Travel Log

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.

Travel Log- Galapagos

Travel Log- Galapagos 885 602 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 Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands in 2013.

 

I went on a quick eight-day trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  I had previously spent almost three weeks traveling on mainland Ecuador (in 2006), but I didn’t make it to the famed Galapagos Islands.  I remedied my mistake on this trip.  If you are even the least bit interested in marine wildlife, you will have to make the pilgrimage.

 

On this trip I did two days in Quito and six days on a boat checking out five of the different islands.  I hiked, mountain biked, swam, snorkeled, and saw some of the most amazing critters imaginable.  Snorkeling with dozens of sea lions in the wild was an unforgettable experience.  All the animals on the islands are protected.  With no human predation, they don’t flee or hide.  The animals basically ignore human presence and go about their business.  It’s amazing to swim with 400 lb. sea lions just inches away from you.  The topography of the islands was stunning as well.

 

Hiking in the stark landscape (dry season) above Darwin Lake.

Hiking in the stark landscape (dry season) above Darwin Lake.

 

I didn’t spend much time thinking about training or firearms related stuff on this trip.  It was pure enjoyment.  But for those of you interested in firearms, I’ll let you know what I noticed…

 

The National Police seemed quite professional by Latin American standards.  Uniforms were clean and pressed.  Hair cuts were high and tight.  They were armed with Gen 2 Glock 17s in some type of strange plastic security holster.  Interestingly, most had +2 mag extensions on the magazines in their guns.

 

Transit police, Tourist police, and Metropolitan police were not armed, but carried big cans of pepper spray (available for sale in most hardware stores) and/or PR-24 batons.

 

There were lots of armed security guards outside of stores, apartment complexes and banks.  Most wore external carrier soft body armor and carried Taurus .38 revolvers in cheap, ill-fitting nylon holsters.  Disarming these folks wouldn’t be difficult if one needed to obtain a gun in a hurry.  I didn’t see a single holster that could even be snapped.

 

One of the more interesting guns I saw on my last trip to Ecuador. It was being carried by a security guard and was chambered in .38 S&W. It's a revolver with a long barrel designed to look like a pump shotgun.

One of the more interesting guns I saw on my last trip to Ecuador. It was being carried by a security guard and was chambered in .38 S&W. It’s a revolver with a long barrel designed to look like a pump shotgun.

 

In talking to some residents, it seems that Ecuadorian citizens can get permits for up to two guns maximum.  Handguns are limited to .38/9mm calibers and under.  No semi auto rifles are allowed.  To obtain the permits, citizens must take a legal and psychological written exam, pass a medical test, have a clean criminal background, and have two letters of reference of their good character.

 

As far as training related topics. I had two insights on this trip…..

 

The first is that putting yourself into unique situations that you don’t regularly face is valuable for gaining experience, even if those situations aren’t directly related to self protection.  I started panicking slightly when I was getting bashed on a coral reef by harsh ocean currents when snorkeling.  I couldn’t get out of the currents for awhile and the high waves were filling my snorkel with water.  I had to consciously calm myself down and figure out a solution to the problem without drowning.  Succeeding in that environment teaches some valuable lessons and provides confidence that carries over to other situations as well.

 

Walking around a big city as an obvious outsider also teaches some useful lessons.  How do you pick out the predators when the culture and language are different?  How do you get along with people who are very different from you so that you aren’t victimized?  The social skills acquired when learning how to do these things are invaluable.  Search out and embrace as many strange and unique experiences as you can.  Your life will improve greatly.

 

Quito

Quito

 

The second insight I had was about assessing neighborhood safety.  Quito is a massive city of 2.5 million (mostly poor) residents.  In two days of walking through the city and a couple 1.5 hour taxi rides through some slums to get to the airport, I started thinking about tangible signs that I may be in a neighborhood that isn’t the safest.  These may be pretty basic, but using them will give you a quick assessment of your relative safety in any neighborhood in the world:

1) Are there lots of armed guards?

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

3) Are there lots of stray dogs?

4) How much graffiti is present on the walls?

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

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

 

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

 

Broken glass embedded into the frame of a church window to deter thieves.

Broken glass embedded into the frame of a church window to deter thieves.

 

 

Baby sea lion

Travel Log- Twelve Years Ago Today

Travel Log- Twelve Years Ago Today 620 269 Greg Ellifritz

Twelve years ago today I made a trek to the summit of the highest mountain in Africa. While getting to the top of Kilimanjaro didn’t require any technical climbing skills, it did require more fortitude than any endeavor I’ve ever completed either before or since.

