travel podcast

EP 35: Closed Cities - Classified Towns and Cities You’re Not Supposed to Know About.

Most of our episodes deal with places that you can travel to, like Iceland or Cuba. But what about the places you’re never allowed to explore? The places that are closed off the public, off-limits and top-secret?

In this episode, we’re going to tell you about Closed Cities, also known as secret cities or forbidden cities. These are places on the planet, where thousands of people can live but no one’s allowed in and no one’s allowed out.

Click play above to listen to the episode. Or listen on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, GooglePlay and more.

Closed Cities of Russia

Closed Cities of Russia

Have you ever heard of a closed city? In many ways, it’s a lot like a normal city. You have thousands of people who pay taxes, have jobs, and fall in love. The only difference is, it’s shut off from the rest of the world.

“The first closed city was built in Washington state,” says Samira Goetschel, who spoke with Cinema Sophistry about her movie City 40.

Zac Fanni of Cinema Sophistry was kind enough to let us use this interview with Goetschel in our episode, you can check out more of their content here.

“That city which was closed, meaning, no one had access. The closest thing would be a high-security military base,” she explains.

And no one is allowed to leave.

These places are sealed from outside access. They’re meant to protect secrets of sensitive military research, with much of the residents working on those project. Most of the closed cities in the US were created for the top-secret Manhattan Project which led to the development of the first nuclear bomb.

Closed City in Tennessee

Closed City in Tennessee

Places like Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee were closed to outsiders and placed under the control of the US Military. In 1941, the government chose the town of Dugway, Utah as a closed city where they could house researchers and their families. Its remote location made it the best place to study biological and chemical warfare agents.

Keeping the city closed could prevent any accidental biological contamination from spreading to the rest of the country.

Although many of these formerly closed cities now allow public access, a few still remain.

Government provided photo of Mercury, Nevada.

Government provided photo of Mercury, Nevada.

Like the town of Mercury, Nevada, which once had a population of over 10,000. It housed the scientists who tested the first nuclear bombs. Mercury was a thriving secret city with a school, movie theater, bowling alley, and everything else you’d find in a 1950s American town.

Today, you’re still not allowed step foot here, unless you have a clearance and orders from the government. The current population numbers are classified, but it’s rumored that at least 500 people still live here and they’re mostly researchers.

Not much else is known about any other cities like this existing in the US, but we do know that in Russia there are dozens of active closed cities.

Entrance to a closed Russian city.

Entrance to a closed Russian city.

Under communist rule, these places were so secret that they weren’t even placed on Soviet maps. Some cities had populations as large as 100,000 people.

Residents here were forbidden from leaving or even writing letters to family.

“The relatives of these people who were relocated to this city, they considered them as missing; they disappeared,” said Goetschel.

Hundreds of thousands of people simply disappeared after they moved to these cities. Hiding their whereabouts also served another grim purpose.

“They also, I’m talking about the Soviet Union at the time. They didn’t put aside the idea that maybe there would be a nuclear accident that would actually kill these people, so what they decided to do was erase their identity. Meaning they didn’t exist outside of the city.”

Like the Manhattan Project in the US, Soviet closed cities were created to protect nuclear secrets.

But today many of these places are changing, with Russia now publicly admitting of their existence.

Like Ozersk, once codenamed City 40.

Russia City Guard

Russia City Guard

“It still remains a closed city, however it’s no longer a secret, it still remains a forbidden city,” according to Goetschel.

Constructed in 1947, City 40 was the birthplace of the Soviet Nuclear Weapons Program. To keep this project secret and to keep residents from fleeing, the USSR told them that they were ‘the nuclear shield and saviors of the world,’ and that everyone outside was a potential enemy.

They also provided them with the best perks and jobs in Soviet Union.

“They created a paradise for these people, so they didn’t want to escape,” Goetschel explained, “They had everything they needed and more.”

Residents had nice apartments, plenty of food, good schools and healthcare, as well as a ton of entertainment options.

But most outside information was restricted from entering City 40. During the Cold War, residents were unaware that most of the Soviet population was suffering from famine and living in poverty.

“These people who had absolutely nothing outside, they had everything and beyond, like an episode of Twilight Zone or a science fiction film,” she said.

Today, there currently 44 publicly acknowledged closed cities in Russia, with over 1 and a half million people living in them.

“Today they have a certain access to the outside world, but they have to get outside visas.”

Double Barbed Wire Fencing

Double Barbed Wire Fencing

These cities are surrounded by double barbed wire fencing, to keep people without authorization from leaving. The ones that can leave have to promise not to talk about their home city.

“You do not talk to anybody about City 40 because then you are accused of being a traitor.”

If you want to go to a closed city, you’ll need an invitation from an existing resident. And even that might not get you in. Foreigners and non-resident Russians need special permission from the Russian secret police.

It’s believed that an additional 15 or so closed cities exist in Russia, but their names and locations have not been publicly disclosed.

Could you live in a closed city? Would you consider visiting one? In Russia, they’re viewed as these utopian bubbles, with many residents choosing to stay in these secretive cites, even though they don’t have to.

If you haven’t listened to the podcast, hit play below to check it out. Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you’re getting your podcasts, tell a friend or family member about us, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook where you can find more of our content.

 

Ep 26: Shooting AK-47s with Latvian Gangsters. Plus: Tales from Chernobyl

In this weeks travel podcast episode we’re joined by James Finnerty from Lupine Travels. Finnerty is an unconventional travel agent of sorts. He takes people to Iraq, North Korea, the Chernobyl Nuclear Site, Antarctica and more. In this episode he shares a great story about shooting AK-47s in Latvia with gangsters and brothel runners.

martins-zemlickis-56647.jpg

Episode 20: Passenger Rights and Air Travel

Air Travel and Passenger Rights

Hit play below to listen to the episode or find us on iTunesStitcher, TuneIn, or Acast

When I travel via plane, I try and pack as many things into my carry-on as possible. Why pay that $50 check-in baggage fee if I can avoid it, right? Well, that may soon be ending. Some airlines like United, are planning to charge fees for using the overhead compartment.

Is it just me or does the air travel experience seem to be deteriorating? 

To answer this question for myself, I did a little bit of research and found that in the 1970s, some US airlines used to have cool perks like pubs and lounges in their coach section; today First Class doesn’t even have that. I also found that the average width of an airplane seat in the 1970s was 18 inches.

Today, that's shrunk to an average of 16.5 inches.

Shrinking seats has consequences according to Proxemics, which is the study of the human use of space. It states that anyone within 1 – 4 feet can be considered within our personal space.

So if you're unfortunate enough to sit in the middle seat of an airplane, you could have up to seven complete strangers all within arms distance of you. Proxemics states that people can feel discomfort, anger, or anxiety when a stranger is inside of their personal space.

Although travel is good for your health, getting squeezed onto a plane can create a lot of tension on an aircraft. Tension that could be avoided if 'Airplane Etiquette: the Unwritten Rules of Air Travel,' was required reading.

According to the International Air Transport Association, the rate of unruly passengers is increasing. It seems like every couple of weeks, there’s an airplane horror story in the news. From fights breaking out, to passengers having to restrain a man, to someone having a temper tantrum over baggage space.

With all of this stuff happening, I gave a call to David Cogswell, executive editor at TravelPulse.com, to get a better understanding of what's happening to the airline industry.

"I think what’s happened, the industries have become so consolidated; really monopolized," according to Cogswell. "You have 4 big airlines that control 86% of all domestic traffic. They divide the market up nicely so they don’t really have to compete."

Continental Airlines Coach Lounge, circa 1970

Continental Airlines Coach Lounge, circa 1970

With fewer airlines to choose from, there is less business competition. Airlines don’t need to offer perks like lounges and pubs, to convince you to fly with them instead of their competitors. The lack of competition is shrinking almost every year. In 2012 Continental Airlines merged with United, in 2015 American Airlines merged with US Airways, and last year Alaskan Airlines bought Virgin America

The prices are rising faster than inflation.

This trend doesn’t have good consequences for consumers. Like at the Philadelphia International Airport, where American Airlines controls 77% of all seats booked, after they merged with US Airways. Before the merger the cost of a ticket in Philadelphia used to be 4% below the national average, now it’s 11% above the national average.

"The prices are rising faster than inflation," Cogswell says.

Although huge airline mergers have to pass through Congress to make sure they don’t violate any anti-trust laws, they are almost always approved.

"They’ve made it so that they’ve twisted these words around," according to Cogswell. "They go to Congress and use the word ‘competition’ to say, ‘well you’ve let these guys merge, so now they’re bigger than us. So if you let us merge then we’ll be more competitive.’ So they’re saying, ‘we’ll be more competitive,’ but the marketplace won’t be more competitive."

