Travel Log- Rwanda and Uganda

Travel Log- Rwanda and Uganda 2048 1550 Greg Ellifritz

I recently returned from a 10-day trip to Rwanda and Uganda to track mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.  Solo travelers can’t do this trip on their own, they must sign up for a government park ranger-led program and pay for a very expensive permit.  The tours in both countries are done in groups of eight people.  I normally do trips like this solo, but since I needed to do the gorilla trekking in a group, I decided to book the entire trip through Intrepid Tours and allow them to arrange all the transportation, lodging, and permits.  I had a great time.


The gorillas can be seen in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Congo.  The Congo isn’t a viable option for most folks as it is mostly lawless with minimal tourism infrastructure.  In Rwanda, the gorillas are easy to find and the permits cost $1500 a day.  In Uganda, there are more gorillas, they but they take a little longer to find.  Ugandan permits cost only $700 a day.  I chose to do the trekking in Uganda.


I wouldn’t have expected it, but Rwanda was a far more developed country than Uganda.  It has a much better tourism infrastructure in place.  Intrepid chose to start the tour in Rwanda because of better international flight schedules and more modern amenities for the beginning and end of the tour.


As you can imagine, there aren’t many direct flights into Kigali, Rwanda from the United States.  I had to book a circuitous trip with United and Brussels Air to get there.  The 27-hour trip (door to door) took me from Austin to Chicago to Brussels to Kigali.  I don’t think I’ve flown United on an International trip for a long time.  I was able to use credit card travel points to upgrade to their Polaris Business Class.  I was impressed with their product.  Good food.  Lay flat seats.  Their Polaris Business Class lounges were the best domestic lounge experience I’ve ever had.  I will definitely consider flying with them again.  The flights to Kigali all arrived on time and had no problems or delays.


United Polaris Business Class


I arrived in Kigali after dark and an eight-hour time change.  Even though I got about five hours sleep on the plane, I was still worn out.  I opted to go to bed early and spend the next day chilling  while adjusting to the jet lag before I visited all the city’s genocide monuments and museums.


I slept 11 hours, had a leisurely breakfast, and then took a long walk outside to get a lay of the land. I went to the grocery store, had a massage at the hotel ($37 for an hour), read quite a bit by the pool and had an uninspiring dinner at a local restaurant close to the hotel.


No one goes to Rwanda for the food. Nile River Perch at a local restaurant


I stayed in the hotel made famous by the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” It’s kind of cool staying at the hotel that sheltered over 1000 refugees during the 1994 genocide. The perpetrators of the genocide murdered nearly a million Rwandans in a three month period. There is a small memorial fountain in the hotel parking lot that commemorates the hotel employees and guests who were killed.


The “Hotel Rwanda.” It looks different from the hotel in the movie because the movie was actually filmed in South Africa.


A few general impressions of Rwanda:


-The Rwandans seemed very kind and exceedingly polite. They (along with the Ugandans) are extremely soft spoken, even when talking to other locals. Despite the fact that most folks here are at least partially fluent in English, I had real difficulty interacting with the locals because I can’t hear what they are saying after a lifetime of exposure to incessant gunfire and explosions.


– I was definitely out of place while walking through the city. I saw lots of tourists at the hotel, but didn’t see a single other white guy outside the hotel gates. The locals seemed curious about my presence, but not in a menacing way. I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. I wish more of the other tourists would get outside and experience the local culture.


– The country is impeccably clean. It’s one of the cleanest places I’ve ever been. Not a speck of litter in/on the streets, sidewalks, or parks. Once a month, the entire nation does volunteer work cleaning up their country.   The clean up date just happened to be during my stay. During these Saturday morning nationwide cleanup sessions, it is actually illegal to drive on the roads unless someone is going to or from their job. Everyone else is expected to spend a couple hours cleaning public spaces during one Saturday morning a month.


– Loads of “security.” When the taxi driver was taking me to the hotel, he had to stop at the property’s front gate. Security guards checked for bombs underneath the car with a rolling mirror. They also had the taxi driver open the trunk, glove compartment, and center console to inspect for weapons and explosives.



The hotel sends all guest luggage through an X-ray machine and all guests must walk through a metal detector to go inside. There were also walk-through metal detectors at all the other hotels, the local mall, banks, restaurants, and government buildings.   All of these metal detectors were staffed by completely unarmed security guards. I only saw two armed guards during my stay. Both were holding pistol gripped Winchester pump shotguns. One was outside a bank and one outside a large electronics store.


