Africa

Travel Log- Africa

Travel Log- Africa 620 827 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 South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe in December of 2019.

 

I recently returned from an epic two-week trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.

 

I had previously been to Africa twice.  I went to Egypt in 2005.  I returned in 2008 to climb Kilimanjaro, visiting both Kenya and Tanzania.  I got really sick climbing Kili (high altitude cerebral edema) and got jacked by a corrupt cop in Tanzania, so I wasn’t really excited to return to the “Dark Continent.”

 

After 10 years of avoiding the continent, my desire to see some of the cool wildlife got the better of me and I booked a trip back to Africa.

 

I did a few days on my own in Johannesburg, South Africa and then joined a National Geographic/G-Adventures safari tour of South Africa and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.  At the end of the tour, I booked a separate local tour of a large game park in Botswana and then flew home from Zimbabwe.

 

It was an amazing trip.  I was excited to see both Victoria Falls (the biggest waterfall in the world) and all the African game animals.  Both exceeded my expectations.  I would highly recommend a trip like this to anyone who is interested in natural beauty or seeing exotic African critters.

 

Getting to South Africa was a bit trying.

 

It took 21 total travel hours. Fourteen of those hours were spent on a single plane that had no functioning entertainment system and the heat pegged to about 85 degrees during the entire flight.  I’m not a big fan of South African Airways.

 

The dude in the seat next to me changed into red plaid flannel pajamas as soon as he boarded. He reclined his seat and cuddled up hugging a five pound bag of Nutter Butter cookies for the whole flight. He never ate any, but he held on to them as if he were deathly afraid that someone would steal his precious cargo.

 

I breezed through customs and immigration in South Africa without a single question asked or form filled out. In most other countries, the entrance inquisition is nothing like what we get coming back to the USA.

 

Before leaving the airport, I tried three different ATMs to get local currency. All three rejected my card.  My ATM card wouldn’t work at all in South Africa.  That’s the first country I’ve been to (besides Cuba) where my ATM card didn’t work.  That made life challenging, but I was smart enough to bring an emergency stash of American cash that I was able to exchange in a dodgy black market currency transaction (arranged by a taxi driver) for some local South African Rand.

 

I can understand why some folks don’t like traveling.

 

Johannesburg

I booked a room in guest house on a farm outside of Jo-burg. Outside, there was an eight foot cement wall topped with an additional four feet of electric fence surrounding the entire property. It’s was crazy to see that every rural house was a completely walled estate.  The South Africans really like barbed wire and electric fences.  Almost every house was enclosed by a wall with an electrified fence.

 

I spent most of my second day in Jo-burg at the incredible Apartheid Museum. It was one of the most powerfully moving museums I’ve visited. What an incredibly cruel and messed up government. I had no idea it was as bad as it was.

 

The ticket you purchase for the museum randomly assigns you to the “white” or “non-white” line.  For the first hundred meters of the museum, you are separated from your party and you get to experience life as it was under apartheid as most people seemed to be randomly assigned one category or the other with little relation to their actual genetic heritage.  Each separate line showed how life was very different for the “non-white” or “colored” (mostly of Indian or Asian origin) under Apartheid.

 

Museum entrance after purchasing a ticket

 

I was speaking with a couple new friends from Luxembourg who were about my age. We were in college when Apartheid was being overthrown by the South African people. All of us remembered a little bit of news coverage, but commented that the government overthrow really went virtually unnoticed by both the USA and Europe.

 

It’s scary when you get honestly educated about the atrocities that happened in this country and realize that this wasn’t 100 years ago. They occurred in my adult lifetime.

 

If you get a chance to go to the museum, go. Budget three to four hours for a basic visit. It takes at least five hours to do it right.

 

After a sobering education about the Apartheid regime, I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner out.

 

The high end restaurants near the rural suburb where I was staying are all associated with casinos. I went to one  and was shocked to see an almost exact replica of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, moving sky scenery and all.

 

I ate at a restaurant that specialized in African wild game.

 

This platter was from left to right:

– Ostrich in a plum sauce. It was served rare and cold inside. It looked like a tuna steak and had the same texture. The meat was virtually flavorless.