With less competition, things like customer service begin to lose priority, the size of your seat matters less, and practices like overbooking increases.

"They're overbooking to the extent of abuse. There’s a certain degree of it that makes sense in terms of yield management, so they don’t have to fly with a lot of empty seats all the time."

The overbooking issue is what caused United to infamously kick Dr. David Dao off their flight in April of this year. You can watch the video below:

Overbooking continues to be a problem for passengers flying United. Just this month they took a ticketed seat from a two-year-old and made the mother hold the baby during the flight, just so they could give the seat to someone else. 

"The thing with the woman and her baby was that she was afraid. She said that she was afraid to complain," Cogswell explained. "When it finally came out, the airline said that it was a mistake. But she was afraid to bring the subject up because who knows what would have happened to her.

"It definitely feels like they have the power. It’s their company, it’s their airplane, even though you bought a ticket. You definitely don’t want to do or say the wrong thing," says Susan Shain, travel writer and blogger.

Shain has gotten really familiar with passenger rights, like what you’re owed if you get bumped from a flight due to overbooking.

Air passengers rights

"It’s pretty normal for airlines to overbook seats, to make up for no-shows," Shain says, "But when more people show up than they expect, that’s when they’re offering vouchers.

These vouchers are for discounts on future travel with the airline.

"So that’s when they’re seeking volunteers. It’s only in a case when not enough people volunteer, that’s when airlines are forced to bump people against their will. They don’t want to have to pay you so they’re going to offer you some pretty great incentives and they’re going to keep going up if they don’t have any volunteers."

Airlines are required by law to pay you in cash not vouchers, if they bump you against your will. You do qualify for different amounts of compensation depending on when you arrive to your destination.

"If you’re involuntarily bumped from a flight and you arrive within an hour of your scheduled arrival time, you’re not owed anything," says Shain, "But if you’re 1 – 2 hours late, you’re owed double the price of your ticket. If you arrive more than 2 hours late, the airline owes you quadruple the cost of your ticket, which maxes out at $1,350.

I asked Shain, "What if your flight is delayed or canceled, and you miss that Quinceañera or Bar Mitzvah? Are you owed any compensation?"

"So unfortunately there are no regulations that require an airline to do anything for you in case of a domestic delay or cancellation."

Air travel rights

Although there are no regulations, Susan says that some airlines might still give you something for your troubles.

"If you ask nicely, some airlines might give you some form of compensation just for good customer service," she says. "You can ask for vouchers, not flight vouchers but food vouchers to eat at the airport restaurants. I’ve also asked for hotel or taxi vouchers in the past. That happens more often if the delay is due to a mechanical or a scheduling issue. I found that if it’s due to weather, they’ll say they can’t do anything."

If they can’t give you vouchers, you can always ask for something else.

"I’ve also asked for airline miles. So if I’m a frequent flyer with the airline, I’ll say, ‘hey, I love your airline, I fly with you often and I understand this happens. Would you be willing to give me some air miles for the inconvenience?’ And that’s worked too."

If the airline can’t compensate you for a delay, Susan says to check the credit card that you booked the flight with.

"One of my favorite cards, if you’re delayed more than 6 hours or you need to stay overnight, and you purchased the ticket or paid fees on that credit card, it will reimburse you up to $500 per ticket."

And if you have an issue with your checked-in bags, airlines are required to give you compensation.

Baggage claim travel rights

"The DOT says airlines need to compensate for reasonable expenses for loss, damage, or delay. Each airline does their own interpretation of that. But most of the time you can expect a stipend of about $50 a day. And they’re also required to reimburse any baggage fees. The max is $3,500 domestically and $1,500 internationally."

So all of these travel tips are great, but what if you’re not satisfied and think you’re still being treated unfairly? Susan says she has her go-to place to get those issues resolved.

"The first places I always jump on is twitter. I found that companies are always quicker to act if you complain politely."

Susan stressed about being polite. It always helps, especially when you’re talking to an airline representative in person.

"Last year I was flying to Georgia, the country, from San Diego, and I don’t really remember why, but the flight was canceled," she says. "People were going crazy and losing their cool, and it definitely sucked but it was not the gate agents fault, and she was really nice, doing her best. So when it was my turn I was patient and I worked with her and I ended up on a flight the next day, and when I got on the plane I realized that she bumped me up to business class. I’m sure if I was rude, I wouldn’t have been in business class."

Do you have any air travel stories? We'd love to hear them. If you want more information about your passenger rights, check out the Department of Transportation's Fly Rights.

Don't forget to listen to our travel podcast episode on this topic below:

Check out our co-host Adrien’s podcast and website at: www.strangersabroadpocast.com

If you haven’t subscribed, do so on iTunes or wherever you’re getting your podcasts.

 

 

Episode 19: Too Hot for Planes to Fly, A Bar with an ‘Unhappy Hour’, Cuba Flight Cutbacks.

Oregon National Parks

Why couldn’t planes take off in Phoenix in 118 Degree heat? Airlines are cutting flights to Cuba. A new bar with an ‘unhappy hour’. The Walking Dead cruise. Find out more in the latest travel news episode:

Misfornøyelsesbar Displeasure Bar

A bar called Misfornoyelsesbar or 'Displeasure Bar', recently opened in Norway’s capital city, Oslo. The owner of the bar says he aims to create an unpleasant atmosphere to customers. Christopher Nielsen designed the three roomed bar to represent anxiety, schizophrenia, and paranoia. One room is furnished with child-sized furniture; another has it’s wall painted with distraught faces. The bar even has an unhappy hour were patrons pay more, and pregnant women drink at a discount.

Oregon National Parks

The state of Oregon may start limiting visitors to its National Parks. Some areas have seen a spike in guests of up to 500% in the last two years. Parks that could be impacted are Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, Three Sisters, Diamond Peak and Waldo Lake wilderness. Some proposals to reduce the number of visitors are to start charging for overnight camping, another is to issue a limited number of entry permits for the parks more popular area. Officials say the changes, which aren’t expected to take effect until 2019, should protect the area’s terrain, vegetation, wildlife and water.

Cuba flights

Southwest Airlines is latest U.S. airline to reduce flights to Cuba. American Airlines and JetBlue have also reduced the number of flights from the US to the Caribbean island. Meanwhile Spirit and Frontier airlines have cut all future flights. Although none of President Trump’s Cuba policy changes have taken effect, they’re already having an impact travel.

Walking Dead Cruise

Fans of the Walking Dead can now buy tickets for the official Walking Dead Cruise. The ship, which departs in January next year, will host several of the shows stars and its creator Robert Kirkman. Pre-sale tickets for 2,500 guests are now on sale. The four-night cruise departs from New Orleans and includes meet-and-greet sessions with the cast and crew, as well as question and answers panels, and zombie-themed activities.


Don't forget to listen to the episode for more content:

 

Check out our other great content below:

Episode 18: CAMPING TRIP ON A BUDGET

Camping Trip on a Budget

With no camping gear, equipment or firewood, I went on a trip for less than $50. Click play below to hear the episode:

 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Camping for millennials

In between some of my big travels, like to Cuba or Iceland, I like to take smaller more affordable trips like camping. Which is always fun and can save me money for my next adventure. I’m going to show you how to go camping for under $50.00, even if you don’t have any camping equipment.

So, I’m starting off with the essentials here, like a jacket, beanie, pants, boots, etc… What I don’t have is your typical camping gear, like a tent and a sleeping bag. I’m also going to need a cooler and a stove for all my food.

I went online, did some research, and found Lisa Rowan from The Penny Hoarder, a website that offers tips to save money and make money. They have articles like, Where to Get Free Donuts on National Donut DayHow To Make Money Selling Your Plasma, and Get the Vacation You’ve Been Craving: Go Camping. That last one, Lisa wrote.

"I didn’t think I’d like camping," Lisa said, "If you look at any of my dating profiles from the past couple of years, it would say that I love the great in doors, and that we should not go outside. I’m a flushed toilets kind of girl."

Lisa gave camping a shot to see if she’d like it, and now she’s hooked.

Millennial starting a camp fire

"I felt like a new person after going camping this spring," Lisa told me. "It was so peaceful to not have to pick up my phone every time it dinged, because it wasn’t dinging at all. And now I’m realizing that if I really want to unplug, camping is the perfect way to do it."

It’s also very affordable, which is what I wanted to talk to Lisa about. She told me that one easy way to save money camping, is to borrow equipment.

"Yea, the sharing economy is great in this case, I mean the old fashion sharing economy where you just borrow things from your neighbors."

