Man flies to London hidden beneath airplane

A 20-year-old Romanian man is lucky to be alive after he was discovered hidden inside the rear wheel compartment of a jet arriving this week in London. The stowaway, who was apparently looking for work, braved low oxygen and outside air temperatures during the flight as low as 40 below zero. Upon his discovery at London’s Heathrow Airport, he was covered in bruises and showing signs of hypothermia, but thankfully still alive.

How exactly did a man manage to sneak inside a plane? And how did he make it through the experience? It turns out through a remarkable mix of luck, daring and stupidity. The man apparently climbed under a fence at Vienna’s Schwechat airport, hiding himself beneath a private jet that had been parked there since last week. He also lucked out with the flight plan – the plane had to fly at a lower-than-normal altitude to avoid bad weather, allowing the man to survive what would normally be a fatal combination of cold and lack of air.

UK authorities were surprised by the man’s unexpected arrival, though they declined to press charges. As Romania is part of the European Union, the “passenger” was technically allowed to visit on holiday. He was cautioned and freed with no further action. Frankly, this traveler is lucky to have survived the ordeal, let alone gotten off without legal action.

Next time you’re ready to complain about that horrible experience on your last flight, you might want to think again. Somebody out there has definitely had it much worse.

(Image: Flickr/Lili Vieira de Carvalho’s)

Newsweek warns of dangerous bunnies and other “baddest breeds”

European RabbitRemember our list of the Top Ten Most Badass Animals Native to the USA? Well, Newsweek has taken it a step further and produced a photo gallery of the baddest animal breeds in the world.

Number 8 on the list: bunny rabbits. Seriously. The cutie pie you see at right is a European rabbit, whose modus operandi is reportedly to “reproduce in the manner they’ve become famous for and overrun whatever habitat they enter. Native to Spain and Portugal, this hopping plague has trampled much of the world, including Washington state’s San Juan Island and Hawaii. In Australia rabbits are partly blamed for killing off more than 10 percent of the mammal species. They rip up farms, ruin soil, and support lots of other troublesome species, including feral cats and foxes.”

Other animals on Newsweek’s list include wild boars and snakeheads in the US, the Indian mongoose, South American killer bees, Russian zebra mussels, Chinese crabs and more. Page through to find out which critters to watch out for on your next trip.

Who knew bunnies were so fierce?

Answer: Monty Python.

Six tips for travel to Mogadishu

Obviously, I mean five tips for travel to Mogadishu if you ignore the most important one: Don’t go!

This is perhaps the most dangerous city on the planet. Its citizens, if you can call them that absent any meaningful form of government, often opt for piracy given a dearth of viable alternatives to poverty or an early, unnatural death. Visitors are encouraged to stay away, as renting a militia to protect you is unlikely to top the odds in your favor to any compelling degree. From the minute you arrive at the airport, you are an attractive kidnap target; you are effectively the food on someone’s table.

So, just why the hell would you travel to Mogadishu? This is the truest form of adventure travel. Forget about the hiking and climbing and wilderness trips that the so-called adventure guys rave about. That’s all bullshit. They are designed for you to come home alive. Mogadishu, on the other hand? There are no safeguards, and you won’t be asked to sign a release. Welcome to a world that’s more than arm’s reach from the calming presence of law.

Still intent on going to Somalia? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.



1. Safety ends when the wheels drop
Jubba Airways is the only commercial airline that services Mogadishu, and it claims an impeccable safety record. Once you get on the ground, however, the rules change — immediately. I kicked around taking a trip to Mogadishu last spring and spoke to the general manager of Jubba about arranging a same-day arrival and departure. He wouldn’t take my money … telling me the closest he’d bring me to Mogadishu was Hargeisa, Somaliland.

2. Get some security
Asking your Kung Fu-master buddy to hang with you on this trip is not enough. You need firepower, lots of it. Fortunately, there are militias that can be hired en route from the airport to the city. They are said to be generally unreliable, but at least you’ll have something. Go into Mogadishu without protection, and you are fucked. There’s no other way to put it.

