Horizons Unlimited - The HUBB

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-   -   Personal protection devices Morocco, Western Sahara, etc (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/travellers-advisories-safety-security-road/personal-protection-devices-morocco-western-47226)

Tim Cullis 20 Dec 2009 20:31

Personal protection devices Morocco, Western Sahara, etc
Despite spending much of my time travelling solo I've never felt concerned for my personal safety in Morocco. It's always seemed a safe place compared to parts of the UK I could mention. It could also be because before I went on my megadiet this year I was built like a brick sh*t house and felt nobody would mess with me. But having lost 50kg in weight I now feel a bit more frail.

On the ferry back from Santander last October I met another HUBBer who recounted that he had been robbed whilst wild camping in Western Sahara. He was solo, there were two guys. He was concerned they were drugged up. He didn't know whether they were carrying knives but suspected this might be the case, so he let them go through his things and help themselves whilst he stood there watching.

Hearing this made me very angry, and since then I've given a great deal of thought as to how I would react in a similar situation, especially as I'm a bit headstrong.

Pulling a knife on them might just elicit a mad laugh and a taunt to use it, or worse, they could do a 'Crocodile Dundee' and pull out massive machetes. So I don't think that makes sense. A gun is a much better idea but even assuming you'd somehow managed to get it though police and customs checks, would you really use it against some poor drugged up guys.

What I've done for for the moment is to source some 40ml red pepper spray made by KKS in Germany. This is small enough to be carried in my jacket whenever I'm in a dubious area, has a range of six meters with accurate range of three metres. There's a safety mechanism on top to ensure you don't self-administer. :)

My feeling is that I would be far more prepared to use this (and without warning) knowing the risk of permanent damage to the muggers is small. But then what? You've got two guys rolling around on the floor who in a little while are going to recover and be really peed off, and in the meantime you have to pack up your tent and gear. So the second phase of my draft plan is to use cable ties to handcuff their wrists and possibly their legs. I have some extremely wide and long cable ties secured to the frame of my bike and can whip a couple of these out in just one or two seconds.

The likehood of customs finding the cannister is tiny. As the web site says, this is a personal defence mechanism against wild dogs and other wild animals so that would be my excuse if it was found. You could, of course, remove all the labels from it so there's no clue to the contents and stick it in the toilet bag like a deodorant stick.

I have to say I still don't know whether I would use the pepper spray in anger, but I think that when you have this level or preparedness you 'walk tall' compared to others and your consequential body vibes and confidence mean you are less likely to be targeted.

Does anyone have any alternative suggestions--other than standing back and letting them get on with it?


motoreiter 20 Dec 2009 20:54

I think it would be easier to put some weight back on!

I wouldn't take the labels off, what if some customs officer is going through your toiletries and accidently sprays himself in the eye? That might not end well...

I also think the zipties are a bad idea--so you've got one or more pepper-sprayed, pissed off guys flailing around on the ground, and you expect to be able to zip tie them without putting yourself in danger? Stay out of arms reach, I would say. If you use the pepper spray, I would hop on my bike and get the hell out of dodge, unless the miscreants were clearly a couple of harmless punks (but you can never be sure, can you?).

So what do you do? Park somewhere secure (hotel?) or where you won't be seen, don't bring much of value, keep anything of value on your person but don't convince yourself that it is worth getting hurt for. Clearly not a perfect approach, but better than anything else I've heard yet. Travelling solo is just not the time or place to plan on going Rambo.

[EDIT] And as you suggest, a lot of it is about body language...there are probably a fair number of petty thieves that are not willing to tangle with "bad ass" bikers like us...if someone is willing to mess with me (hasn't happened yet), I will probably assume that they are armed/high/drunk/all of the above) and proceed accordingly.

Thanks for sharing your concern. I'm going to Morocco in the spring, and if a Morocco vet like you is concerned, I'm concerned...

Chris Scott 20 Dec 2009 22:57

I wonder where this Hubber was camped exactly in WS when he got turned over?

