Australia’s Kakadu National Park floods trap tourists after they ignore closed road signs

What is it with German tourists and Australia’s Northern Territory? If they’re not getting eaten by crocodiles or succumbing to dehydration, they’re blatantly ignoring road signs and driving their way into croc-infested floodwaters. NT News online reports that four wayward Germans visiting remote Kakadu National Park drove their rented four-wheel-drive–allegedly at 80mph, no less–through the flooded crossing at Magela Creek and Oenpelli Road. The group were en route to see the famed Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr, in the East Alligator region of the park.

The car stalled out, leaving the foursome stranded in three feet of water, smack-dab in the middle of a 300-foot crossing. Despite their apparent inability to heed large, glaring warning signs and screams from more intelligent roadside onlookers, the Germans possessed enough survival instinct to clamber to the top of their vehicle, where they were rescued by police 30 minutes later.

Look, I’ve spent a lot of time in Australia, including Kakadu. I’ll be the first to point out that the international media and popular film and literature make the country out to be some kind of fauna-invoked death wish. If the great whites and saltwater crocs don’t get you, the box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopi, brown snakes, taipans, or redback and funnel web spiders will.

I’m not disputing the deadliness of these creatures. And I can’t deny that certain situations like the current floods in Queensland make an encounter more likely. The advice to avoid “crocky” areas of tropical Northern Australia is no joke, and should be taken very seriously. In general, however, it’s easy to avoid crocs and the rest of these much-maligned critters; your odds of ever seeing one (even if you’re Australian) are unlikely. It’s a huge continent, guys, and like most venomous or aggressive species, most of these animals won’t attack unless provoked.

When I visited stunning Kakadu (with a seasoned outfitter from the region, because there’s no shortage of untrained, self-proclaimed, even downright dangerous guides in the world), it was this same time of year; the “Wet,” or monsoon season. It’s low season for tourists because many roads are flooded, and as such, that does make for greater statistical odds for a croc encounter. But more to the point, why would you intentionally disobey safety precautions, especially when you’re in a foreign environment/they’re prominently displayed/designed for easy comprehension by international visitors?

The bottom line is, whether you choose to explore isolated places alone or with an environmentally-responsible, accredited professional, use your brain. Obey the rules, because they exist for a reason. Behave with respect for the land, flora, fauna, and people. Your stupidity or carelessness often cause more than just inconvenience to others. It can result in great expense and lost lives, including those of your rescuers. If nothing else, you’ll become fodder for global news outlets, who use you as an example of what not to do.

Swap old travel guides for cds, dvds and games with

Even the most amateur traveler will probably have a shelf full of unused travel guides sitting at home. Instead of letting them collect dust, you can easily trade them for something else. is an online service that matches owners of books, music, movies and games – and helps them trade it for something that won’t go unused.

The service is extremely easy to use, and their database of swappable items is massive. Chances are you’ll be trading your unused Paris city guide for a Bob The Builder DVD in a matter of minutes.

Once you’ve signed up for the site, you tell it about all the products you’d like to offload, by using the ISBN number or bar code from your item – and Swap adds them to their database. Then, you can start searching for things you’d like to trade.

This obviously also works the other way around – someone with a whole stack of unused DVD’s may be looking for a Parisian City Guide – making you two the perfect match.

To complete the trade, Swap charges a very small fee (under a Dollar) and helps with printing a shipping label. The entire process is done by Swap, and you print the label off their site, so no need to mess around with stamps. Then, pop your item your mailbox and wait for your Swap to arrive.

Swaps are protected by “SafeSwap” – which guarantees your trading partner will complete their end of the deal – if they don’t, Swap will send you a replacement copy of the item you wanted. All labels include delivery confirmation, making the transaction safe for all parties involved.

New travel guide spoofs, “Where not to go before you die.”

Prolific travel writer Catherine Price is over the whole “bucket list” trend. Annoyed that a crappy movie spawned an obnoxious national book craze of all the things one must see, do, and visit before they kick it, Price decided to strike back. Her new release, 101 Things Not to See Before You Die is a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek compendium based on Price’s own travel experiences.

Some of Price’s picks include The Beijing Tap Water Museum, Times Square on New Year’s Eve, rush hour on a Samoan bus, and Nevada. But the 31-year-old New Yorker is far from being a jaded crank. In a recent CNN interview, she explained, “People shouldn’t take it too seriously– it wasn’t my intention to say all of these places are actually horrible. Some of them are pretty interesting. (The motivation…) was just to liberate people from the feeling there are all these things they have to do. I’m guilty of this myself, but if you’re just going through things checking off lists then you’re not really experiencing them. You’re just doing it like an assignment.”

Get a guide for the Marrakech medina

When I hit the ground in Marrakech, Morocco, last week, I wasted no time in passing through the gate and heading into the medina (the old part of the city). After all, I’m a seasoned traveler, and I know how to read a map. If I did get lost, I reasoned, I could see the Koutoubia Mosque from just about anywhere in the city — it’s the tallest building around (by law) at 77 meters high. Less than an hour later, I was in a covered, narrow alley and couldn’t see natural sunlight, let alone Koutoubia’s minaret. My map, which only showed streets, was worthless. Even on the streets, the map was little help, as there is a dearth of street signs.

Suddenly, I realized I shouldn’t have dismissed the hotel manager’s suggestion that I hire a guide for the day.