I don’t know many of my neighbors, because I’m kind of new to my neighborhood, but one easy way to connect with people who live close by is through a website called Nextdoor.com. It’s a social network for your neighborhood. Here you can post things about your neighborhood, like if you lost your dog or need recommendations for a dentist. Or you can ask people if you can borrow things.

"If you’re not a super outdoors person and you don’t know how often you’re going to camp or if you live in a small space like me without a lot of storage room, then being able to take the extra hour or two, pick things up from someone who’s willing to share them." Lisa says, "A lot of times people just want their stuff to get used all the time. So they’re happy to share."

Would they be happy to share? I gave it a shot and went to Nextdoor.com to see if I could borrow some gear from a neighbor. I already had an account setup, so I just logged in and posted under the 'General' category. I need to see if I can get a camping stove, a tent and a sleeping mat.

Camping for Millennials

Within an hour I got a response from a woman named Barb, she wrote that she has, “everything that I need. And to get in touch with her.” I sent her a quick email and we set up a time to meet up.

Barb lives a 3-minute drive from my house. When I got to her house she showed me all the gear she had. She didn’t have a sleeping mat, instead she had something better.

"This is the queen size air mattress. And this is, these are all the things I use to blow it up," she said.

Barb was super nice, and beside loaning me the tent, mattress, and stove, she loaned me some extra gear, like a large jug for storing water and a solar light.

There were still more things I would need that I considered buying, so I went to a local thrift shop to see what I could find.

I think I got lucky because I found a small blue cooler that was perfect for what I needed. It's an old model, like one they don’t make anymore, but it’s in great condition, and it’s only $4.00. I even found a gallon sized insulated jug, with a drinking spout at the top. Normally I wouldn’t buy something to drink out of at a thrift store, but this one was really clean and it looks identical to the one my parents had growing up. I remember them filling it up with iced tea and taking it to the beach with us, so it’s kind of a nostalgia thing for me too, and it’s only $3.00, so I bought it. I made sure to clean them out with a lot of soap and water.

Cooler found at a thrift shop.

I also found a decent sleeping bag. Again it looks old, but it doesn’t look like it's been used much. It’s only $5.00, and all I need to do is wash it and I should be good to go. 

I had only spent $12.00 so far and had all my essential camping equipment. Next I'd need to get food. Lisa told me I should get it all before hand.

"A lot of places you’re going to find a camp store to help you with those last minute needs or those cravings," she says. "You have to remember that this stuff is marked way up. It’s like packs of hotdogs, all the ingredients for s’mores. So if you can avoid spending money there, it’s all the better for the affordability of your camping trip."

She said the stuff there can be expensive, because camp shops are often very far from a regular grocery store. She’s right, I went to one on the way to my campsite to check out the prices.

Camp Store

I found a bag of chips for $5.99, marshmallows for $4.99, and a Hershey’s bar for $2.99. And the store clerk was looking at me wondering why I was talking into a microphone. I didn't tell him I was doing a podcast episode about camping that you should totally listen to because it's way better than reading! You can subscribe to it here on iTunesStitcher, Acast, or where ever you're getting your podcasts. Or hit play below:

I’m glad I went to the grocery store near my home. I got all the food I needed, as well as a small propane tank for the stove. The only thing I didn’t buy there was firewood. Everybody knows you can’t go camping without having a proper campfire, but $4.99 for a small bundle of wood seemed too expensive.

I don’t like being stingy with my firewood. I'm the kind of person that would have a bonfire if I could, but I wasn’t going to spend $20.00 on wood alone. So, I thought I’d check out Craigslist in the ‘free’ section to see if anyone was giving away firewood. I typed ‘wood’ in the search bar to see what came up. I found a listing that says 'Scrap/firewood,' and it read: 'Cleaned up the yard… lot’s of firewood!!! please take!!!' They had a picture of the wood and an address where it was located, so I hopped in my car and drove over.

Camp Firewood

When I pulled up I saw a decent pile of wood next to the curb and loaded as much of it as I could into my car. One important thing I should mention: you should never transport firewood more than 50 miles from where you got it. This prevents invasive bugs living in the wood, from moving into an area they're not supposed to be.

I didn't take any fancy cooking gear or utensils, just a kettle and a pot from my kitchen. The last thing I needed to do was find a place to camp. Lisa said you can do this all online.

"It’s all at your finger tips now. The web is so informative when it comes to different campgrounds and parks."

She said that there are lots of resources online to camp at places you may not had even realized had campsites.

"It’s cities, counties and state parks too. Think of any jurisdictions basically. It can be a place near you that’s going to have really reasonable rates on campsites."

I did a search online and found some of these campsites to be really affordable, like $10.00 a night. You can also check out your state parks website to see if they have any discounts, many offer free entrance to seniors and veterans. Some even have free campsites for anyone, which is what I wanted to find. I came across a website called Freecampsites.net

Free campsites

All you do is type in your city or zip code and it shows you on a map, the nearest free campsites. I found one on a lake, only a 45-minute drive from where I live. So I packed all my gear and headed out.

Free campsites are probably packed during holidays like Memorial Day or the 4th of July. So it’s best to go on a regular weekend, or a weekday if you can.

Campsite on a lake.

I found a site only a few feet from the lake. It’s beautiful, mountains all around, and I’m far enough from other campers to have some privacy. I couldn’t believe I didn’t have to pay for this. This was probably one of the best campsites I’ve ever stayed at.

Here, I have no cell service, and like Lisa said earlier, it can feel really nice to unplug. Some people don’t really like camping, and I get it, it's not for everyone. In fact, in many cultures, camping isn’t something you do for fun. If you’re sleeping outside, you’re either lost or homeless.

Recreational Camping didn’t start until about the late 1800s, in the days of the American West. Miners, cowboys and other early settlers lived in tents. Before Colorado officially became a State, there were small towns made up of dozens and dozens of tents. Pictures and drawings of these places eventually made their way back east to the cities of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Colorado tent community

At this point in the 1890’s, the Western Frontier was popularized by Cowboys like Buffalo Bill and outlaws like Billy the Kid. Artists like Frederic Remington and writers like Jack London glorified the rugged Western lifestyle. This permanently changed American culture, with kids wanting to be cowboys, or sheriffs, and people wanting to see the Western Saloons for themselves. 

They also wanted to spend some time under a tent. They wanted to build a fire and get in touch with nature.

Camping in the outdoors.

Today there are over 30 different brands of sleeping bags. There are tents for one person and tents for 12 people. There’s the concept of Glamping which is basically glamorous camping, no tent or sleeping bag required.

Either way you do it, it’s nice to take a short break, and unplug for a bit, while you’re waiting for you next vacation.


GEAR LIST:

Everything on this list has 4 out of 5 stars or more. I own or have used this gear myself:

Coleman 2-Burner Stove

Propane (gas for the stove)

Cooler

Reusable Ice Packs (instead of buying ice)

Gallon Jug

Large Water Jug (for extra water)

Tent (for 4 people)

Sleeping Bag

Sleeping pad

Mexican blanket (love this thing!)

Headlamp

Flashlight

AA Batteries

AAA Batteries

Rechargable Battery Pack (I use this all the time)

 

 

 

Tweezers (for splinters)

Sunblock (for skin)

Bug spray

Allergy Medication

Table (foldable full-sized table)

Trash bin (collapsable)

Long Lighter

Easy start fire-starter

Wipes (for your dirty hands or bum)

Hammock (should be required gear)

Cookware w/ utensils and cooking pan

Coffee Brewer, single use, perfect for camping


Here's your last chance to listen:


Leave us a comment if you have any tips of your own. Or if you just want to say, 'hi'.

 
 
 

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Episode 17: New Cuba Travel Policy and Other Travel News

Cuba

Today the Trump Administration announced they are reversing some of Obama’s Cuba Travel Policies. Although previously Trump had said he was canceling the policy altogether, this new stance is only a partial shift from Obama’s.

Travelers currently in Cuba, or those who had purchased a ticket to Cuba before June 16th, are technically exempt from the new changes. The Treasury and Commerce Departments have 30 days to start writing in new regulations based off of Trump’s order. These regs won’t take effect until they are complete.

One major change is how strict US Custom will enforce the current 12 categories for legal travel to Cuba. Previously, in my experience, Customs didn’t ask me or anyone I was traveling with, for proof that I had legally adhered to travel under one of these categories. This was referred to as an ‘honor code.’

The only category for travel that appears to be changing is the ‘educational activities category’, which will now require that you travel with a tour group. Travelers can also be subject to an audit by the Treasury Department, for five years after travel to Cuba. This is meant to dissuade traveler from illegal transactions.

The administration claims that these new restrictions are aimed at preventing money from going to the Cuban Military.

