Monday, August 22, 2016

Adventure Travel Commentary

I could be labeled an "adventure traveler" having wandered into various far corners of the globe, many against the advice of the US State Department and the British Foreign Office..  I'm not as bad as one traveler I knew, who headed out to a country immediately after he saw it listed as a no-go.  But I have stuck my neck out, including three trips into Afghanistan within the last eight years.  One trip was with Hinterland Travels, the group that was ambushed by Taliban while enroute to Herat earlier this month. 

I've gotten  a lot of feed back from  special forces types, past and present, about these "thrill seekers" and  how they put Security forces  at risk if, and when, they have to be rescued.  In fact, I was really critical, some years back, when a newsman, in search of a good story, went down into tribal country for an exclusive with a local chief, only to be taken hostage:  He was recovered  but  at the expense of an interpreter and some of the rescuers.  So I weigh the consequences, try to cover  my six (as they say) and make the decision.  I do go with a reputable tour company familiar with the territory.

And I go because of  the history, the politics, the scenery, the people - all pique my curiosity.  I do stay out of active conflict areas, really I do.  But I have ended up in some where there have been   difficulties eg: Ukraine and Libya for two.  And others that have been just way off the beaten track eg Chad and Kosovo for two.  For whatever reason, I've done little south of the border travel, just Mexico, Cuba and Venezuela. 

When I first considered trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, I decided there was a need to prepare myself for ultimately, I would be responsible for my own safety.  So I ended up in a five-day Hostile Environment and First Aid training course  with a British security group.   This group contracted  with press and NGOs going into various problem areas.  It was worth it, for even though I really haven't needed use some of the  information, it did give me a mind set. 

One thing I have concluded:  stay away from Security people.  It only targets you.  In both Iraq (I was there during the "surge" and it was relatively  quiet) and Afghanistan, I only felt threatened when well meaning police insisted on "protecting" us.  Or when we were held up at various checkpoints. 

Traveling on the ground in Afghanistan, our Fearless Leader would hire transportation in the morning for the day's travel, then we  spent the night at a local teahouse (no reservations!) with another vehicle hired for the next day's travel.  Hard to get a handle on us when there was no set pattern. Doesn't work with escorts.

My belief is that the police presence possibly endangered the Hinterland bunch more than it helped, though admittedly I have no first hand knowledge.  All I know, I read in the papers.  Which is why I go in the first place.