Surf Survival, A Life Lesson

by Landon Hartstein


The thrill of catching a wave and rippin’ along down the line is addictive. Sometimes my addiction makes me do stupid things and risk more than I should.

I was living in New Zealand, on a 200 acre farm two kilometres down the Whanakai walkway from Sandy Bay--a beautiful, horseshoe shaped, sandy bay with an estuary leading to the sea. When the swell and winds aligned, the shifty sand bank produced an incredible wave.  

It had been storming for a few days and the surf was definitely “up”. Even though it was raining, it didn’t calm the winds. The water was choppy and the waves could easily be considered “over-head”. I paddled out alongside the protection of the cliff, using the rocks as a rip.

Once I was outside, I knew I was in trouble. A huge wave rose up right in front of me and I realized I didn’t get far enough out of the danger zone. I ducked my board under the wave. As I pushed through, I could feel the power of the wave pull me backwards and got a deeper sense of just how dangerous my situation was. 

Humbled, I decided I shouldn’t mess around out there and would try to get back to shore immediately but I was already outside and I’d have to attempt at least one wave to get back in. Well, that’s what I came out for, I thought. One wave. 

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Ten Tips To Stay Safe While Traveling Abroad

by Norm Schriever

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all around the world but also witnessed an unbelievable array of street scams and hustles.  From Cairo to Caracas, Amsterdam to Amman, someone was always trying to sell me wolf tickets: the fake drunk, the razor blade slash, the Rio shoe scam, money exchange bait-and-switches, shifting walls, high-speed car chases through barrios, muggers with machetes, riots shrouded in tear gas, clans of pickpocketing gypsies, exotic temptresses who slip something in your drink, being a guest in a Third World jail, and running for my life from the Triads, the Chinese mafia.  I even survived an elaborate and well-orchestrated grift in Bolivia involving fake policemen with a fake police car and a kilo of fake cocaine that had me sweating like a hostage.  But please don’t let all of this discourage you from grabbing your passport and exploring the beautiful world we live in; you’ll find most places to be as safe as your front porch if you exercise some basic rules of caution:   

1.     Stay ready and you won’t have to get ready.

Before you embark make copies of your passport, medical card, credit cards, and travel itinerary.  Give a copy to a friend back home and keep one set with you, separate from the real thing. Email any pertinent information to yourself through a web based email account so you can get it from any hotel or internet café if needed.  Check in with the U.S. embassy when you arrive.  I even keep $20 folded under the sole of my shoe for emergencies.

2.     Don’t be the ugly American.

Don’t draw negative attention to yourself.  If you’re going to party overseas (which I highly encourage) don’t get too drunk and always take a taxi at night.  Don’t accept an open drink from someone or leave yours unattended.  Most importantly, never mess with drugs while you’re in a foreign country - I have a friend serving five years in a Costa Rican prison who can back me up on this.

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Is It Safe To Visit Mexico?

words and photography by Aysha Griffin


“Aren’t you afraid?” and “Isn’t it dangerous?” These were the consistent questions posed by friends and family upon hearing I had booked a trip to Mexico. From my standpoint, it was a matter of avoiding winter’s cold, pursuing Spanish language studies and visiting American friends in San Miguel de Allende, a picturesque colonial city located in Mexico’s central state of Guanajuato.

San Miguel de Allende, MexicoWithout any fear I flew from Albuquerque to Leon-Guanajuato Airport, via Houston, avoiding any border violence issues, and a 90-minute shuttle bus ride delivered me to this established and renowned cultural enclave of ex-pats and snowbirds. But the question of danger and safety in Mexico is not an easy or simple one to answer.

There is violence in Mexico, as everywhere. I recall an Australian friend who, landing in L.A. for his first trip to the U.S., called to ask if he should buy a gun – a reasonable question given the FBI estimate of over 200 million privately-owned firearms.

Americans – with our recent history of internal terrorism (Oklahoma City), external terrorism (September 11th), intentional public shootings (Tucson supermarket), serial murderers, drive-by shootings, rapes and other domestic violence; with handgun murders a daily occurrence in U.S. cities, and the largest prison population in the world – are hardly in a position to point fingers at the dangers abroad.

However, there is something different happening in Mexico. At the core are not just anger, political intolerance, insanity and psychopathic behavior, but money and turf war power, with illegal drugs (primarily marijuana) as the medium.

Thirty years ago, when I lived and traveled in Mexico for six months, handguns were illegal and even the police were gunless. At that time, Mexico was an extremely safe place in regard to violent crime. Corruption, usually in the form of bribes to officials, was a known, accepted and non-violent interaction. That was two generations ago and the world has changed in countless ways.