You might be wondering how travel to Cuba can benefit their military, and we were wondering that too. So we’re going to break it down.

In Cuba there’s this company called GAESA, it’s an acronym which loosely means the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group. GAESA is a conglomerate of businesses owned and operated by the Cuban military. They own nearly all the hotels and resorts, they own the rental car companies, all the grocery stores, gas stations, and pretty much every restaurant in Old Havana.

GAESA is operated by General Luis Alberto Rodriguez, the son-in-law of President Raul Castro. The company earns 40 – 60 percent of Cuba’s foreign exchange income, so basically money spent by travelers.

The Trump Administration is trying to make it harder for GAESA to profit off of American Travelers. His new policy would ban most US business transactions with this company. So staying at one of their hotels or renting one of their cars would be illegal for Americans.

This shouldn’t be that hard to avoid, since most people stay at a Casa Particular, which is essentially an Airbnb. Renting a car in Cuba isn’t really necessary either, since transportation is relatively inexpensive.

There will still be no limit to how many Cuban Cigars you can bring back to the US, as long as it’s valued under 10,000 dollars.

So what’s the takeaway here?

It looks like travel to Cuba will be a little harder to Americans. It doesn’t look like these changes will take effect for another 90 days, so if you want to avoid the hassle, you should go now.

In other news, the TSA Is Testing New Biometric Fingerprint Scanners.

TSA Biometric Fingerprint scanners

International Airports in Atlanta and Denver are the first to receive the new scanners, where they’ll be tested. The plan is to use your finger print as both your boarding pass and ID. The scanners will rely only on volunteers and available only to those enrolled in TSA PreCheck. This technology is expected to make travel easier and quicker for passengers. So you won’t have to worry about printing your boarding pass at home or trying to find it in your email.

Las Vegas Hotels

Las Vegas hotel rates are skyrocketing for the Aug 26th showdown between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor. Less than 24 hours after the date for the fight was announced, hotel prices jump over 60%. 40 Year old Mayweather will be coming out of retirement to fight the UFC Fighter. Mayweather retired in 2015 with 49 wins and 0 losses in his professional boxing career. McGregor has a 23 win and 3 lose record in the mixed martial arts sport. He has never fought in a professional boxing match.

Ethiopia

The US State Department issued a travel warning for Ethiopia this week. With reports of civil unrest, the US is warning travelers to steer clear of the East African nation. The Ethiopian government has recently been shutting down cell phone and internet access due to demonstrations against the government. If you do go, stay away from live demonstrations, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, and have alternate communication plans..

British Airways

1,400 British Airways cabin crew members have announced a two-week strike, to start on July 1st. The union is striking over a pay dispute and travel concessions. There has already been 26 days of strikes since January of this year. A British Airways spokesperson said travelers would be unaffected by any planned strike.

Big Sur landslide highway 1

A huge landslide on California’s coastal Highway 1 last month, continues to block access to Big Sur. Earlier in March, the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, also in Big Sur along another section of Highway 1, was demolished. The road is expected to open in September, after the peak of the travel season.

Grand_Prismatic_Spring,_Yellowstone_National_Park_(3646969937).jpg

In Yellowstone National Park, a 21 year old man suffered sever burns when he fell into a hot spring. The man was near the Lower Geyser Basin just north of the Old Faithful geyser, when he fell. Park Rangers stress that visitors stay on the marked trails and boardwalks for their safety. Last year, a man from Oregon man died after he fell into a boiling acidic hot spring in Yellowstone. His body was never recovered.

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Episode 16: Madagascar. An adventure through the heart of this wondrous island.

Madagascar

On this episode, we’re going on an adventure through the heart of Madagascar. Join us with British Adventurer Ash Dykes, as he tells us how he climbed eight mountains, survived malaria, rotten eel, a witch, leeches, and crocodiles. Click the play button below to listen:

 

TRANSCRIPT: 

CWALINSKI: I caught up with Ash Dykes, a British adventurer. His travels are always adventurous, like cycling the length of Vietnam and Cambodia.

DYKES: On ten pound bicycles, really quite reckless, no helmet, no puncture repair kit, no gears no suspension, a tent that wasn’t waterproof; we found out the hard way.

CWALINSKI: When Dykes says the bikes were ten pounds, he means that the bike cost 10 British pounds. He did trip on a really low budget and it took him 15 days to cover over 1,100 miles.

DYKES: We were hit by mopeds, chased by dogs, dodged by lorry’s.

CWALINSKI: A lorry is another word for a truck. Even though he spent so little on this trip, he was low on cash.

DYKES: Crossed over to Thailand into Burma. Couldn’t afford a permit, so I decided to cross through the jungle, where there was no border control.

CWALINSKI: You might be getting the idea that Dykes doesn’t do things the conventional way.

DYKES: And then I went on to do treks in the Himalayas, avoiding the Pakistani Army, again because I didn’t have a permit for that. Before settling down as a scuba diving instructor and Muay Thai fighter, for about a year and a half in Thailand.

CWALINSKI: Dykes is the kind of guy whose version of settling down is to become a Muay Thai fighter in Thailand. He says he’s been this way since he was a teenager.

DYKES: I worked as a lifeguard here in North Wales for a good two years. Doing about 240 hours a month, every month. Sold my car, bought a cheap bicycle. Started bicycling to and from work everyday.

CWALINSKI: Dykes preps for his adventures this way. He sells his belongings, packs his things and just goes. This is how he got ready for his most recent adventure.

DYKES: Madagascar is a bloody big place. And I think a lot of people assume it’s small. Fourth largest island in the world. So I had told the world I had announced it to everyone, told them what I was planning, what I was doing, but yet didn’t have the money to make it happen until two weeks before.

CWALINSKI: He didn’t spend lavishly on expensive gear either.

DYKES: They’ve been such low budget, that it almost makes them hardcore. I went to sports direct in the 50% discount, and bought myself some carriable trainers. (FADE) I’ve not got helicopter backup, I’ve not got a pickup around the corner, I’ve not got support crew.

CWALINSKI: Dykes would walk the entire route on foot. It would take him right through the middle of the island

DYKES: I’d be walking from the most southern tip to the most northern tip, via the mountainous range. Summiting the 8 highest mountains along the way. Covering a distance of 1,600 miles.

CWALINSKI: Not only is Madagascar huge, but it’s an incredibly unique country. To find out more about the island, I spoke with Charles Welch, the conservation coordinator at the Duke Lemur Center. He went to Madagascar once on a temporary research trip.

WELCH: We ended up living in Madagascar for 15 years, working in conservation. That wasn’t the original intention, but that’s how long it ended up. One year led to another.

CWALINSKI: Welch spent that time working on conservation projects in Madagascar, an island that’s been isolated for a really long time.

WELCH: Tens of millions of years. It’s been pretty much where it is today, completely isolated for around 80 million years. So you get species that evolved differently there than on the African mainland.

CWALINSKI: This made the plant and animal life here unique, compared to the rest of the world.

WELCH: You’d have around 80-80% endemic species in Madagascar, and that’s really high…

CWALINSKI: Endemic species means that it can only be found in the wild in one area.

WELCH: Over half of the worlds chameleons come from Madagascar… Madagascar has 3 times the number of palm species than the entire continent of Africa… There are 8 species of baobabs worldwide, 6 of those are native to Madagascar... Up over 100 species of Lemurs in Madagascar now…

CWALINSKI: Baobabs are these amazing looking trees with thick reddish-grey trunks up to 12 feet wide. They’re the most famous plant on the island. Madagascar’s diversity in life comes from the variety of the landscape here, much of which Dykes would be trekking through on his adventure.

DYKES: I’d be coming across savannah, desert, tropical dry forest, tropical rain forest, mountains.

CWALINSKI: Instead of trekking through without any permits like he did in Burma and Pakistan, Dykes got permission from officials in Madagascar.

DYKES: I partnered with the tourism minister. With them, I partnered with the national parks office, to allow access to summit some of the highest mountain out there.

CWALINSKI: He would also need guides to help him navigate and act as his translator.

DYKES: The guides were in the thick of it with me. The guide especially in the southern section had never been that far down south before. So we were both lost together, we were in the thick of it together.

CWALINSKI: In September 2014, Dykes began his trip at Cape Sainte Marie; the southern tip of Madagascar. But after a coup of the presidency in 2009, there’s been a bit of civil unrest in this part of the country. A group, Dykes describes as ‘bandits’ were in conflict with the local military. Him and his guide tried at first to trek through the jungle to avoid being seen.

DYKES: But I found that the bandits were utilizing the jungle to stay hidden from the military, so it wouldn’t have been a good idea. We made it back inland and that’s when we came across a drunken military officer, who pretty much had me and my two guides at gun point. Demanding for money. He was drunk, so his AK-47 kept slipping off his shoulder and he was catching it by the trigger.

