2005 in Focus – Top Ten Worst Destinations

A summary of the world’s worst travel dstinations of 2005, as chosen by Polo’s Bastards.

2005 has been another bumper year for finding adventurous places to travel. There was certainly no shortage of natural disasters and the seemingly never-ending supply of wars and conflict has made certain parts of the world a miserable place for many unfortunate souls. It comes as little surprise that the top ten worst destinations fall into just two continents – Asia and Africa. In truth, we could easily find ten countries in Africa alone that could warrant being on this list, but in the interest of fairness, we’ve nominated just four. Also, it would be true to say that the Americas escaped by the skin of its teeth, with Colombia being the most probable “number 11”. Whether you agree with us or not, this is Polo’s Bastards’ top ten list of 2005’s worst destinations:

Iraqi National Guard. Photo by Lee Ridley

– was there ever really any doubt that Iraq was going to take out the number one spot? Anyone who ventures into the Sunni Triangle seems to be taking their life in their own hands, and other areas of the country still don’t seem to be a picnic. The Kurdish autonomous north of the country is, perhaps, a little less dicey for the adventure traveler, and is a place where your guard can be dropped a bit as you walk the dusty streets talking to the locals about their hope for a better future. Nevertheless, the sad thing about this country is overall it’s a pretty nasty place to be caught with your pants down and we can’t see it leaving the number one spot any time soon. It will almost certainly be years, if not decades, before Iraq even leaves the top ten.

Somalia – This ugly conflict became mainstream viewing when the Ridley Scott film Black Hawk Down hit the shelves in Blockbuster Videos. Without a central government since 1991, the ongoing power struggle between the country’s warlords has turned the horn of Africa into a lawless wasteland, where the only rule is the rule of the gun. Journalists and travelers can fly into Mogadishu easily enough, but if they want to set foot outside the airport they are strongly advised to hire their own private, heavily armed guards. Failure to do so could seriously jeopardize the already slim chance of surviving the day intact. Daily rates for an armed escort range from a couple of hundred bucks if staying within the Mog, and several hundred bucks if going up-country, making Somalia an expensive as well as dangerous place to spend time.

Afghanistan – Following the promise of good times to come, the country once again seems to be receding back into the contentious ranks of the world’s most dangerous places. It culminated this year in the deaths of two Japanese school teachers who ventured into the wild southern regions of the country around Kandahar. By all accounts, many areas of Afghanistan are falling back under the sway of extremists, and Kabul itself is even experiencing its own fair share of terror attacks – enough to make all but the hardiest of travelers a little wary. Whether you’re in search of the fabled Minaret of Jam, the pastoralist Kuchi shepherds, or your latest bulk opium order, Afghanistan has a wealth of travel experiences just waiting for the foreign visitor. So long as they’re aware that Taliban-sponsored suicide bombs, IEDs and unexploded ordnance all list among the country’s attractions.

Warning Unexploded Ordnance. Afghanistan. Photo by Dan Quinton

Thailand – OK, so Thailand is a great tourist Mecca and it’s not exactly what we would normally call
‘dangerous,’ but this year it gets a spot on the list because of the Tsunami. The Tsunami was on Boxing Day, 2004 but the effects were mainly felt in 2005, with the extent of the damage coming to light up to several months after the event in some areas. The cleanup is still going on and bodies are still being found a year later. This, along with the ongoing hostilities between the government and the restive Islamic militants in the southern provinces, is putting a lot of doubt into prospective tourists’ minds, causing them to look towards alternative shores for their annual hols. Until these concerns disappear, this wonderful country will continue to struggle as a result of the depleted supply of tourist dollars.

Sudan – This one is also gearing up to be a permanent resident on any top 10 list of worst destinations. With the ongoing tensions between the government and rebel groups, as well as the government backed (or at least not stopped) genocide, any areas outside the capital are looking shaky for travelers. In the beleaguered western region of Darfur, murder and rape is commonplace as people cower in the IDP camps, fearful of setting foot outside in search of wood to make cooking fires, lest they encounter the murderous Janjaweed militia. In the northeast of the country, the marginalized Beja people are also dissatisfied with their lot and, led by the Beja Congress, are uprising against the central government. Travel permits are required to head into this region, and Khartoum simply isn’t issuing them. Peace has allegedly finally come to the south of the country, thanks to the tireless efforts of recently deceased John Garang. However, the cross-border activities of the Ugandan Lords Resistance Army in the far south, close to the town of Juba, means that the shit could hit the fan at anytime, with little or no warning.

Janjaweed. Darfur. Photo by Vicent Gainey

– It doesn’t get too many travelers at the best of times but even journalists fear to go to this former Soviet state. The insurgency is in full swing and the school hostage drama at Beslan shows just how far they are willing to go. Even if you did manage to reach the capital, Grozny, with your life intact, it’s unlikely that you’d find a hotel to stay in, as the city lies mostly in ruins, following the Russians’ capture of the city in 2001. We don’t imagine that Club Med has too many plans in the near future for this place.

Indonesia – Now this country isn’t dangerous per se, but there are so many elements of danger that it gets a spot on the list for the worst destinations of 2005, from the second Bali Bombing incident to the Tsunami. Indonesia is also home to the insurgent movements in Aceh and West Irian, neither of which are getting enough coverage in the press and both of which are extremely difficult for travelers (especially journalists) to get to. Killings and suppression of the media are an almost daily occurrence.

The Palestinian Territories – Despite the ongoing efforts of the international community, the Palestinian territories seem to sway only between bad and terrible as a place to travel. Just last week two foreign nationals, there to help educate children, were kidnapped by insurgents and later released. Foreign aid workers report being beaten by settlers. The military controls population movement and curfews are often enforced. It’s probably not on Paris Hilton’s list of places to visit.

Uganda – For some eighteen years now, the Lords Resistance Army, fighting the Ugandan government in the far north of the country, have made the region a no-go area for all but the most determined of travelers. With a reputation of being among the most evil, murderous gang of cold-blooded killers on the planet, the LRA’s practice of child abduction for the purpose of turning children into soldiers is deplorable enough. Forcing those same children to kill and mutilate their own family members as part of the indoctrination transcends most people’s idea of unspeakable horror. To journey into this area along the border with southern Sudan, truly is to journey into the heart of darkness.

Aftermath of the Tsunami. Sri Lanka. Photo by Richard Everingham.

– Last, but by no means least, Niger, rated as the world’s second poorest country, takes number ten in Polo’s Bastards’ worst destinations of 2005. The famine stricken south of the country has already claimed countless lives through malnutrition, and as the year draws to a close, official figures put some 30,000 children at risk of an unsavory demise unless food aid arrives very soon. For the aid-workers, journalists and casual travelers, the horrors of seeing starving children is just a fly-drive away, as the worst affected areas of Niger are easily accessible along the length of the country’s southern highway that runs between the capital, Niamey, and Lake Chad to the east.

…So here’s to whatever lies ahead in 2006. No doubt continuous headlines will tell of conflict, disaster and despair. And we will just strap on our desert boots, sling a small pack on our back and camera on our shoulder, and go and see for ourselves. I suspect that the list above will be largely unaltered this time next year, with perhaps just a couple of changes. The sabre rattling between Ethiopia and Eritrea is reaching fever pitch, so don’t be surprised if both countries are adorning our pages sometime soon. Also, as Ahmedinejad furthers his plans for nuclear development in Iran, the US are gonna get real itchy, meaning the Middle East will remain just about the tensest place anyone could wish to be. On top of that, earthquakes, wild-fires, tsunamis and El Niño are sure to make life a misery for countless many. Happy new year.

Author – Rob Wood and Lee Ridley

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