It’s not normal to be posted to a war zone unless you are in military service, but sometimes you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This has happened to me twice and somehow the pax (clients) didn’t even notice the potential danger.
The first time was in the Middle East where I was leading a grand tour through several countries, including Lebanon. I had arrived only a month after the assassination of Rafic Hariri and the crater left by the car bomb was still present in a sealed off area of the city. There was also a memorial shrine in the centre of Beirut where people could pay their respects to the former Prime Minister of the country.
The night before my clients were due to arrive, while staying in a downtown hotel, I heard the sound of a large explosion. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions but after about one hour, news stories began to appear on CNN and Al Jazeera that a car bomb had gone off in the New Jdeideh suburb of Beirut. Strangely, I wasn’t concerned for my own safety but whether or not my tour would be cancelled. After checking that the Foreign Office had not placed any restrictions on Lebanon or the areas we would be visiting, it was decided that the tour should go ahead. Walking around town the next day I could not help being a bit nervous and became suspicious of every parked vehicle. I was quite glad to pick up my pax from the airport and head out of town to the tourist sites. In the two weeks that followed, another 3 bombs were detonated and during that year a total of 15 were recorded, many of them attempts to assassinate anti-Syrian government ministers and journalists.
My second brush with danger occurred in Uganda while leading a tour to trek the mountain gorillas. The main habitat for the mountain Gorillas is the Virunga Mountains, which form the border between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On the way back from a nature walk in the Bwindi Impenetrable forest, I came across a large group of military men carrying weapons, and a tank. After making some enquiries with the locals, I discovered that there had been a bank robbery at the neighbouring town by Congolese rebels. Three people had been killed during the raid but surely a tank was overkill for a bank robbery, so I made some more enquiries. It transpired that a British engineer had been killed further north, on Lake Albert, where he had been working for an oil company. This incident had sparked a border dispute between Uganda and the DRC resulting in the border areas being reinforced with additional military forces.
In both of these cases, the pax seemed unaware of the potential for danger and indeed there was no evidence in either case to say that they were actually in any danger themselves. The bombs in Beirut were placed in the suburbs of the city and seemingly to create damage rather than to actually kill anybody. In Uganda, both were isolated incidents and the presence of an increased military force only served to provide a safer environment.
The incidents mentioned above were targeting tourists. However, it always amazes me that people consider the Middle East and Africa dangerous places to travel when in fact historically tourists have been directly targeted in Turkey, SE Asia and South America far more.