25 chapters, 100,000 words, 120 illustrations
Table of Contents
HOW TO SEE THE WORLD
Art of Travel - European and World Backpacking
Items of Digestion Street Food Hustlers South of the Border Mindsets Favorites Itineraries Notebooks Camel Driving Police Outages Fire Rail Trail Notes Knots Drinking Telephone and Mail Driving Snakes Drugs
WHILE RESTAURANTS ARE affordable for low budget travelers in the developing world and the United States, they rarely are in Western European and other expensive countries. Moreover, all travelers risk becoming bereft of fungibles--by theft, loss, or most usually, insufficient husbandry--and may require nontraditional means to quiet a noisy stomach or steady wobbly legs.
Dirt, while freely available even in urban areas (look for healthy plants, a single scoop from a flower box will hardly be missed), is not as nutritious as might be supposed, a likely source of helminthic infection, and supremely unflavorful, thus cannot be recommended.
The keen reader may suggest that for a few pennies could not a clean bag of topsoil be acquired? This is true, but for the same amount raw potatoes can be gnawed, or for no money, bark. (Both also have the advantage of whitening teeth, which could prove beneficial should fortune improve.)
The deliriously hungry traveler may be tempted by a stray dog, but it will resist fiercely when your intentions become known, and local mores may frown upon such activity. In the Netherlands you likely will be chased down and delivered to the Polizei for seizing a terrier, or if later discovered with the remains of a pooch, beaten to death with gardening instruments.
In wilder countries insects might be expected to appear at the bottom of the menu. But as there is expense in gathering and preparation--and because natives always consider them something of a delicacy--bugs are therefore sold at a premium over other foodstuffs. The destitute traveler must find his own.
When foraging in same countries, as every schoolchild knows, it is wise to spy upon the culinary habits of monkeys, and eat nothing untouched by them.
Street food is rarely the cheapest option for slaking hunger. An always palatable loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter will provide two or three thousand precious calories to march weary legs on down the road or sustain respiration until help arrives. If Napoleon's army had so much!
The cheapest sustenance can be had by mixing water and flour, cornmeal, or sorghum. The resulting batter can be shaped into cakes for consumption at your leisure, or if too weak to chew, more water can be added for spoon feeding.
But if your fiscal straits are not so dire, and in fact you are dutifully safeguarding resources until the appointed hour of your voyage home (if only to avoid dirt, dog, bugs, begging, jail, and general opprobrium), then street food will likely be a convenient, economical, and delightful routine of traveling life.
That it can be a source of pain and agony, however, is the second point of these paragraphs. Nearly every experienced traveler has deeply regretted a rash refection or two, and one hostel owner reports a steady stream of backpackers becoming horribly sick from food stands in her remote mountain town, month after month, year after year.
Avoid that fate by choosing vendors doing brisk business and practicing reasonable hygiene, and by requiring all street food to be well-cooked before your eyes. The resulting product should have an enticing, fresh aroma and almost burn the mouth. Flavor to the tongue and fullness to the gut are bonuses.
Never accept anything from a warming box or that has otherwise been set aside, since you do not know its age, and germs multiply rapidly, especially in humid climes.
Indeed as a customer the vendor is unlikely to ever see again, he has an economic interest to reach for the oldest product in inventory, perhaps from only a few minutes ago, but perhaps from the morning's oversupply. His intention isn't to harm, but to preserve better quality for regular customers, and to reduce waste, since many tourists appear satisfied with anything he presents.
Fortunately it's not difficult to find (or insist upon) freshly-cooked, delicious street food, as this is the vendor's raison d'ętre, and he most assuredly knows it, in any language.
The gulf between is as great as the Grand Canyon is wide.
- Type 1
- Conditioned by months or years of eating and drinking alongside the natives.
- Type 2
- Once ate five hot dogs, survived beer and ice cream.
