Africa

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.