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The way we were.
The way we all looked back in 1995
when we 1st launched USDT's website.

All these organizations -- listed here below in alphabetical order -- have been conscientiously vetted for decades and have proven their integrity & diligence by helping thousands of homeless, disaster-stricken people. They will be working hard to help our dear friends in Fiji for example, whose villages were flattened by the Feb. 2016 Cyclone Winston, the fiercest typhoon ever to hit the South Pacific in the history of recorded weather. You may feel free to give generously to any of these charitable groups at any time and you may earmark your funds to any specific relief effort. Send your checks and money orders directly to the agency addresses below -- NOT to our company, please. U.S. Dive Travel warmly recommends the Red Cross, Salvation Army and World Vision as among the best of these luminous relief agencies. However all these organizations are respected worldwide for their proven efforts to help people in dire need, regardless of politics, borders, religion or ethnicity. Hundreds of thousands of good people across the world need your financial help + tireless prayers right now. The time to act is now -- no tardiness, no prejudice, no more red tape. Forget all the politics & palaver, the rhetoric & partisan manipulations. Get a life, politicians & save homes, save families. We are confident that all men & women of good faith, conservatives or liberals alike, will agree. It is our imperative only to think, then decide, then ACT, then pray for the survivors and the relief workers aiding them today. Please support these superbly managed charities. Make a good decision, friends. Granted, we might never get repaid ... in this lifetime...



American Friends Service Committee
1501 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102


American Red Cross
International Response Fund
2025 E St. NW
Washington, DC 20006

88 Hamilton Ave.
Stamford, CT 06902

Baptist World Aid
Asia Tidal Waves
405 North Washington St.
Falls Church, VA 22046

703 790 8980

B'nai B'rith International
B'nai B'rith Disaster Relief Fund
2020 K. St. NW
7th Floor
Washington, DC

151 Ellis St. NE
, GA 30303


Catholic Relief Services, Inc.
209 West Fayette St
Baltimore, MD 21201


Christian Children's Fund
Child Alert Fund
PO Box 26484
Richmond, Virginia 23261-6484


Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres

Habitat for Humanity International
Asia Tsunami Response Fund
121 Habitat St
Americus, GA 31709


Latter-Day Saint Charities
Welfare Services Emergency Response
50 East North Temple Street, Room 701
Salt Lake City, Utah, 84150-6800

Lutheran World Relief
South Asia Tsunami
700 Light St.
Baltimore, MD 21230


Oxfam America
Asian Earthquake Fund
PO Box 1211
Albert Lea, MN 56007-1211

Project HOPE
Asia Tsunami Response
255 Carter Hall Lane
Millwood, VA 22646


Salvation Army
South Asia Relief Fund
615 Slaters Lane
Alexandria, VA, 22313


Save the Children USA
54 Wilton Road
Westport, CT 06880


World Vision
P.O. Box 70288
Tacoma, WA 98481-0288



Buenos Dias. Bom Dia. Guten Tag. Bula. Malo e Lelei. Kia Orana. Ia Ora Na. Alii. Ran Annim. Selamat Siang. Moshi Moshi. G'dye, mate ! Greetings from our Scuba Diving Vacation Team !

Welcome to the WARM WATER WORLD of U.S. Dive Travel. In this section we'll post important news tips to benefit our vacation clients. These news nuggets are generated when: clients send us new ideas; our agents discover hot new destinations; or our friends in 30 colorful countries, whom we call our Overseas Coconut Telegram Operators (O.C.T.O.) alert us to trends for divers & snorkelers who are planning tropical trips.

The phrase "Coconut Telegram" is derived from an often-heard Polynesian term, a bit tongue-in-cheek, which denotes an informal network of "hot gossip" or "grapevine news." This tropical island grapevine may be verbal, it may be hardcopy memos, or it might scoot around on the Internet with the speed of summer lightning.

This is the Open Forum for U.S. Dive Travel's website. Let us know what you know before it's hot off the presses. And we, in turn, will endeavor to tell you all the inside scoop on new destinations, new gear, new travel safety recommendations, or any great new deals in the dive travel industry. Anything of sense & sensibility goes in this forum. Anything, that is, except slander, smut & 4-letter or 5-letter words like "moan" or "whine." We'll reserve the right to edit all contributions for clarity & brevity (Yes, this forum is G-rated. After all, you never know when Mom, Barbara Bush or the King of Tonga might be logging on.) The latest breaking news items will appear directly after the address & phone number list. Best wishes & blessings as you plan your scuba diving trips.

Susan Hessburg & John Hessburg
Founders, Managers
U.S. Dive Travel Network
St. Paul, MN / Seattle, WA / Vancouver, BC / Phoenix, AZ / Houston, TX


Feel Free to Phone U.S. DIVE TRAVEL's
Reservations Office in St. Paul, MN

E-mail: divetrip@bitstream.net

Internet Address:

Mailing Address:
U.S. Dive Travel
PMB 307 -- Suite # 116
15050 Cedar Ave. S.
St. Paul, MN 55124-7047

candidly & with a balanced eye toward a better future.

