26 July 2017
Greetings from Las Vegas
My last missive came from Istanbul where I discovered the accumulated American Airlines frequent flyer miles in my account would allow for a business class ticket upgrade. The shorter segment up to London Heathrow airport featured big comfortable seats and the London to Las Angeles portion pampered me with fully reclining sleeping pods! ... a very welcome way to travel on such a long, ten hour flight.
As usual, my mind and body have been demanding weeks to readjust to life in the Las Vegas hermitage. Since returning from the last adventure I have spent a lot of time enjoying armchair travels. Rereading my own tales of hubris and wonder over the past forty years, I find the author even more amazing than in real life! All the travelogue materials shared by others now available on Netflix and YouTube augment my own adventures, making it possible to visit just about anywhere in the world vicariously.
An often expressed sentiment by readers of my stuff is concern for my safety as I jump into places perceived as "dangerous" by well wishers. So, it is with pleasure I can now share a few recent finds that offer second hand international travel experiences on the wild side.
Two scary Netflix multi-episode travelogues I found are: Scam City and Bad Trips Abroad. Every story shows what can happen to an unlucky/oblivious traveler in worst case scenarios. While I have had a couple bad experiences, my cautious approach to international adventure travel significantly reduces the possibility of becoming involved in any of the really dangerous experiences shown in those programs. Both series examine the underbelly of the cities selected. They are quite enjoyable travelogues actually. Of course, bad things... even REALLY BAD things can happen to any traveler, even really careful travelers like me. But, avoiding the seedy side of night life and being wary of "too helpful" strangers, goes a long way toward ensuring victims will always be someone else less cautious.
One of my principle safety rules is to make sure that any, but the briefest of social interactions, is one I have initiated, making it difficult for the bad guys to tag me as a "mark." .. and the minute any interaction looks like it could devolve into some sort of "too good to be true" scam I excuse myself and beat a hasty retreat. When younger, I traveled the world with less caution... more like long time friends Scott Wilson and Justin Lukach (with a third friend, Andre Dupuis behind the camera) in the delightful, highly recommended Netflix travelogue series, Departures.
The forty-two episodes of Departures starts with the two guys taking a year off from their jobs and families to "see the world." Though now nearly thirty years old, pranks and laughter reflect their immature, happy-go-lucky outlook on life as they start their adventure. We see their personalities slowly evolve as they quickly mature and absorb the profound lessons learned in each new exotic travel experience. Naturally, I found most of their destinations familiar reminders of my own travels, but always with unique details that added to what I had experienced.
I gave the earliest episodes only three stars, but slowly increased my rating up to the highest five star level as the series progressed. I now highly recommend the 42 programs both before and after anyone travels to any of the Departures destinations... including armchair travelers! As viewers are invited to tag along with two young backpackers as they explore the world, we should not expect National Geographic comprehensive coverage of the destinations, but rather a glimpse through the eyes of two young lifelong friends drinking and laughing their way around the world, sometimes hilariously. The locales naturally are authentic and the boys delight in physically challenging themselves at every opportunity! It eventually becomes obvious there is a substantial crew pulling strings behind the scenes... and bankrolling the production, something never explicitly revealed. The photography, editing and sound track are magnificent.
While never attempting to scale a vertical rock cliff face like the boys in Departures, I have discovered in my own travels that choosing the "easy way" is often not the best way. This is particularly true with transportation. My brother owned a taxi company and has told me of tricks cab drivers commonly use to make a living, encouraging reluctance to unconditionally trust taxi drivers anywhere. On the plus side, avoiding taxicabs pretty well insures I get a lot of exercise walking.
As I prepared to board my flight home I could not help but notice the Ataturk Airport is not well managed. Departure boards had wrong information and British Airways people provided erroneous information. A Jordanian "family" of 5 or 6, all with huge bags of commercial goods joined someone they knew just ahead of me in the security check-in line. The Ataturk Airport was mobbed with mostly Middle Eastern passengers all carrying lots of baggage; I assume they came to Istanbul for the cheap shopping.
Fred L Bellomy
PS: As I work to finish this
final postcard from the last
trip, I am preparing for the
next adventure, starting
with a flight to Bangkok in
a few days. More once I get