3. Pick up some of your own heat
Since you won’t be able to tote weapons to Somalia all that easily, you’ll probably have to buy something when you get there. The Bakara Market can handle all your small arms needs. Pick up an AK-47 and enough ammo to last you a few days of intense fighting. Rocket-propelled grenades are probably overkill, since you’ll be defending yourself from ground forces, not helicopters. And, don’t forget to haggle — they love that.

4. Avoid the crowds
It will be easiest to move after a call to prayer, but you still won’t be safe. Nonetheless, this is one of those rare cases in Mogadishu when things will get (slightly) easier for you. Don’t be a dumbass: use it. In general, you’ll want to steer clear of crowded spots, jut because crowds mean more people who could kidnap you, and you probably don’t want that.

5. Bring cash
Your plastic promise “everywhere you want to be,” but it’s working on the assumption that nobody would want to be in Mogadishu under any circumstances … even with a battalion of Rangers behind you. The good news is that greenbacks still mean something in Mogadishu. So, you’ll have some negotiating power. Just don’t go flashing your wad around, or your trip will last a lot longer than you planned.

6. Check out the sights
There’s more to Mogadishu than the Bakara Market. You could always go to the beach. But, you’ll probably have more fun viewing the Arba-Runcun Mosque or the Mogadishu Cathedral (which was built by the Italians, according to Jubba’s website). Both are close to the waterfront and the old city.

Snowy roads in the Netherlands may be smelling sweet this winter

There seems to be a major salt shortage in the Netherlands this winter. According to Radio Netherlands Worldwide, the country normally uses about 70,000 tons of salt to de-ice the roads each winter. So far this year, over 100,000 tons have already been spread on icy roads around the country. If the temps don’t warm up fast, the Netherlands could run out of road salt.

To combat the shortage, some cities are using sand, which doesn’t work as well and is not good for the roads. But at least one town has gotten a little more creative. The town of Etten-Leur has spread 18 tons of scented bath salts on its roads in an effort to keep them ice-free.

So, if you find yourself driving in the Netherlands, you may notice the roads smelling a little sweeter than normal. According to the news report, the “coloured bath salts smell of lavender, green tea and mango.”%Gallery-79319%

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In the Heart of Central America: Why now is the time to go to Honduras

After a week in Honduras, ziplining through the canopy, drinking $1.50 beers on a deserted white sand beach, slaughtering my Spanish pronunciation as I bought a grilled pork skewer from a street vendor, horseback riding through coffee fields, and eating a few too many corn tortillas, I couldn’t help feeling like I could just as easily be in Belize, Guatemala, or Costa Rica…..but with fewer crowds and lower prices. Suddenly, the country’s new slogan “The Central America you know, the country you’ll love” made perfect sense.

Just last year Honduras was on the fast track to becoming the next Costa Rica, the next hot destination for eco-tourism in Central America. While it was still mostly undiscovered by mass tourism (in a poll done by the Institute of Tourism, only 4% of Americans said they consider Central America for a vacation and only 1% said they even knew of Honduras), adventurous travelers, backpackers, dive-enthusiasts and lovers of Central America were coming in numbers close to half a million people per year.

From 2006 to 2007 arrivals from North America increased by 25%. The next year they grew by 19%. The tourism industry became the largest employer in the nation and brought in $630 million of revenue in 2008.

Then President Zelaya was ousted. There were protests in the capital and curfews were instated. When Zelaya tried to return, the Tegucigalpa airport was closed for a few days. Eventually the situation calmed and life returned to normal. Normal, except that the tourists who supported a large section of the country’s economy were gone. Some hotels saw nearly their entire year’s worth of bookings cancel within a week of June 28th. 35 Habitat for Humanity groups scheduled to come to Honduras decided to go elsewhere. Tour companies looking forward to a full schedule began to wonder how many employees they’d have to let go.