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TUCSON AFTER THE SHOOTING: To go or not to go?

by Eric Lucas

It was just an ordinary neighborhood Safeway until a heavily armed lunatic showed up with a pistol. What happened next was disastrous.

I’m speaking, of course, of our local Safeway in Ballard, Washington, where I live—but you thought I was talking about the store in the Tucson foothills where an unbalanced young American gunned down six people and tried to assassinate a U.S. congresswoman. What happened at the Ballard Safeway was “milder” but in its own way illuminating, and the irony struck me because both places are well known to me. I visit Tucson a half-dozen times a year and wrote a guide to the city for a major global internet site. I am very fond of both places. I buy great heaps of toilet paper at the Ballard Safeway; at the Tucson Safeway, I help out my dad by loading up sacks of salt for his water softener.

You know what happened at the latter store, so let me describe the scene at the Seattle one when a member of the “open-carry” movement decided to saunter about one day last year. These are Americans who believe the way to assert the right to carry firearms is to, well, do so, even when you are shopping for toilet paper. Who knows when a TP bandit may strike? So Messr. Six-Gun clumped around, pistol strapped to his thigh, severely alarming everyone in the store. Our neighborhood is not a gun-totin’ place. He departed without shooting anyone, preventively or otherwise, but the incident provoked a storm of controversy on the chat-boards at our neighborhood website. Hundreds of comments flew back and forth; about 80 percent wanted to vote Mr. S.G. off the island.

Ballard is a wonderful place and I urge all to come visit—great restaurants, nice people, fresh salt air off Puget Sound, and believe me, you are very, very unlikely to be shot.

I’d say much the same for Tucson.

Lost in the coverage of the Tucson catastrophe is the fact the city is a marvelous place to visit. Its cuisine includes a unique local specialty, the Sonoran hot dog, which uses onions and chiles to meld ballpark frankfurters with North Mexico culinary styles. Its many first-class resorts include one of America’s finest spas, Canyon Ranch, and a distinctive selection of family-owned guest ranches. The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum is among the world’s leading natural history facilities. Tucson’s cultural climate makes it Arizona’s most progressive community. It’s the heart of the Sonoran Desert, a lovely and interesting Southwestern landscape that is surprisingly lush because, even though it’s an arid ecosystem, it has two distinct rainy seasons a year.

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Learning to Navigate Airport Security

by Andrea Gross

My four-year-old neighbor, a cute kid with the nicely old-fashioned name of Billy, knocks on my door. "Wanna see what Mommy gave me?"

"Sure," I say. (His mother is looking across the yard to make sure her child has safely navigated the few feet of space between our front doors. Can't be too careful these days.)

Billy is carrying a huge box, nearly as big as he is. He hands it to me, I wave to his mother, and we go into my living room.

He unpacks the box. "It catches 'terrists,'" he tells me. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature airport security check point station. I kid you not.

It has seven parts: a baggage x-ray machine, a people metal-detector, three plastic people, a rolling carry-on suitcase that fits in the x-ray machine, and a chair for the person who watches the suitcase in the x-ray machine. The people consist of the following: a traveler, a TSA agent, and a policeman with a gun.

The possibilities for creative play are obviously endless. Traveler tackles policeman. TSA agent gets trapped in metal detector. Policeman shoots x-ray machine. Child has nightmares.... (All people are white and male, but that's a discussion for another time.)

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A Cautionary Tale

by Shirley B. Moskow

In Madrid, thieves work in pairs. One tells you that a bird has soiled your jacket and offers to clean it. The other slips it off and rubs a spot. When they helps you on with your jacket, your wallet is gone and so are the scam artists. In the Caribbean, some street moneychangers deftly fold paper money so that unsuspecting travelers can’t see that they’re counting the same bills twice. The skills of pickpockets on Rome’s trolleys are legendary.

I’ve listened to many travelers recount such tales of their mishaps. Of course, I sympathized, positive that no similar fate would befall me. I prided myself on taking precautions and always being aware of my surroundings.

At the National Museum of Prague, as I was paying for a book in the gift shop, the lights suddenly went out. The old castle was all confusion as people milled about in the dark. Several minutes later, when the electricity came on, I discovered that my wallet had disappeared.

My husband and I reported the theft to the police. They seemed uninterested. We returned to our hotel and the manager helped us to notify our credit card companies. That’s when I realized that my husband and I shouldn’t have been carrying the same bank and credit cards. We had to put a hold on all of them. Now neither of us had access to credit, and between us we had little more than two hundred dollars in cash. I wondered how long it would take for relatives to wire funds. The answer was never. We were traveling through three countries, staying at a different hotel almost every night. Under the circumstances, no hotel would accept a wire.

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