303- La Cucaracha puts on the boots | GENERAL GRABBER AT2

www.viajeros4x4x4.com

©Pablo Rey. Published December 11th, 2015, on Expedition Portal.

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Global Nomad Pablo Rey shares his long-term review of the General Tire Grabber AT2

With the wrong tire, the loneliest and most beautiful beach can become an insufferable sand trap, mud a dark and viscous nightmare, ice a slippery game of Russian roulette, and sharp stones akin to Freddy Krueger playing God with your future.

Over the last 15 years of overlanding the world we’ve bought tires in four continents and been able to compare many brands and styles. We don’t always get it right. Some of them lasted for just 18,000 kilometers while the best have achieved is a more reasonable 48,000 kilometers.

Though we have always run all-terrain tires, at certain moments we would have appreciated tires with a more aggresive tread. For example, when we were churning through mud in northern Kenya near Turkana Lake during a biblical flood, or during a trip through Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe, when we got stuck in a riverbed and spent the night away watching a distant storm and waiting for an impending flash flood. And how can I forget that day we had 11 punctures. Yes, 11!

The first detail that struck me on the General Grabber AT2 was the aggresive design of the tread block and Deep, doublé-v shaped pattern. I said to Anna, my travelling partner, “With these tires we’ll probably go further.” They seemed to be more appropriate for our life on the road, and also added much needed centimeters (height) to La Cucaracha –our 1991 Mitsubishi L300/Delica 4WD. The van, which is equipped with a rather tired 2.4-litre, 4-cylinder diésel and is always fully loaded, has benefited from the improved grip –very useful when overcoming obstacles we find on the loneliest roads.

We had the chance to try the Grabber AT2 tires on mud (I really hate mud… miserable stuff) in Manti-La Sal National Forest, Utah, and in New Mexico snow. We never felt the van lose traction, as was the case with our old tires. The five-row thread pattern and multiple traction edges cannel the mud with surprising efficiency. To put it simply, we’ve been travelling for many years with tennis shoes. The AT2 feels like proper boots.

 

After 12 months and more tan 20,000 kilometers on all types of terrains, it looks like we are going to beat a new personal record.

We were not as fortunate with them on sand in Baja, Mexico. Despite deflating them to 20 psi, we got stuck –several miles from the closest Margarita. The wide and open tread that helped us in mud seemed to dig in more tan our previous tires. Maybe we should have deflated the tires more tan we were accustomed to. Maybe I was just having a bad day. I believe it was the later, as in Southern Utah we crossed fast moving creeks like they were dry riverbeds. We climbed steep hills in Chihuahua, Mexico, that could have been scaled by Pancho Villa’s horses 100 years ago.

When we took to the highway we discovered noise levels were reasonable considering the more aggressive tread pattern. This is something to appreciate if you want to listen to music without the annoying rum-rum sound of asphalt. We expected a slight drop in fuel economy (larger diameter, more aggresive tread), which turned out to be an aceptable four percent: a fair tradeoff for the increased performance.

After 12 months and more tan 20,000 kilometers on all types of terrains, it looks like we are going to beat a new personal record. We still have more tan 75 percent of the original 16/32nds (12.7mm) tread waiting for future travels. Overall, the General AT2 looks good and has performed well in a variety of conditions and terrain. We are heading back to Baja’s sand traps in a few weeks to perfect our “air down” skills –and arrive at our favorite margarita cantina on time.

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Get the books of Pablo Rey about Around the World in 10 Years @ Amazon.com and Kindle, or download the first adventures HERE. Viva La Cucaracha!




298- Conferencia La Vuelta al Mundo en 10 Años | CLUB DE CREATIVOS DE ESPAÑA

www.viajeros4x4x4.com

A fines de marzo de 2015 fuimos invitados a dar una conferencia sobre La Vida después de la Publicidad, mi antigua profesión, durante el encuentro anual del Club de Creativos de España.

Lo había hecho bien, me había ido bien. Entonces, ¿por qué dejar un trabajo bien pagado donde tenía el futuro asegurado?

Los primeros minutos son un poco enmarañados, ¡impresiona hablar a 500 personas!