(First posted a couple seasons back ...)

Solomon Airlines has announced improved service to Solomon Islands. Effective July 3, 2004 a third Brisbane flight will be introduced on Saturdays, in addition to the existing Tuesday and Thursday flights. Also on Saturdays, a new service from Auckland, New Zealand via Vila, Vanuatu will commence. As well as more flights, some times have improved as well. The flight that used to arrive into Honiara from Fiji at 1AM will now arrive at 2PM, a vast improvement that allows divers to transfer to Bilikiki and settle in, in anticipation of an afternoon departure to the first island group and the next days diving.

Qantas Airlines has also announced a new non stop service from Brisbane to LAX, eliminating the need for connections through Auckland and Sydney. Divers disembarking Bilikiki will be able to fly to Brisbane, have a relaxing overnight, and pick up the non stop service the next morning. The added flights also mean more carrying capacity, and Bilikiki Cruises has secured a 40 Kg ( 88 lb) free baggage allowance for Bilikiki customers only. "We are very pleased with these improvements to the air service" says Rick Belmare, managing director of Bilikiki Cruises Ltd. " They will make the fantastic diving that the Solomon Islands has to offer more accessible to divers from around the world"


Some of  you may have heard rumors or seen articles on the Solomon Islands (political situation). Many of you will have recently visited and done trips with us, and while spending time in Honiara would have seen nothing out of the ordinary, with day to day life going on as it always has. Our charters are all running smoothly with no concerns for the safety of either our crew or our guests.

Following a request by the Solomon Islands Government, the sixteen nations of the South Pacific Forum have unanimously voted to send aid to Solomon Islands to help restore law and order and to help rebuild its shattered economy.

While the lack of law and order is not readily apparent to anyone walking the streets of the capital, Honiara, there is an underlying factor with former militants extorting funds from an already cash-strapped government, which then does not have the means to pay it's civil servants; and the downward spiral continues.

The aid will initially be in the form of an "Intervention Force" led by Australia, with police from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Fiji, and backed by Australian troops to "give the police muscle". Approximately 400 police are expected to take part with over 1500 troops supplying support at all levels.  At the same time over 100 administrators will be placed in virtually all government ministries to help restructure and rebuild the government, 50 in the finance sector alone.

The Solomon Islands Government was unanimous in its acceptance of the intervention. Since the conflicts three years ago in June 2000, the country has been devastated by withdrawal of most key foreign investors with a resultant increase in unemployment and massive decrease in tax base. It is expected that the law and order situation will be resolved quickly, but that the overall program may take up to 10 years. The overall aim is to restore investor confidence and encourage a return of foreign investors to a stable and well run country, thereby creating employment and giving the government the ways and means to govern the country.

All in all, the intervention is very good news for the country and it's citizens who have been struggling for some time now and who are looking forward to a brighter future.

Meanwhile, the guests of Bilikiki Cruises continue to experience fantastic diving. Following is the latest report from our on board managers, Monty and Michelle. Just recently, our guests were enamored with Lumalihe Passage, Marovo Lagoon and we spent all day diving there.  Things seen were:  Huge, healthy sea fans (of course), 6 beautiful ragged fin lion fish 'dancing' in front of some sea fans, the smooth pygmy sea horse (unidentified species), beautiful hard coral gardens, a couple of cuttlefish and some soft coral crabs.  On each successive dive there were more and more stories being told about how many sharks/mantas/eagle rays had been seen.  We weren't certain if this was the truth or a 'diver's fable' (which is kind of like a fishing story - prone to exaggeration by the 3rd telling!!)

Just about all on board agreed that the next dive was to be a shark dive.  It was planned by those interested to go down to 70 - 80 feet on the point, hang out and 'watch the sharks'.  A few divers weren't interested and planned to stay on top of the reef in 30 - 40 feet and look for critters.  Those of us who went to the depths, were lucky enough to see some whitetips cruising the edge of the reef and about 5 feisty looking grey reef sharks patrolling the blue water.  As it wasn't our first dive of the day, we were limited by time at this depth and slowly cruised back up the reef to shallower water.  What most of the 'shark divers' didn't know was that while we were down at depth, the guys hunting for critters had been visited by 12 smallish hammerheads and a couple of manta rays!!  Those of us who didn't see it were a little skeptical, but when photographic evidence was presented, we could only talk of the '12 that got away"!!

The UK's respected news service BBC reported that as far back as Dec. 12, 2001, federal authorities in Indonesia publicly concede that they have uncovered direct ties between local Islamic militants -- in island groups such as the Moluccas & Sulawesi -- & Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization. Confirmation that al-Qaeda members have been fighting on the island of Sulawesi was revealed in a statement from the head of the National Intelligence Agency, Lt. General Hendropriyono. More than 2,000 police & federal soldiers were sent into the area after renewed clashes between ragtag -- but very deadly -- Muslim & Christian militias.