Don't take any night trains in Morocco. In fact, don't even go there. The Morocco you're thinking of died in the 70's, baby. Terry, Austin
The night trains were fine, the people were friendly (except for the occasional hustler), and overall it was an amazing country. Craig, Winnipeg
The best way to put off Moroccan "guides" is to not let them know where you come from, and pretend to speak only Russian. Just walk by and say "Nyet!" and any other Russian-sounding garbage you can think of. Those bastards are amazing linguists, and if they can speak your language they will latch on and never let go, but they don't speak Russian, yet. Anonymous Englishman
Because Americans tend to be friendlier, more generous, less cynical, and perhaps less world-wise than some other nationalities, we are prized targets for those who would deviously separate us from our money. The sheer volume and intensity of Moroccan hustlers, however, present a special problem for almost everyone.
When approached by guides, touts, or vendors trying to sell tours, carpets, etc., you must give a firm but polite "No!" and not act the slightest bit interested. Do not acknowledge or speak to anyone trying to sell hashish. Do your best to give the impression you have been around the world twenty times. If a hustler sees an opening or weakness he will wear you down with constant harassment.
When disembarking the ferry in Tangier you are literally swarmed with so-called guides, official and unofficial. Initially you may be better off hiring one as your hired guide protects you from other hustlers. But don't trust him any further than you can throw him. He may be mostly trustworthy, but you won't and can't know that.
As you go deeper into Morocco the hustler problem lessens, as it does in the off-season. While most Moroccans have a wonderful sense of hospitality, you must learn to separate these good folks from the hustlers.
- In Latin American countries it's polite to keep a low profile with money, instead of flashing it around. Use a money clip for the small amount you will use during the day and keep it in your front pocket. When counting money for a purchase turn to one side and keep the money low and hidden with your hands. This is only good manners.
- Everywhere in Latin America is not receptive to bargaining. Some places the prices are as marked. Bargain when necessary, but only for what you really intend to purchase. If he meets your price you are expected to buy.
- Be sensitive to what you say. For instance, "stupid" in the U.S. is a minor insult, but in some Latin cultures it is a major offense.
- At high elevations like Quito be alert to quicker sunburning. Use a strong sunblock, a hat, and long sleeves.
- If you order drinks, the ice may be made from the local water everyone warns you not to drink. I stick to bottles and cans. Also beware fruits and vegetables since they are grown and washed with the same local water.
- Yogurt may help your digestive-enzyme system, especially if you begin eating it regularly a month before going down.
- Don't travel constantly making snap judgments about other cultures. The best way to relate to a new world is to keenly observe it, to drink it in, to feel it, and to participate in it. Having an "attitude" to the world around will mainly cut you off from it.
- Don't be too selective in what you want to see or experience. Leave yourself open to spontaneity. Often the best travel cannot be planned, or even expected.
- Travel not always in a hurried, busy, buzzed state, but relaxed, open, observant, and rested. Allow yourself to go slowly from time to time.
- Seek local music. Don't allow a Walkman to satisfy all your musical desires with canned recordings from back home. Music is everywhere.
- Talk to everybody.
- You're all you've met.
- There go I.
We recommend all travelers to spend time in England, Scotland, Wales, and both Irelands. You could travel the entire world and these might still be your favorites. Moreover, language will only be a minor problem for Americans!
There is a big difference between the north and south of England. The hitchhiking is better in the North, and the people are friendlier, with more time on their hands. (They are also more likely to be on the dole, and willing to entertain travelers.) The South is more crowded. Also, while London is one of the great cities of the world, it is NOT England. Jan and Marcia, California
The two countries I have most heard described as favorites by hard travelers who have been everywhere are: Afghanistan (before the 1979 Soviet invasion), due to the incredible hospitality of its people, and India, due to its amazing people, and its unparalleled cultural and physical landscape. Tony, England (Note: Tony is one of the greater travelers I've met and is currently teaching English in Japan.)
Everyone is surprised when I tell them my favorite country. The people are friendly, and they speak English. It's beautiful, with the most unspoiled beaches anywhere. It's also cheap, and except for one island (Mindanao--there's a revolt), it's safe--The Philippines. Mats, Sweden
Even if you already think you know where you're going, milk the decision for all it's worth. Get yourself a good map or globe, and let your eye and mind wander. Assuming you have the money and haven't absolutely committed yourself, the whole world is open to you. Some countries require more effort and fortitude than others, but wherever it is (outside war torn or otherwise ravaged areas), you can bet there are other backpackers leading the way. Maureen, County Wicklow, Ireland
Many people who know I'm an experienced independent traveller ask how I decide where to go and how I allocate my time. I tell them I enjoy the planning nearly as much as the trip! My preparations include borrowing as many guide and history books as I can from the public library, buying out of date guidebooks from secondhand bookstores, looking up all the Internet sites on the country, even getting glossy tour brochures from travel agents to see where the group tours go. (Sometimes so I can go somewhere else, but also because some things are never worth missing, even if there are crowds of tourists.)
