Michael Marcotte's Home Pageblank tileblank tileblank tileblank tile

The most dangerous places I've been

The Most Dangerous Places I Have Visited

Egypt - the general population was actually quite friendly, (at least at that time, in November 1976), but I nearly got arrested simply for showng up at the police headquarters at the incorrect time to have my passport # recorded & stamped with a temporary visa, as was required for all Westerners. I also had a pistol waved at me, although not fired, in Luxor, when I apparently momentarily strayed into an off-limits, (but unmarked at least in English) area at the Luxor temple, while taking a photo. During my ten days in Egypt, soldiers frequently shot automatic weapons into the air to celebrate or show off, but bullets that go up have to come down, somewhere, and could have been deadly. In January 1977, about 8 weeks after I had left Egypt, police opened fire and killed about 50 Eqyptians in a larger crowd, at a square that I had crossed more than once during the week I was in Cairo, while the crowd was demonstrating to protest a hike in the price of bread. Over the course of several days of goverment crackdown, police and military killed about 800 protestors and wounded hundreds more. (Google: 1977 Egyptian bread riots) On the flipside, several of the sites I visited in Egypt were among the most awe-inspiring of any that I have seen, anywhere in the world.

Nairobi, Kenya - street violence (robbery, beating, or stabbings) was reported by the U.S. State Department's travel advisory for Kenya as a danger in Nairobi, in 1992 when I visited (..and still one when I wrote this in paragraph, in 2013), and poachers on several occasions (both before and after our trip) were reported to have robbed, beaten, raped or killed tourists who happened to be in the wrong part of a game reserve, and who had immediately abandoned (by their very "affordable" guides) when poachers had unexpectedly been encountered. I was with well-escorted, well-informed, armed guides, who kept in contact with a central base monitoring reports of poacher sightings, and never ran ino any trouble at all. Despite the potential dangers, our photo safari through five of Kenya's wildlife reserves, still rank among the top three trips I have taken, anywhere, and everyone we met in Kenya was very friendly (except for the town Isiolo, where our bus was swarmed by locals, wanting to sell trinklets or to beg for handout,s and we were strongly advised not to get off the bus, and told not to take photos for lest a spear be thrown at us). There have also been a relative high number of kidnappings of western tourists and terrorist bombings during the past two decades. Kenya is bordered by Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania, all of whom have, in turn, experienced greater than noraml ethnic conflict, and increaing levels of urban violence, piracy, etc. If you plan to visit here, I would strongly recommend that you not self-arrange your sightseeing with local guides, or small tour compamies, but pre-arrange tour itinerary via a travel agency with one of the larger, more reputable tour comapanies like Abercrombi & Kent, Globus, etc. There is almost always a current U.S. Governmental Travel Advisory posted for risky travel in Kenya, due to intertribal conflicts, terrorism and/or risk of disease. Even so, I would go back in a heartbeat, but you should definitely read up on the current situations and risks, before you go, and take appropriate precautions.

Athens, Greece - Although not a city that many might think of as dangerous, my instincts were frequently telling me differently, during several of my visits here. The city seemed less volatile on my 2010 visit than prior occasions in 1976, 1977 and 1978, but I have never visited Athens (including 2010) when there were not large, violent protest marches that necessitated making large detours or entirely avoiding certain parts of the city, such as Constitution Square. The city is well worth the visit; I would just caution you to use a reputable tour group, and possibly re-think including it on any small-group or solo backpacking trips.

Bad Kreuznach, Germany, 1975 - The Baader-Meinhoff gang, a communist, automatic-weapon-toting, urban guerilla group operating in West Germany during the 1960s and 1970s, was thought to have members present at a club in Bad Kreuznach, when I once (by virtue of my military operational specialties) accompanied German police on an armed search of the premises. Bullet holes from previous violence dotted the doorway of this buidling and a couple of others in town, but nothing life-threatening happened on this occasion, nor during the rest of my service in Germany, except for a few uneventful bomb threats. Although the city holds several quaint tourist attractions, and some very charming old-German scenery, I can't think of any particular reason this city would explicitly wind up on anyone's travel itineary, anyway, given the abundance of so many better-known attractions in Germany. The Baader-Meinhoff gang is now long-since disbanded, and one of their primary targets, the U.S, Military presence in Germany, was drawn down to about half its Cold War levels, beginning in 2004, and then further, in 2012.