A fundamentalist Islamic organization called Laskar Jihad, widely believed to have buddy-buddy ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, has sent thousands of armed fighters to Sulawesi to support local Muslim groups in their armed struggle. U.S. military & intelligence sources say these Indonesian Muslim guerrillas are well-trained, tough & motivated by a marrow-deep hatred for everything about America & Western Europe. The BBC reports that this new Indonesian government admission is an obvious response to unrelenting diplomatic pressure from Western governments to take action against any groups with links to al-Qaeda.

So-called "religious conflict" has snuffed some 3,000 human lives in both the Muslim & Christian communities of Indonesia since first erupting in January 1999. But there had been a lull in the violence before the infiltration of the Laskar Jihad. The violence flared up again in the Moluccan capital city of Ambon shortly after their arrival, leaving more than 30 dead.

Since then the jihad forces have been linked to several raids on Christian communities in the north of Halmahera island, in which at least 200 people have been killed & many more injured. In each attack, the terrorists descended swiftly from sea & mountain routes in pre-dawn raids. Christian leaders said the attackers came in speedboats & were armed with military firearms. Most of these jihad warriors originated in Java & South Sulawesi authorities said.

Time Magazine reported in December 2001 that "Laskar Jihad....spouts the militant Wahhabi creed followed by Osama bin Laden & the Taliban & claims a force of 10,000 fighters, dedicated to defending its beliefs throughout the island nation." Hhhmmm, cause for a pause, amigos del mar. Give this one a good think-through.


The Washington Post Foreign Service reported as early as August 2001 that U.S. intelligence agents learned Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network had obtained a highly detailed, hand-drawn map of the U.S. diplomatic compound here.

"The Qaeda terrorist network had obtained a highly detailed, hand-drawn map of the U.S. diplomatic compound here," the Post stated. "The discovery stoked immediate fears of a U.S. Embassy bombing akin to those in Kenya & Tanzania in 1998. But it also provided one of the first indications that al Qaeda was focusing attention on Indonesia, the Southeast Asian country that is home to more Muslims than any other nation.

"Since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York & the Pentagon, signs of al Qaeda activity in Indonesia have multiplied. U.S. & Indonesian intelligence officials say they believe that hundreds of foreigners who may be linked to al Qaeda & coming from as far away as Europe visited a secret training camp last year in the jungles of Sulawesi, an island in central Indonesia. The leader of the country's largest & most-violent Muslim militia has acknowledged to police that he was offered financial backing by a bin Laden aide. & intelligence officials said they have identified links between bin Laden & a prominent Muslim cleric who heads a paramilitary group."

The Washington Post also reported that "U.S. officials have become increasingly concerned that some al Qaeda members may have established 'sleeper cells' in Indonesia that could become operational now that many of the group's leaders in Afghanistan have been forced into hiding, captured or killed."


This dispatch was published in UMMAHNEWS.com, a Muslim website in Indonesia on March 20, 2002:

Indonesian Muslims are demanding the release of Ja'far Umar Thalib, the commander of Laskar Jihad (Jihad Force) who has been leading dozens of thousands of youths defending the Muslim side in the conflict against Christians in the eastern Indonesian province of Maluku. Police arrested Ja'far in Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, last Friday while he was on his way from Yogyakarta, the force's alleged headquarters, to Makassar in another eastern province of South Sulawesi.

Umar was first suspected of sowing religious hatred, but police investigators later focused their questioning on suspicion of torture & premeditated murder. The case involved one Laskar Jihad member, Abdullah, who had admitted to committing adultery & who had said he was willing to be stoned to death by fellow Muslims.

A press release of the Laskar Jihad said Abdullah, out of guilt & fear of Allah's punishment, requested that the Islamic law of stoning be applied to him. The release said Ja'far turned down the request several times before finally conceding to lead the stoning after consultation with ulema in Yaman. The stoning of Abdullah was the first in Indonesia's history since its independence in 1945.


WORLDNET DAILY.com reported in January 2002 that:

"It's hard to establish an ongoing connection between bin Laden & Laskar Jihad," said Richard Baker, an Indonesia specialist with the East-West Center, an education & research group in Honolulu, Hawaii, established by the U.S. Congress. "The story of a bin Laden-Laskar Jihad connection goes back to training of Indonesians, including some who became Laskar Jihad at training camps in Afghanistan," said Baker, a former U.S. foreign service officer in Indonesia. "However, the head of Laskar Jihad has been quite acerbic about bin Laden, calling him not a true Islamist."

Radical groups that share al-Qaeda's ideology, but have their own agendas & enemies, are "running in parallel" to each other, Baker said. "At a certain point you have to ask yourself if it matters whether they are card-carrying members of al-Qaeda or freelance operators. You are dead either way if you get in their sights."

In Central Sulawesi, for example, near the heavy war zone of Poso city, there are scores of posters stapled to poles that show Osama bin Laden's photo & beneath it in Bahasa -- "This is our leader!"