While all of this is bad news for Honduras, it’s one reason why now is the perfect time to visit. With fewer crowds the country truly feels undiscovered, and with all the discounts being offered to lure in tourists, the already low cost of visiting is even lower. Flights from Chicago on Spirit Airlines are just $250 through April. Taca, Delta, American and Continental also operate regular flights to the country and the trip from Miami or Fort Lauderdale to San Pedro Sula is just over two hours.

Where to go and what to see
I’ll be covering a few of these destinations more in depth in coming posts, but the three main areas that most tourists will explore (as Grant mentioned in a previous post about his own trip to the country) are the Northern Coast around La Ceiba, the Bay Islands including Roatan, and Copan Ruinas, near the border with Guatemala.

The most popular spot for tourists on the Northern Coast is La Ceiba, home to dozens of luxurious eco-lodges. For a little more action you’ll want to stay in the city though. There’s a saying in Honduras that “Tegucigalpa thinks, San Pedro works, La Ceiba parties” so if you’re looking for some nightlife, this is the place to be. If you want to get further off the beaten path or explore the culture of the Garifuna people (descendants of black slaves who shipwrecked in the area), head up the coast to Tela or take a short boat ride to the archipelago of Cayos Cochinos

From La Ceiba, the Bay Islands are just a 20 minute flight or a cheap ferry ride away. On the islands of Guanaja, Utila, and Roatan, you’ll hardly feel like you’re in Central America at all. With miles of sandy white beaches, crystal clear water, and some of the cheapest scuba diving around, these islands rival any in the Caribbean, but at a much lower price. While the large Infinity Bay Beach Resort wasn’t quite my style (I prefer small B&Bs and hostels), it was beautiful and I could find no fault with it except for spotty wi-fi service. Situated on the deserted end of a long white beach, it featured a gorgeous infinity pool, beachfront bar and restaurant, and spacious rooms with full kitchens, with rates starting at $200 per night. In West End, more moderate beachfront accommodations can easily be found for $40-$80 per night.

Other than lounging on the beach, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, jet skiing, or just relaxing with a few beers at a beachfront bar in West End, you can also go horseback riding or spend a day at Gumbalimba Park, an adventure park with Roatan’s best zipline – ten lines that crisscross through the canopy, offering views all the way to the sea, and depositing you along the water’s edge on the beach. After the ziplining you can meet free-roaming monkeys who will descend from the trees to perch on your shoulder.

To get to Copan Ruinas, a small village of cobble-stone streets, you’ll need to take a 3-hour bus (about $10) from San Pedro. Take Dramamine as the road is quite twisty. The town is less than a mile away from the area’s main attraction, the beautifully-restored Mayan ruins at Copan. You can join an organized tour, make the 20-minute walk down a paved path from town, or pay 20 lempiras ($1) to catch a ride to the ruins on a mototaxi, a tiny motorized rickshaw.

The area around the town is known for its coffee production and several plantations welcome visitors for tours and tastings. There is also a nearby hot spring called Luna Jaguar where for $10, you can soak in the healing waters or splurge on a $30 massage in a hut perched above the mouth of the steaming spring.

In town, you can score a hostel dorm bed for $5 or a private room for $8. Rooms at one of the nicest and oldest hotels, the Hotel Marina Copan (where Richard Gere once stayed), start at $90 per night and feature plush beds, free wi-fi, room service, bottled water, mini-fridges and microwaves. The hotel has an on-site restaurant, a large pool in the courtyard, colonial architecture, tile floors and marble bathrooms, and some of the friendliest staff I encountered in the country.

To be honest, before this trip I’d never considered a visit to Honduras and didn’t think I cared much for Central America. All that changed when I saw Copan Ruinas. As I wandered the narrow, cobbled streets, shopped for handmade crafts, ordered up a steaming plate of grilled pork served with beans and corn tortillas (for just $1) from a street vendor, browsed the eclectic farmer’s market, and sat in the town’s central square, watching children play and the occaisional horse clip-clop through town, I fell in love with Copan Ruins and with the people of Honduras.

