A collection of short travel stories for a quick and (hopefully) entertaining read.
In the UK where I was brought up, guns are not the norm. To buy and keep a gun requires strict police checks and several storage regulations. Therefore, travelling to countries where guns are commonplace can be quite a shock at first.
What follows are 3 short story examples, where travelling has introduced me to some very interesting gun cultures. These are by no means scary or disturbing, merely a little surprising to those not accustomed to their presence.
I encourage you to read on….It might not be what you think!
To provide some context for what follows I should explain that my day job for the past 7 years has been as a tour leader and driver for an overland adventure company. This involves planning and running group tours around Africa, Asia and the Americas in custom built expedition vehicles.
You can read more about this unique way of travelling here.
That time in Mexico – Un abrebotellas por favor?
Betsy the old American school bus pulled into the service station and trundled to a stop. I pushed forward the old fashioned lever and the folding doors flung open.
“Toilet stop!” I yelled to the group behind me, much to the relief of many hot and sweaty faces looking back at me.
It was mid-June and we were making our way northwards along the west coast of Mexico. Hurricane season was almost upon us and humidity levels were sky high. We were just over a week into our 4 week group overland trip from Mexico City to Banff, Canada.
To cool down I decided an ice cold soft drink was in order, so after my toilet visit was complete I made my way to the gas stations’ fridge. Much to my excitement they had small glass bottles of Coca cola, just like we used to have in the UK when I was younger (before we moved into the dreaded plastic era).
I grabbed the bottle and took it to the counter where a Mexican Police Officer was standing, chatting to the cashier. I handed over the appropriate number of pesos and with my best miming skills, motioned to the cashier that I needed a bottle opener.
Before I knew what was happening, the police officer pulled a hand gun out from his holster and was lunging towards me. My gut instinct implored me to back away wildly and, rather oddly, to scrunch up my face in an unsightly wincing fashion.
I’m not sure what evolutionary process happened that might make pulling such a face an effective defensive mechanism against a gun, but it was instinctive and therefore not much I could do about it!
The police officer looked up at me and let out a cheeky smile. He reached down to the Coca Cola bottle and with the butt of his gun, effortlessly popped off the bottle cap.
“Señorita?” He said, as he handed me back my freshly opened cold beverage. I smiled, thanked him and rather sheepishly scurried out of the store and back to the bus.
Discover more blog posts from Mexico here!
That time in Turkey – Hosgeldiniz!
Stood now, around a blazing fire, my group and I looked on dumbfounded. The officer pulled out his hand gun, rotated it 90 degrees gangster style, and fired 4 shots into the air.
Pap. Pap. Pap. Pap.
Some people laughed and others jumped as the noise of the gun shots echoed wildly around the deserted valley.
What a crazy night this had turned out to be!
We pinched the iPad’s screen to zoom back out from the area we had been looking at. Google Earth had a revealed a large clearing at the end of a long valley. This valley branched off into the mountains from the main coastal road that runs along the Black Sea, in northeastern Turkey.
“That’s the spot!” Nick exclaimed triumphantly as he shut off his iPad.
We were travelling from Cappadocia to Georgia and needed somewhere to camp en-route. It was early season and the campsite we had in mind hadn’t opened yet, so we needed an option to wild camp.
The road running up the valley was quite narrow in parts and it became quite an adventure to squeeze our 10 ton overland truck though. However, we eventually found the clearing we had spotted on the map, and were mightily relieved when it turned out to be a perfect place for wild camping.
The clearing was actually somewhat of a local’s tourist spot in the summer, with a restaurant selling fish from the Black Sea. Being early season, nothing was open yet so we were surprised to be greeted by some local farmers.
Turkey is a fabulously friendly country where, particularly in rural areas you will be welcomed with open arms.
Collectively we got all the tents and kitchen set up, and with food preparation under way, we were able to relax around the campfire with our newly acquired friends.
But it seemed the news of 20 foreigners randomly camping in this picturesque valley had soon got out and just before dark we were joined by the Jandarma – the Turkish rozzas! (The military police to be more precise.)
Nick and I shared an uneasy glance, as often the arrival of police at wild camping spots means it’s time to pack up and move on. We greeted the officers and with pleasantries exchanged, asked them if there was a problem.
Inquisitive to the nature of our big yellow truck filled with people from all around the world, the officers simply revealed that since we were quite close to the Georgian border, they had come to investigate our motives. They were a little concerned for our safety since there were bears in the area but said they were happy for us to spend the night there.
No sooner had the officers finished explaining the situation, when one of the farmers came to join in our conversation. With our limited Turkish language skills we were grateful that one of the officers spoke English. He explained that the farmer wanted to demonstrate his welcome to us by firing some shots with his shotgun. Was that ok?
Nick and I looked at each other, shrugged and smiled. Tamam. OK.
We explained to our group what was said and what was about to happen, and then along came the farmers with a pump-action shot gun.
They fired multiple shots into the air and then offered the gun around the circle, much to the excitement of the younger testosterone fuelled members of the group.
The Jandarma it seemed, didn’t want to be shown up by this unique firing display and so with big smiles on their faces, out came the military rifles and hand guns. Now there was a mix of all types of gun shots echoing around this previously peaceful valley.
And they’re worried for our safety, I thought to myself. With all this noise I’m not sure any bears would be rushing out to try and cause us any harm tonight!
Disclaimer: All those who handled the guns were shown proper gun etiquette before using!
That time in Ethiopia – Where did I put my gun?
“Nick?” I enquired behind me. “Why is there a machine gun on my seat?”
“Oh that’s Mohammad’s. He put it there whilst he slaughters the sheep.”
Now there are some conversations in life you never really imagine yourself having. This was one of those conversations.
Our truck was parked at a remote spot, high up in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia. On our tour from Gondar to Addis Ababa we spent 3 nights in this mountainous region.
As a tour group hiking in the mountains it was necessary for us to be accompanied by two guides and several guards/scouts. This is a requirement by the Ethiopian Government to ensure visitors are protected from human or animal ambush.
However, from what I could see it was mostly just about providing jobs. But aside from requesting an unhealthy amount of sugar in their coffee, the guards were fun to be around, so I was quite happy that we were providing them with a livelihood.
These guards came equipped with rather rusty, semi-automatic machine guns. I asked the most chatty of the guards, Mohammad, if the gun actually worked. He just laughed.
Our visit to Ethiopia happened to coincide with lent, which means that followers of the Christian faith observe some form of fasting. In practice this mostly means that Christian Ethiopians become vegetarian for this period.
On our second night in the mountains we bought a sheep from a local farmer for dinner. However, there was one small problem. Since it was lent, the sheep purchased was very much alive.
Thankfully, our guard Mohammad was Muslim and thus not observing lent, so he offered to slaughter the sheep in return for a share of the meat. Since he would be performing a traditional Islamic dhabiha, he had no need for his gun.
And so it came to pass that on that day, high in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia, an old semi-automatic machine gun took a momentary resting place on my cab seat, right next to my camera and notepad.
|I hope you enjoyed these 3 brief stories about my travelling adventures. If you liked these travel stories you might also be interested in this adventurous tale from Mongolia!|
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