Browsing Posts tagged Egypt

Istanbul

The tram to Taksim Square – on a normal day.

As we’ve seen in Turkey this week, a place that’s relatively calm, peaceful, and stable one week can see all hell break loose the next.

So how do you decide if you should change your travel plans or just adjust them to avoid the trouble spots? How do you answer the question, Should I stay or should I go now? The key is to figure out how localized the problem is and how easily it can be avoided.

Is this for real?

Usually you have to ask yourself two questions: “How bad is it really?” and “How widespread is the problem?”

I shouldn’t have to tell you that American TV news is downright horrible. You’ve got four 24-hour news networks (and a few others from abroad) all trying to beat each other out in the ratings by being louder, more sensationalist, and more “of the moment” than the rest. It’s a clown in a business suit: entertainment packaged as news.

By it’s very nature, 24-hour TV news is focused on the story of the day, the more outrageous and powerful the better. What’s going to make you tune in and keep watching? Usually disasters, tragedies, and violence. So if there are protests in the street somewhere, that’s going to be at the top of the hour. If a pretty young woman gets raped in some scary foreign country like India, that’s next. (If she gets raped in the USA, of course, that’s not news unless it’s part of a long-term abduction or something really horrific happens.)

Istanbul travel danger

Taksim Square in Istanbul lately. (Flickr photo by Will Cowan)

Anger in the Streets

We’ve seen a lot of riots in the streets every year I can remember, going back to when I was a little kid and my parents had the one hour of news on. They’ll still be happening long after I’m dead. Things reach a boiling point, angry people organize, and there are clashes between protesters and police. Sometimes it’s a revolution and the government goes down. Other times there’s either a nasty crackdown or some kind of negotiated settlement. Or it just plays itself out and fizzles.

For travelers, if it’s localized in one place, as it mostly was in Bangkok a few years ago and in Egypt after that, then you don’t have much to worry about. Away from the epicenter, life goes on as usual.

Other times the upheaval is part of a nationwide explosion of anger or desire for change, the kinds of protests that bring down the iron curtain or turn a country we formerly got along with into one that paints giant Death to America murals everywhere. That’s if they succeed. If they don’t you get a violent tit-for-tat or just violent oppression. The first gives us Syria, the second may be what we get in Turkey if things continue on the present course. Neither is a good outcome if you’re there.

Current news verdict: Yellow alert. If I were in Turkey now, as I was just a month ago, as a backpacker I’d either get out or head somewhere mellow, far away from the big cities. It could get worse before it gets better. The power-grabbing prime minister is not known for compromise and is saying plans to pave paradise and put up a shopping mall will move forward. That was the spark (well, and strict new alcohol rules) that started the whole powder keg…

A High-profile Crime Against a Tourist

The news media loves nothing better than a pretty young woman who has been a crime victim in a scary foreign land. It makes for good films, good books, and yes, good cable news stories. That narrative taps into so many emotional triggers the producers probably get downright giddy when this comes down the newswires.

Recently a woman was raped by three Indian men in a popular area for backpackers between Vashist and Manali while hitchhiking. Alone. In the wee hours after midnight. That’s not a bright thing to do many places on this planet, but India’s not getting any slack since this is on top of a string of other similar high-profile incidents. Still, if this happened in the USA though, where there are some 200,000 reported incidents a year, nobody would have heard about it. Especially if she were not traveling.

Tourism was reportedly already down by 1/3 among women before this happened, so it’s going to add insult to injury. Any woman who’s been groped for weeks on end in India will probably say, “Good, they deserve it.”

I’d say it’s part of a much larger issue of religious sexual oppression that exists across huge swaths of the world. Are there any quick fixes for that? I doubt it. But they can try.

Current news verdict: It’s your call. India has always been a tough place for any woman to travel. I stayed in a hostel with a woman that had been raped two days before when I was first there, and this was 18 years ago. Things haven’t gotten much better. The risk is real, but millions of women have traveled India alone without more than annoyance and frustration. As a BBC story on this case says (italics mine), “Reported cases of sexual assault are on the rise in India, although foreign tourists are rarely targeted.”

travel plans spoiled

Budapest this week. (Flickr photo by Jonk)

Natural Disasters

Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York City, tornadoes in the midwest USA, and now serious floods in Central Europe. One act of God can ruin your whole trip—especially if the fine print on your travel insurance says they don’t cover “acts of God” (true verbage sometimes) or “natural disasters.”

The floods hitting Europe right now are serious business and they are having an impact on the following popular tourist destinations: Bratislava, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. Plus a bunch of cities in Germany along the Rhine. River cruise boats are docked, with all those passengers up the high creek.

