Travel News

Social Violence in the Developing World

Social Violence in the Developing World 634 356 Greg Ellifritz

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Playing Around in Downtown Atlanta

Playing Around in Downtown Atlanta 470 640 Greg Ellifritz

With Covid ravaging the world and international travel being considerably more difficult than it once was, I’ve been spending more time checking out travel locations inside the USA.  While not as exciting as some of my past travels in unique locations, I’m enjoying myself traveling within our country in conjunction with the classes I teach for work.

 

Last month I taught a couple of classes outside of rural Dahlonega, Georgia.  After I finished the class, I booked a couple nights in downtown Atlanta to do some exploration and meet some friends.  I booked my stay at the beautiful Hilton Downtown Atlanta.  The hotel was great, the neighborhood, not so much.

 

When I wasn’t hanging out with my friends, I took a few walks around the neighborhood.  There was an outdoor folk art park near the hotel that I wanted to explore.  It was a nice sunny afternoon and I decided to check it out.

 

The art was kind of cool, but nothing stunning.  It wasn’t quite as awesome as the local guidebooks made it out to be.  Check out a few of the photos below to see the art and learn a bit about the history of the exhibits.

 

 

 

I enjoyed the art, but I was shocked at the amount of homeless people living within the art exhibit.  Take a look at the photo below.  There were a couple homeless people living in a tent directly inside the art display.

homeless tent camp within the art installment

 

As I was walking around, I was aggressively approached by three different homeless men.  That’s a bit unusual in my experience.  I’m a big dude.  I don’t look very friendly when I’m walking around a potentially dangerous area.  Most homeless folks see my aura and decide not to approach.  Not true in downtown Atlanta.

 

Even though I look big and angry.  Even though I’m armed with a full sized gun, a blade, a sap, and pepper spray.  Even though I was intentionally giving off the “don’t fuck with me” vibe.  I still got accosted by predatory homeless folks.

 

The first confrontation involved a slick talking homeless dude who smiled and tried to engage me in conversation.  I kept moving, but was intentionally curt and non-engaging.  The dude didn’t get the message.  He continued his approach and stuck his hand out to shake.

 

I replied “Sorry dude.  We’re in the middle of a pandemic.  I don’t shake hands with people I don’t know.”

 

That excuse has previously worked pretty well for me.  It didn’t here.  the homeless dude got mad and started screaming at me.  He said “Motherfucker, I don’t even drink Corona.  I sure don’t have the virus.”

 

When my smile turned to a scowl and I didn’t respond, he decided to back off and find another mark.

 

About two minutes later, I was approached by another homeless man.  I told him “I can’t help you, man.” and kept walking.  He didn’t push the engagement any further.

 

The final interaction with the homeless involved a man who was obviously mentally ill.  He was walking towards me on the sidewalk laughing and screaming to a non-existent audience only he could see.

 

This guy looked even crazier than the first two.  I pulled the POM pepper spray container out of my pocket and readied it for use.  The man immediately picked up on my action.  He looked at the pepper spray in my hand and said “Fuck you” before crossing to the other side of the street.

 

POM pepper spray. My go-to travel defense option.

 

I have lots of experience moving around in crowded urban locations.   I’ve spent most of my career life dealing with homeless folks.  I was truly surprised at the aggressiveness of the homeless men I encountered in Atlanta.  It was challenging for me, and I know what I’m doing.  I can’t imagine being an inexperienced female half my size handling the same problems.

 

I really can’t recommend that any of my readers walk around downtown Atlanta, even in the daytime.  If you decide to go sight seeing there, I would recommend that you stay armed and move in groups as often as possible.

 

I’ve written a lot about assessing relative neighborhood safety when traveling.  I have a whole chapter on the topic in my travel safety book.  I’ve also written website articles on the topic.

As I was walking around downtown Atlanta, I became aware of another potential indication of danger that I had not yet mentioned.

 

If you see metal gates or wooden board blocking the door to retail establishments, you should understand that those store and restaurants have experienced a lot of break-ins over the years.  When you see those security measures, you should be extra alert.  You are no longer in a safe area.

 

The photos below show some retail locations within a half mile of my ritzy hotel.  Note the security measures.  That should be a clue that you might be traversing a dangerous neighborhood.