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Aquí encontrarás otra conferencia que dimos en Madrid, para las Jornadas de los Grandes Viajes

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Consigue los libros de Pablo Rey sobre La Vuelta al Mundo en 10 Años en cualquier librería de España, en Amazon.com y en Kindle, o descarga las primeras historias en PDF.




297- La Cucaracha, a house on wheels | OVERLAND JOURNAL

Published first at Overland Journal, Fall Issue 2015. Written by Chris Collard. Photography by Pablo Rey and Chris Collard.

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LA CUCARACHA: 15 YEARS, 50 COUNTRIES, 330,000 KILOMETERS, AND A DRIVE-THRU WEDDING. 

 

Why We Love la Cucaracha (©PabloRey)

La Cucaracha has its own personality and idiosyncrasies. We have loved and hated it, often in the same day. There was a time when we wanted to throw it off a cliff and cash in on an imaginary insurance claim. We’ve had a few major breakdowns: in the Sudanese Sahara, Kenya’s Sibiloi National Park, on the Bolivian Altiplano, and again in the Chilean Andes. When the springs broke in Mozambique, we travelled almost 1000 kilometers with them attached with wire until we found a used replacement set as a permanent repair. After the motor died in Iquique, Chile, we installed a second-hand motor – a great junkyard find. That was nine years and 200,000 kilometers ago. Once we learned how to drive and care for it, la Cucaracha became a third member of the family and problems stopped.

It had previously been known as the Cow (it is very heavy), the Dragon (it smokes a lot), and the Mitsushiti (it broke down a lot). We found the perfect name, la Cucaracha (the cockroach), while travelling in Colombia. Like a cockroach, it is small, can stealthily sneak into any space, and survives anything – even us.

We appreciate that it has a short wheelbase, fits perfectly in a shipping container, the bed is always made, and we can watch the moon through the sunroof at night. We have slept in la Cucaracha for more nights than in any of the conventional brick houses we have lived in. We have shipped it twice: the first was from Cape Town to Buenos Aires (for a reduced price), and again from the Guajira Peninsula, Colombia, to Colón, Panama (for free), where it was tied to the deck of an empty Bolivian cargo ship named Intrepide. It has been our only four-wheel drive, and has taken us to the ends of the world.

LA CUCARACHA ©ChrisCollard

Though many of us dream about building the perfect rig for that “big trip” around the world, few actually act upon that dream and see it to fruition. This was not the case for Pablo Rey, a creative advertising consultant who was suffering from an acute case of career burnout. In 1999, during an off-the-cuff trip to Southern Africa, he had an epiphany: to see the African continent in greater detail and never to buy a return ticket again. Though he did find himself back home in Barcelona, Spain, it didn’t take him long to quit his job, buy a vehicle, and talk his sweetheart Anna into trading professional life for that of a vagabond. The latter was a bit of a challenge. Pablo recalled, “I remember the look on Anna’s face like she was in front of me today. It said, ‘Drive around the world! How? With what money? Toward where? What did you hit your head against?’ He reasoned with her, “Almost every country in the world is connected to another by a road, thus nearly every road in the world starts at the door of your house.”

Their original 1-year plan to experience Africa on an intimate level while taking as many turns as possible morphed into two and a half years, and then expanded to include South America. Two more years passed, then another three, and they were still embracing their nomadic existence. They eventually realized that life on the road wasn’t simply an extended vacation or escape from reality – it was reality.

La Cucaracha, a 1991 Mitsubishi L300 Delica four-wheel drive van, wasn’t gleaming gem when Pablo plunked down $10,000 and the wayward duo drove it into the new millennium. The soon-to-be world-travelling insect was second-hand, bone stock, and lacked nearly all of the items many of us deem as necessities. Rather than spending months prepping the vehicle, they decided to keep up with the speed of life, get on the road, and make modifications as the trip progressed and needs arose. The bull bar was fabricated in Chile ($100), the fancy snorkel was crafted from 3-inch steel pipe in a shop in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe ($40), and an aluminum storage box was added in Buenos Aires, Argentina (free). The yellow tow bar (which after nine years has only recently put to use), was received as a gift from a friend in the Atacama Desert.

They eventually realized that life on the road wasn’t simply an extended vacation or escape from reality – it was reality.