USA TODAY reported on March 19, 2002:

"Armed with evidence that al-Qaeda members have fled from Afghanistan to Indonesia, Bush administration officials are pressing to get U.S. forces into the giant archipelago. But the administration faces opposition from an Indonesian government fearful of rising anger among its 200 million Muslims, & a U.S. Congress that severed ties to the Indonesian military in 1999.

"Intelligence sources say dozens of al-Qaeda operatives have found safe haven in the world's most populous Muslim nation, which consists of 17,000 islands & 34,000 miles of coastline. Some have come by air, but most have sneaked into Pakistan, then traveled several thousand miles in fishing boats from Arabian Sea ports, the sources say. U.S. allies are patrolling the waters off Pakistan & Iran to catch escaping members of the terrorist network, but searches of many ships have failed to turn up al-Qaeda members. U.S. intelligence & congressional sources say it's impossible to monitor all the sea traffic in the region.

"Some Defense Department officials say they want to restart military training missions halted in 1999 after hundreds of civilians were slaughtered in separatist East Timor. Congressional sources say the Pentagon wants to get forces on the ground to assess the strength of al-Qaeda. But a Pentagon official says that plan faces resistance from President Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose hold on power is weak & who fears that the presence of U.S. forces could inflame Islamic extremists, many of whom have close links to Indonesia's military & police. Almost 90% of Indonesia's 228 million people are Muslim.

"Indonesia is an excellent hiding place for al-Qaeda," the USA Today stated. "The government has weak control over its far-flung islands. Al-Qaeda also had a presence in the country before Sept. 11. It trained a local Islamic militant group called Laskar Jihad."

Further complicating this situation is the fact that the U.S. Congress has barred any funds for military contacts until Indonesia improves their own military's dismal human rights record. The U.S. officials hope Indonesia brings to justice military officers responsible for civilian slaughters across the archipelago in 1999. This month, the State Department accused Indonesia's military of murders, rapes, beatings & torture -- all in a day's work for the Indonesian army -- they contend.

For many years, we have talked with scores of clients about the issue of diving solo on their trips overseas. For most of the last decade we have staunchly recommended against this practice, since injuries & needless fatalities have resulted from headstrong solo diving in the last couple decades. We still recommend firmly against beginners or even intermediates diving alone -- ever. While the buddy system does have disadvantages such as the legal liability question -- yes you ARE your brother's keeper! -- buddy diving is still the best way for any newbie to scubie, we feel. As for dive professionals, underwater guides, or rock-solid veteran recreational divers, we have changed our mind, & we say why not. Give it a go, but go safely, keep a dive flag & float overhead, a spare air reserve if you can & watch your guages like a hawk. It's also a good idea to have a friend or spouse spotting you on board the vessel, or from shore, with access to cell phone or radio in case you do not surface on time, per your stated dive plan. We have been doing quite a bit of solo diving since spring of 2000, in fact -- & there's a thrilling freedom to solo diving -- IF you play it safe, & dive according to conservative profiles, avoiding obvious settings of heavy current, or tight overhead environments. Best to go short & shallow while you are getting started on the solo dives, until you have gathered considerable experience. Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine, considered by many industry professionals to be the definitive journal of our sport, is appearing to endorse this concept of solo diving, in a careful manner, via some of their columnists. We agree with them, perhaps even to a more cautious degree. Also Sprach Der Mellowing Safety Maven. If YOU do not agree, sound off, & let us know. We enjoy your calls & e-mails, folks. Your opinions are the spice of life around here.