 

For those who don’t know, Kili is more than a mile higher than those big 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. It’s no joke. The summit was about 15 degrees (F) with 40 mile an hour winds.  It was a five day hike to the top and back down.

 

I had horrible altitude sickness and high altitude cerebral edema on summit day. I actually passed out at the summit shortly after the photo above was taken. I’ve never puked so much in my entire life. For about the last six hours, I would throw up about every five steps I took. All this was happening at 3:00 am so that we could be on the top for sunrise.

 

It was rough, but I made it to the top and then made it back down to base camp without assistance. And now, whenever I have to work through a difficult situation, I tell myself:

“This isn’t shit. You climbed Kilimanjaro while you were mostly dead. Suck it up and do work.”

 

It’s good to have motivating successes that can help you through the tough challenges of life.

 

Go do epic shit.

 

And for those of you who like seeing cool things, check out the photos below from my trip.  You may also like the story about how I was almost killed by a corrupt Tanzanian cop before I even started my hike.

 

The bustling town of Marengu, Tanzania

 

Marengu grocery store and bar

Butcher shop without electricity or refrigeration. Note the name. It wasn’t a very friendly town for Americans.

 

Hiking through the clouds on day two

 

Campsite Day Two

 

When the clouds cleared the next morning, I saw the summit (in background) for the first time.

 

Above the treeline on day three with a good view of the mountain.

 

The initial summit, right before I passed out.

 

African sunrise from above the clouds

 

Happy to be done at the end of the trail back down near sea level

 

Suffering from high altitude cerebral edema at the summit.

Travel Log- Honduras

Travel Log- Honduras 620 465 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 Honduras in 2012.

 

I traveled down to Honduras to both celebrate my 40th birthday and learn to scuba dive.

 

I spent the majority of my time on a small island (Utila) off the coast.  The island is fairly difficult to get to by North American standards, but was well worth the effort.  With only about 2000 residents, it was a very mellow place with warm water, fresh seafood, and great ocean scenery.

 

Utila Island Honduras from the Ferry

 

I also spent a little time in the towns of La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula (the 2011 murder capital of the world).  San Pedro Sula is the home of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang and had 159 murders per 100,000 residents last year.  In comparison, Chicago (which has one of the highest murder rates in the USA) had 34 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2010.

 

There is a lot of crime and a lot of potential danger in Honduras.  Despite its reputation as one of the most dangerous places in the world, I had no problems at all.  I traveled alone and took only public transportation …local buses, taxis, ATVs, a ferry nicknamed the “vomit express”, and a 6-seater plane that looked like it had its best days in the 1950s.  I had a couple hotel rooms in some fairly dodgy parts of towns where I stayed.

 

The view from my “deluxe” $17 a night hotel room in La Ceiba. My balcony overlooked the back of the city soccer stadium.

 

Don’t believe everything you see on television.  Very few residents of foreign countries hate Americans or are looking to victimize travelers.  Having spent significant time traveling on five continents, I can tell you that people from almost every other nation are invariably more friendly and helpful than most of the people I meet here at home.

 

I talk to the locals as much as I can in all my travels.  I always try to get some information about the local crime trends and tactics the residents use to stay safe.  The advice I received from all the Hondurans with whom I spoke last week holds true for most of the world as well.  The Hondurans told me that if someone stays away from drugs and gangs, the chance that they will be killed is extremely low.  Most of the murders in Honduras are tied in with drug trafficking.   It’s pretty much the same for any big city in America!

 

Third world hot water….I love these shower heads that plug into an electrical socket! What a great idea!

 

I also had some interesting conversations about guns and fighting.  There are lots of guns in Honduras.  In the larger cities, every single retail outlet had an armed security guard standing in front of the door.  Most of these armed guards carried beat-up .38 special revolvers (I saw S&W, Taurus, and Rossi all represented) and no spare ammunition.  If a particular guard was carrying spare ammo, he generally had six extra rounds of lead round nose .38 special ammunition carried in an old-school loop cartridge carrier on his belt.

 

More lucrative targets (like banks and hotels that cater to wealthy clients) had a greater armed presence.  There would generally be at least one guard with a long gun standing outside.  I generally saw Mossberg pump shotguns and Ruger Mini-14 rifles in the bank guards’ hands.  The guards outside the wealthier mainland hotels had FAL or Galil rifles.  Even the bellhops wore concealed revolvers in one the nicer hotels where I stayed!

