If you’ve been up since 4 am cleaning Humvees, after a five-mile run, and you aren’t in the mood to have some screaming senior-enlisted finding something else for you to do—walk up to a stack of MRE boxes, or air panels, or whatever—and begin counting. Make sure you whip your hand up and down while you point that finger; twenty-one. . . twenty-two. . . twenty-three. I’ve heard if you grab a fallen tree branch and place it over your head like a weird set ofantlers it can back off an approaching hyena—same applies for counting things in the proximity of roaming careerists.

Travel Translation: always look like you know where you’re going. It’s all about appearance. Appearing on task and deliberate works wonders, and I never saw this more clearly illustrated than in a place called Limón.

Costa Rica’s largest Caribbean port, like all good ports, is crawling with smoke and decadence. Even warm-hearted locals gave me the gouge; this could be a tough town. My own observations supported this, though “tough” didn’t necessarily have to mean “bad.”
The place holds a distinct charm. Greasy dark arms stopped rolling cigarillos long enough to welcome me into their watering hole. I took a seat at the front door, back to the corner of a little portico, drank an Imperial, and I watched.

It didn’t take long.

When the stumbling, belt-packed gringos entered the street and began to clog traffic, the local reaction was palpable. These tourists were targets—and that’s not to say the locals wanted to capitalize on this, at least not all of them. But while these walking bullseyes took off their goofy straw hats to wipe the sweat off their brows with their airport courtesy maps, it was the continuously honking car-horns that finally hazed them onto the nearest curb. On said curb, the local bilge—the arms with track marks, and the eyes; glossy, predatory—those types soon swarmed the lost outsiders until the whole carnival had slogged away. They may have been robbed, or pick-pocketed, or—even more likely—taken on a cab ride 900x more pricey than necessary. Anything to get out of that devil’s pit.

Do yourself aservice; even if lost as shit, don’t let people see you this way.

If you know a thing or two about security than you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you; deception can play as big a role as walls, guns, and muscle. That big guy with all the ink—yeah, he may be a total wimp, but are you going to be the one to roll the dice and find out? A BB gun can rob a gas station, and a few clever tricks of the eye can help you get right up into the snarling face of Adventure’s backstreets and come back with both kidneys. Illusion, she is a tool. There is no mistake in this revelation, nothing to second guess. Harnessing useful illusions will only make your world travels all the more insulated.

If lost as hell and in a country with a history of more coups than embassies erected, do the following: Find a place to sit, order a drink, crack off a smile and a laugh no matter how difficult, and then reassess. Chances are you’ll be okay.

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David Rose (AKA Mr. Blonde)
David Rose is the author of No Joy, From Sand and Time, and Mulgara: The Necromancer’s Will. He holds a postgraduate degree in applied uselessness—a.k.a. philosophy—from the London School of Economics. He lives all over the place.