 

Note vehicle blocking bollards and additional plywood security on the main door.

 

This bar was open. You had to knock on the window to get inside. That should be a clue.

 

While I didn’t have great experiences on my walks around the hotel, I did enjoy one amazing sushi meal.  I visited the Pacific Rim Bistro because it was close to my hotel.  I wasn’t disappointed.

 

 

I got a unique sushi roll where the roll wasn’t served in a traditional cylindrical shape.  The sections were cut flat and laid face up on the plate.  The toppings were ten spread over the top of the rice rolls,  It was almost like a sushi casserole.  Very tasty.  I highly recommend the Pacific Bistro if you do have to visit downtown Atlanta.

 

 

 

Overall, I’m glad I spent an extra day in Atlanta hanging with my friends.  But as a solo travel destination, I can’t recommend it.  If you do visit, make sure you are armed and that you are verbally adept enough to dissuade the extremely aggressive homeless folks you will most certainly encounter.

 

New TSA Experience

New TSA Experience 946 2048 Greg Ellifritz

This was a new TSA experience for me…

 

On Friday I flew from Austin to Atlanta to teach classes at The Complete Combatant. I had to check two bags because of all the training aids I need for my classes. I checked in, dropped off the bags, and went to wait in the security line.

 

Preparing to go through security, I put my phone in my carry-on bag. When I cleared security, I pulled out my phone and found I had three missed calls from “US Government.” I called them back. It was the Austin airport TSA.

 

The officer told me that they had been trying to get into my bag to inspect it and were calling to get the combination to my luggage lock. He continued by saying “We got in. There’s no problem. Your bags are on the way and you are good to go.”

 

As a side note for you medical instructors Phokus wound cube wound packing simulators will ALWAYS get your bag inspected.

 

I arrived in Atlanta. Both bags arrived as well. Everything was great. Until I tried to get my medical gear out for class on Saturday morning. I tried my combination and the lock wouldn’t open.

 

I studied the lock and realized that it wasn’t my lock on the bag!

 

The TSA had broken my lock, checked my bag, and then put a new lock on my bag without telling me the combination. I tried all zeros. I tried 1-2-3-4. None of the common combinations worked. I had to break the lock with a pair of channel lock pliers to get in.

 

I’ve traveled a lot of places. That was the first time my stuff has been locked up with a different lock. I always carry a spare luggage lock, so I’m going to be fine when I fly home.

 

I often fly Delta, so I carry trauma shears in my carry-on to snip the zip ties Delta uses to close all bags with guns. Now I suppose I’ll have to start carrying lock breaking/picking tools as well.

 

 

Exploring Little Havana

Exploring Little Havana 652 496 Greg Ellifritz

I haven’t done any international travel since I caught Covid in Ecuador last summer.  Almost dying in that ordeal was enough to scare me away from visiting third world countries for a long time.  International travel is still a mess.  I also have some fairly serious lingering side effects from Covid (namely breathlessness, exercise intolerance, and crazy high blood pressure) that would limit the things I could do in the developing world.

 

For those reasons, I’ve been doing shorter domestic trips instead.  I plan on writing some more about these trips to give you some travel ideas and inspiration.

 

A few weeks ago I was visiting an old friend in Naples, Florida.  We decided to do a spur of the moment, ritzy two day trip to Miami.  One of the advantages of not spending money on expensive international airfare is that I now have a little more cash in the travel budget and can afford some fancier short term destinations.

 

This isn’t a travel guide to Miami.  I’m just reporting on some places we went where we had good food and service.  All of these spots get my recommendation, but this is far from a comprehensive guide.  I’m sure there are tons of other amazing places to see.

 

As my friend and I were talking about the trip, we determined that we wanted to spend most of our time in and around Little Havana.  I had never visited the area and wanted to see it.  She speaks fluent Spanish, loved traveling to Cuba, and was excited to re-live some of her experiences there.

 

 

The main focus of our trip was eating good food and relaxing.  We are both big eaters and love enjoying exotic food.  In between massive meals, we would do as much sight seeing as possible.