 

Clear evidence of the “gun culture” at the bait shop on my little island

 

The cops all carried Beretta 92 9mm pistols and occasionally FAL rifles.  The Berettas were carried in every imaginable holster from a cheap homemade nylon leg rig to a Safariland SLS.  On the sleepy little island where I stayed, the cops didn’t carry spare ammo.  In the bigger cities, cops usually had two spare magazines in open top kydex belt carriers.

 

While I was traveling, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took place.  It was all over the news down there.  On the island, I didn’t have any American TV stations, only local stuff.  The Honduran local news covered the shooting as thoroughly as CNN did here.

 

The shooting led to some interesting discussions about guns and gun rights.  On Utila Island, it is fairly difficult to legally obtain a firearm.  According to the locals, the first step to getting a gun permit in Honduras is a police background check.  They told me that the cops on the island rarely approved the check.  They don’t want people armed in their little section of paradise.

 

The locals were quick to explain that the gun control laws didn’t really disarm anyone.  One guy told me “Everyone has a gun.  They just don’t have a permit for it.”  He explained in great detail how they smuggle guns onto the island from the USA mainland.  I won’t reveal the process, but it was quite ingenious and clearly worked.  On the “black market” a cheap 9mm pistol (like a Taurus or KelTec) costs around $1000 US dollars.  A Glock or Beretta would be about the same price down there if legally acquired with a legitimate permit.  Guns are expensive there due to high import taxes, but it was obvious that many Hondurans believed they were a necessary purchase.

 

You can’t legally buy a gun on Utila island, but the island’s only pharmacy also sells beer and chicken.

 

As long-time readers know, most of my blog posts are related to firearms and tactics.  This particular post doesn’t fit with my usual fare.  With that said, I think the stuff I write about in this post is just as important as any of the other articles I write 3-4 times a week.

 

Let me explain…

 

Many of my readers are extremely serious about developing the skills they need to protect themselves.  I am too.  But I recognize that sometimes a constant focus on self-protection can lead to an obsession with “safety”.  Being overly “safe” will keep you away from some of the best experiences you might ever be able to have on this planet.

 

Don’t obsess over the advice on this page or any of the other great firearms/self-defense websites out there.  Be smart.  Read.  Learn.  Prepare.  But then go out and LIVE YOUR LIFE!  Have some fun.  Engage in a passion other than fighting or shooting.

 

I consumed a large part of my younger years with every waking moment devoted to learning, practicing, and studying the fighting arts.  My dedication created an excellent skill set but I really wasn’t happy.  What good is a defensive skill set if the only thing you can defend is the boring life that you don’t truly enjoy?

 

You don’t have to travel the world and do all the crazy things I like to do.  Just find something you enjoy outside of the fighting arts and make it a point to devote a greater amount of time pursuing that enjoyable hobby.  Allow yourself to find and cultivate ALL of your passions.

 

Last year I spent more than six weeks traveling outside of the country doing all the things that I enjoy.  I made it to five new countries (Thailand, China, Singapore, Colombia, and Honduras) as well as a repeat visit to Mexico.

 

I learned to scuba dive, paraglided off a mountain in Medellin, Colombia, camped on a beach in Thailand, rode my first overnight train, and saw some amazing Buddhist religious artifacts.  I ate incredible food and met dozens of new friends from all over the world.  Next year, I will do even more.

On the dive boat

 

For your “tactical” homework assignment this week, I want you to forget about guns, shooting, and fighting for a couple days.  Take that time to plan out how you are going to have more fun and live a better life in 2013.  In the long run, those few days off from the gym, the dojo, or the range will do wonders for increasing your quality of life.

 

 

 

Sunset from right outside my room on Utila. Getting to see this every evening for a week made up for the crappy view of the city soccer stadium I had at the other hotel.

 

Travel Log- Adventures with RPGs and Hand Grenades

Travel Log- Adventures with RPGs and Hand Grenades 620 349 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 Cambodia in 2013.

 

Written by: Greg Ellifritz

 

What follows is a travel experience that you won’t  find in your Lonely Planet Guidebook.  I don’t recommend anyone else try to do something this crazy.  While the outcome turned out to be positive for me and my friends, it may not turn out the same way for you.  Don’t attempt the things I’m going to describe!  You could end up hurt or dead.  Read at your own risk.  Now, on to the story….