La Cucaracha’s drivetrain remains in factory form; a good thing since Pablo readily admits that he is not a mechanic. In contrast to the normal male/female roles, Anna, who completed a course on automotive maintenance, manages most of the mechanical issues. Pablo, the creative one, focuses his energy on photographing the journey and penning books on their adventures.

A peek inside reveals the epitome of function and efficiency. If you think about it, travelling year-in and year-out requires one to carry clothing and equipment for all seasons. Every item has a specific space and there is a place for every item. They don’t travel with an ice chest or electric fridge/freezer, as this would occupy too much real estate. As a result they eat a lot of fresh food. The galley consists of a homemade single-burner stove, 6-liter propane bottle, and a small plastic storage bin for pots and pans. Sundries and clothing are stored under the foot of the bed in used aluminum boxes from Panama Jack. Moving rearward there is a home-fabricated wood storage compartment that contains everything from shoes and spare parts, to tools and bundles of books. Out back are two slide-in plastic crates with maps, more tools, and automotive fluids. Throw a 3-inch foam pad on top and you have a bed for two. The shovel, camp chairs, sunshade, window cleaner, and a host of other knickknacks reside in a cubby. On the starboard side is a hands-in (opposed to walk-in) closet stuffed with bins, bags, toilet tissue and blankets. To port is a world map with a thin spaghetti-line representing the trio’s 15 years of wandering the globe.

More conventional upgrades include General Grabber AT2 all-terrain tires and Baja Design LED lights. After meeting Sergio Murillo, owner of BajaRack, at Overland Expo, la Cucaracha found its way to Ensenada, Mexico, where Sergio and his team fitted it with a custom roof rack designed to provide a full view of the heavens through the sunroof. Peeling away the canvas tarp (a used roof top tent cover) reveals fold-up bicycles, backpacks, sleeping pads and bags, and emergency fuel.

Due to sticky hands in many parts of the world, five of the vehicle’s windows are plated with aluminum, and basic latches and padlocks secure the doors. None are elegant, but all fulfill the requirement. Because it is illegal to possess a firearm in many countries, added security is in the form of Pablo’s favorite ninja golf club and Anna’s “quick draw” bear-grade pepper spray – both of which have been utilized with full effect.

Pablo and Anna maintain that you will only regret the things you didn’t do – never the things you tried and failed to do.

One might wonder how la Cucaracha finances its travels – a good question for those who possess “the dream.” The first rule of engagement is to align oneself with humans that don’t require filet mignon every night. The second is to influence them to work. Though most of the couple’s time is spent moving slowly while taking as many turns as possible, Pablo has written several books and is a regular contributor to publications around the world. Anna picks up contract work with a concert promoter in Spain, and weaves colorful bracelets and necklaces. If you run into them on the road, they may be sitting on a street corner in front of la Cucaracha peddling their wares.

This June marked their 15th year on the road, living together at arm’s length in a 5-square meter van. They are true nomads, and recently confirmed their love for the road (and each other) by taking a right turn into a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas and tying the knot. La Cucaracha (who performed the duties of best man, father of the groom, bridesmaid, witness, and only guest) has carried the pair 330,000 kilometers through more than 50 countries. Its body carries battle scars from flying stones in Kenya and Ethiopia (unfriendly locals), rogue tree trunks in South America, and boulders in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Disguising these blemishes are tattoos of cave paintings in Zimbabwe, Moche snakes of Peru, sleeping banditos, and cactus from Mexico. Though life on the road – in close proximity to your two best (and worst) friends – may not always be a bowl of cherries, Pablo and Anna maintain that you will only regret the things you didn’t do – never the things you tried and failed to do. Good words to live by.

Specifications

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Get the books of Pablo Rey about Around the World in 10 Years @ Amazon.com and Kindle, or download the first adventures HERE.

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294- Travelling thru Narco County |OVERLAND JOURNAL

www.viajeros4x4x4.com

© Pablo Rey, Overland Journal Magazine, Gear Guide Issue 2015

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TRAVELLING THRU NARCO COUNTY.

International nomad Pablo Rey assesses Mexico’s world of cartels, farmers, fishermen, and cerveza fría.

The Mexican immigration agent was as clear as the customs agent who was as clear as the taco seller. The three of them shared the same words, the same advice, with the same stern face, “Don’t drive at night.” We were leaving the U.S. thru the Calexico/Mexicali border and instead of feeling unsafe for entering a country where the narcotics business is responsible for about 10,000 deaths per year, I was entertaining myself with the names of the bordering towns. Calexico was derived from names California and Mexico, and Mexicali from Mexico and California.