Sometimes the news is overblown: a tornado often only hits a small specific area. It sucks if you’re there, but fine a mile away. Floodwaters are relatively easy to track on a map. Hurricanes are a different story, as are earthquakes and tsunamis nobody saw coming.

Travel verdict: Take your financial lumps and get out. Unless you want to stick around and help. Nobody has time to take care of the tourists, so you’ll need to become a volunteer.

Crime Waves (and War Zones)

There’s seldom any such thing as a crime wave. It’s usually been rising for years, but suddenly people wake up when it makes the news.

Then those viewers have veerrrrryy long memories. It was two decades ago when Mexico City taxicab abductions last happened regularly. More than a decade since Medellin wasn’t safe to walk around at night. Croatia hasn’t been at war since 1995.

In some places though, the violence is a very real threat. The key is knowing where that threat comes from. Guatemala City and Caracas are not places you want to go partying at night if you have a choice. Same for the two main cities in Honduras. Or the border towns/cities in Mexico. But does this mean you shouldn’t go to see the ruins of Tikal, Uxmal, or Copan? Of course not—one has little to do with the other, just as Santa Fe’s homicide rate has nothing to do with the one in New Orleans.

Travel verdict: get the real story. Most crime stories are overblown, but some are not. You only know by doing some real research. You won’t find me spending the night in Tegucigalpa, Ciudad Juarez, or northern Nigeria anytime soon. Go an hour or two away, however, and it’s a different story. Crime is local—where you live and where you’re going.

“Today is free seating!” the perky Garuda ticket agent said as she handed us our blank boarding pass for the flight from Bangkok to Jakarta. It was easy to see why. As the plane taxied down the runway, it looked to be barely 10 percent full in the cabin.

The Thai agent who stamped our passport on the way out said, “Indonesia?! Very bad now.” After a thwap thwap of stamps, he handed back our passports and said, “Good luck.”

This was late May of 1998. The Asian Currency Crisis had devastated exchange rates, leading to civil unrest across the whole region. In Indonesia, the death of four student demonstrators that month had led to massive riots in Jakarta, with the city on fire on the nightly news and an estimated 1,000 people killed, many of them Chinese descent business owners and their families. The Bankok Post newspaper we had on the flight there had headlines like “Suharto Stands Firm as Jakarta Burns” and “Foreign Firms Flee Riots.”

We had checked our e-mail at cafes on Khao San Road before departure, most of the messages being like the one I got from my sister. “What are you thinking?!” she asked. “Everyone is trying to get out of that country. Why are you going IN?

But we had a plan. On May 19, we landed at the airport, slept there that night, and flew out the next morning for far-flung Sulawesi on the 20th. Sulawesi was calm and on the little island of Bunaken where we were going snorkeling, we could live like royalty on a pittance. Our beach bungalow with an amazing view and it’s own bath was $4 a night, which included all three meals.

On May 21, the corrupt ex-general Suharto was forced to resign and there was much rejoicing in the streets. The currency problem stuck around though, which was terrible news for them, the opportunity of a lifetime for us. The $350 we cashed upon arrival lasted for five weeks. We could walk into virtually any restaurant, knowing we could afford it. We hired private cars and drivers to take us from city to city instead of the crowded 3rd-class buses we were used to as backpackers. We rented spacious rooms with nice sheets, daily maid service, and towels. Suddenly we had gone from shoestring travelers who had to watch every dollar to the rich westerners everyone who sold anything always thought we were. I loaded up on wood carvings priced in local currency and only half-heartedly bargained, just to keep the ritual intact. When someone has worked on something for weeks and is selling it for the equivalent of $8, it feels pretty heartless to drive down the price.

London this week, photo via the Telegraph

Danger…or Opportunity?

“If I stay it will be trouble. If I go it will be double.” – Joe Strummer

A lot of would-be travelers take the Clash to heart. The danger of going abroad—to what they don’t know—-often trumps the danger already surrounding them in the place they do know. When a destination shows up on CNN, whether it’s Egypt and Tunisia one month, Mexico or London the next, their gut reaction is to cancel everything—and strike it from their list for the next five years or so.

When there are problems, of course, that’s when the best deals come into play. When my family traveled around Mexico in the summer of 2009, after Swine Flu and a round of Ciudad Juarez violence hit the news, we could get a bargain rate on hotels everywhere. Every bar had a long happy hour. Restaurants were running specials every night.

Eventually word gets out and most people start doing their homework. Tourism to Mexico is now back to where it was in the boom times, despite the drumbeat of negative news on TV. Still though, when I tell people I just lived in the country for a year, I can often tell by the look on their face that this does not compute. “Isn’t it…dangerous?”

