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Tag Archives: Safety

Travelling – the good and the bad

Its true that you can never really predict things in your normal day-to-day life, but this is even more the case when you’re travelling. We had officially celebrated 9 months of relative hassle free travelling, we had never had problems finding somewhere to stay, never really struggled with the transport systems and almost always found something to eat, so all-in-all it had been a stress free time.

However, on our last day in Buenos Aires, that all changed.

We had learned that travelling overnight on a Saturday was not always a great idea as most countries would observe the Sunday closure traditions. As such, we had taken to travelling overnight on Sundays and enjoyed the relatively quieter departures from bus stations.

As we were heading to Mendoza next, a 14 hour bus journey, we left Buenos Aires on Sunday afternoon. Heading off to Retiro, the bus terminal, we thought nothing of the journey. The only thing that got my senses tingling were the types of people hanging around outside the terminal. I don’t like to judge people by their appearances, but the crowds just seemed a little rougher looking than the ones we had encountered when we arrived.

Unfortunately, my senses were right, with only a few more metres to go from the entrance I heard a hissing noise, like a bottle being squeezed. Seconds later I smelt a terrible odour and when I touched my unfortunately long hair, it was covered in green slime. Within seconds a lady approached claiming it must have been a bird dropping and offered me a tissue, however I instantly noticed my partner seemed to have the same green slime all over his trousers too. We stopped for a minute and tried to get the stuff off, only to realize it would be a lost case without a bathroom to hand.

The lady then started to say that the stuff was on the backpacks and we should clean them. I had already realised what the game was here but had not been sure if she was in on it too or not. Instantly I turned around and headed straight to the bus station with my partner in tow, thinking “its bad enough I just got selected to be robbed, but I am not giving you my things that easily!”

For anyone not aware of the scam, it goes like this:

Step 1, cover victim with something such as spilled drink or in our case bad-smelling slime.
Step 2, offer help and try to get backpacks, bags etc away from victim.
Step 3, steal said bags from now double victim!

At the terminal we realised just how bad they had gotten us, we had the stuff on our trousers, bags, tops and I had it in my hair too. Armed with a change of clothes and shampoo I headed to the bathroom, praying it would wash out. Luckily, it all came out from the clothes and hair and did not leave any stains or smells behind. Needless to say the bathroom attendant was not surprised when I explained what had happened, saying “yeah that’s how they try to steal from tourists”.

Once we were both washed and changed we headed off to catch our bus for Mendoza and tried to leave the bad experience behind us. As is always the case you never know what’s coming next, and luckily following the bad came a bit of good.

The bus was brand new and they served champagne as soon as we moved off, apparently something included in our ticket that we did not know about. And so despite the foiled robbery, we sat on the bus and toasted Buenos Aires goodbye with our complimentary drinks!

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Quito

Ever since we arrived in Colombia we kept hearing bad stories from almost every couple who had visited Quito, from snatching sunglasses off their heads to right out mugging with screwdrivers at the throat. Needless to say we were worried about visiting the capital, so much so that we decided to only stay 2 days.

As most of the stories we heard seemed to be based on incidents happening in the historic centre, we opted to book ourselves into the new town area of Mariscal instead. We left Otavalo in the morning and arrived at the main north terminal 2 hours later at around lunchtime. From here we took a rather expensive taxi for $10 to our hostel, Alcala and checked ourselves in.

The first thing we did was to ask about the safety in the area, if I had been hoping to hear we had chosen well then I was in for a surprise. It turned out that whereas the historic area is notorious for muggings the majority are carried in a “harmless” way, however, we were told that in the new town the crimes tend to be carried out with the use of arms as criminals believe tourists to just be convenient ATMs for them.

We were therefore given the following advise by the hostel;

  • do not take anything of value out with you,
  • if you see people on the curb who look up to no good then cross the road,
  • do not walk around after 6pm if you can, instead take a taxi,
  • and if you can don’t carry too much cash in case they decide to frisk you

To say we were a little concerned is an under statement.

With the above advise firmly in our heads we decided to head straight out to the historic centre as it was early afternoon. We decided not to attract any attention to ourselves and as such did not take a camera with us. We spent a good hour walking towards the old town, taking in the sights on the way, and once we had reached more or less the other end we decided to stop for a coffee in a lovely cafe before taking a taxi back.

The afternoon walk went without any problems for us, we didn’t feel unsafe but we had ensured to seriously dress down and stick to main roads. Despite the stories and advise in our heads we managed to walk around the town and see a good part of Quito.

That evening we decided to try our luck and walk a few blocks to the main eating area of Mariscal. We heeded the advise and crossed roads when we saw guys hanging around and made sure to stick to well-lit areas. We managed to go out have a meal and come back safely and this helped us to relax a bit.

The following day we took a taxi to the cable cars (Teleferico) located on the outskirts of the city. The taxi cost us $5 to get there and the entrance to the cable cars was $8.50 each. What makes the cable cars a must is the height which they reach and the views you get once at the top.

Quito - Teleferico: on the way up

Climbing to a total of 4100m you really get the feeling of being on top of the world and from there you have a clear view of the whole city and the surrounding mountains and volcanoes – a truly worthwhile couple of hours!