-Impala- Somewhat chewy and tough. Almost like a beef skirt steak.

– Bacon wrapped warthog- A surprise favorite. It was like a fattier, tastier, juicier pork chop. Delicious.

-Kudu stuffed with a thick cheese sauce- a very tender and mild tasting steak. Very good.

 

 

The white food in the bowl is “mieliepap.  It is a ground corn porridge that has the consistency of mashed potatoes or polenta.  It is a traditional South African carbohydrate that takes the place of rice or pasta in most local dishes.  It was served everywhere.  People covered it with something like a pasta sauce that they called “tomato gravy” (bowl to the right).  It was kind of tasteless.  The tomato sauce had a lot of different variations and created most of the flavor.

 

Overall, I enjoyed the South African food.  Their traditional dishes are served at a “braai” which is the local word for “barbecue.”   You can’t go wrong with grilled meat at every meal.

 

On my third day, I hired a private tour guide (recommended by the owner of my guesthouse) to give me a tour of some of the grittier parts of Jo-burg.  That was an education just as potent as the Apartheid museum.

 

There are entire parts of the city classified as “no-go” zones.  If you don’t live there, you are not welcome.  There are constant protests, roadblocks and tires burning in the streets of some neighborhoods.  The downtown area of Jo-burg is a wasteland.  Most of the skyscrapers are empty as large corporations have fled to the safer suburbs.  Many buildings have no utilities, but were nonetheless inhabited by squatters.

 

I’ve never seen so many homeless people in one place.  There were thousands of homeless people squatting in dozens of buildings without any electricity or running water.  People defecated openly by the side of the road.  There were huge trash drum fires and lots of people aimlessly hanging out in the streets.

 

While driving through the downtown area, we had to keep changing routes due to large amounts of rubble placed in the roadway as a roadblock during recent protests.  I’ve been a lot of places.  Downtown Jo-burg looked more apocalyptic than any other location I’ve visited and gave me an idea of what things would look like if our power grid fails.  It wasn’t a happy thought.

 

Following the tour of downtown, we drove into some of the “townships” or slum areas.  The most famous Jo-berg township is SOWETO (South Western Township) where Nelson Mandela lived.  The townships had lots of ramshackle buildings, but the people seemed much more organized than the squatters living downtown.  People were poor, but worked, had families and a purpose for existence.  The townships I visited didn’t seem dangerous at all.  The townships were kind of like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro without all the open air drug sales.

 

The South African national electric company is widely considered a failed enterprise.  None of the townships I visited had working traffic lights.  The power companies stage rolling blackouts (euphemistically called “load sharing”) to ration available electricity.  Certain neighborhoods were without power for a large part of the day.  There seemed to be more “load sharing” in the poor townships than in the affluent suburbs I visited.

 

My tour guide was a former soldier, a gun owner, and an avid shooter.  He explained that residents of South Africa could own a handgun and two hunting rifles with the proper permits.  He owned a Glock 17 that he bought for 7000 Rand (about $500 US).  Concealed carry was theoretically possible, but my guide didn’t know anyone who actually had the necessary permits to carry legally.

 

The cops in Jo-berg wore external plate body armor and often carried long guns (R-4 or R-5 rifles that are South African Galil variants).  I only saw two cops armed with handguns.  Both carried Beretta 92s.  One was carried in a cheap nylon IWB holster that placed the gun so deeply in the beltline, that the grip was barely visible.  The other carried his Beretta in a 1990s vintage Uncle Mikes “twist draw” retention holster on a duty belt with a big can of pepper spray.

 

I didn’t see any support gear like handcuffs or batons carried by the local cops.  That fact might be a useful fact for you travelers to notice.  When the cops aren’t carrying handcuffs, they clearly expect criminals to either submit to arrest without incident or be shot.  No half measures.

 

No thanks. I’m good.  I prefer to stay far away from cops who don’t train and carry less lethal weapons.

 

Kruger National Park and Karongwe Private Game Reserve

 

Day four started with a day-long drive on the Panorama Route to Kruger National Park.  Kruger is one of South Africa’s most famous parks and consists of 7000 square miles of public land designated for wildlife preservation.