 

I recently traveled through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand with a fun bunch of new friends.  While drinking one night at a local Vietnamese bar, we spoke to some other travelers who mentioned that they heard it was possible to shoot RPGs and machine guns in Cambodia.  These folks tried to make it happen, but were unable to make the necessary arrangements.  My friends and I decided that we would try a little harder and make it happen.

 

As we traveled, we regularly inquired about how we might be able to fire an RPG.  Everyone said that if it were to happen, it would have to be in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia.  It seems that the capital city had a reputation for lax rules and endless opportunities…as long as one had the proper amount of money.

 

Some local guides we met offered to take us to a formal shooting range in Phnom Penh where we would be given instructions on how to shoot an AK-47.  It sounded fun, but we wanted something a little less structured and a little more exciting.

 

On our last day in the city, I was desperate to make this adventure happen.  I started asking random taxi drivers about shooting.  Very quickly a Tuk-Tuk (motorized three wheeled taxi) driver gave me the answer I was looking for.  He told me that he knew a person who could make  arrangements to shoot the big guns.

 

You might be asking: "What the hell is a Tuk-Tuk?" Here is a photo...

You might be asking: “What the hell is a Tuk-Tuk?” Here is a photo…

 

I was skeptical,  This dude was just a random tuk-tuk driver I met on the street.  But he spoke English fairly well and told me that he had taken several groups f tourists to do similar things in the past.  He pulled out his cell phone and said “I have an Army friend’s phone number right here.  I’ll call him and he will set it up for this afternoon.”

 

We still weren’t sure about the whole situation, but then the driver called his friend and asked us what we wanted to shoot.  The friend could provide Glocks, Thompsons, AK-47s, M-16s, sniper rifles, M-79 grenade launchers, a Russian K-57 belt fed machine gun and as many hand grenades as we wanted to throw.

 

He gave us prices.  They were expensive, but not outrageous for the opportunity to shoot something I’ll likely never see again.  I had a quick huddle with my friends and we decided to go do some shooting.

 

We recognized that we were taking a big risk.  We came up with a quick safety plan, distributed the weapons we had equally between us and took a couple other precautions.  There were five of us with four of the five having extensive military, police, or martial arts experience.  We knew it was risky, but we also realized that, as a group, we were fairly unlikely to be targeted.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  As one of my friends said: “This may be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it has all the components of an epic adventure.”  I grabbed my trauma medical kit and we rolled out!

 

Our tuk-tuk driver (called Lucky) explained what would happen.   He would drive us to the edge of the city where we would be met by another car provided by his army friend.  We would then take that car about two hours out of town to a military bombing range where the guns would be waiting.

 

Things proceeded as planned.  We met a taxi on the outskirts of town.   All of us (including the tuk-tuk driver) piled into the Toyota Camry taxi for a 90 minute ride.  We pulled over again and met another car…this one containing our army contact and a driver.

 

We split the group with half staying with the original taxi driver and the rest of us riding with the army guy (who never gave us his name).  Army guy explained in broken English that he had retired from the Cambodian military in 2004 as a RPG gunner.  He even showed us a photo of him with his RPGs “back in the day.”  He also showed us a written menu of the services he provided….RPGs, hand grenades, machine guns, and beer.  It was going to be a good day!

 

A photo of 'Army Guy" in his RPG shooting days

A photo of ‘Army Guy” in his RPG shooting days

 

Army guy then asked if we wanted to purchase “targets”.  For $300 he would bring a cow to the range to serve as the RPG target!  As cool as the video of blowing up a cow with a grenade would be, I had to pass.  It seemed pretty cruel.  I also passed on his offer to bring chickens (at $5 each) to serve as machine gun targets.  This place truly was a bit insane.

 

The menu of services offered...

The menu of services offered…

 

After about 30 more minutes of travel, we pulled off onto a dirt road near the mountains.  There was a military guard shack.  I never saw the guard, but the chain blocking the road was lowered and we drove past.  As we entered, our guide explained that he “bought” all of the weapons from the Cambodian military and that all of our activities would be completely legal.

 

The bombing range and "Army Guy" calling for the guns

The bombing range and “Army Guy” calling for the guns

 

We pulled up in a field littered with empty shell casings and explosive remains.  Army guy got on his cell phone.  Five minutes later, two guys drove up on a scooter that also had machine guns and an RPG tied to the seat.

 

The guns arrive on the back of a scooter. What could possibly go wrong here?

The guns arrive on the back of a scooter. What could possibly go wrong here?