Everywhere I went in Honduras, I was struck by how beautiful it was, and how empty of other tourists. While the main square in Copan was full of activity, I saw only two other tourists during my time in the town. At a beach bar in Roatan, it seemed we were the only people who didn’t know everyone else there. And at the ruins in Copan, it felt like we had a centuries-old playground all to ourselves.

Costs and cuisine
The cuisine in Honduras is typically Central American. Beans and corn tortillas (which you can buy at 10 for $1 at most markets) figure prominently, especially in the signature baleada – a meal of beans and fresh cheese (and sometimes egg or other ingredients) in a corn tortilla, which sells for about $1. Fried plantains, fresh juice and fruit, avocado, and, along the coast and on the islands, incredibly fresh seafood ,are also inexpensive staples of the cuisine.

The most expensive meal I had, a huge pile of creamy, tender Lobster thermidor, cost about $30. Lobster pasta and fresh shrimp dishes were $10 each, and chicken fajitas or a heaping plate of beans, cheese, avocado and chorizo were $5 and large enough to feed two. Mixed drinks and fruity frozen concoctions ranged from $2.50 to $5, and cold bottles of the local, light Salva Vida beer were $1.50.

While those looking for luxury in Honduras can certainly find it, budget travelers could do very well here on $20-$30 per person per day for food, drinks and accommodations. More middle-of-the-road travelers, those who like to save money but enjoy a certain level of comfort, could easily spend less than $150 for hotel, food and drinks for two people.

Safety and the current situation
While in Honduras, I visited La Ceiba, Roatan and Copan. During that time, I took every opportunity to talk with tourism operators and with people on the street. When asked they all replied the same way. Not only was there currently no danger from the political situation, but in that area, there never had been. In Roatan, one man corrected me: “This isn’t Honduras,” he said, “this is the Bay Islands.” There were no curfews here, no protests, just the same beautiful beaches and pristine diving conditions as always. In Copan I walked around for an afternoon alone and felt as safe or safer than I have in any other country.

When the political situation became unstable nearly all of the unrest happened near the capital of Tegucigalpa, hours inland from the more touristy areas. Even though the US State Department Travel Alert acknowledged that the protests were mainly peaceful and that they were concentrated in the capital, it still warned Americans to steer clear of the entire country, which is kind of like telling someone not to visit Chicago because of the high crime rate in certain areas of the city’s South Side. During my visit in early November, I saw no signs of trouble, save for some political graffiti around San Pedro, but again if graffiti made a place unsafe I’d never venture outside my apartment. Walking around the city and shopping at the large market, I saw no other evidence of unrest and never felt as though I were in danger.

Just a few days ago the Supreme Court of Honduras voted overwhelmingly against allowing Zelaya to return to finish out the final two months of his term (which was cut short when he was escorted out of the country after attempting to interfere with a vote that would allow him to change the constitution and remain President indefinitely). I’m betting the people I met couldn’t be happier with the outcome. In fact every single person I spoke with supported the removal of Zelaya, who they said was “Chavez’s puppet” and had acted illegally. Not only were they disappointed that the US State Department had issued a blanket warning against travel to Honduras, they were also eager were to dispel the myths they felt the media had been spreading about the country’s situation.

A source I spoke with in the country now said since the vote there have been no issues and that, as with any election, while Zelaya’s supporters are no doubt disappointed, the elections were peaceful and protests and disruptions are not expected. That’s good news for the people of Honduras, especially those in the tourist industry who are waiting with bated breath to see how long it will take for the tourists to come back.

In the mean time, they’re doing their best to encourage visitors. Many resorts are posting 2010 rates that are lower than 2009’s. Others are offering two-for-one deals or extending their low season rates throughout high season. The country is safe, beautiful and diverse, the people are warm and welcoming, the prices are low and the tourists are few. So if you are thinking about a trip to Central America, I suggest you consider Honduras – now is the perfect time to go.

This trip was paid for by the Honduras Institute of Tourism, but the views expressed are entirely my own.