Updates on the travel ban, laptops in carryons, Cuba travel, Western Wall and Falklands penguins.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the August 2017 issue.
David Irving positioned on Huayna Picchu, overlooking Machu Picchu, in Peru — not so precarious a perch.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 498th (!) issue of your monthly magazine about travel outside of the United States. 

This is the publication in which subscribers write in with information they feel will be helpful to other travelers, whether they’re revealing a new destination, submitting a bare-knuckle review of a travel firm or discussing a travel-related issue.

ITN was the first travel publication to regularly print the accounts of people who were paying for their own trips. ITN’s founder, the late Armond Noble, came up with this forum in which everyone is welcome to write candidly about their experiences, telling not only what to seek out but what to watch out for.

More than 41 years later, we’re still getting mail like the following:

ITN is the BEST travel magazine in the world. I have learned so much about places and tour companies from you. Thanks so much.” — Mary Darmstaetter, Boston, MA

“Thank you for this unique travel magazine. I cannot wait for the next issue to arrive.” — Marie-Paule Terrier, Fort Lauderdale, FL

“A travel friend who I met in the 1980s put me onto ITN, and I haven’t let go since. I continue to travel to this day, and I also tell other travelers about ITN and the great information it provides. Keep up the wonderful work! — Margo Mata, Carlsbad, CA

We love letters like that, for sure, but we also look forward to getting your travel reports.

Set some time aside to write something about the latest trip you took. In addition to your observations and opinions — or just a quick tip — include the trip dates and approximate prices plus contact info of the tour company, guide, café meal or whatever. Please provide your address, too (where you receive ITN, for our records only).

OK, time for me to get back to work…

On June 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear challenges to President Trump’s “travel ban” during its next term, starting in October, and, in the meantime, it is allowing the enforcement of parts of the ban. 

The original executive order, signed on Jan. 27, 2017, banned all visitors from seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the US for 90 days and banned refugees from those countries for 120 days (except for Syrian refugees, who were banned indefinitely). 

After that order was blocked by regional federal courts on Feb. 1, a second order — which removed Iraq from the list and included refugees from Syria in the temporary, 120-day ban — was signed on March 6. That ban was also blocked by regional federal courts.

According to the Supreme Court’s ruling, any traveler from any of the six countries included in the March 6 ban who does not have a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” can be denied entry for 90 days or, for someone seeking refugee status, for 120 days from the date of enforcement. Further, as specified in the executive order, a potential refugee cannot even apply for asylum during the 120 days in which the vetting process is being overhauled. 

Enforcement of the ban began 72 hours after the court’s ruling.

A person would qualify as having “a bona fide relationship” if he/she was employed by the US government, seeking urgent medical care, enrolled in a work or study program in the US or seeking to visit or reside with family already living in the US.

(“Family” is defined as a parent; parent-in-law; spouse; fiancé/fiancée; child; son- or daughter-in-law; sibling, or half or step sibling. 

It does NOT include a grandparent; grandchild; aunt; uncle; niece; nephew; cousin; brother- or sister-in-law, or other extended-family member.)

The court also made clear that any claim of exemption from the ban must be authentic and that someone trying to travel with an “engineered connection” would be banned. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be tasked with investigating claims of exemption.

The executive order does not ban a citizen of any of the affected countries who already is a permanent resident of the US or who has a green card or a visa that already has been approved. Nor does it block anyone who is a dual citizen if one of the dual countries is not included in the ban.

To state the obvious, yes, this travel ban will have expired by the time the Supreme Court hears arguments over its legality. Whether or not there will be any other travel bans before October (or if any new bans will be halted by regional courts as Trump’s first two bans were) is not known. Ultimately, what the Supreme Court will be deciding is not if this particular ban should be denied but whether such a ban is constitutional at all. 

In March, the Department of Homeland Security banned laptops (and other personal electronic devices larger than a smartphone) from carry-on luggage aboard some flights with direct routes to the US from eight countries — Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE — citing credible information that terrorist organizations had found a way to disguise a bomb as a battery. 

After making that decision, the DHS considered expanding that order to possibly cover all airlines traveling to the US.

Instead, on June 28 the DHS outlined new, more stringent security measures for all commercial flights flying into the US. These measures include enhanced passenger screening, heightened screening of electronics, increased security protocols in and around aircraft and expanded use of dogs for security screening. 