CWALINSKI: For 25 minutes the Guides tried to reason with the soldier, while Dykes stood by contemplating his next move.

DYKES: But two sober offices came down and apologized to us and allowed us to continue.

CWALINSKI: After that incident, Dykes and his guides continued to push north. They had to go back into the Jungle, using machetes (FX) to cut a path through where they would face other dangers.

DYKES: As beautiful as it was, I haven’t seen another country like it; the challenges were constant. You’ve got your crocodiles; you have your diseases from the mosquitos. And one month into my expeditions, the Nile crocodiles were waking up after 7 months in hibernation and they were hungry. And I had a lot of rivers to cross.

CWALINSKI: Nile crocodiles are active in the summer months. Since the seasons are reversed South of the equator, Dykes was entering the crocodiles most active time of year.

DYKES: There was one river that we saw and it didn’t look like crocodile territory, it looked like the river came to a dead end and me and my guide, also called, ‘Me’, so it became very confusing. So me and Me, both waddled in the river and started washing and the next minute from the distance we saw a local running over the hill, sort of waving his hands and shouting in Malagasy, and Me jumped out so I just followed straight away. And this guy was shouting that there are 3 to 4-meter-long crocodile in that river, so get the heck out of there.

CWALINSKI: 12-foot-long crocodiles lived in those waters, but they weren’t the only threats of the rivers.

DYKES: On one river crossing, this was the scariest for sure. It was a night time river crossing, crocodile infested and it was during the cyclone season. And we all had to link arms forming a human chain, there was now five of us. We were pretty sure that if one of us slipped, not only the weight of the rucksacks would pull us under the river, but we’d also hit these boulders on the way down.

CWALINSKI: On this portion of the expedition, Dykes was joined by photographer Suzanne Tieri. Dykes said she tagged along to capture some of the adventure in her photos. This meant she’d also be attempting these dangerous river crossings.

DYKES: The roar of the river was so loud that we had to shout to hear over our own voices. It was pitch black so we had to wear a head torch, and as we all crossed, Suzanna lost her footing. And she was in the grasp of Max’s hand and mine, my guide. And it was at that point that I thought, holy shit, if we lose grip, it’s game over for Suzanne. That was a close call.

CWALINSKI: Besides the geographical dangers, Dykes says that disease posed another threat. The potential for catching Malaria there his really high. But this could be avoided by taking anti-malaria medication on a daily basis. Then there were other, less common diseases.

DYKES: I walked up into a community. And this community was one of only a small few in Madagascar that still suffers from the bubonic plague.

CWALINSKI: Bubonic plague is a scary disease. Without treatment it kills over 30 percent of those infected. It’s believed that the famous European Black Death in the 14th century that wiped out 1 in 4 people, was a form of bubonic plague. But Dykes and his guide still need food, and they relied on communities like this one, for assistance.

DYKES: And they said, eat what we give you, then get into your tent and stay protected and leave first thing in the morning and we did exactly that.

CWALINSKI: Bubonic plague can be contracted through the bite of a flea or by direct contact with an infected person. Although Dykes and his guide avoided the plague, he says they still got sick, but from something else.

DYKES: The food that we ate was eel, and me and my guide were both in a bad way the next morning. We’re both pointing and laughing at each other as we both have to run into the bushes to let loose.

CWALINSKI: Dykes thinks the eel was rotten, which explains why both him and his guide got sick.

DYKES: And I guess that’s how, when I was taking my malaria pills, it was going in one way and out the other. And so that’s how malaria got a hold of me.

CWALINSKI: Malaria used to kill over a million people a year in Africa. Today that number is closer to 700,000. Those who are infected begin suffering flu-like symptoms, like headaches, fever, and shivering.

DYKES: It’s grim, really is. I went from being strong and capable to not even being able to pick up a glass of water for example. At first I thought it was the heat exhaustion, because it was very similar, the pain. But it was getting worse and worse until one morning I had a mental debate with myself, a good 45 minutes where a part of me was saying, ‘just go to sleep, it will be a painless death.’ A different part of me was shouting and screaming to wake up and get myself to a Doctor.

CWALINSKI: Dykes found the strength to get up and told his guide he needed help. They got him to a doctor just in time.

DYKES: The doctor came and she said, you just made it. Another few hours and you’d potentially fall into a coma. She acted fast, she told me that unfortunately I had contracted the deadliest strain of Malaria, and that there’s four different strains.

CWALINSKI: The strain Dykes had could kill you in 24 hours, but it’s the only one that could be completely irradiated. The other strains can remain dormant in the human body for life, cause long-term complications.

DYKES: And fortunately Malaria was eradicated out of my system and I was able to move on, 13 kilograms lighter, but able to push on, none the less.

CWALINSKI: Where we left off Dykes just recovered from malaria, and he’s still in the jungle.

DYKES: We would be living off the land especially in the northern section. We would be gathering mangos, sugarcane, coconut. We’d be hunting Tenrec, which is a small rodent out there.

CWALINSKI: Dykes lost a considerable amount of weight, but he kept pushing. Hacking his way through the jungle and the mountains.

DYKES: The mountains were really really difficult. Challenging in it’s own respected right. And then jungle is challenging in it’s own respected right, now you merge these two together to make mountainous jungles, that is a different challenge altogether.

CWALINSKI: An expedition like this had never been done before. So there weren’t any maps or known routes he could take.

DYKES: Not only are you hacking through the density of the jungle, covering one mile every ten hours. You’re climbing up, trying to navigate your way around up this mountain. And a lot of the times we had to turn back. The biggest detour we did was turning back on ourselves for three days…words can’t describe that, you know.

CWALINSKI: The locals in Madagascar don’t travel unless necessary and they stay on the main routes and trails. They don’t enter the jungle for a variety of reasons. For one, they don’t need or want to, the brush is too thick anyway. They also have their superstitions that keep them out. And if they go up any mountains, they have traditions for that too.

DYKES: There’s one specific moment, where in order to summit the highest mountain… …White cockerel to the peak with you.

CWALINSKI: A cockerel is another name for a rooster.

DYKES: They say, by doing that, you keep away the bad spirits of the forest. You know I am all up for respecting the local traditions, their way of life.

CWALINSKI: Dykes says he bought a white cockerel for the trip and named it Gertrude.

DYKES: I do realize I gave him a woman’s name. And Gertrude came with me. He was in my backpack; he was fine he had his own compartment. It was funny, we all grew a bond to this bloody chicken.     

DYKES: We then had to set him free on top of Maromokotro, but I couldn’t take him back down with me because the locals would have been offended, I would have basically led the bad spirits from the forest into their communities.

CWALINSKI: Madagascar, like other African countries have a lot of superstitious practices like this. They even believe in other, more

DYKES: They truly believe in their spirits and their witches. I remember being in a hut in a tiny community deep within the mountains, you can’t get there by car or by bicycle, you can get there by foot only. And that night it was me, Max my main guide, Suzanne who was my photographer, and her porter to help carry stuff. And we were sleeping inside this hut made of mud and we had Gertrude with us as well.

CWALINSKI: Max woke up in the middle of the night when he sensed something very strange.

DYKES: The three of us were convulsing in our sleep… …And that’s when all three of us woke up at the same time.

CWALINSKI: Dykes says that Max grabbed his machete and went outside to have a look

DYKES: I remember him walking into the hut with a machete… …So maybe that’s why he didn’t fall into the trance as well.

CWALINSKI: Despite that unusual experience, Dykes was often considered the unusual one by many locals.

DYKES: Some locals, especially in the mountains and the highlands, had never seen a white person before, but only hear rumors when the French used to roam the bushes over 60 years ago now. So their ancestors passed down stories, quite negative stories as well, cause the French were pretty brutal.

CWALINSKI: Madagascar was under French control for around 60 years. Most of that time was peaceful. But in 1947, they revolted and demanded independence, in what’s known as the Malagasy Uprising. France responded by tripling their military presence on the island. They tried to crush descent my carrying out mass executiontortureand rape. Not until 1958, did the island gain their independence. And they haven’t forgotten how they were treated. In some remote villages they still associate a white person as a Colonial Frenchman.

DYKES: First thing that pops to mind is brutality and they’ll run for their lives. And so when these locals see a white man for the first time, they didn’t hang about. They sprinted off, they ran, hid in the bush. Sometimes whole communities would empty out, as me and my guide would walk up to a community. They would leave the fire running.

CWALINSKI: Since they’ve never seen one before Dykes says, local children believe white people are these ghost-like creatures that live in the jungle.