 

We started out at her house in Naples.  On the evening I arrived, we had dinner at The Claw Bar.  It was a great seafood place located within a large hotel resort downtown.  The neat thing about the Claw Bar  is that they also offer dining in a kind of hidden speakeasy-style environment.

 

The speakeasy is called “The London Club” and isn’t mentioned on the website.  You have to call for reservations.  Upon your arrival, you are escorted to a private elevator that takes you to the speakeasy section.  It was an intimate room with an excellent live jazz singer.  Lots of fun.

 

 

We started out the next morning with a leisurely drive on the back roads through the Everglades to get to Miami.  We enjoyed the scenery and all the alligators.  Some of the marine birds were stunning.  Although I’ve spent some time in Miami, I really hadn’t seen much of the Everglades.  It was well worth the longer drive to see such a unique environment.

 

As our trip had a Cuban theme, my friend surprised me on the drive with lunch reservations at a roadside Cuban family owned restaurant called The Havana Cafe of the Everglades in Chokoloskee.

 

The Havana Cafe was in the middle of nowhere, but was absolutely packed.  It had a breezy shaded outdoor patio for dining.  A solo guitarist played some Cuban music to make everything even more authentic.

 

I had the Shrimp Enchilado.  Note the spelling.  It’s not a Mexican Enchilada, instead it’s a Cuban dish made with shrimp, rice, and plantains.  It was delicious.  Here’s an inside tip.  They serve oysters, but they aren’t on the menu.  You have to ask your waitress for a special order to get them.  They were rather unique in that instead of being served with lemon or lime juice, they were covered with a slightly spicy Cuban cocktail sauce.  Not my favorite dish of the weekend, but it was still quite tasty.

 

With our hunger temporarily sated, we proceeded to Miami.  Accommodation in Little Havana itself were limited.  Some of the areas around the local hotels were a bit sketchy.  We decided to stay at the downtown Novotel instead.  It was only a few miles away from Little Havana, but was much nicer and in a safer neighborhood.

 

Novotel rooftop pool overlooking the Miami skyline.

 

It was pouring rain when we arrived, so we checked into the hotel and took a brief nap until the rain ended.  When we woke up, we were in the mood for some live music and a couple drinks before our late dinner reservation.  We took an Uber (parking in Miami is a huge hassle) to a Cuban themed nightclub called The Ball and Chain.

 

The club has been around since 1935 and has nightly live music.  When we were there, the music was being made by a six-person Cuban band.  I don’t think any of the performers were younger than 60 years old.  It reminded me a lot of the jazz clubs I visited on my trip to Cuba a few years ago.

Because of my other life as a tactical trainer, a lot of the folks who read this blog found it through my tactical writing and are interested in firearms and self protection.  If you are carrying weapons, please note that a lot of the nightclubs in Little Havana do pat down searches and bag checks before allowing you to enter the establishment.

 

If you plan on going to a busy bar or club after 8:00 pm, expect to be searched or wanded with a metal detector.  Theoretically, a S&W J-frame snub with a clipdraw can be clipped to the top of your underwear and be worn completely concealed even with a tucked in shirt.  It’s not the fastest draw in the world, but it’s very discreet and can go a lot of places where a full sized gun can’t.  Wearing a belt with a larger metal belt buckle just above the clipped revolver will justify the alarm if the metal detecting wand beeps.

 

Cuban chicharrones

 

We had a couple mojitos and ate some home cooked chicharrones for an appetizer.  The music was great.  The environment was fun and friendly.  If you are looking for a taste of Cuba in the USA, this would be an excellent place to visit.  I’ll definitely go back.

 

 

We then went to a late dinner at what turned out to be the best meal on our trip.  We visited Amara at Paraiso.  It was a very high class place with outdoor deck seating overlooking Biscayne Bay.

 

Looking across the bay from Amara’s covered outdoor dining section.

 

We had a couple of their deluxe craft cocktails and gorged ourselves on some stellar seafood.  We had some delicious appetizers and then shared their whole fish entree.  I’ve eaten whole fish in a lot of South American and Asian countries.  This one was very different.  The chef actually de-boned the fish before cooking it!  That doesn’t happen in rural developing countries.  I think I could get used to this!