I also ring or write the tourist authority of the country to get their brochures and accommodation guides. Slowly, I draw up a list of 'must-sees' and 'maybe-sees', and try to plan a route which doesn't backtrack. If I have lots of time, I book as little as possible in advance, as it is usually cheaper in country. But if time is tight, or I hear it's hard to get train tickets, flights, or accommodation because of a festival or public holiday, then I book selected things directly from home, by phone or fax. This also works well for accommodation when arriving late in some city.
When I have it all worked out, I type up a rough itinerary and give it to my Mum, so she won't complain she doesn't know where I am. This sort of planning pays dividends for independent travel on a tight timetable. It doesn't tie you down more than you want, but it also makes you do your homework, and gives you the most efficient route to travel. Jan, Melbourne
Give your thoughts, notes, and doodles room to live and grow with a good notebook. (Spiral notebooks fall apart during a long trip.) You can write what you do, how you feel, who you meet, brilliant ideas, etc. On my last journey I used an 8.5x11 inch (20x28 cm.) sketch pad with an inch cut off on two sides. One traveler wrote down the names and/or a description of every person he shook hands with or otherwise met. He says the memories recalled when he looks back are amazing.
I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train. Oscar Wilde, Ireland
After a week of ridiculous and embarrassing situations I clearly recall myself as more or less master of the camel. Then after a month I thought I had seen and experienced it all, and that my skills were equal to those of the very best camel drivers. Then after a year my thinking was how could anyone have ever done what I have done? But it really wasn't until ten freaking years later I knew the least bit of anything about camels, camel driving, the desert, desert people, or the sun. Turbo "Lawrence" Maserati, USA
Be respectful, patient, and firm.
In some countries (including Mexico) where law is based on the Napoleonic code, the police may arrest everyone on the spot since guilt is presumed, and you must prove your innocence. Therefore if for whatever reason the cops come, without unduly attracting attention to yourself, get the hell out of there as fast as you can! Don't stick around to see what's going on, especially if locals are clearing out all around.
Electric power goes off regularly in many developing countries. Life goes on, however, as restaurants and businesses have candles ready, so it can be a nice time to have dinner or a few beers.
In 1989 there was a fire at a backpacker hotel in the popular King's Cross section of Sydney, killing five travelers. Regulations in Australia have since tightened, with sprinkler systems and smoke alarms now installed in all hotels. This is not the case in developing countries where many hotels are veritable fire traps. You may want to think about emergency exits when choosing a room.
The Eurailpass allows unlimited rail travel through seventeen European countries for a specific amount of time ranging from fifteen days to three months. The countdown begins the day of your first train ride. If you are under twenty-six you get a break on the price, but it is still a reasonable deal without the discount. My only caution is the Eurailpass encourages some people to travel too much, too far, and too fast. You may not want your most lasting European impression to be through a train window.
There are other passes which may offer a better value, such as the Europass and Flexipass. Both offer a number of days of train travel over a set time, such as five days over one month, or nine days over two months. Check with student travel specialists for the latest information.
- How to take a dump without facilities
- With a stick or other device dig a hole four to six inches (ten to twenty centimeters) deep, make deposit, cover. Soil bacteria will biodegrade within a few weeks. Also bury or pack-out your toilet paper. Perform at least one hundred feet from any water source, trail, or camp site, and preferably away from public view.
- Due to population pressure and fire danger much of the world is posted "no ground fires, camp stoves only." Therefore only combust when legal and utterly safe. A misjudgment here by an otherwise conscientious backpacker (trying to burn toilet paper) destroyed human life, thousands of acres of forest, dozens of homes, and an untold number of (forever lost) prime wildlife nesting sites.
- Rock cairns
- Piles of rock on a trail which mark it. Trails may also be marked by ribbons, slashes on trees, paint, bits of metal, or, most often, crushed rock and debris from centuries of pounding feet.
