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A Series of Sobering Tales From Foreign Jails

February 14, 1993|COLMAN ANDREWS

NIGHTMARE ABROAD by Peter Laufer (Mercury House, $20 hard cover).

Anybody, tourist or otherwise, dumb enough to try to smuggle marijuana into a country, or rare archeological treasures out of one, probably deserves to be locked up for a few years. But do they deserve to be starved, beaten and tortured? And does a tourist deserve to be jailed in Greece for unintentionally exceeding his credit-card limit by a few hundred dollars? Or does a businesswoman deserve a threatened death penalty in Nigeria for violating a trade law that hadn't yet been passed when she made her deal?

"Nightmare Abroad" is a sobering account of exactly such occurrences, based on a long series of interviews with Americans imprisoned abroad, conducted by free-lance foreign correspondent Laufer. Some of his reports are chilling "Midnight Express"-type stuff; others reveal that even foreign prisons can sometimes be country clubs, comparatively speaking. (Who would have thought that Tijuana's notorious La Mesa prison is virtually a village of its own, with free-standing houses, servants, shops, a movie theater (albeit with occasional stabbings and beatings)?

Still, jail is jail. Being incarcerated far from home is certainly no fun, and may even be deadly. Laufer's best advice to travelers? Use common sense. "Just learn the local laws, and know the possible consequences of actions. Life offers no guarantees."

CENTRAL AMERICA by Natascha Norton and Mark Whatmore (Cadogan Books/Globe Pequot Press, $16.95 paper).

Less well-known in America than they ought to be, the Cadogan guides are in general thoughtful, well-researched and literate--as enjoyable to read as they are helpful to employ. "Tracking down information about Central America . . . is a tricky business as only the most popular countries can afford any representation abroad," write the authors of this one in introduction. They have nonetheless done a good job of it, including everything from hotel tips for Tikal, Guatemala ("Jungle Lodge . . . is your best choice, even though there is sometimes no water") to notes on the "wild yelping music" typical of the Panamanian countryside--With plenty of evocative prose and historical and cultural background in between.

BIRNBAUM'S DISNEYLAND 1993: The Official Guide (Hyperion & Hearst Business Publishing, $9.95 paper) and THE UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO DISNEYLAND 1993 by Bob Sehlinger (Prentice Hall, $12 paper).

Birnbaum's Disneyland is less a guidebook than a souvenir program--a glowing puff piece describing the attractions of the theme park in some detail, with photographs and cartoon Disney characters embellishing the pages. Appended is a section on Anaheim (covering hotels, restaurants, other attractions, etc.) and a very brief guide to California tourism as a whole. Not a critical note appears.

Sehlinger's self-proclaimed unofficial guide, by contrast, confines itself to Disneyland itself (and adjacent lodging). It rates attractions by their presumed appeal to six different age groups (from pre-schoolers to senior citizens), computes the average waiting time in line and offers negative comments where appropriate. (Of Pinocchio's Daring Journey, for instance, the author notes " . . . doesn't quite live up to expectations. The action is difficult to follow and lacks continuity. The special effects are . . . just OK.") Sehlinger also includes an index, which is very useful--and which Birnbaum's guide lacks.

THE COURIER AIR TRAVEL HANDBOOK: Learn How to Travel World Wide for Next to Nothing, 3rd edition, by Mark I. Field (Thunderbird Press, $7.95 paper).

Popular opinion to the contrary, most air couriers aren't suave ex-Green Berets paid vast sums of money to fly first class from New York to Geneva with thin briefcases full of secret documents handcuffed to their wrists. They're often ordinary people who pay for their tickets (often deeply discounted), receive no recompense and basically function as names on a passenger manifest to accompany checked baggage that might contain anything from catalogues to blueprints to office supplies. According to Field's book, which is little more than a catalogue of major courier companies, practically anyone can be a courier, thereby earning low-cost air travel and having fun. He apparently knows what he's talking about, having traveled widely as a courier himself. But don't necessarily believe him when he suggests packing two full bags of clothing as carry-ons (most couriers aren't allowed to check baggage of their own): Many airlines at many overseas airports enforce the one-bag-per-customer rule very strictly.

Quick trips:

BANGKOK by Joe Cummings (Lonely Planet, $8.95 paper) .

The usual Lonely Planet approach--comprehensive, stylish, culturally sensitive--in a city-sized (and pocket-sized) format.

MAVERICK GUIDE TO BERLIN by Jay Brunhouse (Pelican Publishing, $13.95 paper).

A straightforward, timely guide to this reunited metropolis--a city which has the makings of one of Europe's best and most exciting travel destinations.

THE ASPEN BOOK: A Complete Guide by Diane Tegmeyer (Berkshire House, $14.95 paper) and THE ADIRONDACK BOOK: A Complete Guide by Elizabeth Folwell (Berkshire House, $14.95 paper).

These two new releases in Massachusetts-based Berkshire's "Great Destinations" series are, like the four earlier titles, well-organized, well-stocked with facts and critical where appropriate.

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