As we all know when wild camping it's better not to do so near settlements, not to be seen leaving the highway and then park up out of sight and take it easy with the lights.
Sometimes I wait a while before unpacking to make sure I feel secure, even to the point of not getting a tent/bag out until I'm ready to actually use them. This is usually in the first couple of days when one is nervous.

The more vulnerable/exposed you feel the more effort you take over all this, as I learned from my early travels.

I know the feeling of vulnerability when your whole camp is spread out on the desert sand and a couple of drunk guys turn up. Luckily they've just been curious or friendly or scrounging, as is the local way.

My impression is North Africa is a safe place; it's never occurred to me to carry Mace there.

I think you may have dieted too far Tim. Get stuck in this Xmas!


(I can sense this post is going to be popular)

Dodger 21 Dec 2009 08:44

Carry a baseball bat ,then you can whack 'em after you've pepper sprayed 'em .
Unconscious; they can then be cable tied .

A bike of over 1000cc is advisable ,then you can drag 'em out into the desert for the jackals to feast on .

Big Yellow Tractor 21 Dec 2009 09:55


Originally Posted by Tim Cullis (Post 268656)
having lost 50kg in weight I now feel a bit more frail.

Blimey Tim that's two small labradors !!

The self protection thing is very difficult.

If you appear dangerous, will the potential mugger stay away or will more initial force be used against you ?

I think to take on two blokes (even pissed / stoned) you’ll need to be handy.

One option is to be to be fairly meek and let them take something (your spare wallet, and some odds and sods) while making sure your important stuff is well hidden.

Another would be to go on a course to learn some self-defence. My brother is a bit of a little squirt, but working as he does in a well-known secure “Hospital” he has been trained in defence and restraint techniques. I doubt there are many blokes who could get one over on him (maybe if they walked up behind and twatted him with a bat or something). He doesn’t do any fancy Nintendo / Origami moves; just a few pressure points and knowing how to use your assailant’s weight.

One of my workmates does Jujitsu and is always trying his moves out on our apprentice “imagine you are coming at me with a sharp piece of mango”

I suppose you have to hope that if you did manage to defend yourself and your attacker runs off, that he doesn’t come back with a few of his mates before you can pack all your stuff away and move on.

Some lessons in something might just give you a bit more confidence so you didn’t feel more at risk than you really are. One of the lads I went to Morocco with was convinced that everyone who looked at him was about to mug / rape him. Mind you he is from Manchester so maybe that’s what he is used to.

Ooops ! I’ve rambled again

GSPeter 21 Dec 2009 10:53

Personal protection
Self defence weapons.
Very tricky subject, what is legal in one country is a big no-no next door, what is normal in the hills may be banned in the low country. My personal experience is varied, I have only had a couple of bad experiences wild-camping, and managed to keep my kit and finances intact. I was attacked by a dog pack south of Essouriera in Marroc after getting stuck in sand, but I was in a car; camping on the ground I might have been in trouble.
Rather than specific weapons a powerful and effective spray is probably the best way to go, I have no idea where they are legal/illegal. I use a stout walking stick, because of a plastic knee, and many potential bad guys see that as a weapon, and often comment on it.
”Big stick, mister”
I have to add that I have only used it a couple of times in anger, and once I provoked a lot of ill-feeling in a crowd of touts in Hampi by giving a bag thief a swift upward stroke to the balls. I think if I had used the handle to catch him by the neck the crowd would have been on my side, everyone likes to see someone else made a fool of.
In towns, where there is always a threat of room theft, mugging, pickpocketing, or assault it’s a different situation, and different precautions. My experience in the countryside is that there are people about, animal shepherds or whatever, so if you really want to be unnoticed you have to be very careful and clever. No fire, no lights, no cooking – not much fun.
Prevention is better than cure, if you look aware, and ”handy” that helps. Driving a bike also gives a lot of cred, but means you have all your kit ”on display”. A lot of items can be used as weapons, as well as their normal use, but unless you are prepared to use real violence and cause serious personal injury I think you might only escalate the situation by threats and counter threats, and lose the element of surprise.
In most countries we travel through we are seen as obscenely rich, natural targets for wealth redistribution, and even though I don’t like it, it is a reality. This thread was about wild camping, and personal protection, no-one to help, but no witnesses either, which can play both ways, and in most remote areas I have been there is no problem. Maybe this changes. If Tim Cullis is worried....
Safe travels
Peter, in Oslo

bilimanjaro 21 Dec 2009 11:08

get ya sen one of those small fire extinquishers.
comes in handy for all sorts of things..
the uk police use em on drugs raids were the scumbags first form of defence is the pitbull.as some one else says out of site out of mind ..