- Where there should be a path, there usually is
- Due to the daily travels of six billion people. The hard part is deciding which path leads where.
Hydraulic Currents and General Lessons
Of course the most important travel knot is the one suspending your clothesline.
- For mountaineering and general lifesaving. Properly tied, this is the one knot which absolutely will not slip.
- Double half hitch
- Simple but elegant. Perfect for clotheslines. The knot I know best.
- Slip knot
- A modified double half hitch. Especially useful for adjusting tension on tent guy lines. Tugging directly on the knot slides it along the tensioned line, but tension on the line doesn't slide the knot.
My travel drinking companions have ranged from backpackers from all over the world to local students, truck drivers, sheep shearers, sailors, dairy farmers, racetrack workers, apple pickers, machete mowers, doctors, businessmen, disk jockeys, money changers, rugby players, idle rich, and beautiful women. From what I can recall at this writing, a certain sheep sheerer of Australian lineage had by far the most entertaining stories.
Photo: This gentleman retired sailor is one of many who have befriended me as a stranger in a strange land. His girlfriend cooked a delicious meal, and we drank coffee and Norwegian moonshine until at least one of us was seeing double. He also directed me to an old sailors' home to see if anyone remembered my grandfather.
- Drink water
- with your alcohol because alcohol is dehydrating. Also, drink more water when you return to your room, or, if you don't have a room, when you finish drinking alcohol. You will feel better since much of the hangover and cotton mouth effects are cells screaming for water.
- Watch what you say
- If a couple of young machos come over to share tequila with you in some quiet part of the zócalo, do not later get into an argument over which country is better, or who has the best football team. Offense can be taken over seemingly trivial issues. Of course most of the time you will be speaking to friendly people who genuinely want to know your opinions, but stick a finger to the wind before discussing politics, religion, or other controversial issues, and most importantly, know when to lay off.
- Bring your own
- If you hope to party with native peoples in the backcountry bring your own vodka, whiskey, tequila, rum, wine, or palm wine to pass around. I became sicker than I thought humanly possible--with a monstrous and shockingly varied series of gut-wrenching eruptions and stenches that brought to mind The Exorcist--on one gourdful of homemade corn beer.
- While it was an ugly, muddy brew with bits of straw floating about, I thought I had read somewhere the natural fermentation process would kill harmful bacteria. Big mistake. An hour later I experienced a momentary, "funny" feeling. In twelve hours I was completely incapacitated, and in twenty-four I was on intravenous fluids. (For interested beer connoisseurs: it had a horrible, sweet taste.) A bareback-riding German who had been living among the natives for five months (and who was humorously nicknamed by them "the Apache") suffered no ill effect.
- I bought the unfettered propaganda1 about alcohol and fun and am now consuming twenty cans of beer a day. Can I travel?
- Better do something.
Many phone systems use for a ring what in the U.S. sounds like a busy signal. The problem is you hardly ever know what signal means what, where. My philosophy is if you do manage any combination whatsoever of buzzing, ringing, or chirping, hang on as there's a chance something good will happen. Not always, not even usually, but enough where you should give it a minute or two, sometimes five or ten.
If you put your money in, dial the numbers, and never hear anything, look around to see if locals are glancing at you and smiling at each other. You probably have a phone which hasn't worked in years, so just say a few words into the receiver and hang up.
In the developed world calling home is relatively easy. I once made a two-second call on a payphone from Paris to Texas for one franc: "Hey Dad! I'm in Paris! I don't have much ti..."
Countries with less advanced phone systems usually have special calling booths at the main post office, telephone company, or rail station. You can pay cash for the call by leaving a deposit, or call collect, usually.
In 1993 Guatemala you could not call collect to Europe--there are similar situations in some other developing countries. Moreover, the sound quality may leave something to be desired. On calls from Guatemala to the U.S. the feedback was such I heard twice everything the caller spoke once: "Hello John, Hello John...I'm still in Guatemala, I'm still in Guatemala...I'm out of money, I'm out of money..."
