Security and safety: staying safe

Posted: September 25, 2012 by Ben Weber in Cycling, English, Security, Training
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

If people can steal a house, then they certainly can steal a bike (Bogotá 2002)

So after a quick overview of some of the security issues that might be faced… How minimise the risks of encountering them? After all, it is never possible to guarantee nothing will happen, though things can be done to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim.

Knowing exactly our route from start to finish is a start, researching about through where the road will run and if it will go through known danger areas, is a start. The more research you can do, the better.

If the route does go through known problem areas, then try to avoid them – research a longer route that goes around this area. With the Darian Gap at the border between Colombia and Panama, there is simply no way around the route by land unless we seriously want to risk our lives to bandits in the region, so boat from Cartagena in Colombia to Colon in Panama is one simple solution.

Rio – such a beautiful city… just be careful

If we come across stretches of road that look suspicious or like they might go through some dodgy areas, then trusting instinct and simply turning back can help avoid disaster. The research you will have done will also help you in developing this instinct and knowing about the broad risks. In Rio de Janeiro for example, it is very easy to get lost, especially when you rely on GPS like these Norwegian tourists: the GPS doesn’t always show the dangerous areas, and it can easily take you through them when you plot a route from A to B. Just being aware of surroundings can tell you that things aren’t looking good, and knowing that the dangerous areas are in the higher section of the city can save your life…

We know many people do cycle through Colombia and things have certainly got a lot safer over the past ten years, though the southern border area with Ecuador still is one of the more dangerous areas. We would definitely be interested in speaking to people who have cycled through the country (and plenty have) and would be keen to hear about your experiences. I don’t believe we should miss this beautiful country out (and from experience, Bogotá and Cartagena are wonderful cities, and the people I met there and who are from there have all been wonderful) and skip by boat. Monitoring the security situation and the news will be important to help avoid trouble spots, though not travelling by night or wandering off the main roads into jungle or unknown areas looks to be the best way of avoiding trouble – and this pretty much applies to all the countries in the Central American region of the Pan-American highway.

Further precautions….

Great colours to see on the mountain, though not so good for blending in

Choosing camping spots carefully and having discreet coloured tents for continental stages. A brightly coloured tent with reflective panels and ropes is great on the high mountain, so it can be easily spotted in the snow and darkness, but it will also attract possibly unwanted attention from others who might see you as a nice easy target. It might be a difficult compromise though as occasions may occur when a bright tent would be useful.

Another simple point is locking bikes even when you feel safe but won’t be able to see your bikes even if only for a few minutes. You might stop off at a place which has security guards, though they might not be able to look at your bike all the time, so best not depend on them. Locking the bikes is always a good solution.

It will be difficult keeping low profiles in many areas so attention – not many people will be cycling through with lots of baggage on their bikes, dressed in cycle gear. When I was living in China, I lived in a country town where nobody had even seen a westerner aside from on television, so I naturally became the centre of attention for many people. A higher profile can lead to criminals targeting you – just like wearing expensive jewellery and looking lost on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro can make you a more attractive target for petty criminals in the area out for easy earnings.

While I think it is wrong to be overly paranoid, being aware of this; being aware of your surroundings, and maintaining a good degree of common sense and respect for the people you meet will help you enjoy the journey, the areas you go through and the people you meet, and at the same time not falling victim to any… foul play.

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