If you are looking for a fancy restaurant for a special occasion, you won’t go wrong with Amara.

 

The whole fish covered with the only “salad” I ate down there.

 

The next morning we went back to Little Havana to explore Wynwood Walls, an outdoor graffiti museum.  We spent several hours at the museum and wandering around the nearby neighborhoods.

 

Wynwood Walls

 

I’m definitely fragile cargo

 

Wynwood Walls

 

It’s cool when her dress matches one of the art installations

 

The cutout allowing the neighborhood high rise apartment building to become part of the exhibit was a cool idea.

 

Pulling back the gray curtain of reality

 

She wanted a picture with the three gorillas

 

While exploring, we found a great Peruvian restaurant for lunch.  I’ve been to Peru four times now and am in love with Peruvian food.   Because of the Covid travel restrictions, I haven’t been back to Peru since 2019.  I was itching for some Peruvian ceviche.  Manta Peruvian Cuisine did not disappoint!

Manta

 

We did some appetizers and then I had the traditional Peruvian ceviche with calamari.  It was as if we were back in Lima.  They even had Peruvian Pilsen beer to wash it down.  My amiga enjoyed her Peruvian “causa” and a couple Pisco sours.  I’ve never seen causa served anywhere else in the USA.  Manta did a good job with this somewhat unique dish.

 

White fish ceviche and calamari with Peruvian corn and carrots

 

We strolled along a bit more and then took the slow, scenic route back to Naples.  The trip was low key, fun, and a great way to spend a long weekend.  I highly recommend all the spots I mentioned.

 

One other side note for you gun folks…

 

When I travel domestically, I tend to fly Delta or American. It’s been a few years since I’ve flown on United.  On this trip, the United flights best fit my schedule, so I booked them.   I flew from Austin to Ft. Meyers and back.

 

As usual, I checked a couple of pistols. Interestingly enough, United puts suitcases containing cased handguns right out on the luggage belt with everyone else’s luggage. According to the staff members with whom I spoke, only stand alone long gun cases get delivered to the baggage office.

 

Delta and American always require that you pick up your checked bag at the baggage office.  Southwest will occasionally require it depending on the airport.  In general, when you pick up your bags at the office, they are delivered after all the other bags are placed on the carousel.  It usually adds 20-30 minutes to your trip.

 

Not having to pick up your bag at the baggage office will most certainly save you some time. I still don’t really like flying United, but they seem to make gun baggage pickup a little easier than the other big US carriers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything is Delayed

Everything is Delayed 1920 1245 Greg Ellifritz

Although I haven’t been out of the country since my Ecuador adventure a couple months ago, I have been traveling quite a bit within the USA.

 

In the last two months I attempted to drive to a music festival in New York (until my car broke down).  I also flew to Dallas, Texas to teach a couple classes.  After my Dallas classes, I drove to Austin to spend a few days finding a new place to live.  I was home for two days and then drove to Nashville for a training class.  I drove straight from Nashville to southern Ohio for a hiking/camping getaway.

 

Every one of my trips was negatively affected by massive staff shortages.

 

When my car broke down on the way to New York, I had it towed to a garage I regularly use.  It was a Friday.  The manager told me that half of their techs had either quit or were out with Covid.  He couldn’t get me in until the following Wednesday.

 

I ended up fixing the car myself in the garage’s parking lot, but it took so long I missed the concert I was going to attend.

 

When I got to the airport for my flight to Dallas, the bag check line was massive.  You guessed it.  The airline was short staffed.

 

The TSA screening line was hundreds of meters long (Pre-check saved me).  When I got to the metal detector I asked the screener about the line.  The TSA is short staffed too.

 

All the airport restaurants had huge lines.  There weren’t enough servers to allow full seating in the restaurants.

 

As I was teaching a gun class, I flew with firearms.  They don’t come out on the baggage conveyor belt, but instead are delivered by a person to the baggage office.  That process normally takes 10-15 minutes.  I waited nearly an hour.  When the guy came with my checked guns he explained that the airports was extremely short staffed and while he normally only serviced three luggage belts, he was doing all the work for the entire terminal.

 

I got my guns and went to wait for the bus to the rental car building.  It was another 40 minute wait (normally less than 10 minutes).  The airport was short bus drivers.

