Boarding Pass

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the April 2009 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Scene in Bali, Indonesia.

Welcome to the 398th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

If you’re heading to Bali or other islands in Indonesia, be aware of recent shortages of wine, liquor and imported foods like cheese and crackers.

A trade regulation came into effect on Dec. 15 that restricts imports of electronics, textiles, toys, food and beverages. Where before smugglers had operated openly, now the rules are strictly enforced.

The crackdown has been successful in reducing the amount of low-quality goods smuggled into the country, but now supplies are scarce in stores and restaurants and prices have skyrocketed. The regulation, in which firms must seek yearly approval for goods they plan to import, will last through 2010.

Speaking of shortages, just try to find some loose change in Argentina.

Despite the government’s putting millions of dollars of new coins into circulation last October, coins are still hard to come by. It’s a real problem in Buenos Aires, where coins are required to ride buses and trains. People wait in long lines in banks to break a bill for change. In fact, there is a black market of vendors selling coins for 3% to 10% over face value. Street beggars are even feeling the pinch.

In response, the government is introducing an electronic ticketing system for public transport in BA.

Snake charmers are up in arms in India.

India passed the Wildlife Protection Act way back in 1972 — barring people from using wild animals commercially or turning them into pets — but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the ban of live-snake shows was enforced in major cities. Snake charmers still perform in small towns, but their audience is dwindling as more people are able to afford television sets.

It’s no small number of people who have worked as snake charmers in India and have lost income. 20,000 are now in jail (for seven to 12 years!) for defying the ban. Recently, a union was formed by 800,000 members of Bengal’s nomadic Bedia community, who claim snake charming as a birthright, and on Feb. 17 they marched in protest — 1,000 in Kolkata alone.

Aside from lobbying for an exemption to the law, the Bedia Federation of India would like the government to start up snake farms, where they could use their traditional talents with snakes to develop antivenin (an industry worth millions of dollars) — one way in which they could earn a living.

Animal rights groups say starting up snake farms will threaten the dwindling populations of snakes in the wild.

British Airways, when it launches its new business-class-only route between London City Airport and New York’s JFK sometime this fall, will allow passengers to send and receive text messages and e-mails and access the Internet using their mobile phones, PDAs or laptops fitted with GSM data cards.

Voice calls may be allowed in the future, depending on customer feedback.

In France, as of April 4, anyone under the age of 25 will be admitted free into national museums and monuments. These include the Louvre (where admission to the permanent exhibit costs €9) and the Musée d’Orsay.

President Sarkozy on Jan. 13 also promised an extra €100 million a year for museums and heritage properties, including cathedrals and abbeys.

The citizens of 35 countries do not need visas to enter the United States, but as of Jan. 12 if they want to come here they must obtain authorization from the US Department of Homeland Security at least 72 hours before their flight takes off.

They must apply online, answering questions about drug use, criminal records and terror activities. A reported 99.6% of applicants to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization ( get permission within seconds. Those turned down will need to apply for a visa through a US Consulate.

Exempt from this requirement are citizens or nationals of Canada, Bermuda, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

As with many programs imposed upon visitors to the US, expect reciprocity in paperwork for US citizens planning to travel to certain countries overseas.

Oops! In last month’s issue, somehow we left the author’s name off of one of the feature articles.

Jennifer Petoff of San Francisco, CA, wrote the article on apartment living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We apologized to Jennifer, and she said she’s looking forward to writing again after her next trip.

In this issue we’re printing the second installment of readers’ Q Ratings of international airports. Barring a groundswell of objection, it also will be the last.

A reader had requested that we collect data on the wait times at all the various places people have to queue (Q) up within airports. The concept was good, but it seems the instructions were too involved. Following them was a chore for harried travelers rather than just being fun.

Perhaps a streamlined version of the poll can be revisited in the future.

An enthusiastic Richard Stout of Sun City, Arizona, called ITN recently and told me all about the Bushnell Backtrack handheld GPS unit.

“You can never get lost with this thing,” he said. “Once you mark a location, you push a button and an arrow tells you how to get back to your ship or wherever and how far it is. The model I have has no maps or anything, but you can program it to track your way back to three different locations; it has symbols of a house, a car and a star.

“The website says that outdoor-recreation stores carry them, so hunters don’t get lost. I got mine on sale at Dillard’s department store for $49. It’s round and measures three inches across and not quite 3/4 of an inch thick — shirt pocket-sized.”

The website for Bushnell Corporation (Overland Park, KS; 800/423-3537 or 913/752-3400, shows models costing about $75 on up.

Richard insisted, “It’s just the neatest thing.”

Marilyn Coburn of West Branch, Iowa, wrote, “My sister and I took a great trip to Panama with Tropical Nature Travel. This was a bird-lover’s paradise, staying at the Canopy Lodge & Canopy Tower and Gamboa Rainforest Resort Villas.

“We met a lovely lady from New Mexico there and would like you to send her a sample copy of your great magazine.”

Paula Hebard of Roseburg, Oregon, wrote, “We did a trip with Caravan to Guatemala and Honduras and, as always, I took a couple of copies of ITN and passed them around. Please send each of these new friends a copy of ITN.”

Paula sent the addresses of two dozen travelers, and they and a nice lady in New Mexico are now reading this issue. ITN will send a free sample copy of the next-printed issue to anyone. We also promise that the names and addresses of ITN subscribers and of people requesting sample copies will NOT be released to any other firm.

I apologize to those of you without Internet access, but perhaps you can go online at your local library; it would be worth it to check out a video of Matt Harding, a 32-year-old who lives in Seattle.

A few years ago he traveled the world and filmed himself in different places doing a little jig. He put the video on his website, where it became so popular that Stride Gum sponsored his next trip. For his third trip, he contacted people who had e-mailed him and arranged to meet them so they could dance with him on camera. The resulting 4½-minute video is amazing and heartwarming.

Go to and click on “Dancing 2008.” His travels have brought people together for fun.