 

Some of the views from the stops along the way…

 

 

When I booked the tour, I noted that in Kruger, the accommodations consisted of “safari tents.”  I’m cool with tents.  I don’t demand much luxury.  I was a little surprised when we arrived at the “safari camp” and I got to my tent.  It was on a raised wooden platform and had electricity, a king-sized bed, air conditioning, and a flush toilet!  Life was pretty good.

 

Kruger “safari tent”

 

We spent a few days at Kruger.  Kruger is a public park, so people don’t need to be guided.  Anyone can just pay the admission fee and then drive around the park roads.  That made life a little annoying because most of the cool animals had crowds of cars all around them.  We had a guided  tour in an open-topped Land Rover twice a day.  The guides did a good job trying to avoid the crowds and get us really close to a lot of very cool animals.

 

The animals generally ignored the safari trucks and we were able to get extraordinarily close to some amazing wildlife.

 

Impala

 

sleeping hyena

 

 

This is the critically endangered African Wild Dog. Kruger NP is 7000 square miles. There are only 58 wild dogs in the park. Very unusual to see.

 

South African crossing guard. Mama elephant wants to let us know that she and her babies have the right of way and they would like to cross the road.

 

 

It’s summer in South Africa. The normal temperature is about 90 degrees.  At Kruger, we had four days of really unseasonable cold and torrential rain.

 

It was about 50 degrees and pouring rain. That’s less than ideal for wildlife watching, but we still saw a stunning amount of animals.  I can’t imagine what it’s like in the peak viewing season.

 

Dressed more for duck hunting than safari. Even though it’s summer in Africa, temperatures were 50 degrees with pouring rain

 

After Kruger, we made our way to the Karongwe Wildlife Reserve.  This was a private game park that only offered guided tours.  That made it better than Kruger for two reasons; no tourists, and the guides could drive off road to get closer to the animals.

 

We saw a lot more cool critters at Karongwe than we did at Kruger.

 

Karongwe safari tent

 

The monkeys in camp were an absolute menace. A group of about 20 raided our camp and began grabbing people. As I was trying to clear them off a neighbor’s porch, they tried an ambush attack.

 

I actually had a Mexican standoff with a growling monkey as I had my OC spray ready to hose him down. He kept growling and advancing. As soon as I pointed the OC canister at him, he stopped, stared at me for a few seconds, and then walked away.

 

He righteously should have gotten some spicy treats, but I didn’t want to forever be known as the dude who pepper sprays monkeys.  The vervet monkeys are such a problem in some parks, that the government employs people armed with paintball guns and slingshots to keep them away from tourists.

 

Our other animal encounters were much more sedate.

 

showing how close we were able to get to the animals

 

My only leopard picture. She was moving fast. It’s tough to see these nocturnal animals during the day.

 

 

Rhino. The horn is sawed off to reduce poaching attempts

 

Cheetahs enjoying a meal of baby impala

 

sleeping giraffe

 

At Karongwe we were also able to take a hike in the bush. Since all of the “Big Five” most dangerous African game animals live on the property, we had to be accompanied by a guide and a “gun bearer.”

 

The gun bearer walked up to our group. He had a beat-to-shit CZ .458 Win Mag bolt gun. There was absolutely no finish left on the barrel. The wood stock looked like some small varmint had chewed on it.

 

The rifle was unloaded. The bolt wasn’t in the gun.  The gun bearer was carrying the bolt stuck behind this belt  in the appendix position. He was wearing a leather loop cartridge holder full of 10 rifle rounds at the four o’clock position behind his hip.

 

I thought: “Wow, they are actually sending us out into the bush with our ‘protection’ carrying a disassembled and unloaded rifle. What could possibly go wrong?”

 

We walked about 100 meters away from the camp and the gun bearer installed the rifle bolt and loaded it with five rounds. He took the rounds from the most forward cartridge loops, thereby guaranteeing that he would have to reach far behind his back to access the remaining cartridges should he have to reload in a hurry. Brilliant.

 

The gun bearer made an elaborate show of loading each round into the magazine. He then pushed the cartridges down with his thumb and moved the bolt forward. Once the bolt was over the top of the cartridges in the magazine, he closed and locked the bolt with a flourish, stating “Now we are ready.”