The Danger You Know

I live in the United States of America, a country with 2.4 million people in prison and way too many guns in the hands of nutjobs. Are other places really more dangerous than here? Not if you have the bad luck to go roller skating in Texas, mall shopping in Tuscon, or get involved in a family feud in Ohio. Or you know an ex-con in Michigan. Want to see acts of random violence? Watch your local news each night.

Is Norway safe? It used to be. Is England safer than Egypt? I’d rather take my chances in Cairo than London this week. But a month from now, London will be on sale and the dangers will be gone.

The answer to all this is knowledge. You no longer have to depend on the news a few big corporations are feeding you. You can go find good international news from the usual subjects like The Economist or the BBC, but more importantly, you can go to the source. You can read local papers (most cities have at least one in English online). You can go onto message boards. You can get int touch with friends of friends via social media. Let’s face it, sometimes if you stay it won’t be trouble, but if you go it will be double. Here are some safe travel resource links.

The point is, a little local knowledge and a grasp of geography will tell you whether a place is truly dangerous or whether just part of it is, whether you should steer clear until things cool off, or whether you should just tweak your itinerary.

Usually the answer will end up being…GO!

It’s time for the July issue of Perceptive Travel, filled as usual with the best travel stories from book authors on the move.

This time you’ve got interesting travel tales from North America, plus two countries that are hard to pin down: Egypt and Turkey. Are they in the Middle East? Is Turkey in Asia or Europe—or both? Is Egypt an African country?

Well, it’s the story that matters, and in this case our woman on the scene is witness to a revolution: the toppling of a long-standing government with very little bloodshed: Notes from a Revolution in Egypt.

Turkey has been a democracy for a long time, so while we may quibble about the policies of the party in power, no revolution necessary. Instead Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer ponders what it means to be a Jewish woman returning to her ancestral home in Turkey, in an ancient land that was thriving long before the Muslims arrived: Out of Smyrna.

This next story is mine, so I’ll skip the hyperbole. The main focus of the article deserves the hype though: Las Pozas in Xilitla. The strange name itself should be enough to make you raise an eyebrow, but believe me when I say this trip is unlike any other: The Dreams of Man in Stone and Concrete.

That’s not all of course. You can check out reviews of interesting new travel books, including the latest from Colin Thubron. Our latest world music reviews run the gamut from Algerian desert blues to Balkan brass to Palestinian funk.

See the full July 2011 issue of Perceptive Travel and if you’re on the newsletter list (sign up here) or following on Facebook, you can score some great summer footwear from Sanuk. See the details at PerceptiveTravel.com.

I’ve worked hard this week. Too hard really. I should have had more fun. So I’m ready to let some other people do the talking.

Besides, the closing for my former house in Nashville was this week, so for the first time in my life I have six figures of liquid cash sitting in a bank account. There’s a bucket of Negra Modelas somewhere calling my name. I’m living in Mexico for Cristo’s sake!

Links to stuff worth reading:

Even if you’re a budget vagabond, it pays to have travel industry fluency.

And sometimes the package deal is far cheaper than doing it yourself. Check out this $999 trip to Peru that includes airfare from Miami, round-trip flight from Lima to Cusco, six nights of hotels, and admission to Machu Picchu. No math skills necessarily to see that’s a steal.

From Consumer Traveler, the best and worst airports to fly through around Thanksgiving.

Here’s a great story on a strange scam in Cairo, Egypt.

I don’t know many people who fly as much as JohnnyJet, so I got some good ideas from his list of 16 travel products he always takes along. Here’s a woman’s perspective on how to pack better from Wanderlust and Lipstick. (Hint—leave behind most of those shoes.)

I’m not sure I want to see GoNomad’s Max Hartshorne naked (and probably vice-versa), but I still wanted to read his article on attending a Vermont nudist resort.

Ready to do some soul-searching about your future? Here’s the best post ever on making actual money from doing something related to what you love.

If you’re already thinking about happy hour like I am, here’s an encore link: a complete rundown on the best and worst Mexican beer.

[Photo note: the attentive beer lovers out there may have noticed that’s a Sol cup in my hand above and yes, I realize that is a pretty lousy beer. But it’s made into a michelada, so it doesn’t matter…]

It’s time for the November issue of Perceptive Travel, with more great tales from wandering book authors.

Amy Rosen gorges on carbs in Paris in Can a Croissant Change Your Life?

Luke Armstrong has to dress up finally while living in Antigua, Guatemala. So naturally he visits a pharmacy to get a suit made: Third World Tailors Make Men.

Jim Johnston goes on a whirlwind night tour of Cairo, not exactly by choice: That First Night in Cairo

Gillian Kendall reviews three travel books and I run down some world music worth buying—and not.

Enjoy!

(P.S. – If you spend all day on Facebook, you can follow the publication and blog here: Perceptive Travel on Facebook)