Should I have been worried? “Don’t drive at night” was an unfinished sentence. It lacked the portion that a friend from San Luis Rio Colorado shared with us while we were enjoying corn tortillas with pulled pork and cold Tecate in her backyard. She said, “There are civilian controls at night. Armed men stopping the traffic on the road to ask for documents and check the vehicles.” “Narcos?” I asked without realizing that this word should not even be whispered in Northern Mexico.

We had spent 21 months overlanding through Anglo North America and had just crossed into Mexico. Crossing the border meant going back into Latin America, a different world, one that was less than perfect and with more opportunity for spontaneity. I was eager to exchange the smell of burgers and fried chicken for the slightly salty aroma of innards wrapped in tortillas. I wanted to speak in my native language, listen to Latin American music, camp on a beach, and walk through fruit and vegetable markets that would never be clean enough for the health authorities north of the Rio Grande. I wanted to go back to a place where life was less predictable.

Our goal was to explore the Sonoran Desert, to see for ourselves if it was as beautiful as the deserts we’d come to love in Baja California. We knew that there would be military checkpoints on the road and policemen who would want to know what we were doing and where we were going. Maybe they would inspect our vehicle, searching for contraband we might have hidden in grandma’s pot or between the crates of books that we sell to help pay for our travels. The risk at these checkpoints, whether they were civilian or military, would be when our antagonists fringed on the extremes of boredom or tension. We would need to be calm and give them short, direct, and cordial answers. There is nothing more dangerous than finding yourself in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of armed people who are bored or stressed.

By the end of the second day we had travelled nearly 600 kilometers, and surprisingly, the police, army, and bad guys had been as absent as they had been in the U.S. Where was the “Mexican drug war” the American media had been parading on the nightly news, the one that had infected our excitement about traveling south?

 

If the earth were dissected into various parts -arms, legs, head, and feet- many would say that we were in the heart of a territory ruled by one of the best-organized narcotic cartels in the world.

 

With two hours of daylight left we decided to change plans and take a detour to Puerto Libertad in search of a palapa, a palm-leaf roofed hut, to camp in: The temptation to sleep on the beach had won us over. We needed only to ask the attendant at the Pemex station about the best route. “It is a dirt road,” he said, “You’d better take the tar road to El Desemboque and then the coastal road. People in towns on the way to Puerto Libertad have their crops and don’t like stranger. It is getting dark soon, you better go to El Desemboque.” We had a feeling he wasn’t talking about the usual crops of corn or tomatoes, but I didn’t ask any more questions. We turned down the long road to El Desemboque and I pressed down on the gas pedal.

If the earth were dissected into its various parts -arms, legs, head, and feet- many would say that we were in the heart of a territory ruled by one of the best-organized narcotic cartels in the world. At first glance, this region controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel was living a normal life, the same as any other part of the country. Nothing revealed that we were in a dangerous place ruled by a parallel power. We hadn’t crossed a border or passed through immigration or customs checkpoints, but somewhere ahead there was an armed civilian corps with its own justice system.

We didn’t know what would happen if beyond the next curve the road was blocked by men with guns. Could it be a bad situation? We couldn’t say, “Sorry sir, we didn’t know,” as we had been advised not to travel there. As the sun touched the horizon I stepped on the accelerator, abandoning our 90-kph routine. I wanted to cover the 105 kilometers of narrow tar road to El Desemboque before darkness could hide the area’s details. We didn’t want to be en route in Mexico at night…or so we’d been warned.

Sonora State Highway 37 is long and winding, like a noodle dropped on the ground. Only when the road dipped into a dry riverbed did I slow to the speed recommended by the various bullet-holed traffic signs. On the left, red rock mountains rose over a bushy desert, a visual barrier to the cultivated valleys of corn, hemp, prickly pear, poppy, and fruit trees. The landscape was rough and dry, and it seemed to be some time since the drug lords had invested in these rural and hidden lands.