Quite a few clients have expressed concern to us, recently, over the appalling state of scuba diving journalism in the USA, Canada & Europe. They are observing how many dive periodicals blatantly slurp the socks of their advertisers & offer such mealy-mouthed reviews about dive gear, dive agencies & overseas resorts that they have lost their credibility with any reader who still has gray matter between the ears. Folks, we agree with your complaints, fully. It's an embarrassment that so many scuba diving magazines worldwide have resorted to advertising techniques that would raise eyebrows on a used-car lot. Some of our clients call it "sucking up to the big buck advertisers," still others dub this sad phenomenon "bull roar" -- or a similar phrase -- which befits the sycophantic fluff we all have seen masquerade as journalism. Ladies & gents, thanks for having the insight to recognize the profusion of crap that passes for scuba diving reportage today. Some of the industry publications that are sent to us, month after month from around the world, are barely worth the price of matches to incinerate them. Why, you say? Simple. Some of these periodicals long ago sold out their integrity & objectivity to make a fast buck in the Good-Old-Boys-Club-dominated world of scuba diving, & to heck with principles. They are scared spitless of offending the biggie brand names, therefore ad revenues are placed before reader service. This saddens us because we know there are good people at some of these mags who must feel a little queasy about their jobs, but they feel pressed by economic exigencies to tow the company line. We feel for you guys; it's a hardtack world out there. But there's always room for growth, right? There are several notable exceptions to this rule of Endemic B.S. Scuba Journalism, but precious few. Not all dive magazines are shameless sock kissers. We recommend, for example, that you keep on reading Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine, the only publication we have ever seen nationwide whose exective editor proudly announces that "we lost X dollars & Y advertisers last month" for printing the truth about scuba gear. Right on. You've got to bless Rodale's Scuba Diving for having the huevos rancheros to stare down the Old Boys Posse that has made international trade gatherings such an utter yawning drag for years. Now granted, there's been a bit of controversy about harvesting e-mails & such, but we trust the powers that be will see the light soon. OK, moving onward, we can be glad there are still scrappy uncompromised editors left like the folks at the Undercurrent newsletter. These people at Undercurrent are journalists with editorial courage, pure & simple, who call 'em as they see 'em, who refuse to kowtow to any advertisers, who think of the diving clients first -- even if they might rouge the cheeks of some folks a bit too earnestly every now & then. Hey, everybody needs an editor -- even an editor -- especially us quite frankly. But we gladly would trade one issue each of Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine & Undercurrent for the last 5 years worth of most of their competitors' airball bologna. Now a word to the die-hard Old Boys Network. You guys know who you are. Why not shape up, deflab your abs, shed the spare tire of facile fawning? So why not? While Rodale's Scuba Diving & Undercurrent offer straight-ahead customer-service dialectics like Socrates, you guys drone on like Mediocrates. What's there to fear, oh ye slaves to the scuba gear companies? Besides, you look so much brighter without your nose rings. One final note, we have never advertised in either Undercurrent or Rodale's Scuba Diving magazine. Never paid either of them one red cent for ads, not once. So there's no insider back-scratching going on here. Viva Undercurrent, & Viva Rodale's Scuba Diving magazine. Long may the flag of 1st Amendment freedom wave in this rancid Madison Avenue breeze that's been blowing across North America & Europe for years.


Ecuador - Consular Information Sheet


COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:   Ecuador is a developing country. Tourist facilities are adequate but vary in quality. U.S. currency became legal tender in Ecuador in 2000, although Ecuadoran coins have been minted in values equal to American coins and are concurrently in circulation. The paper sucre has been eliminated.

ENTRY AND EXIT REQUIREMENTS:   A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and depart Ecuador. Tourists must also provide evidence of return or onward travel. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or less. Those planning a longer visit must obtain a visa in advance. U.S. citizens whose passports are lost or stolen in Ecuador must obtain a new passport at the U.S. Embassy in Quito or the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil and present it, together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the main immigration office in the capital city of Quito to obtain permission to depart. An exit tax must be paid at the airport when departing Ecuador. For further information regarding entry, exit, and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Ecuadoran Embassy at 2535 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009; telephone (202) 234-7166; Internet - http://www.ecuador.org; or the Ecuadoran consulate in Chicago (312) 329-0266, Houston (713) 622-1787, Jersey City (201) 985-1700, Los Angeles (323) 658-6020, Miami (305) 539-8214, New Orleans (504) 523-3229, New York (212) 808-0170, or San Francisco (415) 957-5921.

ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR MINORS:   Minors (under 18) who are citizens or residents of Ecuador and who are traveling alone, with one parent or with a third party must present a copy of their birth certificate and written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian, specifically granting permission to travel alone, with one parent or with a third party. When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of the death certificate is required in lieu of the written authorization. If documents are prepared in the United States, the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated into Spanish, notarized, and authenticated by the Ecuadoran Embassy or an Ecuadoran consulate within the United States. If documents are prepared in Ecuador, only notarization by an Ecuadoran notary is required. This paragraph does not apply to children who enter Ecuador with U.S. passports as tourists, unless they hold dual U.S./Ecuadoran citizenship.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:   The U.S. Embassy in Quito advises against travel to the northeastern sector of the country, especially the provinces of Sucumbios, Carchi, and Orellana that border on Colombia. The frontier areas of these provinces are especially dangerous because of the significant increase in common crime, extortion, and kidnapping. Since 1994, ten U.S. citizens have been kidnapped near the Colombian border. Law enforcement along the border has difficulty containing the spread of organized crime, drug trafficking, and armed insurgency, and travelers are urged to avoid these areas. Since September 1996, U.S. Government personnel have been restricted from travel to Sucumbios province. Following the October 2000 kidnapping of ten foreign oil workers, including five American citizens, U.S. Government personnel have also been restricted from travel to Orellana province.

The city of Guayaquil has experienced a dramatic increase in kidnappings for ransom, often in connection with carjackings. Travelers are advised to be observant of their surroundings, particularly in the restaurant district of Urdesa.

Political demonstrations occur sporadically in urban areas, usually to protest the Ecuadoran Government's handling of the economy. Past demonstrations have been marked by burning tires, blocked streets, and Molotov cocktails. Handguns have been fired into the air, and occasionally at the police, during demonstrations. The police generally respond by using water cannons and tear gas. Public transportation tends to be disrupted during these incidents. Rural highways are also sometimes blocked by protesters, and demonstrations against government policies have occasionally taken place in the Galapagos Islands. Travelers should avoid areas where demonstrations are in progress and keep informed by following the local news and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides.