Several hours later, I found my way outside the medina, only to realize I was on the wrong side of the city, and walked around the outside back to my hotel. My wife was furious. I was irritated. And, I realized what my plan for the next day would be. It involved the experience of a local pro, Mustapha. I don’t regret paying the $25 for his extremely helpful services.

I know what you’re thinking … it’s what I thought. Guides are scammers. You feel that you can navigate a city on your own. If you’ve read any travel literature on Marrakech, you know that the guides exist only to bring you to the souks (shops) that pay them the highest commission. So, you’re being guided right into a high-pressure sales situation. In reality, all these perspectives hold a bit of truth.

As soon as I walked into the medina the first day, I was pestered pretty regularly by many “freelance” guides, some of whom claimed to work for major hotels. He was incredibly persistent, offering to take me around the city. Here’s a hint. If you don’t meet your guide in the hotel, he doesn’t work for one. As you get deeper into the city, they drop the hotel charade but have plenty of other stories. One explained that he just wanted to practice his English. In fact, when I responded to him in French, he kept going in English. I knew the situation but applaud his tenacity (now, at least). Avoid these guys. They will take you directly into the souks, and that’s all you’ll see.

When I met Mustapha at the Hivernage Hotel and Resort, he was clad in a jacket and tie. His English and French were heavily accented but more than sufficient. And, he smiled. He asked what I wanted to see. I listed off places like the Saadian tombs, Bahia Palace and Jemaa el Fna (the medina’s main square), and he dutifully noted them. When I finished, he added, “And the souks?” Yes, the souks …

Immediately, I saw a difference. Mustapha hailed a taxi and got us a good price. We went directly to the spots I wanted to see, and his explanations brought them to life. It turns out that I was near every major attraction on my list the previous day, but I never would have found them. With my guide, it was quick and painless. He also pointed out the differences among the people who walked by, providing some insights into the ethnic groups of Morocco. Buildings without exterior windows or balconies, for example, were from Berber inhabitants, while those with windows and balconies facing the streets were built by Jewish settlers. I never would have figured this out on my own.

The little touches were nice, as well. As we approached the Saadian tombs, Mustapha saw a large tour group approaching. Instead of taking us to the window to pay our admission fee, he nodded in its direction and led us straight into the building. He took us to the prized places quickly. When I turned around, I saw a large crowd behind me. I would have spent plenty of time waiting but instead had a prime position for as long as I wanted. On our way out, we went over to the window and settled up. If I had tried to pull this off on my own, I don’t think I would have gotten far (had I even thought to try).

When I saw what looked like rather ordered graffiti on the walls throughout the medina, all I had to do was ask. Mustapha explained that there are 32 political parties in Morocco, and each is allotted a specific space on the wall to use for campaigning. I didn’t understand the message at all, but at least I got the drift.

As we navigated Marrakech’s winding streets and narrow alleys, I did notice that fewer of the freelance guides approached us. A few of the bolder ones did make the effort, but Mustapha dismissed them quickly. Also, he let me know how I could break the rules. Most of the hard-core locals don’t like having their pictures taken, but he’d give me a look when their heads were turned, so I could get the shots I wanted.

Of course, you know where we wound up …

A good portion of our day was spent in the souks, which are intricate mazes of small shops located all over Marrakech. I don’t enjoy shopping, so I was bored to tears, but I did find some of the presentations (and that’s what they were) insightful. My wife enjoyed the experience thoroughly. I do think that these were Mustapha’s favorite spots — that’s just the cynic in me. But, since there was a trusted relationship, you didn’t feel worried using a credit card or having goods sent to your hotel (or shipped home) later. Morocco’s is a selling culture. You just have to accept that when you step inside the city’s walls. The trick is to find any advantage you can. In this regard, having a guide helps. A lot.

When I let Mustapha know that I was finished shopping, he brought us by Jemaa el Fna for some photo opportunities and then promptly back to Hivernage. The time had come to pay the piper, and like every interaction, it was a negotiation. I asked how much, and he replied that I should pay whatever I liked. Eh, I kicked the rate quoted by the hotel up 20 percent. He earned it.

Nokia and Lonely Planet team up to bring guides to your phone

Nokia has teamed up with Lonely Planet to bring their travel guides to select Nokia Mobile Phones.

Nokia phones with support for the free “Maps 2.0” application can purchase and download Lonely Planet guides directly to their phone. Each guide costs $13.99 which is slightly cheaper than their paper versions, which normally sell for around $18 each.

Lonely Planet currently has 100 different guides available for mobile use, with more on the way. By combining the GPS receiver built into many current Nokia phones, you can make the move from paper guides, to an advanced guide with turn by turn directions. Of course, for some people there is no replacement for a good old paper guide full of scribbled notes and bookmarks.

This is the second phone Lonely Planet has added mobile support for. Previously, they introduced a lineup of spoken phrase guides for the iPhone, it is however the first time they have made their popular guides available for a smartphone.

With more and more phones adding GPS receivers, it is probably only a matter of time until other phones get access to the guides, location based services are taking off in a huge way, and within the next few years it is expected that 50% of all new phones will have GPS built in.

To get Lonely Planet guides on your Nokia phone, you will have to install Maps 2.0, you can check whether your phone supports this here. To download a guide, simply open your maps application, click “extras”, then “guides”. Alternatively, you can download the Nokia maps loader program to your PC and install the guides locally. If you are traveling abroad, I highly recommend purchasing the guides you need on your PC, to save the insanely high data charges when you roam on an international network.

Source: Nokia press release