Airlines have 120 days from the order date to follow the guidelines. With the airlines that do meet the guidelines (including those from the original eight countries named in March), electronics will be allowed in passengers’ carry-ons on their flights to the US. Airlines that do not meet them may not be allowed to carry “large” electronics at all on flights to the US or may even be banned from flying to the US.

(Etihad, among the airlines in which electronics were banned, has already met the guidelines, and passengers now may carry electronics onto flights.)

The new security rules would affect 180 airlines and 280 airports in 105 countries, accounting for roughly 2,100 flights each day.

On June 16, President Trump announced that he was reversing some of President Obama’s changes that made it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. Specifically, the policy that will be reverted is the one that allows a US citizen to visit Cuba independently, without first applying for and receiving a license.

Before the US Department of the Treasury (DOT) changed its Cuba policy in March 2016 at the urging of President Obama, an American citizen traveling to Cuba had to travel there under one of the reasons approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). 

Typically, US travelers had been traveling on “People to People” tours, which were licensed as “educational.” Since the tour operators were already licensed, tour members did not have to each submit proof to OFAC that they were traveling to Cuba for an approved reason.

For travelers, the biggest change to Cuba policy under Obama was that, after the DOT changed its rules, everyone going to the Caribbean island was each assumed to be traveling legally under one of the 11 licensed purposes. This meant that it was no longer necessary for someone to join a guided tour, as everyone effectively was licensed. Soon that will no longer be the case, and travelers wishing to visit Cuba will have to qualify for a license or join an approved tour.

Though the change was announced on June 16, it will not go into effect until OFAC makes its “regulatory amendments.” As of press time, the official word from OFAC was that those amendments would be made “in the coming months.” 

There is good news for anyone who made any travel-related transaction in anticipation of a trip to Cuba before June 16: regardless of when that trip will take place or when OFAC makes its amendments, that trip will be authorized.

President Trump has left many of Obama’s other policy changes regarding Cuba intact, including allowing direct commercial flights and cruises to continue operating to Cuba from the US. Obama’s changes to importation rules also remain the same: up to $300 worth of cigars or alcohol can be brought back from Cuba on each visit. The US Embassy in Havana, reoccupied only last year, also will remain open.

Also in the news — 

In a Travel Brief last year, ITN reported on a new law passed by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, that allowed women and men to worship together at Jerusalem’s Western Wall (April ’16, pg. 4).

Unfortunately, that plan languished for more than a year until June 26 of this year, when it was suddenly rejected by the Prime Minister’s office.

Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the proposal only as “frozen,” saying that a new compromise will be sought, for the foreseeable future, women will continue to be separated from men at the Western Wall.

A follow-up regarding our flightless friends to the south —

In June 2016, I wrote about how, on East Falkland Island in the Falkland Islands, there was an unexpected benefit to land mines. 

East Falkland’s beaches were mined by the retreating Argentinian army during the 1982 Falklands War with the UK, yet the five species of native penguins there have been thriving. While humans have completely avoided the beaches, the penguins are too small to detonate the mines, so their populations have swelled to over a million.

It seems, however, that the penguins’ days of “safety by land mine” are coming to an end.

Over the decades, islanders have successfully avoided the minefields — there have been no civilian casualties at all — and the penguins do provide another attraction for tourists, who can view them from trails, so there has been little local interest in clearing the mines from that area. 

However, the Ottawa Convention, a mine-ban treaty signed by several countries in 1997, compels member countries to clear all minefields within their borders, and the UK, one of the signers, is now demanding that all of the beaches on the Falklands be made safe.

The operation of clearing the mines will be lengthy, disruptive and expensive. In addition to the problem of what to do with the penguins, beaches are constantly shifting due to the effects of tides and weather, so the mines that were laid will not be easily found and removed. 

In 2009, the UK began test-clearing mines in the Falklands. With their removal beginning in 2010, mines have already been successfully cleared from one beach, Surf Bay, just east of of the capital, Stanley. More than 1,800 mines had been buried there.

During the removal process, mines were detonated across the beach, leaving enormous craters. These were quickly filled in with sand, and Surf Bay is now a popular spot for locals, which, naturally, makes it less popular with penguins. 

For now, it’s too early to tell what impact the demining will have on the Falkland penguin populations, but their monopoly on the beaches may soon end.


• In the letter “Yellowknife in NWT, Canada” (July ’17, pg. 28), the subscriber wrote, “Seeing the aurora borealis was another cherished goal….  In ‘Discover Yellowknife’ magazine, we read that aurora viewing is nearly impossible in October and is best from May through August.”