The President of Ecuador has declared temporary states of emergency in parts of Ecuador on several occasions, often as a response to high crime rates. Under these states of emergency, the military is allowed to perform joint patrols with the police and curfews may be imposed. The police and military are often granted expanded search authority under a state of emergency, and roadblocks may be set up to check personal identification and vehicle registration. U.S. citizens should carry identification at all times, including proof of U.S. citizenship, and abide by any restrictions imposed during a state of emergency or risk arrest. Travelers should follow the local news or consult with the U.S. Embassy in Quito or the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil for specific information.

CRIME INFORMATION:   Since 1998, the cities of Quito and Guayaquil have experienced an increase in crimes such as armed robberies, assaults, carjackings and kidnappings. Most crimes are of a non-violent nature, such as pickpocketing, burglary of personal effects, or thefts from vehicles or hotel rooms. In a rapidly increasing number of cases, however, thieves are armed with guns or knives. House burglaries and carjackings can result in violence. The Ecuadoran Government has increased police patrols in tourist areas, but travelers in resort areas along the coast and in Quito and Guayaquil should remain alert to their surroundings and maintain constant control of personal belongings. Expensive-appearing jewelry and watches should not be worn.

In Quito, extreme caution should be taken in tourist areas and crowded marketplaces, especially on the crowded streets of south Quito, the Panecillo, Old Quito, and all transportation terminals. Backpackers are frequently targeted for criminal activity in Quito. Tourists were robbed in 1999 at the Cotopaxi National Park and La Carolina Park. Travelers should not frequent the city parks (La Carolina, El Ejido, La Alameda) before dawn and after dark and should not go into the interior of these parks at any time. Other areas identified as dangerous for tourists are El Tejar, Parroquia San Sebastian, Mariscal Sucre, Avenida Cristobal Colon and Gonzalez Suarez. Since 1999, several U.S. government employees and private U.S. citizens have been victimized in the Mariscal Sucre district, prompting the U.S. Embassy to put certain bars off-limits and to declare a nighttime curfew in the area for its employees.

In Guayaquil, extra caution should be taken in the downtown area, on the waterfront (El Malecon), in the street market area of La Bahia, at the Christ Statue (Sagrado Corazon de Jesus) on Cerro del Carmen, in the airport area, and in the southern part of the city. Luggage theft occurs frequently at the airport. U.S. travelers have been followed to or from the airport, assaulted and robbed. These assaults have occurred during the day as well as at night and often in public areas that might otherwise be considered safe. There have been numerous armed robberies of restaurants and their patrons, including in the fashionable areas of Guayaquil.

Travelers to Ecuador's beach areas should be aware that strong currents, undertow, and underwater hazards are common and are not posted. In addition, many beach areas are relatively deserted at night and crimes such as rape and robbery have been reported.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. This publication and others, such as Tips for Travelers to Central and South America, are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

MEDICAL FACILITIES:   Medical care is available but it varies in quality and generally is below U.S. standards.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:    U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, although some hospitals do accept major U.S. credit cards. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties. Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation, and for adequacy of coverage. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.

SPECIFIC HEALTH RISKS:    Travelers to Quito may require some time to adjust to the altitude (close to 10,000 feet), which can adversely affect blood pressure, digestion and energy level. Travelers are encouraged to consult with their personal health care providers before undertaking high-altitude travel. In particular, travelers with heart or lung problems and persons with sickle cell trait may develop serious health complications at high altitudes.

Scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands can be hazardous and is not recommended for beginners. Because there is no decompression chamber in the archipelago, divers are advised to obtain adequate medical evacuation insurance to allow emergency air transport to the nearest chamber, located at the San Eduardo Naval Base in Guayaquil. The Ecuadoran Navy charges a fee for use of its decompression chamber.

MALARIA ALERT for COASTAL CITIES:   The Ministry of Health has declared an emergency in Ecuador's coastal zone (the provinces of Esmeraldas, Manabi, Guayas, El Oro, Los Rios, and Loja) and the interior province of Sucumbios, bordering Colombia and Peru, due to an increase in cases of malaria and dengue fever. The emergency zone includes the coastal city of Guayaquil. Quito and other high-altitude locations are not included in the emergency zone. Travelers should consult with their personal health care providers about taking malaria prophylaxis medication before traveling to the above-mentioned provinces. Yellow fever and cholera are also reaching epidemic levels in some outlying regions and are encroaching on the outskirts of cities such as Guayaquil. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax: 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299); or via CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.

VOLCANO INFORMATION:    Beginning in September 1998, the Guagua Pichincha Volcano, located just west of Quito, has exhibited a significant increase in the number of tremors and an accompanying rise in magma level. Since October 1999, there has been an intermittent series of explosions. Volcanic ash has fallen on Quito during some of the explosions, causing temporary closings of area schools and the airport. In the event of a full-scale eruption, geological experts conclude that the city of Quito is protected from possible lava flows, avalanches, and lateral explosions by the bulk of Pichincha Mountain, which stands between the city and the volcano crater. Parts of Quito could be affected by secondary mudflows caused by heavy rains that usually accompany an eruption. The entire city could also be affected by slight to significant ash falls and resulting disruptions of water, power, communications, and transportation.

