A Travellerspoint blog

How to Plan an Epic African Bike Ride - Part 2

WHAT ABOUT WILD ANIMALS, WATER AND FOOD?

all seasons in one day 78 °F

Last time we spoke about how to choose a route and what to pack, but there are a few things that we didn't cover:

What about wild animals?

This is a serious consideration, but only in certain parts of Botswana, Tanzania and Uganda.

In Botswana there are elephants everywhere, and because they are mostly outside parks and therefore frequently in conflict with local farmers, they are not the friendliest.

Is it true that elephants never forget? If they have seen other elephants harmed by humans they don't tolerate people well.

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If an elephant has no reason to see humans as a threat (like the ones you see in game parks) they will usually cause no problem. The trouble with seeing them on a bike and in unregulated areas is that you don't know if an elephant will be one of the traumatized aggressive ones or a dosile one - until he's charging you... or not!

We were given a tonne of conflicting advice ranging from... “Don't worry about them guys - the elephants are friendly” to “Are you crazy, there's ele's everywhere in that area – they'll kill you!”

We were given a tonne of conflicting advice ranging from... “Don't worry about them guys - the elephants are friendly” to “Are you crazy, there's ele's everywhere in that area – they'll kill you!”

I think the best advice for bikers is to keep a close look out in elephant areas. You'll know they are around well before you see them because of all the broken trees and dung. When you see them keep a good distance (about 200m) if the bush is too thick to see more than about 30m from the road - hitch a ride. If you do get charged and are on tar – cycle very fast the opposite way! If you are not on tar, your only chance is to stand your ground. Elephants usually mock charge, characterised by ear flapping, trumpeting and trunk held high. If he means business then he'll flatten his ears and tuck his trunk away – if you see this you are in serious trouble. Hope that there's a VERY large tree to climb up and pray for divine intervention!!

The next most dangerous animals are wild buffalo (the photo shows a herd of >1000 at a good distance!) – these are the huge guys with big horns. They will charge completely unprovoked. We came across a small herd in Zambia that were crossing the road from the Zambezi Game Park to raid farmers fields after dark – fortunately they were so focussed on getting to the maize fields that they ignored us!

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Cows come a close second to buffalo for unpredictable aggression. These guys charged Pol as she sat on the verge a couple of seconds after she took this photo. If she hadn't done a backwards roll down the bank I would have needed to get the suture pack out!

Next on the list are the lions – we asked a game ranger about this in Bots, “you'll be fine “ he said, “as long as you see them before you pass them. If you cycle past one she'll chase you by instinct.”
Unfortunately, though in the areas where the lions were, there was also pretty dense bush and long grass - spotting them before cycling past would have been a challenge... We assume that we never did cycle past any!

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Hippos kill the most people in Africa annually – usually because locals try to catch them in snares and traps for their prized meat and to stop them ransacking their crops. As long as you don't get between them and the water when they are on land, and you don't get too close if you are in a canoe, they won't show much interest in you

When in wild areas we always had mace spray, a high pitched deafening 'rape alarm', and a fairly substantial knife handy. We figured that the mace would blind, the rape alarm would deafen and the knife would do as a last resort (but not for an elephant)! We met a guy who shot an elephant with a rocket launcher in the Rhodesian War as it was attacking his patrol – that did stop the ele (“blew its head clean off!”). I don't think a pocket knife would have had the same effect!

What Will I Eat And Where Will I Find Water?

A good general principle is If you can find people, you can find water and food.

Some people swear by water filters - but they are either heavy, disposable or, if UV, need loads of batteries. As long as you can find clear water you can 'puritab' it, if you can't find clear water you can boil it... if desperate you can simply survive on coke - however remote you get in Africa!

With regards to food - we take the approach of 'When in Rome - Do as the Romans do."

Buy stuff locally - don't carry more than 2 days food (less if in a populated area) and don't be afraid to eat in little local restaurants. The only time we have had food poisoning was in KFC™ in South Africa! The staple Eastern and Southern African diet is quite healthy but can get monotonous - so it is nice to have a treat sometimes - We always carry a tub of sugar, powdered milk and cocoa so we can have a comforting cup of cocoa!

Sugar cane - African Mars Bar Substitute

Sugar cane - African Mars Bar Substitute

What Medical Kit Do I Need?
Rob's a doctor and spent ages thinking about this – these are general principles - if you need details email us!

Main health concerns are:
1. Being hit by a truck - trauma is by far the biggest risk to a cycle tourer.
Dressings, pain killers, if possible get someone to show you how to stitch - then get hold of stitches, needle holder and local anaesthetic

2. Diarrhoea
Keep well hydrated, Diaorolyite sachets are good, if they run out add 7 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 litre of water and eat tomatoes or bananna (for potassium)
If you have a fever, pain and blood in your stool you have dysentery - take ciprofloxacin; if no better in 48hrs you probably have amoeba so take Metronidazole

3. Malaria
If in a high incidence area take prophylaxis; however this is not 100% effective so take a 'rapid test' (like a pregnancy test - but for malaria) and a course of treatment (co-artem)

4. Crotch Rot
This is extremely likely and extremely unpleasant! Good hygiene is the key. We had 2 pairs of cycle shorts and washed one pair daily, then dried it on the back of the bike. Lamisil cream is expensive but worth it's weight in gold if your bits start to itch!

Prevention is far better than cure. Have a wing mirror to see if the truck is going to hit you or is going round you. Be wise with water. Don't get bitten by mozzies and keep your undies clean!

Put everything in a Tupperware™ box. Take all tabs out of their tubs to stop them rattling about and turning to dust!

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So now you should be about sorted for your own adventure - get out there and do it -you won't regret it!

If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by robandpol 19:05 Archived in Rwanda Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

How to Plan an Epic African Bike Ride - Part I

Some tips from Rob and Pol that they learned in planning a cross-continental bike trip from South Africa to Wales.

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We're now well into our bike ride from South Africa to the UK and thought somebody out there would like to learn from our mistakes and successes!