– I didn’t see a single cop during my first day.   There were security guards everywhere.  As I’ve noted in previous writings, people in the developing world don’t trust cops and can’t depend on them for protection. The areas with money hire their own security guards instead. We are already starting to see some of that in the USA right now. We’ll see a lot more of it in the future.


Most of the local folks I spoke with told me that Kigali is the safest city in Africa and that I shouldn’t worry about going anywhere in the city, day or night. My taxi driver from the airport was born in Burundi after his Rwandan parents fled the genocide. He told me that he has worked in several East African countries over the years, but moved back to Rwanda to raise his kids there because it is so much “safer” than other locations.


I think a lot of this “security” is theater, but people seem to believe that an unarmed security guard who isn’t even carrying a radio will protect them. The “boom barrier” stopping cars for the bomb check was made of aluminum and wasn’t even buried into the ground. Unsurprisingly, I set off every metal detector I went through. The guards just waved me past.


To avoid hassles, I ended up carrying a ceramic fixed blade knife (no longer made, so I can’t link to it) and my POM pepper spray.  I had a couple guards look at my POM.  I explained it was an asthma inhaler and they quickly lost interest.  I ended up clipping my POM container to the waistband of my underwear behind my belt buckle when going through all the detectors.  The walk-through detector would beep.  I would lift up my shirt and show my metal belt buckle.  The guards would let me through.


Each Rwandan hotel room has a “cock.” It works like a plug in air freshener but emits mosquito repellent instead.



I spent the next two days in Kigali doing a city tour, eating at some local restaurants, and visiting a few of the major Rwandan genocide memorials and museums. The genocide museums hit pretty hard. The experience was far more intense than seeing the pile of skulls at the Killing Fields in Cambodia.


Tower of skulls from my 2013 trip to the Cambodian Killing Fields


Even though I was in college when the genocide happened, I didn’t know all that much about it. I had no idea the role the Belgians and French had in the atrocity. I also had no idea that the genocide actually started with what are thought of as several “practice runs” as early as 1959. Each of those “practice genocides” killed hundreds to thousands per event and were classified as “tribal violence” by the foreign media. The world mostly ignored them.


The two largest killing sprees before the 1994 genocide occurred in the early 1990s. In those events, Tutsis who were targeted for assassination fled to large sports stadiums and churches. The Hutu killers chose not to engage them in those locations and they survived


In April of 1994 when the  largest Rwandan genocide started, many of the Tutsis fled to local churches and sports complexes seeking refuge like in previous massacres. This time the Hutus breached their defenses and killed them en masse.


Two of the memorials I visited were churches. In one, over 5000 people were killed in a single worship room. In the other, 45,000 people were killed in the church and the town around it.


The bodies were removed, but otherwise the churches were left as they were immediately after the massacre. There were blood stains on the floors, the walls, and the ceilings. Bloody and torn clothing from all of the victims was carefully folded and hung from all of the church pews. Thousands of skulls crushed by clubs, hacked open by machetes, and breached by gunshot wounds were on display.


The most disturbing thing I saw was a section of wall in a church Sunday School classroom still darkly stained with blood and brains. It was there that the Hutus killed infants and toddlers by swinging them by the legs, smashing their heads up against the brick wall.  There was a section of wall in there that was about eight feet long and six feet high where hundreds of kids were murdered by repeatedly smashing their heads up against the mud brick wall until they died.


I didn’t take any photos of these areas. I honestly don’t want to remember them. I took the one photo below of the tin roof of the church where the largest number of victims were killed. The government soldiers threw grenades into the packed church, then let the juvenile militia members inside to kill whoever survived with clubs and machetes. The shrapnel holes from the grenades are still present in the church’s tin roof.


Tin church roof containing bullet and shrapnel holes from the massacre


I saw a lot of dead bodies and carnage in my police career, but these churches had a much bigger impact on me than any of the crime scenes I worked. Truly horrifying.


And for those of you who didn’t know, these were Rwandan citizens who were artificially categorized into two “tribes” by the Belgians for political control. This wasn’t tribal warfare. This was two groups of people pitted against each other for political gain. Best guesses are more than a million deaths (mostly women and children) in a little over three months. Countless more were raped, tortured, or seriously injured.


