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Mom's Travel Advisories

Guerrillas, Drug Lords, Landmines, Limb Loss, Organ Malfunction …

Mom's Travel Advisories
Photo By Ben Anglin

According to my mother, these are just a few of the terrors that await me when I arrive in South America. It doesn't matter that for the past 10 years I've traveled to and returned safely from dubious destinations such as Guatemala, India, Russia, and Corsica. To Mom, each new journey is fresh ground for death. Which is why she demands that I visit her before each trip.

"What if you get killed while you're away?" she reasons. "Your dad and I want to see you before that happens."

When I arrive home, Mom begins reviewing her extensive checklist of safety precautions:

"Make sure you put my name and address in your passport," she instructs. "That way, when you get knocked upside the head by a dope fiend or drop dead from an appendicitis attack, the Chileans who find you will know where to send the body."

She makes a mark on her note pad. "Now, are you taking the proper medicines to stay healthy while you're away?"

"I got all of my immunizations, and I'll carry a small first aid kit for emergencies," I hold up my hand and testify.

"That's sweet," Mom smiles. "But I'm talking about the hard stuff -- to ease the pain when you get shot by Peruvian guerillas or lose a limb in a Colombian landmine."

After loading my pack with an Elvis-worthy sedative supply, Mom checks her list again, then blanches.

"Hey, you won't wear shorts while you're there, will you?

"N ... "

"Good," she snaps, before my "o" hits the air. "Because some drugged-up Argentinean sex maniac will find it suggestive if you go around looking like Charo."

"Charo's from Spain," I start to explain, but Mom holds up her hand.

"How about a hat? Are you going to wear a hat while you're in Bolivia? You should disguise your looks. Wear shades. Maybe I should buy you a pair of fake buck teeth."

"I'm taking a baseball cap and these sunglasses," I say, and put them on.

"On second thought," she frowns, "forget the shades. They look kind of sexy."

To help assuage Mom's fears, I give her a detailed itinerary with flight numbers and hotel names. I produce newspaper articles with pretty pictures of my destinations, and reassuring Centers for Disease Control health briefs that I find online. I invite over friends who have traveled to South America, so they can provide encouraging stories on how clean and kind the natives are. I promise to call home once a week.

"Mom?" I ask gently, after my friends have left. "Are you still worried?"

"I'm not worried," she says, looking up from my pack, where she is slipping in a socket wrench set and extra pair of boots. "My friends -- particularly Maryann, my hairdresser, who is a big wimp -- they're the ones who fear for your safety. I always have to tell them, 'My girl can take care of herself.' I'm not worried."

But the more she reassures me -- and she does so 13 times over the course of two days -- the more I know she is worried.

With this in mind, I think I'll refrain from telling her my newest discovery: that I'm arriving at my first destination -- Santiago, Chile -- during Terrorist Week. The State Department warning is not severe, a small sidebar about the country's national holiday and the demonstrations and government protests that can accompany it.

But thanks to Mom, a voice inside my head shouts, "Wear dark colors, so you won't stand out to kidnappers who will remove your appendix using an unsterilized hacksaw. Organ trafficking is big in Chile."

But it's also thanks to Mom that I can push that aside, secure that in the knowledge that 4,000 miles away, someone is looking out for me -- and available to receive my remains, should there be any.

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