When people ask how much planning did we do for our trip I usually say, “not much really – just buy a bike, some panniers, a tent and start cycling – there's nothing to it!”

This to an extent is true, being on a bike is so much simpler than cars, planes or trains. You can travel as far or as near as you want, you have no timetable to keep, crossing borders is a synch and when you get tired pull off the road and pitch the tent.

Turned out to be a pretty fast border crossing!

Turned out to be a pretty fast border crossing!

However – there are a few things you need to think about before you pedal out of your front drive:

Find out what you are letting yourself into!

Talk to people who've done it before. There are not many places on the planet that haven't been cycled through by a slightly odd cyclist.

Before our trip we googled cycling “Cape – Cairo”, “Cycle Touring Africa” and found that there are a few people who've done it before – if you can get hold of them they are super friendly and keen to chat. I spent an entire evening talking to a German guy – who cycled Germany to Cape town in 1994. He raved about his trip so much that after the conversation our minds were made up – we had to do the trip.

Where shall I do my epic ride?!

We didn't have to think too hard about this... we were living in South Africa and needed to get home!

We did have to choose a route through Africa, the first decision is whether to go up the East side or West. We plumbed for East Africa – The majority of Eastern African States are currently politically stable, borders would be easier to cross, food and water would be easier to come by.

Getting maps for the route wasn't hard. I called Map Studio a South African company asked the lady if she had the appropriate maps for our trip.

“Sure” she said. “In fact soon we'll be bringing out a 'Cape to Cairo' map – it will be perfect, it'll fit into your glove box of your 4x4!”

Talk to people who've done it before. There are not many places on the planet that haven't been cycled through by a slightly odd cyclist.

“Oh no, no” I said smugly “we're not doing the route in a vehicle – we're doing it on Mountain Bikes”

“Oh that's wonderful – you're the 4th person I've spoken to this month doing it on bikes!”

With my ego thoroughly dented, I put the phone down. “Polly” I shouted down the hallway, “we have to change our route!”

Once we had the maps, choosing a specific route wasn't hard – in most of Africa there are very few roads to choose from, and even fewer that are marked on maps!

We also had a number sights that we wanted to see along the way, like Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the beautiful island of Likoma in the middle of Lake Malawi, and Lake Tanganyika, the longest lake in the world and very remote. Heading to Lake Tanganyika is where we would get seriously off the beaten track – with over 1000 km of bad dirt and sand roads! As far as we are aware only one other cycle tourer has cycled this road!

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Lake Tanganyika - well worth battling the dust and heat

The rest of the route was created by thinking how can we get home without crossing the volatile southern Sudan, the anarchy of Somalia, and the extremists of Libya. Those places avoided, we had our route.

When Shall I do my ride?

This is definitely as important as where you are going to do your ride – You simply can't cycle on dirt roads in the wet season, and it is extremely unpleasant and dangerous to cross desserts in the summer.

Despite the changing world climate African weather is still surprisingly predictable. By planning to be in the cycling during the cool dry winter, we managed to cycle for three and a half months and only got rained on 3 times!

For example, we hit Tanzania at the end of the dry season. Cycling during the dry season was VERY hot, but two weeks later and the foot deep dust would have turned into three foot deep mud.

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Deep dust definately preferable to deep deep mud!

We have broken up the cycling by working in Rwanda in the wet season. The rain is spectacular, it goes from bright and sunny to windy and torrential rain in a matter of minutes. When we leave Rwanda in January and cross back into the the Northern Hemisphere, we’ll cross the wastelands of the Nubian desert during the winter and enter Europe just as spring will be blooming!

Spend as much as you can afford on your bike. That is what we did and we haven't regretted it.

What bike and accessories?

The guy who cycled from Germany to South Africa told me – spend as much as you can afford on your bike, so that is what we did – and we haven't regretted it. It's pretty easy to justify splashing out. Our old car would never have made the distance and it cost a lot more than our bikes.

The main question... are you gonna be on road or off road?

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Off road is much more fun because you can get really remote and the interactions with the locals are far more positive because they have seen very few 'Mzungus'. Conversely tar is sooo much easier to cycle on!

If your trip is gonna have sections of off road get a mountain bike. Front suspension very useful. It means you can go much faster downhill and saves your hands a bit on the dreaded corrugations, though even with the suspension we had trouble with numb hands and fingers that didn't really move very well.

Although other bikers might disagree, I'd say don't worry too much about weight. Better to have a slightly heavier bike that takes a little longer to get from A to B than a lightweight bike that breaks and leaves you stranded somewhere between the two. Consequently our bikes are bombproof but heavy. This came in handy when Rob had a high speed crash on tar. Both Rob and his bike survived, with only 1 dent to show for it. And that was on Rob's knee.

The coolest features of our bikes:
1. Indestructible tyres - These are incredible. Made by a company called Schwannable they are almost puncture proof. We have only had three punctures between us in three and a half months and the tires are still going strong.

2. Internal gears - If you've ever done any cycling at all you'll know that if something goes wrong with the bike it is something to do with the front, rear derailers or casette (basically the gears). Our gears our inside the rear hub and are basically maintenance free and should never fail. Some people are concerned that with internal gears it would be hard to fix if they break in the middle of nowhere. However, you have a normal gear system - you will run into problems at some point and as most bikes in Africa are single-speed Chinese makes, parts for western geared bikes are very hard to come by.

What do I put in the panniers?

The number one rule is don't put too much in. If possible don't take front panniers, as any extra space you have you will fill.

Our favourite bits of kit include

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A Turkana stool. My sister bought this from a shepherd boy in Northern Kenya. I have it tucked under one of my bungees, and it provides me with an instant chair or pillow whenever we stop.

Insect repellant. There is a general rule that if you haven’t used it in a month, drop it. Don't be too ruthless about applying that rule. We carried a bottle of DEET as far as Malawi, then threw it out. Two weeks later we were mobbed by tsetse flies that laughed in the face of our 'peaceful sleep' insect repellent, could bite through clothes and keep up with us cycling at full speed!

