I am a staunch believer in tourism serving as a catalyst to reboosting a country’s economy and image. The Central American nation of Nicaragua had been torn apart from civil war and strife in the late 1970s and 1980s, but since then its tourist industry, although still fledgling, increases in size and scope each year. Nicaragua has often been equated to what Costa Rica once was for visitors, still somewhat of a hidden and unique gem. However, were the Sandinistas and Contra factions still battling it out, I would have had no desire to visit the country due to the principal mantra of travelers, which is to be safe at all times. Moreover, I also feel that one travels abroad to see and experience a country at its best, not its worst, and war torn times would undoubtedly fall into the latter category.
A recent article by Michelle Baran in Budget Travel magazine regarding vacationing in Afghanistan left me mildly bemused. It reported that a Canadian tour operator would be offering tours to the Central Asian nation this fall because “the demand was there.” The article went on to say that the demographic who would be interested in such a tour “is aware of the risks and are ready and willing to take on the challenges the destination presents.” Apparently the tour company also specializes in travel to other “challenging” destinations such as North Korea, Iran, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq, all destinations that in my opinion people would be foolish to travel to at the current time given the state of affairs in these countries.
I know there exist some travelers who feel they are invincible until they discover in one fleeting moment that they actually aren’t. They discover the enormity of their situation when they are jailed in a country in which their native country has no diplomatic relations. They discover that war is being waged within the boundaries of the country they are traveling in, and death or injury is not limited to the natives. One of the tour guides for the Canadian company was quoted as saying that “we avoid any military installations and military sights.” Are the whereabouts of the Taliban, at one time a ruling government of Afghanistan but now an insurgency movement, so easily known, especially when traveling in the country’s rugged and mountainous terrain? Hasn’t Kabul’s Green Zone, the so-called “safe spot” for NATO military and diplomatic personnel, still been subject to bouts of violence? As an example of what can happen, in March 2001, the Buddhas of Bamiyan, two monumental statues of standing Buddhas carved into a side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley, were destroyed after the then Taliban government declared them “idols.” Two culturally and historically significant treasures and destroyed just like that.
Some may feel that Mexico is a war-torn country. I don’t. Although the war being waged between the Mexican government and the drug cartels has cost thousands of lives, it hasn’t crippled the lives of its citizens or stopped tourists from visiting. For the people who refuse to travel to Mexico on claims that it’s dangerous, they are uninformed, preferring to remain ignorant rather than knowing the truth. The violence that plagues the country is generally contained to the border areas and certain states near it, not where tourists would (or should) be visiting.
Mexico is a country that developed its million dollar tourist industry from the ground up and it shows on many levels. Although it would be wonderful one day for Afghanistan to have a tourist industry, it is nowhere near that point. The lives of its citizens are not safe. How safe would it be for tourists? How could one vacation in a war-torn country knowing that people are being stoned to death for crimes that in the free and peaceful world wouldn’t be considered such? It wouldn’t be a vacation, it would be a sobering experience.
There are enough exotic locales in the world to visit. Travel to those destinations and leave any war-torn nations unchecked on your places to visit list.
|The destroyed Bamiyan Buddahs-image courtesy of southasiatimes.com.au|