Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

Disaster tourism

In the 21st century we’re placed in a unique position. On the one hand, the world has become generally civilized enough to ensure protection of most individuals, their freedom and safety. On the other hand, many parts of the world are not yet entirely incorporated into the global system of cultural and economic interrelation. Like a desert, the bleak boringness of Western lifestyle spreads further and further, but luckily it hasn’t reached all corners of the world yet.

The future of tourism is a disaster tourism. War zones, underdeveloped regions that the uniformity of globalization hasn’t yet permeated. Why coming up with artificial ways of inducing adrenaline, when the world naturally provides you with many ways of experiencing it for free. It’s a crime not to take advantage of the perks of a diverse and dangerous world we live in.

Anyway, I was thinking about the scariest experiences I have encountered in my life up to this day. No, more like experiences that would conventionally come off as scary (the scariest thing for me personally would be to pick up a phone call from an unfamiliar number). In any case, these stories can definitely be regarded as… interesting.

Sacred wars

Let’s start with some religious conflicts. Going to Palestine after sunset – would you think this is something that sounds like a good idea? I don’t know what was on our mind that day in Jerusalem, when we decided to take a bus to Bethlehem around 6pm. Perhaps the fact that Palestine is at war with Israel didn’t seem like a big deal. A huge concrete wall separating the two territories seemed like an okay thing, absolutely not something to worry about. The stories that it’s common for intruders to be robbed, kidnapped or killed also sounded acceptable. After all, what can go wrong at the birth-place of Jesus? (annexed by people who don’t care a bit about Jesus, but still).

So turns out that no tourists go to Palestine after darkness. Amusingly enough, the bus stops in the middle of a field, so that some people can run through it and cross the border illegally. Upon entering the city, you’re looked upon as a prey, whether these are taxi-drivers, suspicious men on the corner, or children aggressively trying to sell you corn and steal your wallet.

It’s not possible to escape Bethlehem after sunset, as the transport doesn’t operate until morning. And trust me, spending night in such place is not something one would desire. The only way to leave Palestine after darkness is to go through a military-style checkpoint at the official Israel border and enter Israel by feet – like entering West Berlin from GDR through the Checkpoint Charlie. The long dark concrete path-ways along the fences with barbed wire and occasional dreadfully-sounding steps from behind. But when it’s gone, it’s not over. After kilometres of concrete corridors are passed and checks done, you find yourself on the territory of Israel – in the darkness, on a desolate bus stop in the middle of an empty field.

After 30 minutes of dreadful waiting perhaps the most surreal thing happens – a strange bus arrives. So now imagine yourself catching a bus late at night in the middle of nowhere, entering it and finding yourself… under a suspicious gaze of dozens of Orthodox Jews. Dozens of Orthodox Jews fully dressed in their formal black hats and suits. All heading to some unknown place in the night. Judgementally looking at you in silence. Well, that was quite a surreal sort of experience, I would say. Still better than being murdered at the birth-place of Jesus, though.

How to disappear completely and never be found

Now fast-forward to Japan, perhaps the least uncivilized country in the world, with… certainly somewhat better standards of public safety compared to Palestine. On the first day in Tokyo, after checking into Airbnb, for some weird reason I decided to walk a few kilometres around the block to reach a supermarket. Relying on my generally good spatial navigation skills, I thought that having no mobile data is not a big deal. Well, residential suburbs of Tokyo after midnight proved me wrong.

Just contemplate the extent of desperation of being totally alone in an unfamiliar neighbourhood of a vastly weird continent, where every street and every house looks the same, with no map and no Internet, with no people around (not just English speaking people, any!), no name of your street or house on your mind. Just desolate streets, suburban condos, rail tracks and electric poles. And total darkness. In the city of 30 million residents you can walk quite far and never be seen again, you can wander for days and get lost forever. Luckily, it only took me a couple of hours to find the way back, but those few hours were full of dreadful contemplations. For instance, I genuinely realized how jealous I am towards my coworkers, enjoying a slow Wednesday afternoon in a CET timezone. Yes, they didn’t opt for spending a vacation in an amusing far-away country. However, sometimes enjoying the comforts and predictable flow of a typical work-day in the office is something much more desirable than wandering alone in bizarre far-away lands.

Little Haiti

Now, what about the dangers coming from the society itself? Take for instance this rare, but nowadays trending experience: becoming a victim of a racially-induced aggression. Do you also sometimes regret not belonging to any minority ethnic group? No worries, there’s still a way for you to experience this feeling, even while being a white tourist in a large metropolitan area of the world’s most economically developed country. Just try going to a Haitian neighbourhood of Miami and renting an Airbnb in the centre of it.

After getting by bus to the said neighbourhood, you would quickly realize why people generally prefer to move around the American cities in large SUVs. Being European, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that being a pedestrian can be unsafe, and by walking on feet you expose yourself to the crude hostility of local streets. According to the official statistics, only 20% of residents of the Little Haiti district of Miami speak English. Yet, local residents have quite an explicit English vocabulary when it comes to verbally assaulting white girls who are clearly not welcomed in certain neighbourhoods. Perhaps, the moods prevailing at the neighbouring Little Cuba hood are a bit more friendly.

Luckily, the following day we managed to accidentally rent the most monstrous truck in the world – Ford Expedition, and successfully distance ourselves from the hostility of American streets. Which reminded me that the greatest advantage of having money is the freedom not to interact with people you don’t wish to interact with. I think it’s clearly a number-one benefit of owning a car, and perhaps… the only one.

Fireworks and volcanoes

Finally, let’s not forget about the deadly dangers prepared for us by the mother-nature. Let’s move from Florida to Scotland. The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is seated on the slope of an extinct volcano, the so-called Arthur’s Seat. It’s a popular spot for hiking, even though the trails can be quite challenging and rocky. Being one of the cultural centres of the UK, Edinburgh also hosts an International Art Festival during the last weeks of summer, the end of which is always celebrated with festive fireworks.

While spending a summer in Edinburgh, I once got a brilliant idea – being the highest spot around the town, the extinct volcano must be a perfect place for watching the fireworks! Nothing seemed wrong about this idea during the day-time, when I successfully managed to climb on top of the volcano during the twilight hours. As expected, the fireworks looked quite splendid from that spot. The way back turned out pretty problematic, though. Imagine a total darkness of the night, zero lights and no people around. Only a barely visible and quite steep trail down a rocky mountain slope. During that hour, I said goodbye to my life multiple times. But even if I didn’t make it in the end, it wouldn’t be too much of a disappointment. Dying on the slope of an extinct volcano after enjoying fireworks from a spectacular spot at its top sounds like a pretty decent way of ending one’s life, doesn’t it?

Anyway, that’s some inspiration for your future travels. Conventional tourism is overrated – safe things can never be genuinely thrilling. Moreover, what doesn’t kill you, provides you with a pretty good material for the future blog posts… and what can be more important in life than one’s literary legacy, anyway?

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