Situational awareness: can you detect danger before it strikes?

The global intelligence firm Stratfor has published an interesting primer on situational awareness, which is a fancy way of saying that you should pay attention.

The article is based on the obvious premise that most crimes such as kidnapping, robberies and terrorist attacks take several steps to complete, and that if someone is sufficiently aware of their surroundings they can spot the crime unfolding and react. The sharp-eyed street vendor who stopped the Times Square bomb is a perfect example.

Stratfor says that travelers and others who may be in harm’s way must get into the mindset of situational awareness. You should trust your gut instincts because often your subconscious has picked up on something your conscious mind hasn’t had time to process. People should practice being in a state of relaxed awareness similar to defensive driving. Enjoy life, but study your surroundings. Is that protest in front of the government building attracting some angry cops? Is that group of young men staring at you out of more than just curiosity? Who is standing near the ATM you want to use?

Relaxed awareness doesn’t mean being paranoid, it simply means that you should keep your eyes open and your mind active. Enjoy your vacation, but don’t leave your brain at home.

Stratfor has a free weekly newsletter with informative, level-headed articles on topics of interest to travelers and general news junkies, ranging from why we should worry about Al-Shabaab to why the fears over a radioactive “dirty bomb” are mostly hype. More articles and analysis are available through a paid subscription.

Unlike certain news organizations, Stratfor doesn’t exaggerate threats to grab readers. Their articles are meant to make you safer, not make you scared. As they say in the primer, “The world is a wonderful place, but it can also be a dangerous one.”

Words to travel by.

Photo of 2007 Bastille protests courtesy David.Monniaux via Wikimedia Commons.

Customs dog attacks child at airport

Today’s daily dose of airline industry fear mongering comes from the arrivals hall of Washington DC’s Dulles (IAD) airport.

Late this past week, a mother and daughter arriving at the airport to pick up an arriving passenger had an unfortunate run in with one of the training K-9 customs dogs. The Belgian Malinois, a normally friendly dog, apparently advanced on the scared child and bit her in the midsection, requiring a trip to the emergency room and 20 stitches.

More details in this WUSA 9 report below.

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.

10 things you probably shouldn’t do in a kayak (videos)

Thought to have been in use for at least 4000 years, kayaks are amazing little boats — and amazingly simple. Capable of holding a single person (or sometimes two), kayaks consist of a hull, a covered deck, and the cockpit in which a kayaker sits. These rugged little boats are designed for all kinds of adventures. Well, perhaps not all kinds of adventures…

The videos below demonstrate some of the best (and worst), and some of the cleverest (and stupidest) stunts anyone has ever attempted in a kayak.

Whale-watching can be an amazing, relaxing experience. It can also be a terrifying, body-crushing experience if a whale decides to breach … and land on top of you.

Buoyancy is one of the traits that make kayaks special. Therefore, jumping off the high dive in a kayak may have repercussions.

Just add water. Seriously: water + kayaks. They’re made for each other.

Pro tip: do NOT add a long, bumpy stair case to the mix. It will end badly.

Who said you need water to kayak? These innovators figured out how to kayak — while staying completely dry. Introducing “Urban Kayaking!”

Kayaking is an Olympic sport. Gymnastics is an Olympic sport. Why not merge the two for one extreme sport: kayak-nastics?

Snow is water, after all, so these kayakers aren’t taking too many liberties with the sport. On the other hand, they are taking a lot of liberties with their bodies … and with their fellow snowkayakers’ bodies.

If you were thinking snowkayaking would be safer if you just removed other people … think again. This guy breaks the world kayaking record by hurtling downhill at 46mph — but does that seem safe to you?

Never kayak alone. Because there’s no “alone” like the alone of being upside-down in the undertow of a waterfall.

Did we mention that you shouldn’t kayak alone? Unfortunately, friends aren’t always that much help, either.

Just keep it in the water and everything will be okay. Right?

Well… “okay” means different things to different people. Check out this last clip for a montage of some of the best kayaking wipeouts, rolls, and tooth-rattling splashes.

Want more? Don’t miss 10 Hilarious (and Painful, and Frightening) Ski Lift Videos.

What ever happened to the missing 22-year-old American teacher in Germany?

Reading that Laura Dekker has been found safe and sound in St. Maartin made me think of Devon Hollahan, the American teacher living in Prague who disappeared after a Portugal and the Man concert in Frankfurt, Germany. When his friend’s back was turned, Hollahan went missing.

I wrote about Hollahan in a post about the worst nightmares of parents whose children travel overseas. I’ve been busy these last few weeks, so I forgot about him until I read about Dekker.

Hollahan’s story is not so splashy as Laura Dekker’s. It might be because his family seems like most of us. They appear to be normal, regular people whose lives tend to flow through the days like anyone else’s unless something bad happens on a slow news day. On a slow news day, normal people’s stories can make the international news. Hollahan’s bad news story was a fleeting blip on the media radar. A day or two after he was reported missing, he didn’t show up again in a big news way.

Amanda Knox’s story has had more press time than Hollahan’s. She is the other person of note in my parent’s worst nightmare post. But, when a person is found guilty of murdering her roommate which results in a 27 year jail sentence in Italy, it’s no surprise that we’d hear more about Knox–at least until Tiger Woods’s story eclipsed everyone’s bad news.

What about Hollahan, though? That’s who I want to know about–the guy who could be any one of us. After a search, I found this bit of news in The Huffington Post. Hollahan has not been found, but possibly the shoe found floating in The Main River in Frankfurt belongs to him.

It is thought that Hollahan was drunk and fell into the river. As a sad, devastating part of this tale, it’s possible that he was seen alive at 4 a.m. lying on a sidewalk. Unfortunately, whoever was on the sidewalk, got up and ran away when someone said that an ambulance was coming.

Hollahan’s body has not been found. His parents are still in their nightmare, and I wonder if Hollahan’s body is found, will there be a news story about it? My thoughts go out to his family.