World Travel Watch: Monster Shark Off Australia, Deadly Driving Games in Bulgaria and More

World Travel Watch: Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

10.29.09 | 10:44 AM ET

World Travel Watch is a weekly report designed to help you make informed judgments about travel. Conditions can change overnight, so always make your own inquiries before you leave home. The U.S. State Department and embassies or consulates are good places to start.

Australia: Monster Shark Off Queensland Coast Prompts Warning to Stay Out of the Water

Nothing will get the attention of swimmers and surfers faster than a great white shark, especially if it’s the size of the iconic monster in “Jaws.” When a 10-foot shark turned up dead recently almost bitten in half, experts estimated that the shark that killed it had to be at least 16 feet long. They have warned swimmers to stay out of the water off Stradbroke Island east of Brisbane on the Queensland coast. Shark attacks increase during the Australian summer because more swimmers are in the sea, but the most popular beaches throughout the country are protected by nets and drumlines, a series of bated hooks hanging from buoys 500 yards off the beach. Neither nets nor drumlines can guarantee safety, but Queensland has had only one fatal shark attack at a protected beach in the 47 years that the program has been in place.

Bulgaria: ‘Russian Road Roulette’ Plagues Sofia Streets

Being on the streets after midnight in the northern districts of Sofia is dangerous, whether on foot or in a vehicle, because of a new “game” called Russian Road Roulette played by a gang of about 50 drivers. They gather nightly to place bets on who can drive successfully at top speed through red lights at intersections chosen just minutes before the game begins. To win the bet the driver cannot apply brakes and must hit nothing while reaching speeds up to 120 miles per hour. The Bulgarian mafia is believed to be involved and some five people have died since the craze began this summer. Taxi drivers are now stopping at green lights after midnight as a safety precaution. Variations on the game involve speeding in the wrong direction around roundabouts and racing on the ring road freeway.

El Salvador: Email Hoaxes Raise Dark Memories of Civil War

The U.S. Embassy in San Salvador reported that an email hoax that threatened increased gang activity circulated around the country and “caused a significant disruption of normal activities.” A follow-up email hoax also circulated with a message supposedly from a death squad from the civil war years (1980-92) saying it was reforming to exterminate the gangs. Both messages, and the public’s reaction to them, suggest that despite how far the country has traveled from that tumultuous time, tensions remain beneath the surface, and true peace is still elusive.

Israel: Troubles Continue at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

Two weeks of quiet around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem ended Oct. 25 when stone-throwing Arab youths clashed with police, then took refuge inside Al-Aksa Mosque. Authorities closed the Temple Mount following the riots but reopened it the next day. Conflict over the past month at the site that is sacred to both Muslims and Jews threatens to spiral out of control, with extremists on both sides calling for mass visits to the area. Jewish leaders called upon their followers to increase their visits to the site while Muslim leaders exhorted their followers to go there to defend it. Tensions are likely to remain high, and visits to the site should be undertaken with caution.

Seychelles and Somalia: Pirates Roam Far into Indian Ocean to Take Ships

Piracy off the Horn of Africa and in the nearby Indian Ocean is not news, but a British couple learned recently that any size vessel is a potential target when they and their 38-foot yacht sailing in Seychelles seas were taken by pirates for ransom. Somali pirates have extended their reach from the Horn of Africa shipping lanes to several hundred miles into the Indian Ocean, and all vessels appear to be fair game.

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