Quintin 21 Dec 2009 11:35

Tim you do know that this sort of spray is classified as a firearm in the UK and posession of some here can get you into deep shit.


priffe 21 Dec 2009 12:02

Getting robbed became routine in Colombia. One of my pals with a temper got mad and tried to fight back, which rendered him a few knife cuts. Couple days later he was tetanic.
I would be more worried about causing real harm to someone else in a faraway place than loosing a few earthly possessions. That could mean real trouble, as the locals may not be on your side even if you were actually being robbed. And local law enforcement may very well also not be on your side.
Carrying weapons could easily escalate the violence.
That said I am also thinking about a defense spray...

*Touring Ted* 21 Dec 2009 13:01

My friend is a policeofficer in inner city Liverpool. You can imagine its no country lane beat...

Naming no names, many officers use their BIG Maglite torces as very affective weapons when dealing with violent unsaviouries as they don't need to fill in paperwork for using it as opposed to about 20 forms for drawing their truntion.

These things are BIG and HARD and can be used as a Cosh (and are) in many self defence classes.

Obviously, its just a torch, but one that can break bones and certainly the skulls of drugged up crims. Fits nicely on your luggage, is waterproof and is always handy around camp and kept next to your sleeping bag.

As the base is screwed on, you can replace it with many headache making extras like in this picture.

You can also get a Police 6-Cell version which is the real deal peacemaker !!

I'm crossing Africa next year and hoping that my shaved head Scouser appearance while wearing body armour and wielding a large maglite will be enough to put anyone off.



Warthog 21 Dec 2009 13:09

So far I have never had any issues (touch wood it remains that way, especially as I travel with my girlfriend too).

Admittedly, the first few nights I go camping anywhere I am a bit wary, just because my tent lacks the double-glazing and locked door of my flat etc.

What ever planning you might have made, and implements packed, if it ever came down to it, I think there would be incalculabe degrees of luck in whose favour it all panned out. Particularly as, if they are robbers, they probably have more practice and know what they intend, when you, the camper, are caught unawares and don't know what they intend...

If you introduce any weapon into the equation, it becomes one more weapon that could end up being used against you.

As I think Chris first mooted, the best defence is people not knowing you are there to beging with, IMHO.

Leave the road unseen, preferrably where tracks are not too visible. Have some distance/obstacles between you and the road, and avoid the unessary use of light after dark. One torch in a pitch black landscape is a beacon for miles around. same with noise: sound carries at night too...

Not so nice, but if you think you're in a dodgy area, a small price to pay

motoreiter 21 Dec 2009 13:10


Originally Posted by tedmagnum (Post 268724)
...many officers use their BIG Maglite torces as very affective weapons when dealing with violent unsaviouries...

Not a bad call, although kinda big to carry on the bike. I usually carry a min-Maglite but the effect is probably not quite the same...

*Touring Ted* 21 Dec 2009 13:29


Originally Posted by motoreiter (Post 268726)
Not a bad call, although kinda big to carry on the bike. I usually carry a min-Maglite but the effect is probably not quite the same...

Well, its the price you pay for a little piece of mind and at least you can use it for a decent torch too. Plus, it will gain no attention from police/military.

Obviously any weapon is totally useless unless you personality to use it..

Carrying guns, machetes and knifes as protection is useless because if someone calls your bluff, could any of us actually bring ourselves to stab or hack at someone ???? I don't think I could unless my life was being seriously threatened.

The best advice would just to have nothing really worth stealing and keeping valuables well concealed..

No fancy camera or cash is worth your life at the end of the day. If you get mugged, let em have what they want if you're out numbered or outgunned.

