Everyone has a ‘Bucket List’, a tick-off sheet which itemises all the things you’d like to do, all the places you’d like to go, while you can. This is supplemented by the myriad of websites, news articles, and published books of the ‘1,001 books to read / 500 beers to drink / 73 quirky places you must see / 24 controversial celebrities you must follow on Twitter’ type of thing. Obviously this is all subjective; as an aside I’ve never owned any of the ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine’s top 10 albums of all time, and have never even heard of 3 of the 11-20 set, yet my music collection is (or was before I downsized) well over 300 albums (*).
I was chatting earlier today with another travel blogger, and the subject of Maldives came up; I said it was one of the places on my ‘places I’m unlikely to ever visit and that’s ok’ list; then I realised it might be an interesting thing to blog about.
Most travel bloggers always talk about the places (countries, towns, activities etc) they like, why they like them, and why they’d recommend them. Coming from a background in customer satisfaction, this tends to be unusual – people are more naturally inclined to talk about negative aspects of companies, of customer service, etc – although it makes perfect sense in a travel blog environment as people want to read about places they’re interested in visiting, with a view to actually going there. And where there are positive descriptions from travellers, coupled with active marketing activity from local companies and governments, people will want to pretty much go anywhere and everywhere.
Now, one of my travel-related hobbies is to do research into most places in the world, to learn more about the history and culture, and to ascertain if it’s a place that holds enough interest for me to want to visit. I’d have to say I’m quite open-minded on this – there doesn’t have to be a lot to perk my interest, and sometimes the more obscure the better. However, even I have my, shall we say, ‘reservations’ about a small number of places, and why I doubt they’d be on any plans in the near future.
Obviously it goes without saying that I’ve never been to any of these places so I’m only speaking from what I’ve found out in my reading up on them, but that’s kind of the point of the blog post!
If you were to ask my friends, they’d suggest strongly that countries like Angola would be high up on my list as they’re war-torn ex-colonial nations, and I appear attracted by ‘dark history’. However, in most cases the countries I visit with a bleak past are ones which are starting to recover from this history; maybe they’re going through a ‘period of reconciliation’, maybe they’ve even gone beyond that and are opening up museums to remind people of the horrors, a show of intent that it could never happen again, or maybe simply the spark/reasons for the darkness have been resolved or have simply just passed, and the country is a modern functioning nation again.
In addition, most of the countries that have a dark past also have other, unrelated, reasons to visit – for example Cambodia has Angkor as well as Tuol Sleng, Timor-Leste has scenery and diving, while much of Africa has wildlife and culture.
As far as I can tell, Angola has … not. Although the civil war ended a few years back, it still seems quite a lawless place (and that’s not including Cabinda, where only a couple of years back the Togo football team was fired upon).
Unexpectedly, Luanda, the capital, regularly tops polls for being amongst the most expensive city for ex-pats; the country is very oil-rich and there’s a big divide between those with money and those without. Several countries are like this of course – Gabon, Venezuela, some might even say the UAE – but they don’t have the negative feelings that Angola brings.
Once you leave the towns on the coast, there’s nothing I’ve seen or read that really attracts me either; if you want remote desert, then go to Namibia – if you want rainforest there’s a myriad of better destinations. Savannah? Mountain ridges? East Africa’s your destination. There’s nothing that Angola has that other neighbouring countries don’t have better; these countries are also much safer (with the possible exception of DRC!), and much easier to get into.
Imagine Angola with a much greater proportion of desert, and less oil.
Chad is one of the driest countries in the world, one of the hottest, and also one of the most corrupt. It’s never really been a unified state – the French colonial rulers created the administrative borders but other than that didn’t seem to really bother with it (much like Burkina Faso) and not long after independence, the fractious nature of the country exploded into an on-off civil war that has continued pretty much to the present day. Relations with neighbouring countries have also been tense-bordering-on-angry for pretty much the entire history of the nation.
As such, apart from dodging bullets in one of the many rebel assaults, there doesn’t seem to be much to do there. One of the most pretty and historically interesting parts of the country, the Ennedi desert area, is also one of the most lawless, whilst the capital (N’Djamena) is fairly un-noteworthy, often the battleground in coups and assaults, and one of the hottest and most uncomfortable cities on the planet.
I’ve honestly yet to find a good reason to visit Chad 🙁
3) Maldives – or really “Honeymoon Destinations” / “Small Hot Islands” in general
I always need a ‘reason’ to visit somewhere; I travel to see things and be ‘active’. I also have a low boredom threshold; I’m restless and always need to be moving on (it’s been suggested I have ADHD, which may explain also why I never get round to updating my blog in good time). Therefore I like to visit places that not only have an array of historic and cultural sites to explore, but which are also easy to leave and move onto somewhere new.
In addition, my style of travel is very much geared towards backpacking – cheap and cheerful, hostels, street food, etc, rather than luxury hotels with en-suite Jacuzzis and Michelin-starred in-house restaurants. In fact, even the idea of all-inclusive resorts makes my stomach churn, regardless of the quality and the other guests; my objections to these sorts of places could equally apply in principle to the likes of Benidorm and Magaluf.