Marilyn Armel of New York, New York, wrote, “The letter on Yellowknife this month had an error. The best time to see the northern lights is winter, not summer.”

ITN could not bring up the 2015 article referenced by the writer, but in the 2017 edition of the publication “Discover Our Yellowknife,” within the article “Aurora Tips: What are the Best Ways to See the Northern Lights” it states, “Forecast: Although the aurora are unpredictable, the best months to view them are January through March and late August or early September. If you’re here in April/May or October/November, you may not see much — the humidity coming from the breakup and freezeup of the lakes in and around Yellowknife tends to cloud the skies.”

• In the letter “The Momiji Tunnel and Mt. Fuji” (July ’17, pg. 32), Jane B. and Clyde F. Holt described taking a day trip from Tokyo to Lake Kawaguchi to visit the so-called Momiji Tunnel and see Mt. Fuji framed by momiji (maple foliage). 

The letter stated that upon their return, they made their way to their hotel. Due to a misunderstanding, ITN identified that hotel as the New Century, located in the town of Kawaguchiko and where the Holts had stayed twice before (Feb. ’15, pg. 16 & Dec. ’16, pg. 49). Rather, the hotel they returned to was one in Tokyo.

• Keith D. Jackson of Parksville, BC, Canada, wrote, “I take exception to Julie Skurdenis’ reference to ‘Native Americans’ in her article ‘Québec, Capital of New France’ (June ’17, pg. 54)

“These inhabitants of what is now Canada are not Native Americans. The proper term to refer to native Canadians is ‘First Nations’ people, referring to those with a native heritage.”

ITN sent a copy of Mr. Jackson’s letter to the writer of our “Focus on Archaeology” column. Julie replied, “It was at the Museum of Civilization in Québec that I received a ‘mini-lesson’ about the term.”

“Confused by the different terminology all referring to native peoples, I asked at the ticket desk if someone could provide the correct information. One of the museum curators told me that although Canadians prefer to refer to their indigenous population as First Nations or First Peoples, they also use terms like Aboriginal Peoples, Indian or Indigenous Peoples.  

“When I told her I was writing an article for a US magazine, she suggested using ‘Native Americans,’ which, she said, is probably the term most used in the US to designate indigenous peoples. So that is the term I used. 

“By the way, my daughter, Katie, who is an Araucanian Indian from Chile, refers to herself as a Native American, pointing out to people that Chile is part of the Americas.”

• Albert Podell of New York, New York, wrote, “David Irving’s photo of Machu Picchu as seen from Huayna Picchu (May ’17, pg. 67) — which shows him apparently scaling a cliff face — could unnecessarily deter some people from making the exhilarating trip up the trail to the summit, a hike that is relatively safe as long as you hold fast to the cable that runs up the steepest part of the route (and don’t surprise any venomous snakes).

“The photo exaggerates the actual dangers of the route to the top, which I have climbed twice. It looks to me as if, at one point, Mr. Irving stepped onto a small ledge to obtain a more dramatic photo.”

That is an astute observation, Al.

Mr. Irving sent in two pictures showing him overlooking Machu Picchu. I chose the more dramatic one. In the other photo, taken in the same spot and from the same angle, he’s standing behind that slanted rock face, so, clearly, there’s a path just behind the rock.

You can see the more tame shot, showing Mr. Irving even holding an umbrella, in the heading of my column this month.

Following a letter in which Jean Fischer of Brevard, North Carolina, described being disappointed in a cruise in the “Kerala backwaters” at Vembanad Lake in southwestern India (June ’17, pg. 25), we asked ITN subscribers to write in who have recently visited scenic, very narrow backwater channels in that area, places where the boat was almost under the trees and locals could be easily observed on the banks at their daily tasks.

We’ve gotten a few responses but know more of you have information to share. Where are these special spots? Email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to Kerala’s Narrowest Backwaters, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. (Include the address where you receive ITN.)

Tell us the sort of trip you were on and, if possible, include the tour or cruise company’s contact info. How many overnights or about how many hours was the trip? When were you there (month/year)? Responses will be printed (and photos are welcome).

In addition to getting your trip reports, we’re also always looking for impressive or interesting photos to print (including for our “Where in the World?” page). Add a caption for each telling what we’re looking at, approximately where and when the picture was taken and, if known, who shot the photo. 

That picture you liked so much you’re using it as a screen saver? Share that picture with everyone in ITN!