Get insurance.

grizzly7 21 Dec 2009 13:48

You can get an easily fitted handle designed to turn a maglite into a police baton, I suppose so a man on the beat doesn't have to carry both. So issued as a weapon to some forces I believe.

Pepper spray is sold in the truckstop on the N10 just south of Angouleme in France quite openly, about 6euros for a small can, or about 10 for a big one. A seriously big no no in the UK however, and I don't know about any other country?

Friends of mine in the UK police say its not an ideal weapon for several reasons.

Some people are immune, so your assailant may be perfectly fine and coming at you covered in the stuff.

The wind could blow it all back on you and not where you wanted, will you consider your position in relation to the wind before release?!

The nozzle is not well designed to indicate where its pointing. Bearing in mind the state you may be in when needing to use it, many people have ended up spraying themselves at close range, making the robbers job considerably easier while laughing at you immobilised on the floor :)
Even if you manage to discharge it where you want with the intended effect, the chances of you being entirely unaffected are slim because it goes everywhere, so being able to see to ride off may not be possible!

The general suggestion is to practice first! Waste a can or two at a target seeing if you can use it, and what its effect on you is. Even a small bit may make you in no fit state other than sitting in the shade using a lot of water to ease your burning eyeballs!!

I think a big stick is a good plan myself, other than handing over whatever they want so their mates just round the corner don't need to come and help him.

Congrats on such a huge weight loss too!!! :)

backofbeyond 21 Dec 2009 13:55

Firstly, Tim - you've dieted away 50kg this year! Well done, that must take a hell of a lot of willpower. Was it just because you decided it was time to do something or medical or something else? Whatever, it's a big achievement. I try to go on "get myself into shape" regime when I've got a trip planned and it usually takes me 6 months to lose 2" off my waist :(

No wonder you're feeling a bit vulnerable now that there's only one of you rather than two, but it hasn't made Morocco any more dangerous, has it? Like you I've never felt threatened there. Annoyed, niggled, sick of being hassled at times and occasionally worried, but never threatened.

Some years ago I was wild camping in Western Sahara and I took all the precautions that Chris Scott mentioned. I was at least 100 miles from the nearest town, I turned off the road when no one was around and continued for at least 1/4 mile. I stopped behind a rise where I could see the road and waited at least half an hour before unpacking the bike.

45 mins later I heard a car stop exactly where I'd pulled off and two men got out. They walked around for a minute or two examining the ground. I was really worried, this couldn't be a coincidence, why would they stop exactly there? They must have seen my tyre tracks and thought " one bike - easy prey". No, it was just two guys stopping for evening prayers and looking for somewhere to put their mats down. They were gone in 10 mins.
(Paranoid, me?)

With respect to Big Yellow Tractor I'm not sure that a few self defence lessons (or even a lot of them) is going to help much. I did 10 yrs of Karate (many years ago). My son and an old friend of mine are both 2nd Dan Karate black belts and my son has competed at international level. Neither of them say it makes them feel safer in dodgy areas. It does make you fitter so you can run faster though!

People (adults) who start karate training often do so for self defence reasons but it usually takes a good five years before most beginners have a reasonable skill set and by that time they've usually found out the hard way in training how uncertain a proposition one on one can be.

Remember Michael Caine in "Get Carter" talking to someone about to take him on - "You're big but you're out of condition and I do this for a living".

I've never taken anything with me on a trip that was intended for use as a weapon. It may be because I'm indoctrinated with the (recent) UK mindset that anything at all that could possibly be used offensively is out of bounds or that occasional stop and searches in Africa have stripped everything down so it would be difficult to conceal anything of much use but mainly because none of it is that important to me.

Ok, I'm not going to give it all away to the first guy that turns up with a hard stare and I have been prepared to fight on a couple of occasions but I've always considered that the psychological effect of having a knife / pepper spray etc on me would be to raise the level at which I'd give up. I've always been pretty fit but now, as I'm getting a bit older, it seems less like a good idea to be facing up to someone 30yrs younger armed with a knife.

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