 

I normally shut my mouth in the evidence of such stupidity, but I couldn’t hold back.

 

“There’s no round in the chamber. You aren’t ‘ready.’ The gun is in a better condition to fire now as compared to when you brought it out unloaded, but you are far from ‘ready’.

 

He kind of looked at me sheepishly. I continued:

 

“Don’t worry. When the lion attacks you while you are trying to get the gun in play, I’ll be there. I know how to run that bolt. I’ll pick up your rifle off the ground, chamber a round and shoot the lion off your corpse.

It’s great having a plan. Now we’re ‘ready.'”

 

Neither he nor the guide really had too much to say after that.

 

Absolutely frightening muzzle discipline displayed during the whole hike. When the guide talked, the gun bearer stood with the rifle butt placed on his boot, leaning forward with both hands covering his muzzle. He was essentially using the muzzle of a loaded .458 Win Mag as a hand rest.

 

It’s a real good thing the leopards and lions weren’t hungry that day.

 

On one of the other excursions, we came across another group of tourists out in the bush on horseback.  Their guide didn’t even have a rifle.  He was armed with a holstered Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 magnum revolver with a six inch barrel.

 

I really like the .44 magnum and own the exact same gun.  It works great to shoot deer in Ohio.  I don’t know if it would be an optimal choice for a rampaging Cape Buffalo in Africa.

 

Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls

 

After a couple days in Karongwe, we flew into the failed state of Zimbabwe to see the world’s largest waterfalls.

 

A passenger on the flight from South Africa to Zimbabwe said the following as we were disembarking and  walking into the sweltering airport:

“We aren’t in South Africa anymore. That place is like ‘Africa Light.’ Now we are in the real deal.”

 

That’s a quality analysis.

 

Zimbabwe is a nightmare failed state with 70-90% unemployment (government says 70%. People say 90%), the third lowest annual income in the world ($253 a month), and crushing poverty.  The country went through a period of hyper-inflationary economic collapse from 1982 until 2008.  The currency inflated 900,000,000 times during that time period.

 

Zimbabwe currency I bought in the local market

 

I did a quick tour of the town where I was staying (the most prosperous in the country) and a local food market. As I was walking through the food market, I saw bags of what looked to be red dirt for sale. The seller explained that it was, in fact, red dirt and that it was high in iron. People who don’t eat meat regularly (too expensive) have low iron. Pregnant women literally buy and eat dirt from a local market to get the iron they need to keep their babies healthy.

 

I visited a local family and had dinner at their house. Thirteen people in four rooms with no electricity or air conditioning. Running water is rationed, so they survive by catching and storing the meager amount of rain that they get.

 

Having a home-cooked local meal in Zimbabwe

 

This is me eating a fried mopani caterpillar. This is a staple food in local villages. During the rainy season, these fat caterpillars feast on the leaves of the mopani (Mopane) tree. They are widely available.

 

 

Locals collect the caterpillars, dry them, and use them year round as a protein source. The dried caterpillars are first boiled and then fried in oil. They weren’t bad but they weren’t overly flavorful either. Kind of like the texture of eating cardboard with the flavor of the oil in which they were fried.

 

Dinner with the local family was insightful.  The host explained the economic realities of living in a failed state and discussed quite a bit about dating and relationships in the incredibly patriarchal  country.  Parents don’t like it when their kids date.  They want a quick marriage.  Marriage equals a dowry for the bride’s family.  Dowry money is how many families survive in the country.  The dowry is still payed in cows.  Generally, the dowry is high enough that the future husband has to make payments to the bride’s family for the rest of his life.  Few can afford the dowry in a single payment.

 

Outside of the town I visited, the entire country survives by subsistence level farming.  There are no agricultural farms.  There is no manufacturing.  The corrupt government makes it difficult for citizens to own businesses.  Everything is really expensive because it all has to be imported from South Africa or Botswana.  There is no domestic production of any manufactured goods.

 

Gasoline was rationed and often unavailable at any price.  The photo below is the line of cars waiting for a fuel delivery at the town’s only gas station.  The line stretched about half a mile.  Folks waited for hours on the off chance that one of the irregularly-arriving  fuel trucks might come and replenish the gas station’s supply.

