©Pablo Rey. Published on Overland Journal Magazine, Winter 2014.
After 15 years overlanding the world, Pablo Rey shares some important tips on how to not end up walking in your underwear on a faraway road in the middle of nowhere.
When someone points a Kalashnikov at you on a lost track in Kenya and orders you to lay down face to the floor, and you see someone else’s hand holed by a shot gun because they didn’t have 10 miserable dollars to give to the bandits, I assure you that you will be able to understand everything they say – even if they speak Kiswahili, Aramaic, or in the language of Mordor. Our van had suffered an engine failure in Sibiloi National Park, 800 kilometers from the nearest reliable mechanic, and I was on a rescue mission to fix it. Anna, on the other hand, was travelling by bus with two friends, who came to visit at the worst moment, when the aforementioned incident occurred. I did not learn of it until we met back in Nairobi (a.k.a. ‘Nairobbery’). They survived, but how would you react at such a time?
Carrying a gun is not usually a good idea when travelling around the world. I can think of very few countries where it is normal for its citizens to have a weapon at home: Afghanistan, Somalia, The United States, Syria, Serbia, Iraq and Yemen, for example. With the exception of the United States, all have recently been, or are currently at war on their own soil. Laws are usually very strict in most countries, and if the police or military find a weapon during a routine check, you’ll be in trouble.If it is well hidden it will be difficult to get to when you need it fast.
Pepper spray, the same one I tested personally in Brazil when Anna was defending me, is a good deterrent. Everyone knows it is like rubbing a hot jalapeno pepper in your eyes. To reveal it at the right moment may change the intentions of the bad guys. But after using it you may unleash the wrath of a half-blind man that looks for you with his extended arms, like a Frankenstein with irritated eyes. And that’s not funny. Personally, I believe the Taser, which delivers a debilitating electric shock, would be more effective. However, like firearms, Tasers are also illegal in many countries and you will have problems if the police find it.
More than once I’ve come to the conclusion that I would have benefited from knowledge of karate, tae kwon do, jiujitsu, kungfu, or some other sort of martial art that teaches you how to defend yourself by mimicking the movement of a bird – even a bird making a forced landing. Or maybe knowing how to play the guitar would have helped, so as to sing a song of friendship to those who approach with bad intentions, breaking it on their head if the song didn’t work. Seriously, during a robbery the most important thing to do is to stay calm and show no fear, even when your legs will threaten to fail you. Letting your nerves get the best of you can result in empty pockets, missing the keys to your vehicle, and standing in your underwear in the middle of nowhere. Your emotions may be the only thing you can control when things go. Save your fear for later, when your trouble is over.
Traditional ways to increase the sense of security while travelling include brandishing your old baseball bat, the odious lever you use to take a flat tire off of the rim, or the machete you normally use to cut wood. The three of them are all good deterrent weapons. However, I must say, we are a bit fancier – we carry a golf club. I’ve never played golf, but the two times I had to take it out, once in Egypt and once in Ethiopia, showing it was enough.