Tijuana, Mexico - 2005 - this used to be a fun place to cross the border for a magartita and street tacos. Not anymore. Although this was about a year before the Mexican drug cartels' violence started, and The U.S. State departement was not yet warning away visitors, I wolfed down my food and left within minutes of my arrival. You could have cut the tension in the air with a knife. I see absolutely no reason to return.

Israel - I visited from November 1976 throught early Febraury 1977. I had zero problems, but a bus was terrorist-bombed near Tel Aviv while I was in-country, and occasional pot-shots could be heard being exchanged between Israeli and Jordanian border patrols, when I visited Ein Gedi, on the Dead Sea, across from Jordan. When I attended a Christmas Eve Mass at Manger Square, in Bethlehem, there were machine gun nests atop several adjoining buildings. Conflict with one or more of Isarel's Arab neighbors is an everpresent possibility, but there is little question whether or not Jerusalem and other sites in Israel retain a spiritual attraction for Christians, Jews, or Muslims, alike. Spirituality aside, the ancient, picturesque settings of the city offer their own considerable appeal, and I enjoyed my three months there, immensely.

Madre de Dios Jungle and Tambopata River, Peru - While researching my novel, Gold in the Shadow, in 1999, Robin and I spent a week in the outskirts of the mostly-unexpored Madre de Dios jungle. A jaguar left its prints, overnight, in the mud by our camp wharf, a fer-de-lance was spotted crossing one of our trails, and the camp (5 hours by boat from the nearest city) was totally without electricity. Caiman fourished in the river and in an adjacent oxbow lake, which also hosted 5 species of piranha (two of which were carnivorous). The night before our departure, the Tampobata River rose eight feet, and we had to leave early, before the flooding became any more dangerous. During on five-hour turn by motorized priroque, our guide had to repeatedly navigate past downed trees that were floating along in the floodwaters, and which were in some cases larger than the piroque. At the airport, in Lima, we learned that hundreds of Peruvians had been killed when the flooding caused a dam to burst on the Urubamba River near the Machu Picchu ruins that we had visited a week earlier. Once again, despite the dangers, this was one of the more memorable travels experiences in my life, and I would eagerly repeat it.

I have also traveled to Belize, Honduras, Northern Brazil, and other parts of Mexico, during periods or in areas cited for cautionary travel, due to occasional border skirmishes, or occasional extremist targeting or kidnapping for ransom of Western tourists or businessmen, all without any actual incident of trouble. All had unique remote, rustic appeal with an abundance of wildlife and/or sea life that made the trips worthwhile.

Just as in any large American city, danger more often is encountered as a result of foolisheness, ignorance, lack of preparedness, or a failure to be aware of one's surroundings or events unfolding nearby, rather than by sheer accident or misfortune. If you are with dependable guides or friends who know the area, stay out of bad ones, observe the local customs, and keep a relatively-low profile, there are few places that one can't safely go. Accidents and unfortunate timing still happen, but that is equally true, even in the heartland of the United States. I know that the majority of people who I have known who have fallen victim to life-threatening danger, serious injury or violent crime have experienced these calamities here at home, not while traveling abroad. I should imagine that you, too, would likely have to share that observation. I would never knowingly head into a destination that I thought "likely" to place me in direct danger, but neither would I use the "possiblity" of danger as an excuse not to travel.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have added Yellowstone National Park to this list. After all, two hikers were mauled (one died) by a grizzly bear, while hiking near the Lower Falls, on the same day, just an hour or so after we were visiting those falls. Plus, the entire Yellowstone National Park sits directly atop a supervolcano. Or, perhaps I should include Oklahoma City, which is only twenty miles away from my home, and was the site of the 1995 Murrah Center Bombing. Danger can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone. Most people are more likely to be struck by lightning, or be involved in a fatal car accident while on the way to work, or coming home from a movie, than to fall victim to violence while traveling.

More often than not, the life you lose is the life you choose not to live.

Back to previous page
Back to Michael Marcotte's HomePage