 

 

Despite the depressing economic conditions, Victoria Falls was very cool.  It is the low season with regards to water flow rate, but it was still stunning to see, hear, and feel the water.

 

 

 

Kudu carpaccio in a balsamic glaze. Yes. I  ate raw antelope meat in Zimbabwe. The caterpillars were probably a safer choice.

 

Botswana

After the official tour ended in Zimbabwe, I stayed around for a private tour of Chobe game park just over the border in Botswana.

 

This trip made me happy. Since arriving down there I had done nine separate safari drives or boat trips. It was really cold with non-stop rain on the first week of the safari trips. When it’s cold and rainy the animals hide in the bush and don’t wander around. Their being stationary makes animal viewing very difficult.

 

Even though the conditions were horrible, I was able to see four of the “Big Five ” list animals in the first couple days here. The lion remained elusive.

 

I saw two different leopards (very rare to see one in the day). I also saw the critically endangered African wild dog. Both of those critters are next to impossible to find; yet the much more populous lions refused to make their presence known.

 

Chobe was a different story.  It was warm and sunny.  I spent the morning on a truck safari and then spent the afternoon cruising along the Zambezi river looking at animals.  I was finally able to see a lion in the wild.

 

 

In the Chobe National Park, this sleepy mother lion was relaxing in the shade no more than 30 feet away from the safari truck. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to see all of the large African cats.

 

There were lots of other cool animals in Chobe.

 

Chobe National Park

 

Hippos in the Zambezi River

 

Juvenile elephants playing in the water

 

The border crossing back into Zimbabwe was a bit challenging as neither side of the border had electricity due to the “load sharing”.  There was no way to scan passports.  Everything had to be done by hand with obsolete paper forms.  The guide shrugged it off saying: “TIA.”

 

“TIA” stands for “This is Africa.”  It’s a commonly-used expression by locals whenever they encounter difficult conditions or situations that are inefficient.  It is a useful acronym.

 

I had a wonderful time on my trip to Africa.  If you all would like to see the amazing wildlife and the stunning scenery, I would highly recommend a trip there.

 

I will close this article with the gift of a most excellent cover of Toto’s popular song “Africa.”  Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

African Counter-Ambush Tactics

African Counter-Ambush Tactics 620 413 Greg Ellifritz

In 2019, I went on a a two-week trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.  The primary focus of the trip was going on safari to see all the legendary animals that inhabit the African plains.  On the trip I did 12 different safari outings, either on foot, by safari truck, or by boat.

 

I spent a lot of time watching animals, both the hunters and the hunted.

 

The African animals adopted very specific tactics that keep them safe from predators and allow them to survive.

 

I couldn’t help associating the animals’ survival tactics with tactics we police officers need to use to avoid being ambushed.  After a couple days of animal watching, the associations became crystal clear.

 

For my cop friends, here is some counter-ambush advice from the African Savannah.  You’d be smart to pay attention to the predator and prey species struggling for existence.  You can learn a lot from the techniques they practice.

 

Wide Open Spaces

Why do you think this African Fish Eagle is all alone at the top of this dead tree?

 

Sure it gives him a good vantage point for hunting, but can you think of any other reasons the bird is so isolated?

 

The Fish Eagle is both predator and prey.  It’s high up so that it can better see the critters it wants to eat.  That, however, isn’t the point I’m trying to make.

 

Note how isolated he is.  Note the fact that any predator would have to cross a lot of open ground to prey upon the Fish Eagle.  The Fish Eagle is likely to see any approaching predators and fly away before they get too close.

 

As cops, we need to adopt a similar posture.  When you are in your police car either working traffic or writing a report, think about your vehicle positioning.  You should be in a location where anyone trying to ambush you would have to cross a lot of open ground to get to your car.

 

Maximize your advantage.  Don’t make it easy on the killer.  Park in the middle of a large, empty parking lot.  Keep all your lights on.  Turn on the audio button on your radar for an additional alert mechanism.

 

Make it difficult for anyone to approach you without being seen.