Unsurprisingly therefore, destinations like Maldives, Seychelles, and many parts of the Caribbean are pretty much my idea of a ‘Holiday-From-Hell’.
Stuck in a purpose-built resort on a small island (many in Maldives are even the entire island), with very little to do other than lie on a beach, do watersports (I can’t swim), or … er … that’s it, eating only what the resort/restaurant can provide (which is likely to be nothing like the food that the locals eat), and not really having the opportunity to explore the country, doesn’t strike me as a terribly productive way to spend two weeks. I’d get bored after two hours.
Such places are also incredibly expensive. On my travels I was budgeting at £30/day and invariably came in much lower than this on average. This means, including airfare, I could comfortably spend £1,000/month on travelling. For places like Maldives, you’d be lucky if that gets you a week. In the resorts, what’s not included in the initial cost is likely to be heavily marked-up (being an island in the middle of nowhere, as well as having no competition); this applies to everything from travelling to other islands to a simple extra bottle of water.
Yes I know you pay for the exclusivity, the paradise, the relaxation, but that’s not what I want on a holiday. I go away to excite myself; my travels are amphetamine, not morphine.
4) Japan (cf South Korea)
I have no idea. This one flummoxes even me.
In principle, Japan should be a shoe-in. It ticks all my boxes: dark history (shogun era, WWII), food (I love noodles and sushi), scenery (Mount Fuji), and culture (some of the quirkiest in the world). Add in reliable transport, the cutting edge of technology, and the world’s best toilets (?!), and we should have a country that I’d be dying to keep returning to, rather than avoiding.
I think, in part, my reluctance is social. Japan is a very crowded and busy nation, at least in the cities, and I have the impression in my head that it would be quite ‘intensive’ for a first-time visitor. This is the same reason that, while I definitely do want to visit India, I wouldn’t do so as a solo traveller.
Related to this is also the language barrier. More so than in most countries I have visited, Japan seems very mono-lingual. I’m not a linguist by any means, (though even I just about got by in Uzbekistan after all), and I fear that being bombarded with nothing but Japanese might well be too much for me.
There’s also the fear that, despite being so technologically advanced, it’s very much cash-based, coupled with an impression that it’s a relatively expensive country, even for a Brit like me. I’d therefore be constantly worried about ‘do I have enough money; can I easily get any more’, and that may cause me to worry too much and miss out on things that I’d otherwise like to see.
I suppose, in general, Japan isn’t on my ‘places to visit’ list because I’m not certain that I’d enjoy it; that I might get there and find I just can’t cope with it, and not enjoy it (like I did in Ethiopia, but for different reasons). And maybe I want to like it, so I’m keeping it at arm’s length, where it can’t affect me, like some kind of spectacular diamond.
Don’t get me wrong, I love what I’ve seen of the region known as ‘South-East Asia’, and in the back of my mind I always have this pressing longing to return to the lands of temples, spicy food, and incomprehensible scripts, to visit cities and places imbued with culture and history – Mandalay, Bangkok, Borneo – names that live forever in Western minds as exotic and mystery.
On the edge of this sphere, but no less intriguing, lie the islands of the Philippine Archipelago. Some may see them as a kind of Northern extension of the Indonesian islands, albeit with a slightly cooler climate and a much stronger Catholic tradition. Their history is tied to colonialism, and that, along with recent dictatorships and notable street food, surely makes it somewhere high on my list.
Except that it isn’t.
I suspect that’s partly my own fault for not really looking too hard into what it has to offer, but also that when I have looked into it, nothing has really grabbed my interest, and I’ve always been distracted by shinier things/places in the region.
Let’s start with the obvious – Manila isn’t the most handsome city in the world – big, underfunded, messy, dirty, crime-ridden, hectic -, and I’ve come across very few people who’ve ever expressed a liking for the place. It’s interesting though that that description could be applied to many cities across the globe (Jakarta, Bangkok, Cairo, Lagos, Glasgow … 😉 ), but I’ve never heard anyone rave about Manila in the same way that these other cities have their promoters.
Owing to its history, Philippines has a lot of American influence and culture, and maybe in part my ‘dismissal’ of the country has to do with wanting to go to places less defined by their relationship with the USA; no matter how weak that influence is, it’s always going to be in the back of my mind. I’m not saying that American culture is a good or bad thing, just that if I wanted to experience it, I’d go to the USA – plus, being British means I’m already well aware of it from my own home life, so I prefer to experience different cultures. For many travellers of course, the blending of the two cultures is, in itself, a reason to visit – I guess just not for me.
To even get to Philippines, I’d probably have to travel via somewhere else in SE Asia, and no matter where that is, the chances are that the pull of my intervening destination (Thailand? Indonesia? Malaysia?) would be stronger than my desire to carry on. In a sense therefore, Philippines suffers from being, in my eyes, somewhat in the ‘wrong place’.
I’ll concede these are probably ‘weak’ reasons, but sometimes maybe I just don’t fancy a place with no real rational explanation?
What about you? Is there somewhere on your ‘I will never go there’ list? Or do you think I’m being harsh with mine?
* – I’ll concede that most of it is generally regarded as ‘poor, becoming shite’. The entire back catalogue of New Kids On The Block, FFS … :p