 

The guys on the scooter removed the weapons and began assembling things…preparing grenades, loading magazines, and linking belts of ammunition.  They brought two RPGs, several hand grenades, a belt fed machine gun, an M-79 grenade launcher with high explosive grenades, an AK-47, and an M-16A-1 (the was stamped “Property of US Government”).

 

Getting the guns and rockets ready

Getting the guns and rockets ready

 

They thought of everything...the pink toilet paper was our ear protection.

They thought of everything…the pink toilet paper was our ear protection.

 

I was up first with the RPG.  There was no safety briefing.  Army guy showed me how to remove the two safeties and gave me a 3-2-1 countdown.  I knew that RPGs could explode in the tube and I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in my instructor’s abilities, but I threw caution to the wind and squeezed the trigger when the countdown reached “0ne”.  I was rewarded with a massive blast and saw the grenade flying toward the hillside where I had aimed.  Success!  It was even better when the grenade exploded several seconds later.

 

Preparing to fire the RPG

Preparing to fire the RPG

 

I was amazed by the total lack of recoil and by the huge backblast.  I didn’t feel much when I shot it, but the photos show a different story!  I’m glad no one was standing behind me!

 

Fire!

Fire!

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The aftermath...about 800 meters away

The aftermath…about 800 meters away

 

One more of my friends shot the RPG and then it was time to play with hand grenades.  Only one of my companions wanted to throw a grenade, so he walked forward to a protective berm on the range.  After a few practice throws (with rocks) that involved diving behind the dirt berm after the throw (and some instructions from me about how to hold the grenade so his fingers wouldn’t slip off the spoon), my friend pulled the pin and tossed the grenade.  Nothing happened.  It was a dud.  They just left it laying on the ground where it fell.  I can’t imagine how much unexploded ordinance is laying around that bombing range.

 

I hate to think how old this grenade was...

I hate to think how old this grenade was…

 

Then it was on to the belt-fed K-57 Russian machine gun.  It was a light machine gun similar in style to the M-60.  It wasn’t well cared for and jammed quite regularly. The ammo we were firing reminded me of the old Norinco 7.62 x 39mm ammo that was imported from China in the early 1990s before President Clinton banned Chinese arms imports.  It had no headstamp markings and was made of very soft brass with no lacquer coating.

 

The K-57

The K-57

 

Army guy had problems clearing the malfunction on one occasion.  I stepped up to help and quickly found the culprit…casehead separation.  Half of the empty case was stuck in the barrel and our guide was trying to chamber a round behind it!  I warned my friend that the gun wasn’t safe to shoot and we moved on to the M-79 grenade launcher.

 

Do you think this might be a problem?

Do you think this might be a problem?

 

The M-79 was much more impressive than I expected. I have shot 37 mm and 40 mm grenades in various police classes, but they have always been gas or impact munitions, not high explosives. The HE grenades were almost as impressive as the RPG. If it wouldn’t anger the boys at the ATF, I’d certainly try to acquire a few of those things!

 

A friend shooting the grenade launcher

A friend shooting the grenade launcher

 

We finished up by firing both a full auto AK-47 and M-16A1. The target was a small red flag flying in a tree about 100 meters away. I was actually surprised that both guns functioned given their poor condition. “Army Guy” demonstrated a very unique method of lubricating the guns prior to shooting. He squirted liquid oil down inside the fully-loaded magazines!

 

What a horrible idea! The cartridges don’t need lubrication, the moving parts of the gun do! Besides that, oil in the magazine can penetrate cartridges and deactivate the primers.  It will also attract massive amounts of dirt and grit. Don’t do that! There’s a reason why Cambodia isn’t a military super power.

 

RPG, AK-47, and M-16

RPG, AK-47, and M-16

 

After our shooting adventure we shared a beer with Army Guy and headed back home…glad to be alive!

 

It was quite a day’s adventure for me and my friends and it made for a great story, but I can’t help but point out a worrisome aspect of the whole ordeal…

 

If a dude like me (with no military contacts) is able to get his hands on RPGs  and fully automatic weapons JUST BY TALKING TO A TAXI DRIVER, how tough do you think it is for criminals or terrorists to acquire these weapons and bring them into the USA? To assume that our enemies don’t have these weapons would be a grievous error. I think it’s only a matter of time before we have a terrorist attack involving this kind of heavy weaponry on US soil. It’s a sobering thought…and a situation for which US law enforcement is completely unprepared.

 

Posing with our toys at the end of the shooting session...

Posing with our toys at the end of the shooting session…

 

 

 

If you want to read more about third-world adventure travel, please check out my book Choose Adventure.