 

 

Post Guards/Lookouts

These three cheetahs just ran down and killed a baby impala.  They are enjoying their feast.  As I watched them eat their meal, I noticed something critically important.  Only two of the three cheetahs were ever eating at the same time.

 

There was always one cheetah looking around for potential danger.  I never once saw a moment where all three cheetahs were relaxed and eating at the same time.  One always stood guard.

 

That’s a good posture to adopt as cops.  If you are responding to a potentially volatile situation, don’t get too sucked into the scene.  Keep looking around for additional threats.  If you are an “extra” officer on scene, direct your attention outward where you can scan for additional threats while your co-workers handle the business of the call.

 

These cheetahs are masters of the concept of “contact and cover.”

 

 

Everyone Looking in a Different Direction

These impalas are preyed upon by all the large African cats.  They are also regularly eaten by wild dogs, hyenas, and jackals.  They are one of the most common prey species on the African plains.

 

Take note of their posture.

 

Note how every one of the impala is facing a different direction.  They are set up for 360 degree predator detection.

 

We cops should adopt a similar posture.  Instead of everyone on scene facing the suspect or the complainant, mix it up.  Some of you should be looking at the victim.  Some of you should be looking at the suspect.  Some of you should be looking out toward the crowd to perceive any oncoming danger.

 

Orient your bodies so that all the cops on scene are facing in a slightly different direction.  That will provide the most advance warning in the event that a predator is stalking.

 

Team Up

Something I learned about African prey species is that they often team up and graze together.  Here is a perfect example of zebras grazing with giraffes.  Their differing heights allow them to detect danger coming from different locations.

 

The giraffes can see predators approaching from a long way away and can warn the zebras before they get too close.  When the giraffe’s face is obscured by the tree it is eating, the zebras can see any close-in predators.  The two species mutually benefit from each other’s relative advantage.

 

Don’t be afraid to ask someone else to watch your back.

 

I remember one call I responded to where an armed murder suspect threatened his girlfriend with a handgun and then ran out of their apartment.  As I was trying to find the suspect outside, I noticed a roofing crew on top of the neighboring house.  I gave them the suspect’s description and told them to yell at me if they saw him approaching.

 

It worked symbiotically the same way these African animals use other species to help them detect danger.  Even though the roofers weren’t armed cops and couldn’t help me in a gunfight, they had the ability to detect a threat and communicate that threat’s location to me.

 

Don’t be afraid to utilize advantages like this.

 

Hunting Happens at the Fringe

Here’s a picture of a female lion hunting for a meal.  Although it looks like the lion is taking a nap, she is really trying to get some food for her cubs (hidden in the brush behind her).  Note the lion’s position.

 

The lion is hunting from a shady position on the border between an open area where prey animals forage and a brush-covered area with lots of cover.  You smart folks will identify this type of environment as a “transitional area.”  It’s a place where status changes between one condition and another.

 

We humans have “transitional areas” as well.  They are areas where we transition from one status or activity to another.  Just like this African lion, the transitional areas are where the predator hunts.  Thank about areas of transition in your daily routine.  Exercise more caution when you make those transitions.

 

The predator may be watching.

 

The world is filled with both predators and prey.  Your attitude and tactics determine which of the two you will be considered.

 

Embrace the lessons from our African friends.

 

 

One more Africa picture just for fun

 

 

 

 

Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro 2560 1920 Greg Ellifritz

I recently saw this article and think it’s the most comprehensive guide to climbing to the top of Africa currently available online.

 

Climbing Kilimanjaro Trek Guide – Successfully Summit the Roof of Africa

 

I climbed to the top of Kili in 2008.  It was one of the worst travel experiences in my life.

 

I had previously climbed several 14K foot mountains in the Andes.  I never got any altitude sickness.  I didn’t expect any illness on Kilimanjaro.  I was very wrong.  I failed to consider that Kili was a full mile higher than those big mountains I climbed in Peru and Ecuador.

 

I was in excellent shape and booked the shortest hike available.  It was three days up and two days down with the summit attempt starting around midnight so that we could summit for sunrise.

 

The altitude made me feel like crap.  I started projectile vomiting soon after the final night hike began.  I puked for almost six hours straight on my way up to the top.