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A hammock. This has been such a luxury, after a day in the saddle it is sooo nice to collapse into the hammock (especially when the alternative is sitting on the ground where spiders, ginormous ants, snakes and scorpions live!)

So we've talked about a few of the essentials here, just a couple more things left to cover in a future entry. Next time we’ll talk about what to do about wild animals, what medical kit to take, what to eat and where will to find water.

If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by robandpol 16:00 Archived in Rwanda Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

The Scoop on the Poop

The World Through The Bathroom Window

Subtle Warning

This particular blog entry has been written because a certain TP Overlord, who shall remain nameless (Peter), felt "digesting" the information taken from a forum thread could be useful. Actually, he's right - it will be useful. But, do yourselves a favor and don't read it over breakfast, lunch or dinner. You've been warned.

Dodgy toilets on the MV Sophie, by Shlugger

Dodgy toilets on the MV Sophie, by Shlugger

In The Beginning...

A few months ago, one of our members posted a thread in the General Talk Forum entitled Avoiding the trots. (diarrhoea). It received enough attention that it was even featured. Though not normally subject matter that catches everyone's attention, it is an "affliction" almost everyone experiences at some point during their travels. A bout of diarrhea is annoying at the least, but a severe case can put a real damper on one's travel plans and ultimately affect one's health. So, giggle now while I glean the important stuff from the original thread... (Too late, I've already gleaned.)

A Short List Of The Culprits

  • Water
  • Contaminated Food
  • Dietary Changes
  • Schedule Changes
  • Personal Cleanliness
  • Paper Currency
  • Soap

Don't drink the water! Not too many people are unaware of this concept but it bears repeating. This includes ice cubes in your drinks. This also includes ordering something like a Scotch and water. But, another plausible cause was brought to light in the forum thread - beware of showers. The water used for bathing may not be the same water that runs through the taps for drinking. Ingesting even a small amount of contaminated shower water could have consequences.

All food bad! Okay - that's an exaggeration. Be mindful of uncooked vegetables (green salads) as the "greens" may have been lightly rinsed in water. Seafood and shellfish are well known for being contaminated, especially raw oysters, ceviche, sushi, etc. Also be mindful of your changes in diet. That Guinea pig kabob may smell delectable but may wreak havoc with your digestive system. Make changes to your diet slowly.

Watch the clock! Depending on your eating habits at home, traveling throws in a monkey wrench. Try to maintain your regular eating schedule (based on your "home" clock rather than your current time zone). Avoid skipping meals and/or just having snacks to tide you over. Your body doesn't like abrupt changes even if you do.

Sing! Okay, people will think you're nuts if you do it out loud. But, wash your hands with soap and hot water for at least 15-30 seconds - the length of Happy Birthday sung twice. Be sure to wash between each finger and get under those nail beds. Remember, anything you touch after washing said hands is another source of contamination. Avoid using cloth hand towels that other's have also used. Hand sanitizers work but nothing beats soap and water when available.

Show me the money! Again, another tidbit from the forum thread. Paper currency does indeed harbor bacteria more so than metallic coins. The weave of the paper gives bacteria a place to hide and stay cozy warm in your pocket.

Squeaky clean! Soap is a very useful item. It not only cleans things but it also cleans things out, including your digestive system. Those wonderful little liquids used in home and industrial dishwashers to keep spots from forming on glassware are a type of soap. Dishes and glassware that are not adequately rinsed can be coated with soap residue. This is quite common in small eateries where dishes are still washed by hand. This soap residue will come in contact with food or drink and ultimately be ingested by you, the consumer. (To this day, soap and water are the key ingredients for enemas - get the point?)

Not so squeaky clean! All the soap in the world will not rid a plate of bacteria if adequate amounts of water at a high enough temperature are not used. Enough said.

Close The Floodgates!!

I have mentioned basic "avoidance" procedures within each category listed above though sometimes, they aren't quite as effective as we'd like them to be. So, here are some additional tips for stemming the tide - so to speak. (Oh come on, admit it. That made you giggle.)

  • Pro-biotics - pro-biotics are comprised of a family of (friendly) bacteria that occurs naturally in our intestinal tract. The most commonly known is Acidophilus, which is used in the culturing of yogurt. It is also available in capsule and tablet form through most health food stores and pharmacies.
  • Imodium - an over the counter (OTC) anti-diarrheal medication that should be used with caution. Yes, it is an OTC and will slow or stem the tide but it should not be used on a regular basis. There is a reason your body is trying to rid itself of the causative factor. The same holds true of Pepto-Bismal and any other OTC anti-diarrheal treatment.
  • Fiber - products, such as Metamucil (and generic forms) are known for their effectiveness against constipation. They are also very useful tools against diarrhea. The fiber absorbs the excess fluid in the digestive tract and slows down the motility. Such products are available in powder and capsule form. Food stuffs, such as rice, pasta, crackers, biscuits, bland cheeses, and white breads are also quite useful.
  • Antibiotics - these should only be used under the direction of a physician. There are certain times when antibiotics are the only route of treatment (giardia, etc.) but they should not be used as a preventative. Over use of antibiotics may lead to resistance and complicate a treatment for some other ailment/condition.

Mecardo spices and grains, by jessnsteve

Mecardo spices and grains, by jessnsteve

Bottom Line

In a nut shell...

  • Always remember, what goes into your body must come out of your body. (Okay, stop smirking - it wasn't a sex joke. I'll save those for another blog.) Be mindful of the food you eat and how it has been handled.
  • You always wondered why your mother told you to wash your hands all the time - now you know.
  • Pay attention to your eating schedule and alcohol intake. Avoid the "mysterious drink of the house" or pay the price.
  • Pack a few pro-biotic capsules, a few fiber supplements and a few Imodium tablets but use the pro-biotics and/or fiber first.
  • Don't drink the water.
  • Don't forget to check out the original thread in General Talk too. If you have additional recommendations or comments, by all means, please add them.

If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by Isadora 13:45 Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (3)

Do I Need a Visa?