After spending two days learning about the history of this genocidal massacre, I can’t help but see similarities to the current situation in the USA.
In Rwanda, two groups of citizens who largely shared the majority of their values were polarized and pitted against each other for political gain. Does that sound familiar?  If you ever get a chance to visit Rwanda, I would highly recommend studying the genocide. It might open your eyes a bit to the way we are being manipulated and what the potential future outcome might look like.


The tour guides and museums recommended the following books and movies as the best sources of information about the genocide.


After the first day, I started seeing a few police officers.  Most Rwandan traffic cops were unarmed.  None of the cops or soldiers had handguns.  In fact, I didn’t see a single handgun being carried anywhere in either Rwanda or Uganda.  Each of the genocide memorials had a single cop (all females) assigned to guard the premises.  These cops carried really beat up AK-47 rifles with no support gear or extra magazines.  The cops I saw guarding government buildings and along the street at night were generally carrying French FAMAS bullpup rifles.  That’s a strange weapon choice that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world.


Would you know how to operate this rifle in an emergency?


Interestingly enough, the tour guides and taxi drivers stated that the cops in Rwanda couldn’t be bribed, unlike the cops in Uganda.  In Rwanda, if an officer reports a bribery attempt, the person offering the bribe is arrested and can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.  The police department then gives a financial incentive to the reporting officer that is equal to three times the bribery amount.


When I assess the relative safety of the foreign neighborhoods I visit, I primarily look for two things.  In the daytime, I look for lots of working age men aimlessly hanging out in the street.  That’s a bad sign.  It signals unemployment.   Unemployed young men are often bored and frustrated.  They regularly turn to drugs and alcohol making their actions unpredictable. In Rwanda, I didn’t see anyone “hanging out.”  Everyone was dressed professionally and moving purposely.  That’s a big contrast to Uganda where there were lots of unemployed men standing along street corners.


The second thing I look for is whether or not people (especially women) are walking alone on the streets at night.  Where I don’t see people on the street or I only see people walking in larger groups, I know an area may be dangerous.  When I see local women walking home alone from work or exercising after dark, I know it’s generally a safe place.  The streets of Rwanda were busy with lots of walkers and joggers after dark.  The rural streets of Uganda were barren after sundown.


After a couple days in Kigali, we hopped into a Land Cruiser and took the five hour drive across the border into Uganda.  Crossing the border by foot into Uganda was a typical exercise in third world bureaucracy.  We first had to stand in front of a large mobile thermometer to ensure we didn’t have fevers.  Then a nurse asked to see our Yellow Fever vaccination record.  I had mine, but a couple in my group didn’t.  The nurse asked if they had taken the vaccination.  Both group members had, they just didn’t bring their vaccine cards.  The nurse let them in.  She had the vaccines available at the border crossing in the event someone wasn’t vaccinated.


After the health check we shuttled between four different service windows checking passports and visas before we were granted entry.  The tour guide with our vehicle entered by merely showing his passport to the soldier manning the border gate.  There was no vehicle search going into Uganda.


The drive was a bit chaotic and rough, but quite scenic.  Rural Africa looks very different from the streets of America.


Rwandan roadside market


Ugandan children carrying water from a public well to their homes without indoor plumbing.


Ugandans working to turn the clay soil into bricks for home construction


Lake near the Uganda/Rwanda border


After another 90 minutes driving on fairly rough dirt roads and we arrived at the Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge.  We stayed three nights in the lodge.  It was quite nice with four-course meals included as part of the stay.  There was a bar with inexpensive beer and free WiFi in the public areas.  The lodge contained six different individual cabins high on a hillside overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, one of only three places on the planet where mountain gorillas are thriving.


My cabin in the gorilla lodge



Sunset looking into the Congo from the gorilla lodge


We had an after-dinner lecture from a local park ranger about the mountain gorillas and what to expect on our trek the following day.  We all went to bed early for a 0530 wake up call for our jungle trek.


We woke early, had breakfast, and then headed to the park (about 45 minutes drive away).  When we arrived, park officials took down information from our passports and we had an orientation to what to expect from the gorillas.


There were eight “habituated” gorilla families in the area of the park we visited.  Each family could get a single one-hour visit from a group of eight humans each day.  The naturalists knew roughly where each family group’s territory was, but once in the area we would have to track them. Tracking gorillas through dense jungle at 7000 feet of altitude and almost vertical ascents and descents kicked my ass.  It was literal bushwhacking with a machete following gorilla poop.