 

At the summit, I took a couple of photos and then passed out.  The guide woke me with some coffee and I started hiking back down.

 

I was delirious and couldn’t walk well.  I kept falling.  I had the advanced medical training to recognize high altitude cerebral edema and the drugs to treat it, but I was too disoriented to recognize the symptoms in myself.  I only realized what was going on after I dropped down about 4000 feet and regained my senses.

 

I’m honestly lucky I made it.  Some of my falls could have been fatal.

 

Kilimanjaro is no joke.  Take it seriously and take extra time to acclimate on your hike.  I later found out that the five-day route only has a 54% success rate.  If you make it an eight day trip you will have about a 95% success rate getting to the summit.  Go slow!

 

Climbing through the cloud forest near the base.

 

Day two. The first view of the peak.

 

Late in Day 2. Still a long way to go.

 

At the top just before passing out.

 

Sunrise from the peak looking down on the clouds.

A Funny Travel Narrative

A Funny Travel Narrative 790 489 Greg Ellifritz

I  laughed as I read this story and thought you folks might enjoy it as well.  I could easily see something like this happening during one of my travels.  So far I’ve been lucky.  I’ve slept in some nasty places, but I’ve never booked a room in a brothel before.

 

Sleeping In An Ethiopian Brothel. By Accident.

Fighting Against the Odds

Fighting Against the Odds 620 465 Greg Ellifritz

Read the story below:

In Kenya, Al-Shabab gunmen slay 28 bus passengers who could not recite an Islamic creed

 

A band of 20 Islamist terrorists armed with automatic weapons tried to stop a bus filled with local citizens in Kenya. The driver heroically kept driving. The terrorists raked the bus with gunfire before bringing it to a stop by using an RPG round.

 

Terrorists quickly take control and separate Muslims from non-Muslim passengers. The non-Muslims were ordered to lie face down on the road as they are systematically shot in the back of the head.

 

This story hit me pretty hard. I’ve spent a lot of time on buses just like this one riding through rural Kenya.   It could have very easily been me on that bus.  This is one of the few “unwinnable” scenarios that everyone will occasionally face. You are unarmed and have no friends on the bus with you.  Have you considered what you might do?

 

I find it curious here that no one tried to fight or escape. Odds of winning are non-existent when facing 20-1 superior numbers, but why not try? You know you will be killed if you comply. There is a small chance you will get away if you fight or flee. The choice is pretty clear to me.

 

I’m going to use my folding knife to get one of terrorists’ guns and I’m going to take as many out as possible. I’ll probably be killed, but I’ll most certainly be killed otherwise. Who knows, with dumb luck it’s possible that I survive.

 

In any event, every terrorist I kill will reduce the chance that innocent people will be targeted in the future. My attack may also provide the distraction needed for a couple other  people on the bus to escape.  If more people fought back, these terrorists might start thinking twice about targeting civilian passenger vehicles.  If I’m going to die anyway, I may as well make my death as meaningful as possible.  Laying in the dirt as I get shot in the back doesn’t accomplish that goal.

 

I can’t tell you what to do if you are thrust into a situation like this.  I can tell you that there are a few times when compliance has a very poor record for ensuring your safety.  In my study of events like this terrorist attack, I’ve noticed some very clear trends.  If the terrorists/criminals start doing any of the following, your chances of survival are extremely low:

1) They start killing hostages

2) They order people to the ground

3) They start searching hostages for weapons

4) They start restraining people

5) They move people to another location

 

Those are my “go” signals.  I may fight.  I may flee.  I may make up some other strategy on the fly.  But when those things start happening, I know I won’t meekly comply.

 

Unfortunately, no one on the bus thought like I do. Have you considered what you might do in a similar “against all odds” situation?  You should.  Because if you don’t develop your “go triggers” in advance, you’ll end up just like all the poor folks on that bus in Kenya.

 

 

Kenyan security forces and others gather around the scene on an attack on a bus about 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside the town of Mandera, near the Somali border in northeastern Kenya, Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014. Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, al-Shabab, attacked the bus in northern Kenya at dawn on Saturday, singling out and killing 28 passengers who could not recite an Islamic creed and were assumed to be non-Muslims, Kenyan police said. (AP Photo)

Travel Log- Compliance IS an Option

Travel Log- Compliance IS an Option 1024 731 Greg Ellifritz

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Just before the fight began....