A guide to some of the best sources of information to answer the question of entry and exit requirements for countries around the world.

A few years ago, I was sitting in the Russian consulate in Toronto, waiting for my name to be called to head up and arrange a visa for a trip to Moscow. I was sitting patiently with my forms in my hand, occasionally flipping through them to make sure I hadn’t forgotten my invite letter, passport-sized photos or completed visa application form.

Castle Guard, Riga, Latvia.  Photo by kavanadb

Castle Guard, Riga, Latvia. Photo by kavanadb

Sitting across from me was man who had a lot more paper work that I did. He had a stack of paper at least 2 inches thick.

“Planning on going to Russia for a while?” I asked, jokingly.

The man laughed. “No, I work for a company that arranges visas. This is about 20 applications,” he said, holding up the stack of paper.

We sat quietly for another moment, and then the man looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “Are you getting an application for yourself?” he asked. “I mean, you and just you?”

I nodded. “Yes, just a tourist application for me,” I replied.

He laughed. “I didn’t realise people got these visas for themselves.”

When jetting off to exotic destinations, it can be overwhelming to figure out what, if any, hoops you have to jump through to visit the country. It can be tempting to just hand it all over to someone else to deal with, and I have done it a few times when jetting off to a location for work (and when my company was paying).

However, if travelling for pleasure and on a budget, money spent on having someone else handle your visa applications is less money for travel once you arrive. With a little research and some leg work, it is usually easy to arrange tourist visas on your own. To start you out, I’ve collected a few resources that can assist.

Where To Start

First up, why not start by checking out what your own government has to say about the entry and exit requirements for the country you want to go to? Below is a list of country advice from the Foreign Affairs departments of a few different countries. Most of these will have specific entries on every country. These travel-advice entries give general advice about a destination, and specific advice on the entry and exit requirements for the country, including any cases where you would need a visa.

Luminojos: road signs, Curanipe, Chile.  Photo by triptime

Luminojos: road signs, Curanipe, Chile. Photo by triptime

These resources are a good place to start, but most will include a warning similar to this from the Foreign Affairs Canada website on Russia:

It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the Embassy of the Russian Federation and its consulates for up-to-date information.

Check With Those Who Give Out Visas

Governments do occasionally change their minds about entry and exit requirements, so it is best to check with the source. If you are lucky, you might find a link from your country’s travel-advice page to the appropriate consular website. If there's no link available, a Google search should hopefully bring it up.

It is best to check with the Embassy, High Commission or Consulate of your destination in your home country before travelling. If you are a Brit wanting to travel to Paraguay, for example, the Paraguayan embassy staff working London will be best positioned to understand the entry and exit requirements for Brits headed to Paraguay. Sometimes you will find that another country is “responsible” for your country. For example, Australians wanting to speak with the Malawian embassy need to contact their embassy in Japan.

Governments do occasionally change their minds about entry and exit requirements, so it is best to check with the source.

Not all embassies and consulates have websites, of course. If you can’t find an online presence, check the phone book for listings. Larger and more popular countries will usually have embassies in their capital city, and perhaps additional consulates in larger population centres.

If you are still unable to find an embassy or consulate, check with the government of your destination. See if you can find a department of Foreign Affairs, or something similarly named. They should have a site listing embassies and consulates, or at least contact information so you can email or phone to ask.

When You Arrive, Be Nice

Even if you don’t need to get a visa ahead of time, you should nonetheless check the entry and exit requirements of the places you want to visit. Sometimes you will need to provide information upon arrival, like a confirmed place to stay or a return ticket--although even when you are “required” to have this information, custom and immigrant officers may not even ask. Even if a visa is not required beforehand, you may need to fill out a landing or tourist card and pay an entry fee.

To make things easy, I always keep any documents I need for entry in labelled folders--one per country--in my carry-on luggage. This allows me to easily pull out documents and present them to officials when required.

Also, some countries require that have at least six months validity on your passport from the date you are planning to exit the country. You'll want to check the expiry date on your passport before you leave.

If you are planning a trip further in the future, be sure to check entry requirements again about a month before you leave. These may have changed, and you don’t want to arrive at the airport--or, worse, at the border of a new country--only to find you can’t get in.

Passport to adventure.  Photo by tomstrick1

Passport to adventure. Photo by tomstrick1

Finally, even if you make all necessary checks beforehand and think you have everything in place, customs and immigration can be a mystery. As the Foreign Affairs Canada website says, “It is the sole prerogative of each country or region to determine who is allowed to enter,” and custom and immigrations officials can deny you entry--even if you have a visa and all your paperwork appears in order--with no means for appeal. Getting put back on a jet and sent home is a waste of time and a huge waste of money.

Therefore, when speaking with custom and immigration officials, remember to be polite and answer their questions honestly. Don’t provide them with information they don’t require, and don’t joke around. A professional attitude with concise answers will help them do their job easily, and will increase your chances of gaining their stamp of approval.

Next time you are thinking of heading off some place, take some time to check visa requirements in advance and make sure you have all the appropriate documents--then check the requirements again before you leave to see if there have been any changes. Upon arrival at your destination, be professional and courteous when dealing with immigration officials on both entry and exit from the country.

With a little investigation and a small amount of elbow grease, you can maximise your chances of having all the right paperwork and approvals to make border crossing as easy as possible.

If you have any tips or tricks to share on getting visas, please post them in the comments. If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by GregW 09:26 Tagged preparation Comments (5)

Getting Lost: How to Make The Big RTW Decision

What to think about when you're planning that BIG trip

A friend recently decided to go travelling for a year, and one Friday night she invited me for drinks to grill me about destinations, routes and where she should go. As a first-time solo traveller, she was hesitant about where to start and she wanted to see it all. So she decided that lacing me with wine would get her some solid advice. She’s not the first one; over the years, I’ve been approached by a lot of people wanting to know where they should take off to, what was realistic and what they should consider. I, in return, have developed a quick set of questions to help them come up with their ideal destinations.

