Extreme Tourism And Two Questions
One of my favorite blogs has a daily feature called "Who Said This?" Another of my favorites offers "Question of the Week." I am going to use the same idea at the end of this excerpt, which comes from the World News section of the October 1, 2005 Washington Post. The article is titled "For $110, One Chilling Day in a Hot Zone":
"Passing through the first checkpoint, marked by a couple of low-slung buildings and a red-and-white pole across an otherwise desolate road, is an anticlimactic affair: A police officer sidles up, scans an official letter of invitation and glances into the back of the van before waving it on into the Chernobyl exclusion zone. It's a lovely fall morning.Sounds beautiful, doesn't it? A place to enjoy the beauty of nature. But according to the article, the real attraction is not the scenery but rather the chance to be near a deadly site:
"The two visitors, a Post correspondent and an interpreter, ride past some of the zone's 74 abandoned villages, derelict little homesteads overgrown with weeds. Many of their owners now live in high-rise apartment buildings between here and the capital, Kiev, about 60 miles to the southeast.
"The driver maintains a modest speed. Too many animals -- the fat wild boar, in particular -- tend to toddle out of the birch and pine trees now, he says. The flight of humans after one of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's four reactors blew up in April 1986 was a boon for wildlife.
"There are wolves, elk, deer, fox and bison here. Bird watchers have spotted white-tailed eagles, fish hawks, owls, black storks and the rare green crane. Fish are bountiful, and there's even aquatic life in the former cooling ponds."
"Little mounds covered with radioactive signs indicate where contaminated rubble was dumped into hastily dug trenches and covered with soil. Hunting and fishing are banned within a 19-mile radius extending in all directions from the ruined reactor and reaching into neighboring Belarus.Remember that radioactive zone of a 19-mile radius? Human beings are voluntarily paying money to get as close as 300 yards to the center of the radius? Stupid abounds!
"The town of Chernobyl, several miles from the plant, once had 10,000 residents and now is home to some of the 9,000 people who work in the zone decommissioning the nuclear power plant and servicing the forests and dams. If not exactly bustling, there are at least signs of human life -- offices, a functioning store, a bar and laundry hanging outside windows....
"At the Chernobyl Information Center, the visitors pick up their guide, Yuri Tatarchuk, 32, who works 15 days on, 15 days off, shepherding reporters, scientists and, increasingly, tourists around the exclusion zone's sights....Officials in the zone expect close to 1,000 tourists this year. A one-day excursion from Kiev cost two visitors $220, including lunch (guaranteed not radioactive!).
"At the information center, they step onto something that looks like a person-size scale and press their hands against two steel pads. A green light flashes: So far, clean.
"Next stop is Reactor No. 4, now encased in an ugly concrete sarcophagus that was hastily thrown up after the accident and needs to be replaced before the end of the decade lest it collapse. There are plans to encase the casing in a metal tomb.
"The building literally abuts another reactor, No. 3, which was shut down in 2000. There are two other decommissioned reactors and two reactors that were never completed. Snaking through the vast complex is a wide cooling channel leading to an 8 1/2 - square-mile cooling lake.
"The destroyed reactor can be observed at a distance of about 300 yards through the bay windows of a building that serves as an information center. But for security reasons, no photos are allowed from this vantage point. There are 180 tons of nuclear fuel, now in a lava state, resting inside the sarcophagus."
Like most large tourist sites, this one offers food, too--in this case, a canteen, which offers a fixed menu every day:
"Today's fare is tomato salad, borscht, meat and mashed potatoes, washed down with heavily salted mineral water. Workers pay little attention to the American, Canadian and Japanese guests, who make tepid jokes about mutant vegetables."The visitors are not only getting close to the site of a nuclear meltdown. They are putting possibly radiation-contaminated food into their bodies. Are the tourists carrying their own Geiger Counters with which to check the food on their plates? No mention.
The article mentions that local mushrooms are available. I'm not kidding! Never mind that the local mushrooms are heavily radiated. Seventy-six-year-old Evhenia Rubanova, who returned to live in her native area despite warnings not to do so, claims, somewhat mischievously, that the mushrooms are delicious: "'Just boil them and then fry them and they're fine.'"
The article further details the tour:
"Next up is the city of Pripyat, now completely abandoned and located beyond another checkpoint.... Built in the 1970s, a couple of miles from the plant, Pripyat was a young model city when it died. Lenin Avenue's pedestrian zone is now a tangle of overgrown greenery, and branches brush the side of the van as it passes down the street. Moss covers the sidewalks. The apartments themselves were stripped long ago; they stand empty, their windows bereft of glass.Perhaps I am a skeptic, but I'm not sure that I trust the integrity of a radiation-detection device at a money-making tourist site.
"The avenue opens up onto a large square and around it stand the silent Palace of Culture, a sports complex, the Hotel Polissa, the Communist Party's local headquarters and a department store. Nearby is the amusement park with a ghostly Ferris wheel that was never used; it was supposed to start operating on May Day 1986... Hot spots with elevated radiation levels still dot the city and the wider zone. A trip to a huge vehicle graveyard where 2,000 radioactive cars, trucks and machines are parked is declined.... As the van passes the checkpoint to exit the zone, the visitors are required to step through another radiation-detection device. The green light flashes. Kiev beckons."
I admit to having visited some rather creepy places and, given the chance, I'd visit all of them again: Molokai, the island on which leprosy victims were confined for the rest of their lives; Alcatraz, where one can walk the same ground as various notorious criminals; various cemeteries, particularly in Hollywood; and Fall River, Massachusetts, which offers Lizzie Borden exhibits and poses unanswerable questions: "Did she do it?" and, more important to me, "Assuming she committed the crime of hacking up her stepmother and her father, why did she do it?" and "How could anyone, all by oneself, pull off such a bloody crime without leaving behind irrefutable evidence?" In Fall River, one can even spend the night at the Lizzie Borden Bread & Breakfast, housed in the building where the murders were committed. Of all the tourist sites I've visited, I'd return again to Fall River, in spite of already having visited there three times in twenty years. I haven't yet spent the night in that expensive Bed and Breakfast. Halloween would be the perfect time!
Questions: What tourist site is special to you? Why?