Monday, January 30, 2012

Places You Can't Go Anymore

     The world was never completely open to the traveler. I will not try to go back through history to enumerate the multitude of places that were unwelcoming in ancient or middle aged times but what has happened in the Third World over the last couple of decades makes voyages to some places which were available before quite undesirable, if not impossible, to visit now. Obviously places where there is revolution or armed rebellions are in that category. Syria, Libya, Burundi, Gaza and other places where tourists have not been an important source of income are especially undesirable today. But Tunisian tourism was coming along before the recent rebellion there and, for Egypt, visitors have long been a large component of the economy. One can still go to those places but many fewer do and the danger is far greater than it was before the Arab Spring. Central Africa was also a relatively untouristed area because of the difficulty getting around but the Hutu-Tutsi struggle and its reverberations in the entire area have made the whole region treacherous for potential visitors. If one is intent on visiting the remaining gorillas, it is still possible. The motivation to do so has to be considerably higher than it was a decade or more ago. Just watch out for those other guerrillas. The current violence in Nigeria makes that West African country a fearful place to visit as well.  It should be obvious that important countries like Iraq and Iran currently draw very few tourists to their great ancient sites and marvelous mosques. One may go to those places but not for personal pleasure these days.
     Of course, things do vary from year to year. The civil war in Columbia has enabled more visitation in the last few years. Although it is not a Third World area, urban centers of Spain are much quieter now that the Basque separatists (ETA) are less active. Myanmar may be become less of a political dilemma for potential tourists because of developments over the past several months or so. It has welcomed travelers of late but tourism has been minimal because of the unwillingness of many travelers to support the repressive government. Some of the small countries in West Africa are now visitable while others are less so. It is a fluid and unpredictable area. One might hesitate to go to the Ivory Coast these days, a country with magnificent crafts, an interesting Colonial past and a lot to see. I am glad I got there in time. Mali has become more violent near the desert area and the Tuareg people who occupy that region are in open revolt. How can one go there and not visit Timbuktu? Sounds like the fifteenth century when Westerners were banned completely from that mysterious city. Sri Lanka's civil war has finally ended although there are occasional, isolated incidents there. One can surely visit that beautiful island at this time but I am glad I did not wait for peace to arrive. The country is now more ready for me but I am not so ready to travel that far any more.

     South America and Mexico change from year to year. The good news is that Columbia is now accessible and reasonably safe- quite a difference from just a few years ago. Peru has been more stable also although the great tourist sites were always a distance from the fighting between the the Maoist insurgency and the violent military forces that engulfed the country. Many of us went there in spite of that bloodshed because there were places that just had to be seen and no solution to the problems seemed to be on the horizon. Glad we were wrong about the country settling down. Mexico, a country I have visited a dozen and half times or more, is now beset by drug wars and crime which has plagued visitors as well as residents. In urban areas there was a high rate of crime for many years but one could still travel with care. Now, it depends on where you want to go. There are sections of that fabulous country which as are safe as ever and other areas where the drug cartels are in charge and beheadings are taking place with regularity. I cannot list now all the desirable areas and all the places where danger lurks, but there are many news sources on the Web to inform the traveler. So far, the Mayan areas and the Yucatan in general are relatively untouched by the violence.

     The traveler who can wait is often rewarded. Well within memory, it would have been quite unwise to visit Chile or Argentina unless one wanted to reward vicious dictators. Even more recently, Guatemala and Honduras were off the tourist track. If one wanted to see Copan or Tikal, you would have had to dodge bullets from every direction. Now the jungle where Tikal lies features quite a few bandits along the roads but they pose a risk of robbery, not usually a high risk of life or death. As always, the trick is to go where you can when you can. Don't wait for the planet to settle down and make way for the traveler. Excitement and danger sometimes go hand in hand and Third World adventure is surely no exception to that fact. Happy travels.

Cathedral, Merida, Mexico

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