Road to Nowhere in the Peten Guat by Shmips

Road to Nowhere in the Peten Guat by Shmips

THE FACTORS

Your personality. Travel tends to bring out the best and worst in people, so have a quick think about your personal positives and negatives. Get anxious when the tap in the public toilets is broken and you can’t wash your hands? Then India might not be for you. Love the great outdoors, hiking and being in fresh air? Jot Peru onto your wish list

Travel tends to bring out the best and worst in people

Your interests and hobbies. Travelling is a great way to explore new hobbies and expand your knowledge of your existing ones. If you are the proverbial culture vulture, Europe would keep you busy. Love food and gourmet experiences? Africa might leave you wanting for more. Always wanted to try some extreme adventures? New Zealand would have you screaming for more.

Your budget. Money is, unfortunately, a big factor when travelling. I always find it hard to answer people’s queries about budgets because people’s spending habits are different; some shop, some party, some do neither. Sure, if you are on a shoestring budget of about $15 a day, then going out in Oslo is a bit out of your range, whereas you could probably have a perfectly nice night out in most of South East Asian destinations. Lots of countries are camping-friendly, but a lot of backpackers aren’t. Be realistic about your expectations. Although you have a tent and a sleeping bag for that 6-week trip around Western Europe, you might not want to sleep in it every single night. Similarly, a nice meal in a mid-range restaurant will cheer up the daily bread-and-cheese routine tremendously. The same amount of money will last a lot longer in Asia, Africa and South America than it will in Europe or North America.

Time. How long do you have? There’s no point in planning a round the world trip if you only have 3 weeks of annual leave. There are still a lot of places which are hard to access easily and therefore need more time to be reached. I’ve deliberately left some fantastic cities in Europe un-visited, figuring they were close enough to visit later on when I might have a permanent job and less time off- doing an overland trip in Central Africa would be hard on a short holiday, but doable now

Local Customs and culture. Fancy going out clubbing every night, sampling beers? Not so easily done in Iran. Love the beach life? Try Australia. I spent six months living with a Zambian family who simply could not understand why I sometimes wanted to be alone, as it is common to do everything communally in most African cultures

Crossing to Australia by Ofelia

Crossing to Australia by Ofelia

THE TIPS

Fantasise and dream. Borrow a few travel guides, read a few travel stories, browse through the blogs here at Traveller’s Point, watch a few travel programmes on TV. You might just find you have developed a desperate need to visit Burkina Faso (like me) or Alaska (my best friend)

There are no must-see destinations in the world, only the ones that are a must-see to you


Don’t follow the flock. Travel agencies tend to pre-design packages with their most popular destinations and recommend those, but there’s more out there. Where did you dream of going to as a child? A vast majority of the world is accessible to the average traveller- don’t be fooled into thinking that nothing exists outside that package presented to you at the travel agent’s, and don’t be afraid to include a less than usual destination, such as Central Asia, to your list. There are no must-see destinations in the world, only the ones that are a must-see to you

Do some research. Although I am not a huge fan of planning, some research is good, such as seeing if you need visas, if some routes are ok to travel, and to give you an idea of the time/money required. An Australian friend turned up at a London airport a few years ago, on her way to the Czech Republic, but without a visa; she missed Christmas in Prague and had to stay in London alone. Some research to your destination is advisable

Be realistic about your expectations. It is impossible to see it all, and it’s very easy to get greedy when planning your trip. Always calculate a bit of extra time for things like getting ill, possibly missing your bus/flight/train, and simply for meeting new people whom you just want to hang out with. Travelling is not a race to see as much as possible, and if you make it into one, you’ll stop enjoying it. Narrow it down to the things you really want to see, and add a few more if you have the time and the money

Don’t listen to other people too much. Travelling is very much a subjective experience, and every place has its good and bad points. If your acquaintance got her wallet stolen in Ecuador, she might be less than likely to recommend it as a travel destination. I spent most of my time in Bolivia ill, and therefore hardly ever recommend it- not because I dislike it, but because I cannot suggest much to see or do there. Take all advice (including mine!) with a pinch of salt.

Sunset at Easter Island by Ofelia

Sunset at Easter Island by Ofelia

Or you could simply do what I did- Unsure where I wanted to go on my first long trip, I opened the atlas at random, and China it was. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a cheap deal there at the time, and after a few frantic last-minute calls, I found myself on a plane to India. There’s something to see everywhere- go and experience it for yourself.

Posted by Ofelia 10:22 Tagged preparation Comments (0)

I GET THE HEX!

My Dick Fall Off and I Wake Up Dead.

First off, I need to thank Robert Townsend for that great "lead-in" line - taken from the movie The Mighty Quinn (1989). It's a great movie. So what if neither he, nor Denzel Washington, can hold a Caribbean accent for more than a line or two. It's still entertaining. Watch it.

Australia - Hippie Campervan, by stacestu

Australia - Hippie Campervan, by stacestu

I GET THE HEX!

Hop into my Way Back Machine then give that dial a spin! Oh look! It's 1968 and I am all of 15 years of age. The "Summer of Love" came and went twelve months prior, but it has left its proverbial footprint in the sexual sands of time. Life is good. Taboos are thrown on raging bonfires, alongside bras and draft cards, while everyone watches the smoke mingle with the clouds. Pot is cheap. Sex is free. Both are everywhere--along with a few other goodies. "Share the Love" takes on a whole new meaning for a whole new generation. Oh, and don't bogart that joint, my friend. Hand it over to me...

Little did most of us enjoying the fruits of the sexual revolution realize what "seeds" were actually being sown. Sure, pregnancy was one of those "seeds" but with the upstart of free clinics handing out free birth control pills... a minor consideration. Syphilis and gonorrhea (the BIG STDs of the day) were easily cured with a few penicillin injections. Sex had become a true contact sport with many players and didn't require protective gear anymore. Life just kept getting better.

My Dick Fall Off and I Wake Up Dead.