Quito - Teleferico: view to the south

Make sure that you go for mid to late morning so that the clouds get a chance to clear, because if you go in the afternoon there’s a good chance the clouds will be back.

Quito - Teleferico: south with Cotopaxi in the distance

If you are feeling particularly active you can opt to hike further up and climb the nearby mountain or you can also trek back down, but we felt lazy and took the cable car back down!

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Caracas and Venezuela advice

Venezuela had been one of the countries that we were most worried about in terms of safety. Despite what we had heard and the various pages of warnings in the guide-book, we decided that we could not miss this country out on our itinerary on the basis of what might happen.

The one thing we did not anticipate, and which ended up costing us a week of our time in Venezuela, was the exchange rate. Currently there are 2: the government rate of 4.3 VEF per US dollar which is found in banks, ATM and official exchange bureaus and the black market rate of 8-8.5 VEF to US dollar.

The guide-book had portrayed the black market as highly illegal and difficult to find willing people to make transactions with; as such we only brought around $120 with us. The truth is that the black market in actual effect is seen as the normal exchange, or so it seems as you can’t go anywhere without people walking past and offering you a great rate for dollars and euros.

This mistake on our part made everything in Venezuela twice the cost, putting Venezuela on par with UK prices and as such our budget was wiped out in just 1 week. If you do travel to Venezuela ensure you have enough dollars/euros to pay for your trip as that way you will find everything to be fairly cheap.

The first thing we did when we landed in Caracas airport was to locate the tourist information booth which is on the departures floor.

We had done some research but were on the whole unprepared for Caracas, largely due to the fact that Central America had been so easy and cheap that we had stopped planning. A stupid mistake to make when arriving here as we had already had our budget sliced in half by the exchange rates.

We had tried to look online for places to stay and couldn’t find any hostal listings for Caracas, plus all the hotels around the airport were on par with London prices. We thought this can’t be right, maybe some places are just not online.

Feeling a little worried but not too concerned we asked at the tourist information about a cheap local hotel as we weren’t sure as to where we would be going next – as in by plane or by bus. To our amazement the “cheapest” hotel for us to stay at, with thankfully a free shuttle service, was going to cost us 500 VEF or in the region of £65 on a room only basis!!

We could not believe it, but it was now nearly 3.00pm and we knew we didn’t want to be out and about in the evening, so we asked about Caracas city centre and were told the journey in would take us over 2 hours and that the prices would not be any cheaper except for one hostel. The catch being that it was apparently not in the best of areas and a trek to get to.

After weighing up the pros and cons we decided to take the nearby hotel, that way at least we would have transport included in the price.

The hotel was like a run-down Holiday Inn, the room smelt of mould and barely had enough space for us to put our backpacks down. There were no nearby shops or small places to eat so we were forced to eat in the restaurant. We nearly had a heart attack when we saw the prices, most of which seemed to be around the £20+ mark per plate! We scoured the menu and found some plain pasta which luckily came with a free basket of bread and water. Needless to say we made sure to finish the lot.

The next day we decided we simply couldn’t afford to stay in or near Caracas and that we should move on. We had wanted to see the Canaima National Park and specifically Angel Falls so we headed back to the airport to enquire about buses as planes are very expensive and the airport taxes added even to internal flights can be steep.

At the airport we were told that there was a bus we could take all the way into Caracas or as far as the Gato Negro metro stop, from where we could take the metro to the bus terminal. The bus leaves from the domestic flight terminal located a short 10 minutes’ walk from the international terminal, heading left when you exit the building.

We took the bus to the metro stop and were surprised to find that the metro was very cheap and clean. If you plan to travel round Caracas take the metro as it will cost you a fraction of the price.

We arrived at the Aeroexpresos bus terminal just before lunchtime and were able to book ourselves on the overnight bus to Ciudad Bolivar, the closest town to Canaima Park, for around £25 per person. The company offers 2 floor coaches with fully reclining seats, however if you sit at the front on the second floor you will not see anything as the front windscreen is blocked off.

Once the tickets were bought we decided to sit down and wait for the bus as there are no locker facilities. The only downside was the bus was at 9.30pm which meant a good 9 hour wait in the terminal…

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Mexico City

Safety had been my number 1 concern with visiting Mexico City, especially after hearing about muggings, pick-pocketers and general unrest to name a few.

Having spent 5 days travelling around the city and staying in what we later discovered to be the supposed run down part of town, I can report that we had absolutely no problems.

At no point during our stay did we feel unsafe. Yes we did draw some attention and stares especially when trying to squeeze into the Metro with all our stuff, but overall people were helpful and polite.

Even the scary looking, heavily armed police, that can be found in most undergrounds and largely populated areas, were more than happy to point us in the right direction with a smile.

We observed that the City was trying to reshape itself, yes it had a bad rep but it genuinely seemed to want to change that image.

The police seemed to be more of a presence than anything else. From the foot patrols, to the armoured cars to even having traffic pulled over for a full check, it all seemed to be for one reason: to increase the people’s security and establish safety and calm, and to us this really came through.

So if you have been thinking about Mexico City don’t let stories and guide books put you off, just pack some common sense and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home and enjoy the sights!

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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