In his preface to a collection of stories called “The Kindness of Strangers,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote, “Kindness and compassion are among the principal values that make our lives meaningful… At any given moment there must be hundreds of millions of acts of kindness taking place around the world.”
That theme infuses the five travelers’ tales Aol Travel is highlighting this week, all portraying acts of unexpected kindness in a globe-embracing spectrum of settings, from Syria and Liberia to India, Greece and Russia. These acts are not dramatic or headline commanding, but small, everyday kindnesses.
If you have a thing about cartography, Reddit’s “MapPorn” page is almost too much to bear. If you also have a thing about travel as well, beware – this one can devour entire afternoons. For example, here’s one map that has captured the imaginations of thousands of globetrotting enthusiasts in a way its creator never intended.
What’s the shortest route that will take you through every country in the world? Reddit user e8odie, laid up in bed with a broken leg, decided to find out. When he posted the resulting map on the site, the comments went nuts. Why? Because even though the map was clearly labelled a thought-experiment, most of the fun was imagining if it was a real land route. Just how practical is it? The general consensus: “not very.”
Here are a few obstacles we spotted for this ultimate round-the-world trip. 1. Darien Gap
The route takes you from Panama to Colombia by plunging into the Darien Gap, a sprawling mat of swampland and forest that was described by the journalist Robert Young Pelton as “probably the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere”. Expect such life-affirming delights as virtually impassable jungle, drug traffickers, kidnappers, understandably trigger-happy paramilitary troops and a truly profound lack of good roads. It’s perfectly possible to visit the Darien Gap, but crossing it? Have fun.
2. Russia By Land
Putting aside the bureaucratic nightmare of getting permission to cross the Bering Strait on foot (or the hot water you can land in if you don’t get it), there’s the small matter of crossing a colossal administrative region of Russia called Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. Driving a vehicle designed for even the toughest roads? Too bad, because there aren’t any — barring those laid down in winter. It’s thousands of miles of roadless tundra, forest and Arctic desert. It’s what planes were invented for.
3. North Korea to South Korea
A few years back, it was still possibly to cross the border between Russia and North Korea via the train station at Tumangan — as long as you have the correct visas and a state-approved tour guide. It may still be possible, although it’s certainly not part of North Korea’s attempt to build a tourism industry. You might make it all the way down to the DMZ — but from there? Forget it. Retrace your steps and take the ferry.
4. Israel to Lebanon
Welcome to the Rosh HaNikra border crossing, administered by the United Nations and the Israel Defense Forces. Are you a diplomat or UN official? Do you work well in conditions of extreme diplomatic tension? Can you run faster than Usain Bolt? If your answers to all of these questions aren’t “yes,” stay clear.
5. Armenia to Azerbaijan
Staying with the happy topic of violent border clashes, let’s consider Armenia and Azerbaijan. They went to war in the early ’90s — a situation that endured as a mutually hostile standoff. This “frozen conflict” thawed in 2011 and it’s still pumping out a fair bit of heat. Right now, that border is officially closed — and trying to enter Azerbaijan with a passport that shows signs of being used in Armenia is a fairly terrible idea.
Venezuela’s late socialist leader Hugo Chavez set money controls a decade ago that have caused a wacky system of disparity between official and black market rates for local currency. One result has been flights out of Venezuela booked for months in advance as locals take advantage of a loophole to gain financially.
In Venezuela, the disparity between the official and black-market rates for the local bolivar currency is insane. It sells on the illegal market at about seven times the government price of 6.3 to the dollar. To compound the problem, there are strict limits on the availability of dollars at the 6.3 rate.
But a special currency provision for travelers with a valid airline ticket allows Venezuelans to exchange up to $3,000 at the government rate. The result has sold out planes flying half full, tickets bought by Venezuelans who had no intention of traveling. Others are exchanging currency, easily paying for their travel via the financial gain afforded by the special travel provision.“It is possible to travel abroad for free due to this exchange rate magic,” said local economist Angel Garcia Banchs in a Reuters report.
Better yet, those actually flying take credit cards abroad to get a cash advance, bringing back dollars to sell on the black market for about seven times the original exchange rate.
A couple of passengers departing Caracas, Venezuela for Paris, France checked 31 articles of luggage on the flight, all of which were tagged under false names. Upon investigation, authorities discovered that the bags were filled with 2,866 pounds of pure cocaine. Suspicions were apparently only raised when the passengers who checked the bags didn’t actually board the plane. The flight date was on 9/11 no less, a date we all know for extra precautions at airports, at least in the United States. The unaccompanied bags of cocaine were eventually detained at the Charles De Gaulle airport.Several people have been arrested in France regarding the incident — three are Italian and three are British. Venezuelan authorities have arrested three officers of the National Guard and have said that they expect more arrests to come. According to Minister Miguel Rodriguez, Venezuelan authorities are also suspicious of the airline workers involved in this flight. While we don’t have any further details regarding just how this much cocaine wound up on this plane, it’s pretty clear that with National Guard members and possibly airline workers aiding in the transport of the drugs, a massive coverup and/or coercion may have been present. Most drug rings wouldn’t risk this much cocaine on a single flight unless they felt success was inevitable, a presumption that is contingent on corruption.
Back in July we reported on a developer in Peru who bulldozed a 4,000 year old pyramid. Situated on the site of El Paraíso, a 4,000 year-old settlement pre-Inca near Lima, it’s one of the most important archaeological sites in the country. It’s also prime real estate.
That’s why developers decided to bulldoze one of the pyramids to make way for some new housing. The prehistoric monument was completely leveled, and they would have taken down three more pyramids if an archaeologist and some watchmen didn’t intervene.
Two private companies, Compañía y Promotora Provelanz E.I.R.L and Alisol S.A.C Ambas, claim to own the land, but the Ministry of Culture says it’s owned by the government. Both sides have put up signs at the site claiming ownership. After the bulldozing incident, the government doubled security.
Now Past Horizons reports that two months later, no charges have been brought against the companies or any individuals identified as being part of the work crew. It appears that the two companies have won this round.
This video shows what the pyramid used to look like, and the barren destruction that’s been left in the name of development.