The town of Baños, a popular tourist destination located approximately 80 miles south of Quito, was evacuated in November 1999 because of the increased activity of the adjacent Tungurahua Volcano. The volcano has been ejecting significant amounts of ash and incandescent rocks. Geological experts advise that an explosive eruption could occur quickly and with little warning. The resulting pyroclastic flows would pose a significant and immediate threat to Baños and several small villages in the vicinity. Travelers are advised not to travel to Baños or the surrounding area.

The Quito City Government and the Ecuadoran Geophysical Institute continue to monitor these volcanoes and issue regular reports on their activity. Travelers are advised to pay close attention to the news media in Quito for updates on the situation. Besides Guagua Pichincha and Tungurahua, other volcanoes in Ecuador may, from time to time, also exhibit increased activity. Further information about these and other volcanoes in the Western Hemisphere is available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via the Internet at http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/VAAC/guag.html.

TOUR BOAT SAFETY:    A significant number of Ecuadoran tour vessels, including many operating in the Galapagos Islands, do not meet internationally recognized maritime safety standards. The Government of Ecuador has very limited search and rescue capability in the event of an accident. In 1998, four U.S. citizens drowned when a tour boat capsized within the Galapagos Archipelago. The Government of Ecuador now requires that vessels carrying more than fifteen passengers comply with the International Safety Management (ISM) code established by the International Maritime Organization. A copy of the vessel's ISM certificate should be made available upon request. The ISM requirement has been in effect since July 2000 and it is not yet clear how rigorously the new safety standards are being enforced by Ecuadoran authorities. Large tour boats (those carrying eighty passengers or more) generally have better safety records than smaller tour boats, particularly those carrying fifteen passengers or fewer.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:    While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Ecuador is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor

Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor

Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor

Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Many roads and bridges that were damaged during the 1997-1998 El Nino weather phenomenon remain unrepaired, causing delays and detours. Bus travel throughout Ecuador is dangerous, especially at night, because of poorly maintained and unmarked roads and bridges. Bus passengers are often targets of crime, including robbery and rape. Travelers should guard against theft of personal belongings on all forms of public transportation.

A peace treaty ending the Ecuador/Peru border conflict was signed on October 26, 1998. The border between the two countries is open, but crossing or approaching the Ecuador-Peru border anywhere except at official checkpoints is dangerous. For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:    The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Ecuador's Civil Aviation Authority as Category 2 - not in compliance with international safety standards for the oversight of Ecuador's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, any of Ecuador's air carriers with existing routes to the U.S. will be permitted to conduct limited operations to the U.S. subject to heightened FAA surveillance. No additional flights or new service to the U.S. by Ecuador's air carriers will be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety standards.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the U.S. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:    While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Ecuadoran laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ecuador are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and heavy fines. U.S. citizens arrested in Ecuador for drug-related offenses may experience prolonged pretrial detention without bail. Prison conditions are sub-standard.

OTHER LEGAL ISSUES:    Under Ecuadoran law, a business dispute that normally would be handled by civil litigation in the United States may be converted into a criminal proceeding. This provision of the law has been used to impose travel prohibitions against resident U.S. citizens, and also has led to the arrest and incarceration of U.S. business people while they were awaiting a hearing on the civil matter.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:    For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to the Department of State's Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION:    U.S. citizens living in or visiting Ecuador are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of either the U.S. Embassy in Quito or the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil and obtain updated information on travel and security in Ecuador. The Consular Section in Quito is open for citizen services, including registration, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 4:00 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, excluding U.S. and Ecuadoran holidays. The Consular Section in Guayaquil is open for those services from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, Tuesday through Friday, excluding U.S. and Ecuadoran holidays.

The U.S. Embassy in Quito is located at the corner of Avenida 12 de Octubre and Avenida Patria (across from the Casa de la Cultura); telephone (011-593-2) 562-890, extension 480, during business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) or 561-749 for after-hours emergencies; fax (011-593-2) 561-524; Internet web site - http://www.usembassy.org.ec. The Consulate General in Guayaquil is located at the corner of 9 de Octubre and Garcia Moreno (near the Hotel Oro Verde); telephone (011-593-4) 323-570 during business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) or 321-152 for after-hours emergencies; fax (011-593-4) 320-904. Consular services for U.S. citizens in the Galapagos Islands are provided by the Consulate General in Guayaquil.