Where to next? Oh, just give that dial another spin! Ah--1981 and I am all of 28 yeas of age. I have just gotten divorced, so I know it's going to be a good year! Wait. Something isn't quite right... I am also engaged in a battle with Secret STD Agent - Chlamydia Trachomatis. My Consultants are telling me Chlamydia launched Project PID at some point in an attempt to destroy any chance of my reproducing offspring. (What a cruel plan!) They also explain to me that, being a good little Secret Agent, Chlamydia allowed no symptoms to be detected until now. Whoa!

It had taken up residence in my reproductive organs while evading detection for several years. It was also hell-bent on a campaign of mass destruction. I was diagnosed, misdiagnosed, told I was crazy, put on an anti-depressant which "supposedly" helped with "phantom" pelvic pain, etc, etc. There was nothing phantom about it and I had surgical reports to prove the original diagnosis: pelvic inflammatory disease... Chlamydia (source of origin). Because I didn't present with the classic symptoms, it was all in my head. (Thank God I didn't have a dick. It may have had to have fallen off in front of someone to prove something was really amiss.)

For the next eight years, I waged innumerous wars against PID. At the time, no doctor would perform a hysterectomy because of my age and the contradicting diagnoses. Thankfully, I worked in a profession where my colleagues (MDs) would treat me with Demerol™ for the pain so I could keep doing my job. I would eventually spend one week a month in hospital on IV antibiotics when Agent C. attacked again. In 1989, I underwent a radical hysterectomy at age 37. The surgical report states I would have been admitted for emergency surgery within a few weeks because other organs had come under attack also. (Hey, at least I didn't wake up dead.)

Amsterdam - Condoms, by LizaBrooks

Amsterdam - Condoms, by LizaBrooks

HOW TO AVOID THE HEX!

Yes, I realize I have probably given you way too much information about my personal life. As payback, you can share with me one of these days. But these blog entries are designed to make travelers better and safer travelers. We do that by sharing experiences. So, as with most things, being forewarned is forearmed even when it comes to sex. Here are some tips (no pun intended - really):

  • Abstinence - Refraining from sexual activity.

True abstinence pretty much guarantees you will not encounter any of the pesky STDs. By true abstinence, I mean NO sexual contact, which includes oral and/or digital stimulation. Several of the STDs, such as Herpes simplex, HIV and Hepatitis B can be transmitted through oral sex. Sorry, but if you are engaging in any type of direct genital contact with a partner, you are engaging in a sexual activity. Sex does not mean intercourse only.

  • Condoms (prophylactics) - A device, especially a condom, for preventing venereal infection and conception.

The (latex/polyurethane) condom is your friend when it comes to sexual activity. It will not protect you against genital herpes or genital warts, as these infections also manifest themselves in areas not covered by the condom. But they are great for protection against many other STDs, including HIV/AIDS. Please use them. They are cheap. They also come in many colors, flavors and styles. (The price of a condom is nothing compared to the medical bills associated with an STD. I speak from an expensive experience.) The use of "natural" condoms is not advised. Natural condoms are constructed of animal tissue which will stop sperm but allow bacteria and viruses to pass through the membrane.

  • Vaccines - A preparation of a weakened or killed pathogen, such as a bacterium or virus, that upon administration stimulates antibody production or cellular immunity against the pathogen but is incapable of causing severe infection.

Presently, there are two vaccines available for the protection against 4 of the 15+ Human Papillomaviruses (HPVs) which are associated with cervical and other genital cancers. Gardasil™ and Cervarix™ are available in over 80 countries, but it must be noted that both of these vaccines and their side effects are under investigation at this time.

  • Common Sense - Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.

Common sense is your ultimate best friend. (Condoms rank second.) Alcohol, recreational substances and/or just that "hot guy/girl in the corner of the room" can cloud one's judgment. I understand that completely. But use your brain before using anything else. Regardless of your gender, carry condoms if you are sexually active. Never rely on the "other person" to do the thinking (like bring condoms themselves) for you. Find a reason to use the bathroom to wash before and after the encounter. (That tip alone is worth its weight in gold, as "cleaning up" washes away bacteria and viruses.)

Okay, I could continue but I'm sure you've gotten the point. Think and be safe.

Do you have some tips and tricks for your fellow travelers? Then join us in educating travelers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team. Each entry published on Travel Unravelled will earn a $5 donation to the Travellerspoint Foundation.

Posted by Isadora 12:09 Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

TAXXIII!!

The Art of Grabbing A Cab in The Big Wide World.

A few days ago, I got into a cab here in Santiago for a quick, nine block dash to the Metro station. The ride would ostensibly take three minutes....

Twenty six minutes later, the cabbie and I leapt out of our respective doors and stared over the cab roof at each other with angry looks on our faces. The trip definitely did NOT go as planned......

Outside a bar in Prague, by Piecar

Outside a bar in Prague, by Piecar

When I was a kid, the idea of taking a cab was tantamount to being a high roller. My Dad thought cabs were a huge waste of money and instilled that in me. I read an article about London cabbies and their extensive training and encyclopedic knowledge of their city. I just assumed that this was the case in EVERY city. Cabs were for the rich, or the intelligencia, or something...Something, whatever it was, that I was not.

When I was 13 I started collecting comics, and I started with Amazing Spiderman 192. In it, Peter Parker takes a cab into the city, and the driver is a slovenly sort, rumpled and wearing a beat up newsie cap. He tries to run up the fare on ol' Pete, and our hero calls him on it. The cabbie's response, I remember clearly, is "Hey! I ain't tryin' ta rook ya, kid!" But Pete handles it. Spiderman showed me that cabbies could be lowlife rip off artists.

I don't remember my first local cab ride...lost in the mist.... But I remember my first foreign cab ride. None other than London, England. I couldn't get wait to get into one of those black clunky vehicles. I had visions of a guy in a suit saying things like "Good day to you Governor!" and "Where will it be, then, young sir?" It wasn't quite like that, but the man was personable, got me to where I was going efficiently, using a side street or two, maneuvering like the pro that he was. It was great.