 

The rental car lines were massive.  Some had more than 50 people waiting.  It took an hour to get a pre-booked rental car.  The car rental staff complained that they were running with approximately half of their normal employees.

 

I visited eight different apartment complexes in Texas looking for a new place to live.  Staff missed my appointments.  Some leasing offices were completely without workers and closed down.  I spoke to two employees who couldn’t answer my questions because they were temporary workers  who had only been hired the day before.

 

In Nashville, several of the restaurants I went to visit were temporarily closed due to lack of staff.  The service was exceptionally slow in the restaurants that were open because they only had 20% of their normal wait staff working.

 

Even Uber in Nashville took far longer than usual.  When a friend had to leave the class to go to the airport, it took the Uber app almost 15 minutes just to match him with an available driver.

 

Some of the roadside rests between Ohio and Tennessee had sections that were closed down.  Entire wings in the restroom facilities were closed.  The state couldn’t find the staff to keep the entire building cleaned.

 

Despite all of the closures and delays, there is some good news for travelers.  In two of the three hotels where I stayed (including my favorite quirky Ruby Hotel in Round Rock) daily room cleaning had resumed.  Hopefully, uncleaned rooms as remnant of Covid-19 will rapidly disappear.

 

The point of this article is to illustrate the fact that almost everything in the travel industry is pretty screwed up right now.  Don’t expect any semblance of smooth sailing for your next adventure.  Plan for everything to take significantly longer than you expect.  Be flexible, because some of your destinations will likely be crowded, closed, or operating with limited services.

 

I think travelers will have a rocky road for quite some time to come.

What do psychics say about the future of travel?

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

European Train Travel

European Train Travel 719 677 Greg Ellifritz

I’ve done overnight trains in South America and South East Asia.  I think it’s actually a pretty fun way to travel (if you bring your own food and alcohol).

I would certainly do some of these new European routes.  Check out the article below to see how sleeper train service is being improved in Europe.

 

New Sleeper Train Services Announced Across Europe

Best US Hiking Trails?

Best US Hiking Trails? 1000 667 Greg Ellifritz

I’ve long enjoyed hiking.  I’m getting reacquainted with longer hikes now that I’m retired and have more time.  I’ve been averaging hiking about 25 miles a week so long as the weather cooperates.

 

I regularly use the AllTrails app on my phone to suggest good nearby trails.

 

The App owners tallied the ratings on all of the trails in their system and listed the favorite trails by each state.  Check out the article below.

Best hiking trails in every US state

 

All of the listed trails in my home state (Ohio) are more than a two-hour drive away from me.  I haven’t hiked any of them.  I wonder if there is a location bias.  All of the Ohio trails are near a large population center (Cleveland/Akron).  More people probably means more ratings.

I would guess that some of the remote trails in SE Ohio that get less traffic may even be better experiences than the listed trails.

 

 

 

Travel in the Old Days

Travel in the Old Days 1152 550 Greg Ellifritz

I first started traveling internationally around the turn of the last century.  At that time, I had a cell phone that charged me $9 a minute for international calls.  There were no smart phones and Google Maps was only available on a computer.

It was a different world then, but it was nothing like what travel was like in the 1960s-1980s.

 

The article below shares the adventures of several women who traveled internationally 40+ years ago.  We really don’t appreciate how easy we have it today.

 

What Solo Travel Was Like Before Smartphones and Google Maps

Coming Back to the USA Just Got Easier

Coming Back to the USA Just Got Easier 704 492 Greg Ellifritz

For the last six months, all US citizens flying back to the USA  from Europe, Brazil, and China have been funneled through one of only 15 American airports.  Those airports were equipped for the “advanced Covid-19 screening” the government deemed necessary for travelers coming from high risk countries.

 

As of today, this rule is no longer in effect.  The government has essentially stopped screening incoming passengers for illness.  Of course, this new ruling was leaked.  The government seems to want to limit this information to avoid public outcry.  The news broke on the websites below.  Read more about the change there.

New COVID Screening Policies for International Passengers Flying Into U.S.

 

White House orders end to COVID-19 airport screenings for international travelers