The World's Most Dangerous Places
By Robert Young Pelton
"Let's play out this scenario: A backward country emerges from decades under a totalitarian regime. Freedom is in the air. Tourist visas are as easy to get as Publisher's Clearinghouse entry forms. Hotels are hosed out and airlines change their names. You, being the adventurous type, are off in a heartbeat, eager to be the first to visit empty temples, scenic wonders, etc. One week later, tanks fill the streets, surly men in cheap uniforms are thumping innocent bystanders, you hear shots every night. One morning, someone kicks in your door, and it's not room service. You are officially an enemy of the people, and you will not be able to try out those bitchin' new Nike ACG's in the mountains after all. You are eating cockroach soup and watching your bruises turn ten shades of purple. What happened?
Students of history and readers of DP could tell you that you screwed up. You forgot that the countries most likely to be plunged into civil warfare are newly emerging democracies. Yes, you raving liberal, the most dangerous countries are the ones that still can't figure out how to operate a ballot box."
-The World's Most Dangerous Places, pg. 50
Robert Young Pelton's "The World's Most Dangerous Places" is an obscure book to most, but is indispensable to people whose work involves traveling to war torn countries, such as aid and relief workers or journalists. It wastes no time discussing the horrors of war and there isn't any hint of idealism. Instead, it is exactly what the cover says it is: A travel guide to the world's worst places.
One of the first chapters is general information about war zones, and how to think of them. Most people think of war zones as battlefields, with two clearly defined forces and enemy lines and so on, but in most war zones that exist today this is hardly the case. Civil wars, revolutions, freedom fighters/terrorists, these things make up most of the world's wars today and are ugly, guerrilla affairs that cover entire countries and last for decades. Those countries' people live in a state of constant warfare, and traveling through those places is what this book is about.
This book is for people in Western countries. One thing made absolutely clear is that when you travel in one of these places, you are different from the people who live there. Just being white in a lot of places makes it absolutely impossible to blend in, and don't try. One of my favorite parts is about a hypothetical naive tourist:
What does wearing a big backpack with a sleeping bag tied to it and not doing any obnoxious touristy stuff like pointing or taking pictures of landmarks say to the indigenous people?
I am a down-to-earth open minded person who wants learn about your culture.
I am carrying everything I own on my back, including all the money I'll need for this trip, and if I go missing nobody will come looking for me for at least a few weeks.
Being "open minded" doesn't make you safe, and you can't hide what you are, so don't bother. Since you are a rich Westerner, you will be targeted for kidnappings, robbery, being taken hostage, and lots of other nasty things. Being a journalist can get you amnesty, or it can get you shot. A letter of amnesty from one group can get you killed by another. These are not things you want to learn by trial and error.
In this book you will learn how to avoid:
- "Mental places": Places that fanatically and insanely follow a certain philosophy (usually Marxism) or person, usually characterized by huge portraits of the leader hung everywhere. North Korea, Syria, Libya, Cuba, (formerly) Iraq...
- "Fundamental places": Fundamentalist theocracies, such as Iran, Sudan, Uganda, or (formerly-but-still-sorta) Afghanistan.
- "Jackboot Junkets": Brutal Dictatorships, such as Congo, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, or Myanmar.
- Revolutionary places: Countries with constant (sometimes multiple) revolutionary wars that don't stop, like Liberia, Angola, Algeria, Yugoslavia, and Somalia.
- "Gimmeyawalletland": Places of extreme corruption, where bribing officials isn't optional and being robbed is something you have to plan on, such as Mexico, Brazil, Russia, Nigeria, and Colombia. Includes recommended bribes for various infractions/services.
- Impoverished places: Countries that are completely unable to deal with the huge portion of their population that's in extreme poverty, such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, China, Nigeria, or Brazil.
(Many countries are more than one of these. Theres no reason a corrupt, impoverished theocratic dictatorship that is currently undergoing a violent revolution can't exist.)
About half the book is filled with this kind of general information about war zones and other crappy places. The other half is the specifics - actual, nitty gritty information about the actual countries in question. Each country included has its own chapter, which is divided into sections:
- The Country: Basic history on how the country got to be the way it is
- The Scoop: What's going on now (or what was going on at the time of writing, this stuff can change quickly)
- The Players: Who's in power, who's influential, rebel leaders, warlords, armies, etc.
- Getting In: How to get into the country, what documents you need, who to get permission from
- Getting Around: The best ways to get around the country
- Dangerous Places: Explains the situation in different parts of the country. Usually most or all of it is dangerous, but there are differences from place to place that you need to know about if you want to travel there.
- Getting Sick: What to do if you get sick, or usually, why you really don't want to get sick there. Also, what diseases to watch out for.
- Nuts and Bolts: General information, such as the accepted currencies, availability of electricity, telephone, postal services and running water, climate, hotels, airports.
- Dangerous Days: Local holidays or anniversary dates. These days are dangerous because attacks, protests and government crackdowns are more likely on these dates.
- In a Dangerous Place: First hand accounts of trips in the country from Robert Young Pelton and others. Usually extremely good reads. They give a much more intimate feel of what the country's like, what the people are like, and what it might be like to live there.
Countries with their own chapters are: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bougainville, Brazil, Burundi, Cambodia, Chechnya, Colombia, Congo, Dagestan, East Timor, Ethiopia/Eritrea, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kosovo, Kurdistan, Liberia, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Phillippines, Russia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uganda, and the United States.
Why is the United States there? For a sense of perspective. While most people probably wouldn't say the United States is particularly dangerous and few would call any part of it a war zone, the book treats it like any other country on the list. Using all factual information, the US looks like a pretty bad place presented this way. It's also conveniently last, alphabetically, so you get to read that part after you've read the rest of them (if you go in order).
I recommend this book to anyone who's lead a sheltered life in a good place to live, highly recommend it to anyone who's interested in the world's nastier regions, and if you are an aid worker or a war reporter of some sort in one of these countries, I would recommend this book to you but you probably already own a copy.
A lot of the content of the book is available online, but the website isn't very well designed, and contains dead links:
The book is more enjoyable. I've had the fourth edition (2000) for a while, which can be had for about $5 now on Amazon, or if you want more current information the fifth edition (2003) is available for about $20.