My second was not so great - Caracas, Venezuela. I considered myself well travelled then with five different countries under my belt. I stood just inside the sliding opaque doors that lead from the safe haven of the country called “Airport” to any country in the world. I steeled myself, and went through. On the other side, the first people I saw were cab drivers. Every one of them had a laminated card that said “Tourist Information” clipped neatly to their lapels. The trouble was, no two of the cards were the same. I was ready for these guys, and just blasted through them. There is a second level to the Caracas airport, and I went up there to sit for fifteen minutes while the hooplah of a new flight full of tourists died down.

While I was up there, a fellow without a tourist badge came up to me and told me in broken English that he knew where to get a trustworthy cab. I bought his line, and followed him out, past the other cabs and into the parking lot. That was mistake number one. (A real cab gets the privilege of pulling up front. The shady operators live in the parking lot... hey, I was new!) The fellow got into the front passenger seat, and the driver started the car. (Mistake number two, and three. Two, if there are two people in the cab, don't get in, unless it's a colectivo. Three, I was getting a shifty feeling and rather than listen to it, I ignored it.... Never do that.)

Oh, I got to my hotel okay. I dropped my stuff. I felt confident that things were going to work out. The two guys were friendly enough and invited me to hang out with them. I spent six hours getting drunk (mistake four...Don't get drunk when you don't know where you are, or how to get back) as the driver drove us to different spots around the city, and the other guy led me into place after place. I never paid a cent, and never found out the price of anything. I actually picked up a girl, but she was shooed away. I was their pigeon to pluck, no free riders.

After the six hours, I was drunk lost and defenseless... Then they stopped the cab and got me out. The driver waited in the car while the other guy introduced me to two tough looking friends. He told me I owed him 400 hundred dollars, or I was going to get tuned up. I only had 200, and had just enough latent toughness not to let them force me to use the ATM they had stopped in front of.... A two hundred dollar lesson I told myself as I staggered down Avenida Sabana Grande at three in the morning towards what I hoped was my hotel.

Havana taxi, by DinaRosado

Havana taxi, by DinaRosado

Since then I've had my ups and downs with drivers. Some are great. Some are horrible. Some are honest, some are lowlife sleaze-buckets who deserve a solid kick in the 'nads with a steel-toed workboot. A guy once stopped and drove me out of a neighbourhood he didn't like for free...and then left me with a medialuna his wife had baked.... Another guy tried to charge me double because I had a backpack. Guys have led me to a good hotel that was cheap when I asked for an overpriced one I'd found in a stray guidebook.... Guys have taken me to broken down hovels when I asked for a decent low-priced option because they got a kickback from the owner.

So, I've developed rules for taxis..

Before you leave my fave country - the Airport - ask someone inside what the regular price of a cab is. Tourist info is fine, but try to ask a cleaner or security guard too. They'll have the lowdown, and now you have some ammo before you go through those magic doors.

The less a cab driver cares if I get into his cab, the more I want to get in.

Bring a compass. I am amazed that people don't do this. At least know the four cardinal points. Not just for cabs but for everything. You save yourself a ton of time on a winding street that started pointing North but now is heading East if you have one of these things.

The less a cab driver cares if I get into his cab, the more I want to get in. If a guy is reading a newspaper on the hood and only begrudgingly gets into the driver's seat....that is my favourite guy. He's not trying to put the moves on me.

Keep a Weather Eye. You're in a new place. Look around for landmarks. If only to see whether you see it twice in the same cab ride.

Seem confident, (even if you ain't) Sit forward, Be squinty and look dubious. Cock an eyebrow every now and again. Make 'em think you won't buy their act, if, indeed they have one.

Check for a meter, make sure they use it. If a cabbie has a meter, the only reason he's going to negotiate a fare is so he comes out ahead. And how are you going to adequately negotiate with no information or local knowledge?

Do your best to know where you're going. If you've reserved a hotel ahead of time, ask the hotel dude(tte) for a local TALL landmark so you have something to shoot for...and you can tell the cabbie that the place is near this landmark, implying you have local knowledge, making you seem informed, and giving the cabbie something to shoot for, because.....

Cabbies don't always know where they're going! It is a myth that cabbies are knowledgeable about the place they patrol. Don't expect a cabbie to know about that cool little hole in the wall down some side street that you heard about online. Half of them are lucky if they know where City Hall is.

Taxi bug in Mexico City, by malmn

Taxi bug in Mexico City, by malmn


If you're in a cab, and the cabbie stops to pick up "my friend" get out. The guy may the cabbie's friend. It may all be on the up and up and they may think you're a goof for getting out. You can live with their low opinion of you....if you get to live.

Don't be afraid to say NO. The guy is working for you. If he's doing something you don't like, tell him to stop, or get out.

If it feels wrong, it is. Don't second guess that feeling. It may be way off, but better safe than sorry.

Friendly and grinning and funny doesn't mean Safe. In fact, I prefer bemused quiet and altogether ambivalent in my cab driver.

AND on a comfort note....If you are in a hot climate, and you are sweating buckets, and need respite...Wave at the cab with the closed windows...A sure sign of air con, kids.

Right.....

...So there we were staring over the roof at each other. I wasn't mad, in fact I was amused. The cab driver had given me the "run-around" Drove me all over the place, at one point taking me around a roundabout four times. Had driven North, East, South, West, and then back North before back tracking East to the Metro. I'd seen it all, and even though I was late, I was having fun. I took out some big bills as the ride got more expensive on the meter, and let the driver see them. He thought I was buying his trick. I was hoping he'd turn and say, in broken English "I ain't tryin' ta rook ya kid!"

The driver wasn't really mad. I'd paid him what the trip would have cost if he'd played it straight. But you have to play the act.

We looked at each other for about ten seconds. Then the driver shrugged and got back into his cab. I waved and headed to the Metro. We had just wasted each other´s time. I screwed the driver out of about two fifty worth of gas. Just 197.50 left to go before I get even for Caracas.