I was lucky enough to find and see two different mountain gorilla family units. Most folks only find one.We found a family, but it wasn’t the one we were hunting. We had to quickly walk past them so that they could be visited by a different group of humans.  It took about two and a half hours of rough hiking to find the family we were seeking.  The first gorilla we saw was the silverback.  He was seated facing away from our group and wasn’t the least bit bothered by our presence.


First Gorilla sighting


As we were watching the silverback, another gorilla casually strolled right through our group.  We followed the gorillas and hung out with them as they ate and played for more than an hour.  During most of that time I had four to six wild gorillas as close as about five feet away. The rest of the 14 member gorilla family stayed within about 25 meters of us.  It was a rough trek, but well worth it. Amazingly cool to see silverbacks in the wild within touching distance.


I purposely only took a few photographs so that I could better enjoy merely being in the presence of these amazing creatures.  Here are a couple of the pics I snapped.






After spending a little over an hour with the gorilla family, we hiked about an hour out to a place along the road where our driver could pick us up.  All in all, our hike was a little over seven miles, but the brush was so dense that it took 4.5 total hours to complete.


The following day, some of the group paid an additional $700 to repeat the experience while some others went bird watching.  I chose to hire a local guide to show me the town closest to the lodge where we were staying.  We walked into town and spent about four hours checking out the local restaurants (2), school, bar, blacksmith shop, and herbalist.  It was enlightening.


The town


Restaurant #1


Restaurant #2


As appealing as these food establishments looked, I didn’t eat in either.  The stunning lack of local customers despite it being lunch time made me question if if was worth getting sick to taste the local fare.  I decided it wasn’t.


I did go to the local bar.  This was the nicest bar in town.



I had a shot of their local moonshine.  It’s a gin made with sorghum and bananas.  Rough.


Banana Gin. That tasted nothing like bananas.


The locally made sorghum beer wasn’t bad.  Very malty and sweet.



The village blacksmith was turning rebar into a machete and the local herbalist showed me the plants he most commonly uses to treat his patients.




The closest school was actually a private school.  All parents pay for their Ugandan children to attend school.  The public schools cost about $3.00 a month.  The private school near the lodge costs $40.00 a trimester (without boarding costs).  It was so full it had to reject students.  When I walked past the school, little kids were playing a volleyball game using a crushed plastic soda bottle for a ball.  These were the kids with money and they couldn’t even afford the most basic ball for recess.


The next day we headed back to Kigali.  Of course the truck broke down on the way.  The rough roads broke one of the wheel studs attaching the wheel to the axle.  We couldn’t stop because we were an hour away from the nearest garage, so we limped into town.  It was an interesting experience watching the mechanics use a tiny car scissor jack and a bunch of bricks to jack up the Land Cruiser.  The missing wheel stud caused the wheel to move on the other studs.  The holes through the wheel became severely elongated.  The guys at the gas station actually put a bunch of metal washers under the lug nuts and sent us on our way.  TIA (this is Africa).


I had one more day in Kigali before my flight left late the next night.  I found a nice restaurant and enjoyed a meal of steak filet medallions.  On the taxi ride to the airport, I encountered another new experience.  When entering airport grounds, the cab driver drove into what looked like an automated car wash.  He put the cab in neutral and ordered me out.  It was a whole car X-ray machine to check for explosives and drugs.  All passengers had to exit and go through a metal detector before entering airport property.  I’ve never seen that before in any of the 60-some countries I’ve visited.  Here are the only two pictures I got of the car X-ray machine before the local cop yelled at me to stop taking photos.




My flights home using Air Rwanda and United were not quite as smooth.  All three were delayed.  My plane connection in Heathrow was a complete nightmare.  I’m glad my flight was late because after three terminal changes and security checks, I almost missed it.  For what it’s worth so far this year, 22 of my 42 flights have been delayed or cancelled.  Last year at this time 29 of 37 total flights had been delayed or cancelled.  Although flying is still a nightmare, it seems to be getting a little better than last year.


For what it’s worth, my friend Nick Hughes from Warriors Krav Maga didn’t believe my travel account as written above.  He found a newspaper alleging that I was involved in smuggling a shaved gorilla back into the United States.  Maybe he’s right.  I’ll leave it for you to decide.


“How to Survive a Monkey Attack”

“How to Survive a Monkey Attack” 800 534 Greg Ellifritz

Two weeks ago, I shared a couple articles about defending against shark attacks.  I admitted that I hadn’t thought much about the issue of shark attacks despite swimming with sharks all over the world.