The people working the plantations in this area are the poorest farmers, the ones forgotten by economists and politicians. But maybe they had realized that a crop of cannabis or poppy would provide the same profit as several years of growing corn. The chemicals needed to grown such crops weren’t a big problem. They could arrive hidden in the beds of 8-cylinder pick-up trucks, amazing beasts that were much more efficient than their horses or mules. The finished product, white bricks or green pressed bundles, could then be sent north in small aircraft that flew just high enough to avoid phone and power lines.

El Desemboque was too small to be in the guidebook that Anna was reading. I hadn’t seen a picture of this coastal town. No one had said if it was beautiful, ugly, dirty, or quiet. We only had the advice we were given earlier. We still didn’t know where we were going to spend the night and our destiny was uncertain.

The purest form of travel in my opinion is to move forward without knowing what you will find along the way. Throw the dice, let the chaos find order, and land on your feet like an old cat that has lost count of how many times its life has been saved, but here we could not sleep on the side of the road or turn off on a dirt track to camp in a place with no name—or between hills with names that are better to forget. I keep whispering one of my favorite mantras, we will find a place, hoping to invoke the magic of coincidences.

Two white lights appeared in the rear view mirror. They were intense and catching up with us quickly. My mine recited the Pemex attendant’s words. I pressed the accelerator further towards the floor, moving the speedometer needle to the supersonic speed of 135 kph, to the point that the steering wheel started to shake – the physical limit before the body of our 1991 Delica van would start to fall apart and leave pieces here and there. The lights continued to get closer. Was it someone with a bigger engine and more fear than we had? Maybe they were just in a hurry. They overtook us, leaving a silver trail on the road. In the distance, the silhouette of a roof appeared against the red sky and a green road sign announced we had reached El Desemboque. Night had fallen and the tar road turned into a dirt street.

Around the World in 10 Years - www.viajeros4x4x4.com

In the darkness El Desemboque looked like a town inhabited by ghosts, its unpaved streets illuminated only by the light of a few houses. Shadows turned away and ducked into doorways when they heard the noise of our engine. A few men drank beer in front of a shop under a big Tecate sign, their faces showing curiosity and surprise.

In front of most of houses were boats painted in white and with sterns empty; I supposed it was safer for the engines to sleep at home. The street turned left, then right, and continued to a row of old structures at the edge of sea. After a confusing detour we saw a light in a backyard that opened to the sea. A yellow bulb hung over two men who were seated in front of a small building, eating from a pot with their bare hands. I left the engine running, got out, walked towards them, and said hello.

Their first words were the offering of food, freshly cooked crabs from the pot. Strangely, one of them asked if I was from Texas. I told them we were driving to South America and we were looking for a place to sleep. They offered me a beer, and by my second sip told me to park our van beside the table and that it was okay to sleep there.

During the last four days we had driven nearly 800 kilometers through the heart of Narco County. What happened to the “dangerous Mexico” we had been warned about? Where were the bad guys and the corpses that were said to be hanging from bridges? Where was the war that caused so much suffering and death?

After a year travelling through most of Mexico we’ve learned that, like most other places in the world, we only had to be cautions of common thieves. The drug war is certainly present, but Narcos typically don’t mess with foreigners. They have other business, business that is much more important and profitable than hassling tourists.

That night we ate crab and drank beer with Pedro and José, our new friends. The following day I learned how to filet flat fish by imitating the precise movements of their knives. I helped them retrieve fishing nets they had left overnight in the Sea of Cortez, which were full of sea snails and more flat fish. We shared stories and we laughed. We could have encountered Pedro and José in Mexico City, Michoacán, Cancun, Monterrey, or Sinaloa, on the Pacific or the Atlantic coast, or on a forgotten beach in Narco County. Mexico is big, its people kind and friendly, and we were welcomed with open arms and lots of beer.

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Get the books of Pablo Rey about Around the World in 10 Years @ Amazon.com and Kindle, or download the first adventures of the journey HERE.




290- How to avoid being eaten by a bear | EXPEDITION PORTAL

www.viajeros4x4x4.com

©Pablo Rey. Published at Expedition Portal website on August 28th, 2015.

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HOW TO AVOID BEING EATEN BY A BEAR.

Traveling the world for more than 15 years, Pablo and Anna of Viajeros4x4x4 share their advice on how not to get eaten by a bear.