Posted by Piecar 06:35 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (4)

A Few Ways to Avoid Getting Robbed in Central America

I bet you're wondering, "How does she know how NOT to get robbed?" Well, I'll be honest with you. I've gotten robbed plenty of times, enough to know exactly what I did wrong and how I could have avoided being robbed from the get-go!

Good example; my sister-in-law and I went to the coastal areas of Guatemala. I had my little purse on me and pants with many pockets. My sister-in-law, said, "Marina, I really recommend you put your credit cards and money in your pants pockets." I listened to her very carefully and didn't do a thing about it.

It took us three hours to arrive. Five minutes after we got off the bus and started headed in the direction of the hotels, two teenage boys on a bike came booking at me and -guess what - ripped my purse right off my shoulders. Thirty minutes after hunting them done and being left with nothing, we were right back on the same bus going back to the house. Let's just say it wasn't a very successful trip!

So, after all the wonderful lessons I've been given, I hope I am qualified to share with you what I have learned, so that you can learn vicariously through me and NOT do what I did!

Funky bus in Latin America by Piecar

Funky bus in Latin America by Piecar

Passport Copies

Do you know how hot an American, Canadian, European or Australian passport is in Central American countries? So hot that the black markets can't get enough of them! With the economy in the pits, more and more people are becoming unemployed and thinking that these nations have the answers to the good life and buy stolen passports with their life savings to leave.

To protect your passport it is completely acceptable to have a copy with you instead of an ID. Even most banks are OK with a copy these days. To secure the legitimacy of your copy you can get a notary public to stamp it before you leave for your trip.

Note: You still need the real deal when entering the country and leaving. Just leave it in the hotel for safety.

Take What You Need

I used to carry a full backpack with me on day trips or a purse when going out. After having sneaky professionals slyly reach in and clean out my backpack without me feeling a thing, or having my purse snatched off my shoulders, I decided it was time for a change.

I have always had the habit of carrying my backpack on my back. You know, the normal place for it. On multiple occasions I have had someone very quietly reach in and take my wallet, money and camera. So it took me a few times around to learn that one, but after those episodes, I had a long hard think and realized that I didn't need 90% of the stuff in my bags. For one, these days cameras are so small they can fit into your pockets. Money should always be kept close to your body and there's no need for bulky wallets. A jacket or a long sleeve shirt could be hung around your waist giving you extra security for your money and camera. If you have a guide book, it may be a good idea to simply rip out the pages for that particular day trip rather than lugging around the whole book.(Editor's note: I agree with this wholeheartedly, unless you are thinking to trade for a book from another area somewhere down the road.) You can buy a comfortable water holder which also has a safe pocket for a cell phone.

If you do need to carry a backpack, wear it facing front. Even in the safest of cities, you just never know.

Touts waiting to put the con on tourists, Costa Rica/Nicaragua border by Shmips

Touts waiting to put the con on tourists, Costa Rica/Nicaragua border by Shmips

Jewels

Chances are you are not walking down the red carpet showing off your most precious possessions. There really isn't any reason at all to wear anything of value while traveling to these countries. It's one thing to buy some locally made jewelry but completely another when your engagement ring is worth more than some local person will make in five years.

At one point I was guilty of this, or maybe just plain stupid. Granted, it was one of my first trips out and I wanted to be 'stylish'. Before my trip, I bought a very pretty jewelry holder bag and stuffed all my most precious wares inside. Within two days of my trip, while sitting on a bus dozing off, I awoke to my bag wide open and my jewelry holder gone. That was enough to teach me that it's such a bad idea to do that.

So, leave them at home and you'll appreciate them that much more when you return.

Luggage

Some of the most common robberies happen on public buses. Since thieving is practically a profession in most towns, they have it down to a science. There are now many affordable options to public transport systems. You can either take a private shuttle like Grayline or Interbus from one location to the next. Most hotels have shuttle services to and from the airport. If you can splurge, there are tons of private drivers that work for reputable companies and taxis.

If you do take the public bus, it's best if you can take your bag with you in the cabin and keep it by your side. The pros lurk around buses watching where you stick your bag and where you end up sitting. Since most public buses fill up fast and have plenty of stops along the way, they make sure to hear where you are getting off and slyly help themselves to your bags. Keep the bags close, and if you must put them below, sit in the seat that overlooks the compartment. And always look out for shady characters.

I had actually started in the right direction when this happened to me. I took my backpack into the compartment with me. It was a small bag, and since I was a newbie traveler and very naive, I placed the bag above my head. Not once did I think that the bus would fill up till you couldn't see in front of you, nor did I think that the nice people piling on the bus would want MY BAG. At one point I remember my friend yelling to me from the other side, "Marina, where's your bag?" To answer, I got up to look for it and, miraculously, someone just happened to hear the conversation and hand it back to me, right as they were getting off the bus. So what do you think I found? An empty bag!

Money

As I mentioned earlier, keep your money as close to your skin as possible. I have seen plenty of amazing pickpocketing moves that are so well orchestrated that you don't have any idea what is happening until you are left with nothing. Spread your riches around. Don't congregate all your money in one place. Put it in your pockets, in your bras, in your socks, in your underpants and always try to have a money belt secured around your waist.

My final example actually didn't happen to me, but to a friend of mine. We went to a local fair that was packed with people. As my friend started turning the corner he kind of got jammed between people. After watching the scene unfold in slow motion, I realized that it was three guys who had him cornered and were reaching into his pockets while the others were pushing as though he was stuck in the crowd. By the time I realized what was happening and started yelling, "They're robbing you!" They were long gone in three directions with his wallet and Ipod.

These five simple rules have made my life so much easier. I walk with more confidence knowing that there is nothing to steal. And, even though I'm a blonde amidst the masses, I don't have anything that is screaming come and rob me.

Bio
Marina has been living in Central America for over 7 years and her site Travel Experta is all about traveling in Central America. Marina loves to help people plan the perfect vacation to this amazing part of the world! You can sign up for her RSS feed and join the fun on her facebook fan page and follow her on Twitter at @MarinaVillatoro.

Posted by mvillatoro 17:04 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

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