When I saw this article about monkey attacks, I realized that unlike the shark attack, I had seriously considered defending against a monkey attack.


In 2008, I was hiking alone in a wildlife preserve in Kenya.  As I was walking on a remote trail, I encountered a troop of baboons walking the opposite direction towards me on the same trail.  What do I do?


I stepped off the trail about 10 feet to allow them room to pass.  That wasn’t far enough.  Several charged me.  I kept slowly backing off while drawing my blade.  For awhile, I seriously thought I was going to have to stab a baboon.


Imagine getting charged by a couple of these


In 2019, I was camping in a large safari tent on a South African photo safari.  It was the middle of the afternoon when I heard one of my camp mates screaming.  I ran over to the deck in front of her tent where she was completely surrounded by a troop of menacing little vervet monkeys.  I yelled and stomped my feet.  I charged them.  They were completely nonplussed.


I ended up drawing my OC spray and aiming for the nearest monkey’s eyes.  That finally drove them all off.  Those monkeys are such a menace that park rangers there and in places like India use slingshots and paintball guns to drive the monkeys away from the tourists.


Nasty little bastards


Don’t be like me.  Read the article below and learn how to deal with monkey attacks before you have to do it for real.


How to Survive a Monkey Attack | Primates Survival Tips



Thank you to John Motil for sending me this link.

Breaking All the Food Rules

Breaking All the Food Rules 640 480 Greg Ellifritz

I get a lot of questions from first time travelers about what foods to avoid when traveling in foreign countries.  I would love to be able to provide an all inclusive list, but, like many things “it depends.”


It took a whole chapter in my book Choose Adventure to adequately cover the basics.  If you want my best advice, see the chapter “Eating and Drinking (Without Dying).”


Until then, let me stress that in many places you can break all of the “food rules” for international travel and still be safe.  Here was my lunch yesterday.  It was a big dish of ceviche and a Caesar salad with shrimp.


The food Nazis would be very unhappy with this meal.  It breaks a lot of “The Rules.”


Lets start with the salad.  Everyone knows that it’s unsafe to eat salads in foreign countries.  The cooks wash the lettuce with local water which may be contaminated with bacteria and viruses.  Except in the high end restaurants that cater to tourists.  Those folks know to wash the produce with purified water instead of tap water so that all their guests don’t get sick.


Would I eat raw unwashed produce straight from a market in Bolivia?  Probably not.  But at the high end Mexican resort where I’m staying this week, it’s likely fine.  If you have any doubts, ask your waiter.


The next taboo is eating any dairy or cheese.  My salad had both cheese and a creamy dressing.  That’s supposed to be bad.  It is bad if it is stored un-refrigerated on an island without electricity in Nicaragua.  At a nice restaurant?  You are going to be fine.


Finally, we get to the ceviche.  It’s uncooked (but essentially “cooked” in citrus juice) fish, shrimp, and octopus.  Raw meat and seafood breaks all the rules.  Again, context matters.  I’ve eaten raw sushi all over the world.  I wouldn’t choose the sushi in a land-locked country without reliable electricity, but in a coastal town, that fish is far more fresh than most of the fish in your home supermarket.


Take a look at the photo above.  That’s kudu carpaccio that I ate in Zimbabwe.  Yes, it’s raw antelope meat.  Yes, I’m in a country that has been undergoing a complete financial and societal collapse for the last 20 years.  The hamburgers on the street there are cut with sawdust to make the patties bulkier.  I wouldn’t eat those.


Why did I eat the raw antelope?  Because it was in the country’s best restaurant and it likely had good safety practices.  Kudu in Zimbabwe is like fish in coastal Mexico.  It’s likely to be very extremely fresh and some of the safest food I could eat.


Sometimes you can relax the commonly touted “food rules” for international travel.  Sometimes doing that can cause horrible issues.  You have to be smart enough to know the difference.


Excuse me, it’s time for me to get a second helping of that ceviche.

Traveling in Egypt

Traveling in Egypt 789 395 Greg Ellifritz

All of my readers who are contemplating a trip to Egypt should watch this video.


Egypt Travel Nightmare!! Why I’ll Never Go Back!!



I enjoyed my trip to Egypt 15 years ago.  I wouldn’t be excited about the prospect of traveling there right now.  Lots of folks are reporting similar hassles and significant security concerns.  I agree with the producer of these videos.  Don’t go to Egypt right now.




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.



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.




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.



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 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.