Just before the fight began….

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

Lessons Learned from the Nairobi Mall Attack

Lessons Learned from the Nairobi Mall Attack 640 360 Greg Ellifritz

I think it’s instructive to look at past terrorist attacks to gain some insights about what we might experience in a worst case scenario.  One of my favorite incidents for study is the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya.  It hits close to home because I actually visited that mall when I was in Kenya back in 2008.

 

CNN  gathered CCTV surveillance video showing the tactics used by the terrorists in the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya.  The video is short and very instructive.  Watch it below…

 

 

I’ve discussed several of the lessons learned from the attack HERE.  This video brings up several more….

 

1) Long Guns.  All the attackers in this event were armed with AK style rifles.  You will be dramatically outmatched by them if you are carrying a pocket pistol.  Their choice of weapons also brings up the issue of using cover.  Quite simply, there aren’t many things you can hide behind that will reliably stop a 7.62x39mm round.  Traditional advice about “taking cover” is almost useless in this environment considering the terrorists’ weapon choice.

 

2) Running.  How many people do you see running in the video?  Hundreds.  Are you physically fit enough to escape?   If not, you will be one of the folks shot down if you are stuck in the next hostage siege.  This article may help you get back on track.  Another point is to wear suitable shoes in public.  Flip flops and running over broken glass make for a slow escape.

 

3) Hiding vs. Escaping.  I get in passionate arguments on this topic with people who teach active shooter tactics.  Many folks advocate “locking down” or hiding as the first choice in such an event.  I don’t.  While those tactics work well if there will be a rapidly responding police entry, in some cases (like this) police intervention will take days.  The people who “locked down” were found, tortured, and killed.  The people who hid were shot.  Watch the video around the :56 second mark for proof.  If you hear gunshots in a public area GET OUT!

 

4) Playing dead.  Similar to the response of hiding that I wrote about above, playing dead should be a last resort response.  Take a look at what happened to the person playing dead in the mall at the 1:46 mark.  The same thing happened to students playing dead at both Columbine and Virginia Tech.

 

5) Team Tactics.  In most of the footage, the terrorists operated in teams of two.  Their tactics were far from state of the art, but they were effective.  Have you ever trained to defeat attackers working as a team?  Program yourself now to immediately start scanning for multiple attackers in situations like this.  Be careful who you attack.  Your “victim” may have friends nearby.

 

6) Surveillance video.  If your long term survival plan is to hide, lock down, or “shelter in place”, have you considered the effect of video cameras?  Undoubtedly, the terrorists took control of the video feeds.   Watch the video around the 2:30 mark to see the terrorists attempting to identify where the cameras were positioned.  You may have been able to hide from a single gunman, but can you hide from the cameras?  Have you thought about how you could disable any cameras near your hiding place?

 

Remember folks, this video was just from the first day.  The torture and mutilation had not yet begun.  I doubt the rest of the video footage will ever be released, but it is likely to be even more brutal.  Come up with a plan now so that you don’t end up tortured and killed when the attacks  start happening here.

 

 

African Police Extortion Efforts

African Police Extortion Efforts 641 358 Greg Ellifritz

 

According to this article Nigerian Police Officers are using the pandemic as an excuse to harass the LGBTQ community, forcing them to pay their way out of trouble..

 

Nigerian Police Are Extorting People Who ‘Look Gay’

 

If you aren’t gay and vacationing in sunny Nigeria, why should you care?

 

You should care because this is the way corrupt foreign cops/soldiers extort everyone.  This month they are extorting gay folks.  They will use the same tactics next month to get bribe money from “drug users,”  foreign tourists, or people they suspect having Covid-19.  The rationale for the extortion is always something different, but the net effects are the same.

Take some time to read this story and come up with a plan to handle similar situations.

 

Would you get on the bus like these folks did?

 

Would you unlock your phone?

 

Would you pay the $200 bribe?

 

Have you considered that your personal appearance could make you the target of corrupt police officers?

 

You should think about all these issues before your next international trip.

 

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.