DYKES: If you see a white person roaming through the jungle, you run for your life. I’d be walking along a mountainous ridge, and there’s only one path. Either side it’s just straight down, either side. And as we’re walking we’d see these kids and instead of walking down back on themselves, they would run bloody down the hill to escape.

CWALINSKI: Dykes says these were rare occurrence that only happened in the most remote places. Here is also where hundreds of species unique to Madagascar live, including their most famous animal.

DYKES: I came across a lot of different lemurs... …Just howling above our tents in the trees. And they’re always trying to get into the smoke of our fire.

WELCH: The whole story of lemurs is pretty amazing.

CWALINSKI: That’s Charles Welch again, from the Duke Lemur Center.

WELCH: These ancestral lemurs came across these mats of vegetation that were washed out to sea.

CWALINSKI: The current theory is that, 60 million years ago, a bunch of lemurs somehow survived an accidental trip from Africa to Madagascar. It could have been a tsunami.

WELCH: A giant tsunami that washed inland. And somehow arrived with enough individual and genetic diversity to survive and it sound like a pretty fantastic story…

CWALINSKI: But today, many lemur species are endangered, and their habitat in the Madagascan jungle is shrinking every year.

WELCH: The deforestation and forest degradation problem there is really from just subsistence agriculture, people doing very simple, often slash and burn agriculture, just to grow enough rice to feed their families.

CWALINSKI: Slash and burn agriculture is when part of a forest is burned down to use as farmland. Welch says that Madagascar is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. When he lived there, he worked on improving their communities as a whole, so that they wouldn’t have to rely on practices that damage the forest.

WELCH: So as a result of that, a lot of our programs are community based. Because if we can protect existing forest then we can protect not only lemurs, but everything that’s in there of course.

CWALINSKI: Tourism can also help protect the forest. More visitors to the island can help promote the idea of conserving land and creating national parks. The income from tourism can also shift the economy to one that’s less dependent on slash and burn agriculture

WELCH: And it’s not very visited by tourists but it’s really an exceptionally beautiful area.

CWALINSKI: But he says, things there are changing.

WELCH: Tourism is growing; it continues to grow. The infrastructure has improved; it’s made a huge difference in the growth of tourism.  

CWALINSKI: Although Ash Dykes travel methods are unconventional, he was appointed the UK Ambassador for Madagascar Tourism. After 155 days in the wilderness, he completed his journey at the northern most tip of the Island. He climbed eight mountains, survived malaria, rotten eel, a witch, leeches, and crocodiles. Now he’s got a book coming out this September, called mission possible. And he’s currently planning his next adventure, but he won’t tell me what it is.

DYKES: I can’t reveal it just yet… I gotta keep it on the low key, another potential world first. So still a lot of planning to be done.          -

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Episode 14: Climbing Mt. Everest

This is Go the Travel Podcast, a podcast about travel, places, and for today’s story: adventure. Hit play below to listen.

Mt. Everest

 

Transcript:

STANIFORTH: I just remember hearing this huge crack above my head, that’s when panic set in, ‘cause I realized that this was the sound of ice breaking off the mountain. Genuinely thinking, ‘this is it, this is how I die.’

CWALINSKI: That’s 21 year old adventurer, Alex Staniforth, recalling one of his two attempts to summit Mt Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.

STANIFORTH:  I wasn’t your likely prospect for Everest. I wasn’t active or outdoorsy or into challenges at all. It was all about overcoming adversity.

CWALINSKI: Not your typical adventurer, Staniforth suffered from health conditions that would have held back many people.

STANIFORTH:  Relentlessly bullied throughout my entire time at school. Had epilepsy when I was 9, only a very mild form, but was enough to really shatter my confidence at a young age.

CWALINSKI: Staniforth suffered from panic attacks, depression and eating disorders. He knew he had to turn this around and take control of this circumstances, instead of letting them control him.

STANIFORTH:  Whatever challenges we face, we don’t always get to choose, but what we can control is how we deal with them.

CWALINSKI: He started challenging himself with tasks that he never thought he could do, like rock climbing, scuba diving, and competitive running.

STANIFORTH: That constant proving limits thing. It’s really empowering and I’ve never felt it before.

CWALINSKI: This set him on a path to push further, to try and conquer on of the world’s toughest challenges.

STANIFORTH:  I had this kind of eureka moment one day when I asked myself, where is Mt. Everest and I saw a photo and that just captivated the journey. That gave me my purpose, that gave me the chance to prove myself wrong. And so from then on I went higher and higher.

CWALINSKI: Still a teenager, Staniforth would need years of physical preparation before he could make an attempt. Proving himself as mountain climber along the way.

STANIFORTH:  But it’s all about taking steps. My first taste of altitude was the Alps, with Mt. Blanc when I was 17.

CWALINSKI: Standing at 15,781 feet, Mt Blanc is the tallest mountain in the Alps. Climbers in Europe who want to be taken seriously, have to complete this summit before they can move on to higher climbs.

STANIFORTH:  That then gave me the opportunity to go on higher to a 7,000 meter peak, in the Himalayas called Baruntse.

CWALINSKI: Mt. Baruntse is one of many mountains, climbers summit before making an attempt on Everest. Standing at 23,497 feet, there is less than half as much oxygen in the air than at sea level. This would be Staniforth’s first time climbing at extreme altitudes and his first time experiencing high altitude mountain sickness.

STANIFORTH:  My first real high experience, and before we even got to Mera Peak high camp, I was really suffering with the early onset of HACE: High Altitude Cerebral Edema. Which is a nasty thing to have; really nasty.

CWALINSKI: HACE is a severe type of Altitude sickness that can occur at altitudes over 15,000 feet, where the brain begins to swell. Once at Mera Peak high camp, Staniforth’s condition wasn’t improving.

STANIFORTH:  And so with that, I realized very quickly that that wasn’t going to happen, came back down. I was in a bad way, and more ill than I’ve ever ever felt in my life.

CWALINSKI: HACE causes climbers to suffer headaches and confusion. Loss of appetite, vomiting, difficulty walking, and slurred speech are other signs and symptoms. HACE has been compared to suffering from a hangover and the flu at the same time, It can also be life threatening, if left untreated.

STANIFORTH:  Was basically told that if I didn’t recover the next day that I’d have to be helicoptered out, it was that bad.

CWALINSKI: The only sure fix to anyone suffering from high altitude sickness, is to go to lower elevation, which is what Staniforth and his team did.

STANIFORTH:  So the drop in altitude certainly helped. Amazingly, a bit of time lower down was all I needed, and I recovered quite quickly

CWALINSKI: Climbs like these require acclimating to the altitude. Climbers do this by gradually ascending in elevation, giving the body time to adjust to the thin air and low atmospheric pressure.

STANIFORTH:  A week later or so, we were at Baruntse base camp and I was back to strength and we went to the top. I’m not an expert, I’m just sharing my experiences. Age and fitness doesn’t do anything for you. It’s a good idea to be fit, but I don’t personally believe that fitter you are the more successful you’ll be. Being too fit you almost create an expectation that you’re going to do well.

CWALINSKI: After successfully summiting Mt. Baruntse, Staniforth was ready to push for Everest. But one of the biggest obstacles to getting there is a financial one. He would need to raise 45 thousand dollars, which is hard to do when you’re still in school.

STANIFORTH:  I was still at school, yea, I was sort of 17, 18. I still recall taking days off of school to go and sit in a board with the CEO and managing director of a multi-million dollar company. At 17, I’m there in a suit with a stammer, trying to be taken seriously.

CWALINSKI: Staniforth spent about a year fundraising and going to meetings like this. One of the biggest challenges is standing out from the crowd of people seeking sponsorships.

STANIFORTH:  It’s about how you market yourself, you’ve got a lot of people trying to do this, and in my position, I didn’t have wealthy parents to just sign the check. I had to go out and work for it big time, with corporate sponsorships and fundraising through businesses.

CWALINSKI: The money eventually came, with Staniforth raising the last of it only a few weeks before he departed.

STANIFORTH:  And so it was the end of March, 2014, we flew to Nepal, for what should have been a two-month expedition.

CWALINSKI: Two months is what it takes to climb Mt. Everest and return home. Most of those days are spent acclimating to the altitude and waiting for the weather conditions on the mountain to clear up. The weather is the most unpredictable part of the climb. Winds can reach up to 200 miles per hour and temperatures can drop to negative 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Conditions like these have killed over 250 people on the mountain. Today, only the most experienced climbers are able to lead expeditions up to the top.

STANIFORTH:  The trip was led by a British mountain leader who has now climbed Everest 5 times, so I was in a well supported team.

