…But not as you know it. Whilst having an idle browse through some travel articles this week I came across an interesting, if slightly disturbing article on a new wave of tourists taking their efforts to extend their knowledge of different cultures that little bit further. Reality tourism has apparently truly arrived; tourists have been paying to go on a simulation of a Mexico-USA border crossing in Hidalgo, Mexico. Bizarrely, visitors pay a small fee to trek through a jungle in the dead of night with their assigned ‘polleros’ (traffickers who charge thousands of dollars to guide poverty stricken potential migrants across the border.) Guests are not allowed to bring food or drink in order for them to be able to gain a full experience of what this kind of frantic illegal migration would really be like. Those who can’t run quickly enough are bundled into a mock border patrol truck by ‘immigration authorities’. All this, and for only roughly 2000 pesos ($15). It is run by local residents, apparently to draw attention to the situation of undocumented immigrants, and whilst it is undoubtably important for westernized society to understand the problem, there is more than a whiff of poverty exploitation surrounding the ‘experience’.
So, my interest truly piqued by this, it then took only the mildest googling efforts (and reading a great book!) to discover other strange ways tourists are getting their kicks the world over…from the mildly bizarre to the downright dangerous, it would appear that visiting Buckingham Palace just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore…
San Pedro Prison, La Paz, Bolivia
Those who have read the novel Marching Powder by Rusty Young will be well aqainted with the inner workings of this particular penitentiary. It is a non-fiction work that details the conviction and subsequent six year incarceration of the authors’ friend Thomas Mcfadden, who upon being found guilty of cocaine trafficking was thrown into what is regularly referred to as the strangest prison system in the world. Unlike our own prison system, everything in this Bolivian jail is reliant on money – who has it, who doesn’t – and those that do, live like (relative) kings, those that don’t suffer immeasurably. To make money, Thomas sets up what is essentially a ‘tour’ of the prison, and by paying off the guards with the money he makes, wide eyed tourists are allowed to stay in his cell, indulge in cheap narcotics and are given a tour of the darkest, most dangerous recesses of prison life. The tours stopped shortly after Thomas was released as he was one of the only inmates who could speak English.
Vale de la prehistoriam, Cuba
On the other end of the scale but of a similar theme – this is a huge park of life-size prehistoric creatures created by inmates from a nearby prison. The 200 life-sized prehistoric creatures in the Santiago de Cuba province range from the Tyrranousauras Rex to cave men and everything in between, and the finished result is apparently like a kind of Cuban Jurassic Park. Dangerous only in what they imitate, it nevertheless sounds like a lot of fun, and would certainly make a change from the usual tourist trail!
An odd tourist destination – it is, after all, the former scene of considerable human suffering – Chernobyl is nevertheless surprisingly popular with visitors. The disaster at the Chernobyl power plant is generally regarded as the most catastrophic of nuclear accidents to ever occur, and the surrounding area of Pripyat was one of the worst hit at the time. The area now is basically a ghost town and is surrounded by guards and police, but this seemingly does little to deter the flocks of tourists that visit the abandoned and destroyed empty buildings that comprise it. Macabre, spooky and just a little unnerving – like the German former concentration camps and other such ‘attractions’, there’s apparently a notable market for experiencing the remnants of painful human history first hand.
That’s all for now folks, but we’d love to hear about any strange places you’ve visited!