I recently had the pleasure of
meeting Patricia Schultz, the woman who found a home on the New
York Times Bestseller List for two-and-a-half years after penning a
superb travel book with a brilliant, seductive title: "1,000 Places
to See Before You Die."
The industry owes a
debt to Schultz. Though many of her readers will no doubt remain
glued to their armchairs, the book's descriptions of great
attractions and destinations must have activated lapsed wanderlust
in many others.
I asked Schultz if
she would compile a different, shorter list for Travel Weekly's
readers. The title I proposed was "Ten Places I Would Rather Die
Than See Again."
a game girl when it comes to exploring the far reaches of the
globe, demurred, noting that "for the life of me, I can't think of
a single trip that was so horrible it would make me regret ever
If only we were all
so blessed. At the risk of offending large swaths of the world and
revealing all my ethnocentricities in one go, I will take up the
burden of creating a year-end Top 10 List with not a single
thumbs-up. It will be absent all hyperbole, with the possible
exceptions of "as appetizing as wet yard-scrapings," "cultured in
the sense that bacteria are cultured" and "there's greater
likelihood Sacha Baron Cohen will become goodwill ambassador of
Kazakhstan than I will ever cross that border again."
10: Death being operative in both the title
of Schultz' list and mine, let's begin with the Ganges River in
Varanasi, India. My guide hadn't warned me we'd be rowing past
bloated human bodies serving both as a means of conveyance and
breakfast for crows.
The tunnels of Cu Chi, Vietnam, were booby-trapped escape routes
for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. They now offer tourists
an opportunity to slither along on their bellies for 100 yards or
so. It wasn't so much the claustrophobia, discomfort or total
darkness that got to me; it was the centipedes I saw when I finally
decided to turn on my flashlight.
Camping in Europe, I learned, is less about communing with nature
than trying to replicate urban density in a park setting. Being the
first to arrive at a campground in Spain, I sought a secluded
corner, then went out for groceries. When I returned, two other
tents had gone up, one on either side of mine, our guy-wires
In the cities of Morocco, every child in the street wants to be
your guide. No matter where you walk with them, they have a cousin
nearby who owns a carpet shop. Avoid the cities of
I once booked passage on a mail boat making an overnight run
between New Providence and Eleuthera in the Bahamas. At around 10
p.m., I noticed the pilot house was empty. As the boat was moving
rather briskly, I mentioned this to a crew member. He reassured me
that, yes, the captain was asleep, but surely would wake up before
we landed. He may have slept well, but I no longer
The U.S.-Chiang Kai-shek War Crimes Museum in Chongqing, China,
held, I felt, loads of promise. I was hoping for strident communist
rhetoric on display labels and "Grandma went to the U.S.-Chiang
Kai-shek War Crimes Museum, and all I got was a lousy T-shirt" in
the gift shop. Both museum and shop were profoundly
If dictionaries need a photo to accompany the definition of
"tourist trap," a shot of Gatlinburg, Tenn., would get my
At the conclusion of touring a tea plantation in Darjeeling, India,
I walked through a warehouse where piles of leaves were drying.
And, I observed, were occasionally remoistened by dogs roaming
freely in the building. I used to enjoy drinking tea.
On assignment for Parade magazine, I once interviewed a nun who
lived in, and ministered to, a prison in Tijuana, Mexico. The
prison interior seemed a welcome break from that city.
Every other destination on this list has positive attributes which
were outweighed by a bad incident or two, but in all my travels,
one place stands alone as an exclusively negative experience.
Tamanrasset, Algeria, a southern oasis on the route transiting the
Sahara in western Africa, is a singularly unattractive outpost
that's populated by the most gratuitously hostile people on
To put my list in
perspective, I'll mention that before booking a 100-day camping
expedition through 10 countries in Africa for me, my travel agent
-- who had made a similar trip -- said, "I wouldn't do it again for
a million dollars, tax free. But I wouldn't give up my memories of
that trip for a million dollars, either."
Which is, of
course, how I feel about the places on this list.
You keep the memories. I'll take the million.