CWALINSKI: Most people arrive in Katmandu, Nepal before flying to town called Lukla, which has the closest airport to Mt. Everest. From here, climbers have to hike to base camp which sits at 17,598 ft and can take several weeks to hike to get there.

STANIFORTH:  We set off as normal, we got to base camp. It took us about three weeks.

CWALINSKI: Base Camp is the setting stone for Everest Climbers. It’s a small temporary tent village that can house hundreds of people in the spring. A lot of time is spent here preparing for the next several weeks of hiking to camps further up.

STANIFORTH:  And then you’ve got camp 1, 2, 3, and 4, and then you’ve got the top. So you move between them to acclimatize basically.

CWALINSKI: Climbers spend weeks hiking up and down these camps preparing their bodies for the altitude. But before they even arrive to Camp 1, they have to hike through an area called the Icefall.

STANIFORTH:  The icefall is probably the most dangerous section of the route. It’s a pretty unavoidable obstacle. To get to camps 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., you have to move through it.

CWALINSKI: This part of the climb has claimed more lives than any other part of the mountain. That because it’s part of the Khumbu Glacier, so there’s a chance that ice will move.

STANIFORTH:  Because it’s constantly moving, you’ve got the risk of falling ice (FX), you got the risk of crevasses.

CWALINSKI: Crevasses hundreds of feet deep that have been known to open up at random. The bodies of some climbers who’ve fallen into these, have never been recovered. Large towers of ice stick up out of the glacier and have been known to break, dropping chunks of ice the size of cars and houses down below.

STANIFORTH: And it’s quite spectacular, it’s a real stunning landscape.

CWALINSKI: To get through the Icefall, several Sherpas would go ahead of the climbers to find a path.

STANIFORTH:  Sherpa are an ethnic people of the Himalayas. They are the most super humanly strong people that I have ever seen.

CWALINSKI: Living at these altitudes, Sherpas are better adapted to hikes at high elevations. They accompany nearly every expedition up Everest.

STANIFORTH:  The Sherpas are amazing, nearly every climber will tell you this, but they are a highlight of every trip to Nepal. They do become good friends very quickly, even thought they live such a different life. A lot of them make a living out of mountaineering. We essentially use them as our support team.

CWALINSKI: On April 18th, 2014, 25 people, mostly Sherpas, were setting up the route through Icefall. They checked the snow and ice for stability. Over the deep crevasse, they constructed temporary bridges out of ladders and rope.  Meanwhile, Staniforth and his team were hiking to Base Camp.

STANIFORTH:  A day before we got there, there was the huge avalanche in the Icefall,

NEWS CLIP 1:  The high altitude avalanche hit early Friday morning, but above the mountains basecamp at more than 20,000 feet.

NEWS CLIP 2:  An avalanche this morning, claimed at least a dozen lives. That is the greatest one-day toll, recorded on the world’s tallest mountain.

CWALINSKI: The avalanche killed a total of 16 people, all Sherpas. The entire climbing season was cancelled before Staniforth and his team could even begin the climb.

STANIFORTH:  We had to pack up and go home, having not actually gone up above Base Camp.

CWALINSKI: But Staniforth was determined to give it another shot. A year later at 19 years old, he returned to Base Camp.

STANIFORTH:  Got to the basecamp, and we set off on our first rotation. The first rotation is Camp one for one night and then you go to camp two.

CWALINSKI: Prepared to push through the Icefall, Staniforth the rest of the team loaded up their backpacks and put on their gear. Crampons, helmets, ropes and carabineers are just a few of the necessary pieces of equipment need to traverse the terrain.

STANIFORTH:  Our team had left basecamp about 5 in the morning whilst the ice is more stable. After 5 long painful hours, it’s absolutely exhausting, we were probably less than half an hour from camp one.

CWALINSKI: Having crossed over the deep crevasses on ladders and under large ice towers, Staniforth had nearly finished crossing the deadliest place on Everest.

STANIFORTH:  At this point I was on my own because my leader and my teammates had dropped behind me by about ten minutes. And two guys are about ten minutes ahead. Everybody else had just raced ahead. I was struggling, like struggling big time that day.

CWALINSKI: At this point, Staniforth is standing at over 19,000 feet in elevation. The altitude and lack of oxygen was taking on toll on his body.

STANIFORTH:  And I was so tired that I remember pulling on the rope and just keeping on, pulling one step at a time, and that’s when the Nepal Earthquake it.

NEWS CLIP 1: Earthquakes of this high 7.2 Magnitude are rare. This is the worst to hit this Himalayan nation in over 80 years.

NEWS CLIP 2: The earthquake struck before noon local time in the capital city Kathmandu.

NEWS CLIP 3: Old brick buildings simply crumbled, with many people trapped under rubble.

STANIFORTH:  And I just remember hearing this huge crack above my head, like splitting in the whole valley and that’s when panic set in, ‘cause I realized that this was the sound of ice breaking off the mountain. Behind that, you’ve got the distant rumble of an avalanche coming straight at you. The fog that day, the visibility is so bad that we probably couldn’t see more that 30 meters away. And so you hear this noise booming at you, but you can’t see it. So you can’t run, you can’t hide. You just have to set off as fast as you possibly can and all the time looking and trying to work out where this thing is going to come from. And after a short while you here the noise getting closer and closer, like an express train. Louder and faster. But you assume that it’s fallen behind you, because it should have hit me by now.

STANIFORTH: And then suddenly the air pressure just flips and it just hits you with this ‘whack’ like a ton of bricks. At first it knocked me over, but it wasn’t solid, it was just a cloud and a big battering of wind and noise roaring at you from every angle. You’ve got this soft snow going into your face and you turn your head to gasp for air, but it’s like being suffocated. And you’re kind of thinking, when is going to end, when is it all going to turn black. That was the first time I really realized what was going on. And I guess at 19, genuinely for the first time in my life, for a few seconds thinking, this is it, this is how I die. That’s the most sickening feeling of fear.

STANIFORTH: And then nothing, it just stops like that. And then you open your eyes, you look down, and you’re shaking from head to toe, but you’re still here, in disbelief.

CWALINSKI: Staniforth and the rest of his team survived. The main path of the avalanche just missed them, instead it struck base camp where they had been only a few hours earlier.

STANIFORTH:  Huge avalanche, like a tsunami of rock, ice, and snow that just came down and absolutely whacked Base Camp. Which has never happened before. Sadly 22 people died at base camp.

CWALINSKI: The avalanche surpassed the previous years’ death toll, becoming the deadliest event in Everest’s history. Staniforth’s team was stuck at Camp 1 for two days before they could go back down. When they got to base camp, they found that 3 members of their support team had died, all of whom were Sherpa.

STANIFORTH:  That was a massive loss because for them they’re just doing their jobs and they were meant to be in the safe place. Our tents were covered under a foot of rock, snow and ice, had we been at base camp.

CWALINSKI: Staniforth says doesn’t have plans to return to Everest anytime soon, but it’s not off the table. Despite being only 21 years old, Staniforth has overcome a lot. Even when things haven’t turned out as planned, he keeps pushing.

STANIFORTH:  Success is about coming back stronger, and I think about the challenges we face, whether that’s chosen or a marathon or Everest or, being in the Army of anything, or if it’s out of our hands, it’s about how we respond to it. That’s why sometimes the biggest obstacle are ourselves.

CWALINSKI: Right now Staniforth is busy conquering his next obstacle.

STANIFORTH:  My next project, which is actually completely different from anything I’ve ever done before. Climb the UK, It’s the highest point of all 100 UK counties, so cycling, walking, running, and kayaking.

CWALINSKI: Staniforth is currently on the road doing this challenge. If you want to keep track of him, we’ll have a link to his social media accounts on our page at gothepodcast.com. If you want to find out the whole story about Staniforth’s life, you can get his new book out now, called Icefall.

CWALINSKI: Don’t forget to subscribe to Go the Travel Podcast and find us at our social media links at the bottom of this page. below Share this episode with a friend or family member.

Here's a link to Alex Staniforth's TwitterInstagram, and his Website.

Episode 12: A Journey to Trinidad, Cuba.

Trinidad Cuba

Listen to our second podcast on Cuba by hitting the play button below. Or find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

A Casa Particular is your key to getting the Cuban food experience. Each one I stayed in, offered breakfast and dinner.

"You can always get breakfast at the casa particular; it’s five dollars. You will be stuffed if you finish everything that they give you," according to travel vlogger Shayla Hohiesle. "It's coffee and juice and water and bread, and then they would come with an omelette; ham and cheese is a staple in Cuba."

Jon Barr, another video blogger I spoke with, had a similar experience, "I always got a different kind of pork in the morning. Like sausage links, ham, bacon."