Please be forewarned that airline officials & U.S. government authorities at all major gateway airports in the United States -- where passengers board for flights to foreign countries -- will prevent a solo parent from boarding his or her plane with an underaged child, unless the parent has a signed & notarized letter of permission, clearly written, from the child's other parent. That is, if both parents of any child under the age of 18 are not on the plane with that child, then the traveling parent responsible for that child MUST have that signed & notarized letter of permission, allowing the minor to travel, before airline officials will allow you to board your flight overseas. The letter needs to be very specific, detailing permission for the exact dates & destination of this current trip you are planning. This rule is strictly enforced at most airports & should not be taken lightly. The reasoning behind the law, of course, is to prevent parents from kidnapping or hiding children from the other parent in messy legal situations ie. disputes, divorce or separation, where the child may become a political pawn.


For many years, North Americans were forced to endure the hassles of securing a tourist visa to enter Australia for Great Barrier Reef dive vacations. It always seemed a sort of appalling concept that a friendly allied nation would make it so challenging for tourists to get into Australia. To wit, dive travelers groused about this irksome reality for years. Until just a few months ago, U.S. Dive Travel was forced to tell clients to mail their passports down to the Australian Consulate in San Francisco, which was time-consuming, costly & inconvenient.

Now the great news is that the Australian government has approved a new system called the E.T.A. or "Electronic Travel Authority." What the E.T.A. allows is this: you simply phone your travel professional or Qantas Airlines, for example, & during the normal process of securing your air tickets, the agent will ask you about 8 questions over the phone. You dictate your passport number over the phone & the number is keyed in electronically to an Aussie central office here in the U.S. There, Australian computers run a background check on your passport number, searching for known criminals or internationally wanted persons. This check takes only a couple minutes at most, experts say.

If you pass the checkout, which most folks do easily, then the agent affixes your E.T.A. approval code to the ticket file & you're in like Flynn. That's it, simple as Aussie suds on your upper lip ! For more information on this process, please call this toll-free Qantas Airlines E.T.A. number: 1-800-227-4632. Thank you & g'dye mite ! Have a fair dinkum trip.

Meanwhile, Mr. Guy Krenn, the ETA Liaison Manager for the Australian Consulate-General in Los Angeles, sent us an e-mail on New Year's Eve '97 that added some interesting facts about this excellent new entry visa process. Mr. Krenn noted the following:

1. ETAs -- Australia's electronic entry visas -- are available from any travel agent or airline reservation desk. ETAs can be issued at airports in emergency cases only & a fee may be charged in those cases.

2. After passport details are entered into the system, an ETA response is returned in a matter of seconds. Then the entire remaining process of issuing an ETA, from start to finish, should take only 1 to 2 minutes.

3. The Electronic Travel Authority is an instantaneous and fully electronic replacement for visitor visas to enter Australia. There are no visa labels, no confirmation numbers & no contact with an Australian visa office is necessary. This is about as streamlined as you can get ! In a few years, we can guess that most countries will have a similar visa process.

4. An ETA does NOT have to be issued by the travel agent or airline that issued your airline ticket. Another excellent facet of this high-tech system is that the ETA is fully independent & requires only that passport details be entered into the computer accurately.

If you have any further technical questions about Australia's exciting new visa system, you can e-mail Guy Krenn directly at the Aussie ETA Office in Los Angeles at this server address: guyk@sprynet.com.


Back in the summer of 1997, John Hessburg (our co-owner) got certified for Nitrox diving (oxygen-enriched air), while on a contract tour of the Hawaiian Islands. It was a great experience & the good folks at Windward Dive Center in Kailua, Southeast Oahu island, made it easy & admirably safe. After a couple dives on Nitrox, you surface & feel like a million bucks, pure & simple. The way you feel after diving on Nitrox is vastly better than the fatigue, lassitude & craven munchies you normally feel after diving a couple hard tanks of straight air. You feel much more alert, more awake, lighter & brighter in all regards after diving on Nitrox.

You will still see ultra-conservative PADI textbook warnings that declare you are no less likely to experience symptoms of decompression-related illness when you dive regular air tables using Nitrox mix. Now we respect PADI for erring on the side of diver safety rather than pandering to the progressives each time a new technology arrives.

However, we feel that Nitrox, properly mixed & properly controlled by careful table planning, markedly enhances a diver's personal safety margin, if the diver uses Nitrox with conventional air tables. Most of the dive pros we work with agree with us. The safety margin is likely to be enhanced using Nitrox, ONLY IF the diver does not abuse alcohol or drugs, dive too deep or too long, get seriously dehydrated, or commit any of the many egregious errors that PADI & NAUI warn us can lead to the soft-tissue fizzies. We enthusiastically endorse Nitrox, with the caveat that you definitely get your training from a top-notch Nitrox-certified instructor.

Membrane Nitrox Fill Stations are a big plus. Most Nitrox centers in the U.S. use one of two methods of mixing additional oxygen into the air blend: the lower-tech partial pressure method or the continuous-flow method. These technologies are delicate processes that demand precision & expert training; & they carry the serious hazard of fires or tank explosions if performed incorrectly. In contrast, the high-tech method known as membrane-fill or molecular sieve technology is not only exceptionally accurate on the gas mixes, but the explosion & fire hazards have been nearly fully eliminated.

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