The usual way to scare off bears on North American hiking trails is by wearing a bell. Seriously, it sounds as if it may as well be a dinner bell. Tilin-tilin! Here I am! Tilin-tilin! I’m fat and juicy! It’s absurd. Personally, I prefer to walk in the woods singing Austrian mountain songs. It’s creepier and less embarrassing.

“Do you know the best way to avoid being eaten by a bear?” Anna, my travel partner, asks right after scaring away my first bear by menacingly wielding a spoon and a metal mug, the one we use to drink coffee every the morning. The real Anna, the one with a sharp and slightly evil spirit, was resurfacing.

“To avoid being eaten by a bear you have to walk in a group… and run faster than the slowest person!”

Then, she looked past my shoulder and ran away.

There wasn’t a bear about to scratch my back behind me, but her reaction was sufficiently unexpected to make me feel nervous for a while. Let’s be honest here: Anna runs faster than I do. In the last 15 years on the road we’ve seen lots of wild animals. Llamas, bucks, truck drivers, snakes, bus drivers and some crocodiles in South America. Monkeys, sloths and taxi drivers in Central America. But carnivores able to use your fingers as toothpicks? Only in Africa and at the zoo.

That’s why, while devouring hundreds of kilometers along the green tunnel, the road to the Arctic in Western Canada, we started gathering some brochures on what to do in the event we encountered a bear during a hike. All of them recommend making noise while hiking. They all tell you to leave your food locked in your vehicle, or hanging from a rope on a tree branch at least 3 meters up and at some distance from the tree trunk. Then, they give you some practical advice which appears to be written by an undercover bear.

If you encounter a bear that comes towards you growling and salivating, keep calm. It might be stressed by your presence. Hold on.’

He-he. In a situation like this, the one who’ll be stressed is me. I’m not at the office, I’m in nature!

‘You have to stand up on a big rock or on a fallen tree and slowly move your arms up and down and to the sides while you speak in a soft and friendly tone of voice.’

Ey yo… everything’s ok. Duuuude. Peace and love. I’ll go my way, and you’ll go your way. Let’s pretend we haven’t seen each other… Understand? Do you speak English?

‘If the bear runs towards you, it is most likely a defensive charge to frighten you, and it will probably stop a few centimeters from your face. You have to hold your position. If you run away, it means you are scared. And if you are scared, you are prey.’

That’s it, just to make it clear who is the boss. Like in Africa, if you see a lion while walking in the jungle, you have to remain calm, stand still, and wait for it to leave. It works at noon, their lazy time. If you find one at dawn or at dusk, your only chance is to become invisible. You can try to influence it by saying ‘I’m a bush, I’m a bush and you don’t see me because I’m a plant, and you lions are not vegetarians…’

‘If the bear only wants to make it clear who’s the boss, you will be able to move slowly away. Never turn your back to it.’

Remember, you have a bear growling at a short distance, less than a meter away from you. You know it hasn’t brushed its teeth since its’ last meal. That must have been a long time ago. If you haven’t shit your pants yet, you’re my hero.

‘On the other hand, if the bear is looking at you and keeps its ears up, be ready to defend yourself.’

Yes, you keep an eye to its ears. If they are pointing to heaven, remember bears need protein, too. They hunt for cattle, goats, deer, elks and… what was your name, again?

‘In this case, you have to fight for your life. Your backpack will protect your back. You have to point the bear spray at the ground because bears run and charge on four legs. Pay attention to the wind direction.’

The bear spray! The wind! What pocket is my bear spray in?! The wind!

‘If you are not carrying bear spray and a black bear attacks you, hit its eyes. If a grizzly attacks you, play dead, let it shake you for a while until it gets bored and goes away.’

Yes. Yes. Play dead. Sure. Think of it as a giant soft Teddy Bear. In any case, you are likely going to die on the next 5 minutes of natural causes; a heart attack, for example.

Usually, when a bear hears you’re around (or sees your coffee mug), it will hide in the forest. We, human beings are the most dangerous animals in nature. If you are in its way, you have to allow room to let it pass. But if it’s hungry or feels you‘re a menace to it or its cubs, be prepared. Go back to page 1.

Go hiking in bear territory with someone that runs slower than you do.

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Get the books of Pablo Rey about Around the World in 10 Years @ Amazon.com and Kindle, or download the first adventures HERE.