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Encouragiong message to first time travellers

Encouragiong message to first time travellers
July 17, 2001 12:16AM
Anonymous User
The following is neither for those who don’t want their admiration for cowboys drinking beer in the middle of an African Civil War or crossing the Borders between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan like others take the Underground (Subway) between the suburbs of a European capital destroyed nor for the very same cowboys, but for visitors of this sight who want to see some parts of the world outside their own country (which is very healthy indeed), however worrying about it after all they’ve read by globetrotters who just made it home alive:

The World isn’t as bad as some tough guys want it to be.

I’ve been surface travelling (i.e. not flying) to and through seventy-eight countries for the last thirty years, the ten first in Europe only, during the next ten to North America too, during the last ten to Asia and South America as well and this year to Africa. With few exceptions I’ve always travelled alone. I’ve used public transport, except between Ha Noi and Vientiane.

Only four times have I been the target of criminal offence; in Lisbon, on Sicily, in Copenhagen and in Istanbul, and that was pick-pockets or similar.

I never been seriously fooled to pay ridiculous overprices (except for the official overprices that applies to foreigners in Tanzania) or given false money or the wrong amount back, except for minor occasions like at a souvenir stand at The Great Wall in China, a postcard salesman in Ha Noi or some extra on a restaurant bill in Warsaw - we don’t talk about larger amounts than a few dollars here - not even at the Black Market Exchange in former Czechoslovakia was I ever fooled.

I’ve only paid bribes to officials or anybody else three times; when I passed the Borders to and from Viet Nam overland and into Mozambique (but have shaken hands with officials in Albania, Mongolia and Kazakstan - by the way, the friendliest immigration/customs officers are the Canadians, the worst the Belorussians). The only time I have been halted by the police was when I crossed the Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg on “Don’t Walk” in 1992. The policemen was very correct, fined me 10.- Rbl (which then was about 8 US cents) and gave me a receipt.

I’ve never, ever experienced violence against my person on my journeys - only once in my own home town, which at the time was the second biggest Norwegian town Bergen.

I don’t claim that I haven’t been at risk several times; I’ve done foolish things like walking alone through downtown San Francisco and New Orleans respectively in the middle of the night, I’ve been on a train from Vilnius in Lithuania to Berlin where the conductors were so used to robbery through Poland, they nailed the doors of the sleeping cars. I’ve been on freight ships in heavy pirate areas like the Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Indonesia, outside Ecuador, outside Brazil, outside Somalia and in Aden Bay. I went by a wooden “dhow” from Zanzibar to Mombasa in heavy winter storm. Three months after I had had a nice stay in Buenos Aires a friend of mine lost all his luggage at the bus station in the same city. I have experienced that my sleeping car compartment door was opened by strangers in Spain, Mongolia and Tanzania, but never for example in neither Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Russia nor Kazakstan, where "everybody" warns against thefts on night trains.

When it comes to post-Soviet Russia I was there every year in the nineties with the exceptions of 1997 and 1999 and nothing unpleasant happened. I had champagne breakfast with the Mafia boss of Vladivostok; Igor and his drunken bodyguard Vassiliy on the m.v. "Antonina Nezhdanova" from Vladivostok to Niigata, and got an offer I am glad I didn’t get on my way TO Vladivostok, as it had been just as tricky to reject as to accept, but Russians in general are just as honest as most Europeans - Crime in Russia is organised and tourism is too small a business to be of interest to the Mafia.

Look statistically on it; danger is everywhere but the risk is small that you are the target, at home as well as abroad, if you don’t act too foolishly (I’ve done that too, like drinking too much vodka and champagne in Russia, eating raw meat in Thailand or the “dhow” trip from Zanzibar to Mombasa, but even survived that without damages).

Do not wear a stomach money belt, put your money on different places on your body, be aware of what is going on around you all the time, look as if you know exactly where you are going and are in a bit of a hurry even if you are totally lost. (I carried from US$ 6 600.- in cash on my body from Pretoria northwards through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya without loosing a cent of it.) Don’t bother to ask Chinese for the way by pointing on a map, they can neither draw nor read maps. It isn’t much better in Africa in that respect. And do not imagine a minute that you can pretend to not being a tourist - everybody knows you are. And most of them want your money in a fairly honest and decent way, very few want to steal it from you and surprisingly many want to offer you their friendship, food and drinks (on the four day train "Kazakstan" from Moscow to Almaty I visited the dining car only once, the other meals were offered me by my different compartment mates).

Do learn to count and to say "thank you" in as many languages as possible. Personally I speak absolutely no language well, including not even having a Mother Tongue any more, but I can count in eleven languages, including Russian and Chinese (Mandarin and some Cantonese). In China it can be good to know the sentence "Wo bu hui shuo Zhong Wen" (= I don’t speak Chinese); if you just answer in your own language they still expect you to understand and to answer.

Sometimes you just have to take the chance to trust people. I prepaid my transport from the Vietnamese Border to Vientiane to the Lao National Tourist Bureau. They could just have kept the money and not shown up, and I would still have been in the border mountains between Viet Nam and Laos - they showed up.

But of course, if you want to travel dangerously you can always count your money in the street, speak loudly about who you are and where you are going, preferably in English, which half of the World’s population understands, and make not so favourable comments on the local conditions - or you can of course have a beer in the middle of an African Civil War.

Actually, what is most dangerous in most countries is traffic. I was nearly run over by a tram (streetcar) in Tallinn, then in the Estonian Soviet Republic (my own fault) and I sat in a taxi once which was forced in to the pavement (sidewalk) by other cars in Chengdu, China, and have several times been passenger of taxis and buses, where I would have prayed, had I been religious. Still, the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced was in South Africa. As a pedestrian you can have eye contact with the driver and you can see that she or he intends to drive you down if you don’t run now!

All in all: The World is a wonderful place to visit and travel around in.
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