Boy drifts a mile out to sea in rubber ring

sea, ring, rubber ringA twelve-year-old boy was rescued a mile off the coast of Wales today when he drifted away from shore with only a child’s rubber ring to keep him afloat.

A lifeboat crew saved the boy as he suffered from hypothermia and was about to fall unconscious. If he had, the crew said, he would have slipped out of the floating ring and drowned.

The boy had been playing by the seaside and had been carried off by the current into the sea. He had been drifting about 45 minutes when the rescuers found him.

The UK’s National Health Service reports that lifeguards respond to more than 13,000 incidents a year on the UK’s beaches. Many of these incidents are due to rip tides, which are more common than most people think, the NHS says. Inflatables are easily pulled out to sea by currents and strong winds.

If you are going to the beach, follow these important beach safety tips. And parents, please watch your children. You don’t want them to become a news item.

[Photo courtesy Greg Yap]

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

Australia floodsWhat 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.

Top five ways to conserve water when you travel

It’s not always easy to be eco-conscious when you travel, especially when it comes to conserving natural resources like water. Over one billion people don’t have access to clean water, says thewaterproject.org, a non-profit that works to bring relief to global communities suffering from this issue (to donate, click here). Yet, the often-necessary evil of purchasing bottled water in developing nations has made for an environmental nightmare, as anyone who’s ever seen entire beaches littered with discarded plastic containers can attest.

As travelers, we’re fortunate to have the money and resources to obtain clean water, but there are things we can do on the road to conserve this precious resource, as well as minimize the amount of plastic we use. Even better, most of the below tips are just as easily put into action at home. For more ideas on indoor and outdoor water conservation, click here.

1. Turn off sink when brushing your teeth, and washing dishes, your face, or shaving (legs, too, ladies, if you’re in a place with abysmal water pressure). Also be sure to fully turn off taps. Leaking faucet? Unless you carry spare washers with you, it may be tough to resolve this one, depending upon where you are, what type of place you’re staying in, and language barriers. Use your judgement on whether or not it’s worth alerting staff or your host.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Stacy Lynn Baum]2. Turn off the shower while you’re soaping up, shampooing, or shaving/shorten your shower.

3. If your water has been festering in a plastic bottle on a hot bus all day and you can’t bring yourself to drink it, don’t just pour it onto the ground or down the drain. Find a smart place to empty it: a tree, a vegetable garden, give it to a thirsty animal.

4. Pack lightweight, quick-drying, dark-colored clothing that can be washed in the sink, eliminating the need for washing machines. Allow them to soak for awhile (bring a flat sink-stopper with you, or stuff a piece of clothing in the drain, in a pinch). Drain, wring out, and refill sink with clean water, rather than using running water to wash and rinse.

5. If you need to hit a laundromat (even if you’re dropping it off), wait until you’ve got a full load, if possible. If you’re DIY, select the appropriate machine setting to ensure the right water level, and wash your clothes on cold–it will get them just as clean, and conserves energy.

It can be tough to postpone laundering when you’re backpacking, especially in hot, humid climates. I usually sink-wash to get by until the entire contents of my pack are ready for a trip to the laundromat. Yes, it’s kind of gross, but if you can’t handle slightly funky threads, you probably shouldn’t be a backpacker.

Tip: Bring your own water bottle (or reuse a plastic bottle several times). Not only does this save money, but you’re sparing the earth. thewaterproject.org, reports that it takes 1.5 million barrels of oil to meet the demand for U.S. bottled water production, alone. Plastic bottles take thousands of years to degrade, clogging landfills, or releasing toxic fumes if incinerated.

If you’re traveling in a country or region where it’s not safe to drink tap water, and you’ll be staying put for a couple of days, or you need to stock up (for a long bus trip, say), buy a gallon jug(s) and refill your own bottle as needed, rather than purchasing multiple units of smaller bottles. Be sure to pack some purifying tablets to keep it clean (they’re not a bad thing to use in suspect areas, anyway, since bottled water can be contaminated). If you need to purify your own water, there are pros and cons to the various types of filtration systems. An outdoor store like REI is a good place to ask for feedback and advice, as well as purchase BPA-free water bottles

Sigg makes excellent, eco-friendly water bottles from lined aluminum. They’re practically indestructable (mine has seen four continents and a lot of abuse since I got it four years ago, and it’s still in top shape), come in various sizes, have cool designs, and the caps are replaceable/have interchangeable styles.

[Photo credits: shower, Flickr user privatenobby; bottles, Flickr use procsilas]

Avoid Tap Water: Bottled Water Only

Boil your water at a rolling boil for at least five minutes was the adage of the Peace Corps nurse in The Gambia. I’d guestimate on most occasions since day after day it was hard to remember to check when water actually started to boil, and how much time had passed after it did. For the most part, I was faithful about my drinking water and only strayed a couple of times from a clean source. When I couldn’t boil it because I was on a cargo boat heading to Timbucktu for four days, and the bottled water we took with us ran out, dumping iodine tablets into Niger River water was the only option. It worked. I guess.

Joan Peterson, author of “Eat Smart” guides says that not drinking tap water is the #1 key to keeping your stomach happy with you. She probably would cringe at the river water story.

I’ve heard before that it’s not the water at the source that’s necessarily bad, it’s that the pipes it passes through may not be in such good shape. Or, the water passes too close to sewage so the water picks up bacteria along the way. That’s what I’ve heard. I have no idea if this is actually true.

Regardless, Peterson says to drink only bottled water and avoid ice-cubes. (It was interesting to me that in the recent Academy award nominated movie, Babel, Cate Blanchett’s character looked uptight and not an easy-going traveler like Brad Pitt ‘s character because she chastised him for using ice when they were traveling through Morocco.)

Peterson also says to use bottled water for brushing teeth.

Like I said, I’m with Peterson if you can manage it, and I dump out ice. Here is a fact sheet from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, College of Human Ecology on how to treat water.