I usually call home collect by using the AT&T Direct Connect operator, which you can reach toll-free from dozens of countries. You talk to an English-speaking operator and are charged American rates, which are the lowest in the world. You don't have to be an AT&T customer back home to use this service. Some guidebooks list this number, and you can call AT&T at 800-241-5555 to get a free card listing all current numbers. MCI and Sprint have similar services.
Poste restante is the internationally recognized French term for general delivery, which means mail is held at the post office until the addressee picks it up. Poste Restante is not a sure thing everywhere, but you can move the odds into your favor by having the sender address the envelope properly.
Have your friends write "POSTE RESTANTE" and "HOLD" in block letters on the left-front of the envelope, then the address in the usual place as follows:
C/O POSTE RESTANTE--HOLD
Main Post Office
Ask for the mail filed under your last name. If nothing is there, try again under your first name. There may be a small charge for the service, and you will have to show your passport. You may also have to come back later to deal with another clerk.
Most American Express offices also hold mail for customers--this is usually the most reliable route. If you show them a few of their traveler's checks or an American Express card there is no charge. They accept envelopes only, no packages.
International Postal Reply Coupons are for writing to an agency in another country that requires return postage for a reply. They exchange these coupons for local postage. Buy at larger post offices.
Many travelers keep in touch with no-charge email accounts from hotmail.com, backpackers.com, yahoo.com, netaddress.com, mailexcite.com, mailcity.com, rocketmail.com and juno.com, among others. Accounts include a few megabytes of disk space. Access through cyber cafes, many hostels, new friends.
Lighten your load every few months by shipping souvenirs, film, and unneeded items home. Even a pound or two makes a big difference in the feel of your pack. It's worth the money. Mary, Seattle
- Statistical reality
- Vehicular deaths may be ten times greater than in developed countries.
- Safety belts
- Drivers, vehicles, and roads are often or usually unsafe. Don't hire a car without safety belts. Dig them out if you have to.
- Bad tread is bad trouble. Ask any old taxi driver.
- Since flats are relatively common in developing countries and remote areas, two spare tires are much preferred. When you have only one spare and lose a tire you're suddenly in a precarious situation. (I had the five gallons, though, below.)
- Shock absorbers/struts
- The primary purpose of shock absorbers and struts is not to smooth the ride, but to press down on the axle to keep the tire in good contact with the road. Many or most vehicles in developing countries have poor or nonfunctioning shocks, which means they are riding on springs only, which is as unsafe as it sounds.
- To test place all your weight on the bumper nearest each tire and jump off. A good shock will almost immediately settle the car after two up and down movements. (Depending on the weight and construction of the car, this is not necessarily a good test.) If you hire a car with bad shocks anyway, don't drive it fast, and don't let anyone else drive it fast. The physics become more and more not in your favor the faster you go.
- If you don't have at least four or five gallons (fifteen or twenty liters) of water in the back, you don't have enough water. A radiator requires one to three gallons, you require a gallon or more per day.
Illustration: These five gallon water carriers are perfect for car travel.
- A brake pedal that goes all the way to the floor with continuous pressure indicates a leak or air in the brake lines, a condition that will only get worse, and time to abandon vehicle.
- Night driving
- is risky. Roads can be narrow and in terrible repair with no warning signs, the unforeseen can suddenly pop in front of you, and drinkers have had all day to get loaded.
- Large rocks in the road sometimes indicate for something ahead. Mostly, of course, there is no warning.
The International Driving Permit began with the United Nations Convention of International Road Traffic of 1949. It is now valid in 160 countries, for one year. This permit is available from American Automobile Association and other automobile club offices. You show up at their office with $10, a valid drivers' license, and a passport-sized photo of yourself. The permit is written in nine languages so whoever who pulls you over can read it.
An IDP is not necessary to drive in many developed countries as long as you have a valid license from your home country. This is true even though a German license represents that the driver has spent thousands of Deutschemarks on up to a year of serious training in the arts and skills of managing an automobile, while a Texas license proves you've turned sixteen.
In Japan and many developing countries an International Driving Permit is required if you plan to get behind the wheel. I got an IDP for my first backpacking tour, but haven't bothered since.
The carnet de passage is more than a passport for your car. Because many countries charge high taxes on imported automobiles, it would be possible for backpackers to drive a car into a high-import-tax country and sell it for great profit. Since governments don't want you doing this, they often require a carnet de passage, along with a whole list of stamps, visas, and documents to insure the car comes back out with you.
The carnet de passage costs about $400 and requires a secured line of credit with a bank equal to the value of the vehicle plus whatever the normal import duties for it would be. This ranges up to 300% of the car's market value in some African and Latin American countries. This insures the government gets its money if you sell or abandon the car within its borders. Check with your local automobile association for more information.
While independently cruising down Africa or South America is a great dream for many, the significant pre-planning, bureaucratic hassles, and financial hardships rule it out for most. Besides, local transport--from horse-drawn wagons in rural Poland to pick-up truck beds in Latin America--is easier, cheaper, and more interesting.
In France, however, I caught a ride in a VW van piloted by an Australian couple. When they said they had driven across Asia from Australia, that they had been traveling for a year and a half, and that several months of that time had been spent waiting for documents to be approved for the van, I thought they were pulling my leg in typical Aussie fashion. When they let me out the story became more believable as I watched those Australian plates pulling away.
A Dane drove across the Sahara and into Central Africa with his father. He said that if anyone was thinking about taking an old jalopy across the Sahara into Africa, they should think again. Officials now will not let you make the trip unless you and your jalopy look capable of making it, and back. He said the route was littered with hulks of Volkswagens, Fiats, Peugeots, etc. that probably never had a chance. Over several evenings of several beers I agreed to put the following tip in this book.
When making a big trip across a desert, such as the Sahara, sheep bladders are the best and usual way to store the many gallons of water you will need. The water stays unbelievably cool and fresh when hung outside the vehicle. Martin, Denmark
Many backpackers buy cars in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States since cars and gas are relatively cheap, and distances long. Australia and New Zealand have companies which specialize in selling cars to backpackers, and offer a guaranteed "buyback" price. This is of course lower than what was paid, but is a reasonable value.
I attended several auto auctions in New Zealand intending to buy a fine-old English motorcar and drive it for a few months while fixing it up, then sell for a profit. I still believe this would have been possible, but the right Morris Minor or Austin Mini never presented itself. It was no great loss, though, as the hitchhiking was great--I even got a lift from a former prime minister!
Although most travel backpackers are unlikely to even see a killer snake outside the zoo or market, there are things out there that can hurt you. Every year several thousand Americans die abroad. While natural causes are usually responsible--be aware reckless drivers, motorcycles and mopeds, shoddy airplane maintenance, food poisoning, malaria, evil, stupidity, and, occasionally, killer snakes contribute to the toll.
Snakes kill about thirty thousand people each year, but mainly barefoot farmers in Africa and Asia who work in fields every day. So while the risk of snakebite to travelers is small, it is a most interesting risk.
- King Cobra
- Has a widespread range across Asia, including, but not limited to, India, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, southern China, and the Philippines, but isn't common anywhere. Cobras can erect themselves up to thirty percent of their length, so the king cobra in strike position may look you straight in the eye since it grows up to eighteen feet (5.5 m.) long!
- Myths abound about the king, including that it mates for life, that it is the most intelligent of snakes, and that it loves opera--especially Puccini. One king cobra bite can kill thirty men, or one elephant. Mostly, though, it eats other snakes.
- Spitting Cobra
- Found in Mozambique and South Africa, the spitting cobra reaches a length of only six feet (1.82 m.) Its venom, however, has a range up to double that, so wear goggles while cobra hunting since it aims with blinding accuracy. Other cobras are the common Indian cobra (used by many snake charmers), the Egyptian cobra, and the Thai cobra.
- Black Mamba
- Is the most feared snake in Africa. It reaches up to thirteen feet (4 m.) in length, and is one of the fastest snakes, with slithering speed from seven to 500 mph, depending on the observer. It is also highly aggressive, even to the point of charging victims if you don't give enough space. Indeed the black mamba is said to be so fast and aggressive that it can chase down a man on a galloping horse. This is of course an exaggeration--a good rider on a motivated mount can almost always get away.
- Green Mamba
- Is arboreal. Sometimes two, three, four or more green mambas occupy the same tree. Unlike the black mamba, the green mamba prefers to to slither to the top of the tree, rather than hurling itself twenty-five feet through the air to deliver a death bite to your face.
- Puff Adder
- Is found in Africa and the Middle East. Although usually not more than three feet (90 cm.) in length, the puff adder has a huge body, with a girth of up to ten inches (25 cm.) Although slow-moving and docile-appearing, its coloring is such that on trails it's easy to step on, which really pisses it off.
- Saw-Scaled Viper
- Is probably the world's deadliest snake in terms of numbers of people killed, which is in the thousands, annually. Widespread from West Africa across Asia to India and Sri Lanka, this vicious viper is about two feet (60 cm.) long and fairly common--especially in fields--where agricultural workers are the usual victims. When aroused this snake rubs its tail across its body in a kind of raspy violin funeral solo.
- Tiger Snake
- Is found in southeast Australia mainly in the bush, rarely in Melbourne. It reaches about four feet (1.2 m.) in length and possesses--drop for drop--the snake-world's deadliest poison. Australia is the one place in the world where the majority of snakes are poisonous.
- Found in the jungles of northeast Australia and Papua New Guinea, few bite victims survive more than a few minutes from this ten-footer (3 m.), since it injects a large amount of very deadly neurotoxic poison. (Hence if you can remain calm it's an easy death.)
- Barba Amarillo or Yellow-bellied Tommygoff
- Is the most feared snake of Central and South America, and I must agree it has a terrifying look. Commonly misnamed fer de lance (another deadly snake which exists only on a few Caribbean islands), death from this creature is remarkably painful due to its hemotoxic venom. After a bite you may begin bleeding from eyes, gums, tongue, ears, and even skin as blood vessels explode. The tommygoff reaches up to seven feet (2.1 m.) in length, and is often found on banana and coffee plantations, in pairs.
- The largest poisonous snake of Central and South America--up to ten feet (3 m.)--the bushmaster is found in only the most remote areas. Its venom is both hemotoxic and neurotoxic so it gets you all ways.
- European Adder
- Found in every European country except Ireland, this two-foot (60 cm.) serpent is very rarely seen, and rarely bites.
- Americans have no reason to feel inferior about the quality of our poisonous snakes. These common and widespread serpents (found in forty-six states) have huge folding fangs which inject venom most efficiently. And the eastern and western diamondbacks--at up to twenty pounds and seven feet (9 kgs., 2.1 m.)--are the world's heaviest killer snakes.
Again, snakes should be one of the least of your worries. I met a herpetologist in Belize who had been looking for the barba amarillo for several weeks without success. (I saw one, and a rare coral, but then I was looking too.) Nevertheless, here are precautions to file away in your massive, active, and creative brain.
1. Most bites occur on the hands and below the knee. Never put your hands or feet anywhere you cannot see. Step on top of a log or rock, then go over.
2. Use a flashlight when walking trails at night. Most snakes are most active at night, but are easily spotted with a flashlight. Snakes are also very active after heavy rains or flooding.
3. Venomous snake bites are indicated by one or two fang marks. Locals may want to take you to a snake doctor, but you must get to a medical professional. Snake doctors gain their reputation because locals may think every snake is poisonous, when most bites are actually from non-poisonous species. You need antivenin and scientific care.
4. Stay calm--heart attacks after non-venomous bites are not uncommon. Since venom is biologically expensive to produce, there is a good chance a venomous snake may not have injected you with a full amount of--or any--venom.
5. Tourniquets often lead to needlessly amputated limbs. Most professionals advise against them.
6. Infection is also a possibility, so clean wounds thoroughly and see a doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics to eliminate internal pathogens.
|Photo: Near Lublin, Poland|
Penalties for drug use are brutal if not inhuman in many countries, and in some there is no hope of a fair or speedy trial. Recently a young Texas woman was arrested in Mexico for taking too many Valiums across the border, which she had legally purchased in a Mexican pharmacy. After a year in prison she died the day after she was released, apparently from asthma.
Two Houston teen-age girls were apprehended in Bangladesh for smuggling several kilos of heroin. Although they knew their actions were illegal if not destructive, they were conned into believing they would make an easy $10,000 courier fee. The standard death penalty was commuted to life in prison due to their young age. (They were pardoned three years later after extensive diplomacy by a caring Congressman, but who's that lucky?)
Some brief decades ago two Australian lives were extinguished in Malaysia over a small quantity of heroin. Today being caught smuggling drugs from Thailand results in a reduced lifespan, either by execution or a harsh penal system that requires substantial money each month to keep you alive.
While Saudi Arabia beheads a dozen poor souls for drug offenses every year, California has sentenced poorly-educated minority citizens with drug problems to twenty-five years without possibility of parole for having in their possession a quantity of illegal drugs the size of a pea.
But draconian drug laws don't only apply to the underclass. In Oregon a bright honor student is sitting out college and medical school for sending his best buddy a sheet of LSD through the mail.
Nevertheless, there are a number of places around the world where drugs are used more or less openly, and I know that some travelers do and will partake--so it is to these potentially foolish few and young people I'm speaking now.
Often this drug use is not legal, but merely tolerated or ignored by the authorities. In some of these same places, however, catching a traveler with even a small amount of soft drugs is a feather in someone's cap, and a financial windfall. It is well-documented that police in some countries employ drug dealers to sell to travelers, so they can then bust the traveler and extort money from him and his family. And they will get it, or he will do hard time, because home country laws do not apply, and the home government will have little or no influence. Midnight Express is no joke.
If you must smoke marijuana while traveling understand--clearly understand--that a stoned fellow traveler doesn't necessarily know the score. He could be much more stupid than either you or he realize. And anyone approaching you on the street and anxious to sell drugs may be in league with the authorities for any number of reasons.
On the other hand (straight talk isn't necessarily simple talk), it isn't unusual for good citizens of the world (businessmen, doctors, dairy farmers, former travelers) to bring you home to meet the spouse, and while they're throwing something on the barbie, to offer a beer and a fresh clipping from a nine-foot plant in the backyard.
And you won't hear it from this traveler that passing a peace pipe around the campground with a German, a Dane, and an Arab is some terrible crime. At its best this can be a ritual of communication like sharing tequila with colorfully-dressed fellows in the Chihuahuan high country, or English tea service at a bed a breakfast.
But also understand the local stuff may be ten or one hundred times more powerful than what you tried a few times back home, with alarming physical and psychological effects for anyone with normal tolerance. My exit from my first Amsterdam coffee shop could only be described as wildly paranoid if not psychotic, and certainly not the result of too much caffeine.2
If you must eat magic mushrooms while traveling the same applies, but be aware the effects are not easily predictable. Only use them in a pleasant, private setting with a friend after you've read a book or two on the subject. (Mental health requires care, too.) Be appropriately wary of traffic, don't climb trees, and don't swim over the horizon. In Bali an Italian backpacker is said to have taken his last dip after breakfasting on a mushroom special.
Of course most backpackers never use any drugs and have the greatest times on the natural highs of travel and adventure. They understand that even soft drugs can be distracting from the books they need to read, the concepts they need to learn, and the people they need to connect with.3
But almost no travel backpackers use hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin, or speed. These drugs begin taking away your ability to live life the moment you use them. Do not try them even one time. The older generations are absolutely right about some things.
Don't be so foolish as to travel with a stash, and never cross a border with one. Customs officers are trained to detect subtle signs of nervousness. When asking for your passport they will let it hang in the air before taking it. If you're even slightly nervous that passport will be flapping an obvious breeze. Then there will be a discussion while they watch your chest heave and your face flush, and probably hear your heart pound as a detour to hell begins.
||.||.||....... . .||..||..||.||
1. The truth is for one in nine it does the consuming. Also, the human robot is such and certain Madison Avenue evil (is as does) so great that the real products of lung, breast, stomach, colon, lymph, liver, throat, tongue, and brain cancers, as well as heart disease, emphysema, diabetes, and other horrors (the least of which is stink), can be effectively sold to much of the world's population by associating tobacco with cool. back
2. In hindsight one or two light puffs, as well as decaf, would have been a smarter bet. back
3. Advises one beautiful young woman who became HIV positive from escalating drug use, "Just don't do them. They only steal from you even though you think otherwise." back
* Final public service message for young people: Still unsure if cocaine destroys brain? You might ask the Ivy Leaguer who smoked up a linoleum floor for possible fallen traces, but he's not talking.