 

Cuban Breakfast

First Course of a Cuban Breakfast

First Course of a Cuban Breakfast

"And you’re like, ‘I can’t finish this all,’ it’s way more food than you should ever eat for breakfast," Hoheisel said. "It’s so cool because you’re in their home and they’re making breakfast for you."

You’ll find ham is an option in almost every dish in Cuba. In spaghetti, in sandwiches, burgers, and salad. Beef is less common and a little more expensive.

A Casa Particular is basically like an Airbnb, you can even book one on Airbnb.com, click here for $40 dollars off an Airbnb stay for first time users. These Casas are run by local Cubans, who are great sources of information. My first host in Havana, gave me the basic run down for what I could expect to pay for, for things like coffee and meals. For long taxi rides to places like Trinidad, it’s best to ask them to book the cab for you.

You can expect to pay 25 to 30 dollars for a ride from Havana to Trinidad. These rates usually match the price of the bus fare, but you’ll arrive a lot quicker. The trip should be around 5 hours, but be prepared for an interesting trip.

"Two hours into the trip, the driver pulls over to the side of the road, and he’s like, ‘ok guys, go to the bathroom,'" said Barr.

The car I rode in, had no seat belts, and you had to adjust the windows by pulling or pushing on the glass by hand. You’re lucky if you stop at a gas station.

"Instead of going to a gas station, this guy pulls over at his house and his dad comes out with a gallon of gasoline, and literally, they’re pouring the gasoline into his car," Barr said.

Once you get to Trinidad, you’ll know why it’s worth the hassle.

 

Trinidad

Casa de Musica, Trinidad

"That was our favorite spot. All the buildings were different colors, which is so cool. And the streets were cobble stone and horse were a real means of transportation," according Hohiesle.

Trinidad was once known as the largest sugar producer in the world. At it’s peak in 1827, 56 sugar mills were in full operation. Founded in the year 1514 by Diego Velázquez, It’s cobblestone streets and historic buildings are hundreds of years old. Today, the city center is a Unesco World Heritage site.

 

Trinidad Sounds

Trinidad Market

Trinidad Market

"It was definitely the sounds of just hearing animals running around in the streets. The butchers chopping meet when you walked by. It seemed like every little house had something to sell, so you couldn’t walk a few feet without being surround by something completely different," Barr said.

I was woken up everyday by chickens, horses and people selling onions or garlic. Listen to the podcast episode to hear some of them:

 

Sugarcane

There are a lot of things to do here, like a horse backing riding tour through the sugar mills, where you can squeeze the juice out of a sugar cane.

 

Horseback riding

Trinidad Horseback Riding

Trinidad Horseback Riding

You can find horseback riding tour in Trinidad that cost anywhere from 10 to 20 Cuc a person. Your local Cuban tour guide can take you to a coffee farm, a local waterfall, a restaurant in the mountains, or all three.

 

Disco Ayala

The Entrance to Disco Ayala in Trinidad

The Entrance to Disco Ayala in Trinidad

One thing unique to Trinidad is Club Ayala, a huge three story tall cave that's been converted to a nightclub. It’s hard to find, because it’s located up hill, at the highest point in Trinidad.

"We were like, waking up this hill, and I’m like, where are we going? It’s not well lit, but all of Cuba isn’t well lit. And then all of the sudden there’s like someone out on their porch with like disco lights and music and drinks," Hohiesle said.

I didn’t know what to expect, because it was this foreign land, almost forbidden land that you weren’t allowed to go to.
— Shayla Hohiesle

You’re going to have to walk through a residential area, on a dirt road to get to the club, where you’ll find locals bartending on their porches.

"It’s just like this homemade business for all the people on there way up to the cave. So you’re like porch hopping on your way up to this road, and all of the sudden there’s a giant line of people waiting to get into the cave," Hohiesle said. "And then you get into the cave and you go down, it’s like a normal cave that you go to during the day, but then it’s nighttime and there’re TVs on the wall and there’s a DJ, 20 feet up into the cave, 3 bars, and so many people. It was amazing and I had never been to anything like that."

Cover charge is 5 CUC, which is the Cuban Convertible Peso, and comes with one free drink. 

 

Canchánchara

Canchánchara

Canchánchara

The Cancháncara is a cocktail unique to Trininda.

"Canchánchara. That’s like my favorite to say but it’s also very delicious," according to Hohiesle.

It's made with lemon, ice, aguardiente (an anise flavored liquor made out of sugar cane),  honey, and soda water. If you don’t have aguardiente, Cuban rum is a good alternative. They’re served in these round clay cups, also called a Canchánchara.

 

The two currencies

The Peso Nacional

The Peso Nacional

One thing you should know about Cuba before you go, is that they have two different currencies.

"There’s the Cup and the Cuc," Hohiesle said. "The Cuc is the tourist currency, there’s literally two different bills, and then there’s the Cup.

The Cuban Convertible Peso (Cup), pronounced 'kook', is technically valued at 1 to 1 with the US Dollar, before you take exchange fees into account. Like Hohiesle said, this currency is meant for tourists. The other currency the Peso Nacional (Cup), pronounced ‘coop’. 25 Cup are worth about as much as 1 Cuc, but it can vary depending on who you ask. Cubans are paid in Cup and if you find a cafeteria for locals, you can get food for really cheap with some Cup.

 

Cafeterias

Cuban Cafeteria

Cuban Cafeteria

"It’s almost like their version of fast food," Hohiesle said, "you step up to the window and then you’re out."

These places are called Cafeterias. Most of them are run out of the window of someone’s home and the prices are incredibly cheap. If you can read where it says, Pan c/ tortilla de J. y Q, you can see that its costs 12 Cup.

 

Cheap Bites

A 0.47 Cent Cuban Breakfast Sandwiches

A 0.47 Cent Cuban Breakfast Sandwiches

That's about 0.47 cents for an egg sandwich with ham and cheese.

 

Visa and permission to travel

Cuban Visa

One of the most common questions people have asked me is: 'how did you go to Cuba? Don’t you need permission to go?'

The answer to that is, yes and no. So a little bit of background first: The US Embargo against Cuba restricted certain commerce and business transaction, and technically, the embargo is still in place, but there are a lot more exceptions to the rules now.

Like the new 12 reasons that give US Citizens permission to go to Cuba.

Cuba doesn’t care about these reasons, they want US travelers to visit and spend money on their economy. It's the US Department of the Treasury that created these permissions. They're very broad and I won’t get into all of them, but they range from family visits, to US government business. The most common one I’ve heard used is the, 'Support for the Cuban People,' reason. 

You’ll only have to deal with these permissions twice. Once when you buy your plane ticket to Cuba online, and a second time when you return to the US through customs. When I returned, the customs agent didn’t ask me anything about my trip, he just stamped my passport and let me through.

 

School and Healthcare

Young Cuban Students

Young Cuban Students

A lot of poor countries lack standard services like healthcare and a decent education system, but none of these things are true about Cuba.

A 2014 report by The World Bank found that Cuba has the best education system in Latin American. Students at all levels, can go to school for free, all the way up to a PhD. Cuba spends 13% of its national budget on education, the highest in the world. 

All students receive free lunch and uniforms. University students get free housing and a small monthly stipend. This encourages a lot of Cubans to stay in school. Overall, the country is well educated and they have a lot of doctors.

Their healthcare system is better than any in Latin America and they have the region’s lowest infant mortality rates and the longest life expectancies. Best part about it, is it’s all free.

Free education and healthcare are great benefits for Cuban citizens, but there is a drawback.

For example, since the Cuban gov’t has complete control over the healthcare system, they determine how much healthcare workers get paid. The highest a doctor can earn is around 67 dollars a month, and there are no private medical practices either, at least no legal ones. So a lot of doctors have to work second jobs or leave the medical field all together. Other professions can easily make more money, like being a tour guide, and even street musicians can earn more.

 

Apps and Downloads

Maps.me

Maps.me

The app store for Apple or Android phones, doesn’t work in Cuba. A lot of downloadable features don’t work there either. So download all your apps and ebooks before arriving.

Download Maps.me. This isn’t a paid endorsement; this is just the best map that I’ve found to work without an internet connection.

We’ve covered most of the travel basics in our two Cuba podcast episodes, but there are a few more things you need to know. We’ll be covering them in our next podcast. We’re going to release an episode called the Cuba Quick Guide, where we sum up all the points we’ve made about traveling to Cuba in one short episode. We’ll even add tips like, where to buy cigars and what to pack before you go.

Thank you Shayla Hohiesle and Jon Barr for being a part of this episode.

 

Don't miss out! If you haven't listened to the episode yet, hit play below: