing a dude in the teeth with my flashlight or spraying him with some O.C. would probably be far better for my long term health.  The locals will be a whole lot more forgiving of some burning eyes than a knife buried in one of their throats.

 

Just like I teach my students here, one has to solve not only the initial violent encounter, but the secondary problem with the police and the criminal justice system.  In other countries, the “secondary problem” won’t likely be a generally fair trial by a jury of your peers; it might be an angry mob.  You aren’t prepared unless you can handle that issue as well.  Walter Mitty-like fantasies of cutting throats and throwing knives in the gutter to make a stealthy escape aren’t very productive.  Don’t delude yourself.  You aren’t Jason Bourne and you won’t get away with it.  Make a realistic assessment of your environment and your abilities and plan accordingly.

 

The beach we had all to ourselves for a week.

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