An Exploration of Dark Tourism
I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. –Herman Melville, Moby Dick
In a earlier post, Paranoid Traveler or Conscious Consumer? I questioned whether I should even make this trip. Attempting to weigh the prospect of ISIS lurking off the coast of Libya against the probability of all going well, I decided to go ahead with my travel plans. Therefore, I’m returning to the sea once again, inspired by my recent sailing adventure off the coast of Maine on a windjammer, the Mary Day. On this trip, the Star Clipper, tallest sailing ship ever built, will carry passengers and crew across the Mediterranean, starting in Lisbon, Portugal, 17 days at sea with stops along the way and finally ending in Athens.
Because of the recent terrorist attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, the ship will not be stopping at Tunis, as previously planned. The Bardo Museum had been selected as one of our excursions, and that knowledge make the tragedy of lives lost even greater for me. Cruise management also removed Pantelleria, an Italian island off the coast of Tunisia, from the ports of call. The Tunisian people transitioned to a democracy after the Arab Spring and installed a secularist-led government. Extremists target such initiatives. On March 29, 10,000 Tunisians marched through Tunis in solidarity against those who would threaten their democracy.
Before the March 18 attack on the museum, I was already feeling I might be taking on an adventure that might be more than I could handle. Some friends questioned whether it was safe for a woman traveling by herself and on a sailing vessel, which is far removed from the typical cruise ship experience. The ship rocks in the waves and tilts at an angle on the downwind side. I’m excited about taking photographs of the sea and landscapes. One of the best observation points will be from the crow’s nest, climbing up the rigging for 360-degree views from the top of the mast. I can cry, “Land A-Hoy!” and point to the horizon . . . aways wanted to do that.
I searched for blogs recording a similar sailing adventure. The closest journal I found was Mark Twain’s, Innocents Aboard, his humorous account of his travels on the Mediterranean onboard a side-wheel steamer in 1897. As I do my version of what Twain subtitled his journal, The New Pilgrims Progress. I hope that you’ll join me by participating in the comment’s section.
Dark Sides of Tourism
Three continents border the Mediterranean, creating the cradle of world civilization connecting people from different cultures. I’ve read an overview of historical accounts of aggression, invasion and conquest. Any territory bordering the Mediterranean or island surrounded by that sea has been repeatedly screwed over, yes, I’ve said it, screwed over–for the word conquest sounds sanitized, and the second definition: winning of favor or affection, softens the horror that followed invaders. Many civilizations carry the blame: Egyptians, Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Ottoman Turks, Normans and throw in the Crusaders and the Barbary pirates, and it seems likes Mediterranean people have never had a moment’s peace, even up to the present moment with ISIS controlling territory in Syria and threatening attacks on Italy, putting that country on high alert. Little more than one hundred miles separates the Sicily from the Libyan coast.
Why are conquering civilizations called “great” or “golden”? What mechanisms spawned those grand titles, achieved through madness and mayhem, causing endless personal tragedies, rarely recorded in history books or on tours? Dark Tourism, defined narrowly as travel to any sites associated with death, more broadly can apply to visiting almost any place on earth! Making pilgrimages to graveyards or catacombs fits the obvious definition, but if we scratch below the façade of any place, we experience Dark Tourism.
Long before the attacks on Tunisia, I had researched one of planned tours to the ancient city of Carthage, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One tour describes Carthage as “perpetuating values of openness and exchange.” The ancient city stands in ruins today, scattered stones and standing columns representing architecture that once housed the civilization. Archaeologists who study the evidence, uncover other layers of culture. I read in horror that Carthaginians sacrificed their own infant children, and the civilization relied on slave labor. It is extremely difficult to feel impressed with their architectural prowess given that the Carthaginians conscripted prisoners of war into the service of backbreaking stone masonry. If these people killed their own children, one can only imagine how they treated their slaves.
I am not planning a gloomy travel experience; I do want to learn history and appreciate art and geography of these countries. I’m in the last quarter of my life and time is short! I want to climb the ship’s mast, hike rolling hills, explore castle passages, find spring wild flowers poking out from the rocks or photograph children playing in the village alleyways. Like Mark Twain, who writes in the Preface of Innocent Aboard, this is a journal of a “pleasure trip” and not an effort at historical documentation. The discerning traveler/blogger might still be able to share some degree of insight of a culture based on their experience. Right? Or not so much? Will I be wondering, I am safe?
A Traveler or Tourist?
How does one evolve from a tourist to a traveler or is that even possible? Is a tourist a passive observer where travel becomes a commodity rather than an experience? Is searching for places that are “less touristy” a desirable goal or is almost any form of travel superficial? What if the tours present a “Disneyization” of a place, the stripping away the culture and presenting either sanitized interpretations or theater that presents tourists with big doses of what the tourists think represents a culture.
For example, I found a tour in Tangier that included riding a camel, seeing a snake charmer, watching “local” entertainment and visiting a market. I could argue that tour is the reality for all of those folks who are entertaining the tourists, but do these tours reinforce our stereotypes? Tourism is big business, and the economy of Tangier relies on tourism, so tours tend to recreate expectations. Is it possible to explore and discover less theatrical cultural practices?
Perhaps being aware of these questions is the first step in understanding these complex issues.
The Question of Sustainable Travel
Air travel, unfortunately, is responsible for between 2 and 3% of carbon emissions, ballooning my carbon imprint. Planes are inefficient and use toxic fuels. At present, few technological advances fix this situation. This ecological problem creates a question whether I should travel at all by air.
Meeting Teresa Forcades, Revolutionary Nun, Barcelona, June 13
As a supporter of anarcho-syndicalist movements, which advocate for democracy for the working classes in politics as well as the workplace, I’ve been following the news about the strikes against the Spanish government’s spending cuts, which create severe consequences for workers and their families. Following these events, I came across one of their leaders, Sister Teresa Forcades.
Sister Teresa, who confirms that her Church is misogynistic and patriarchal, has a Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Forcades?hc_location=stream if you don’t mind using Google translator for Catalonia into English.
For folks who have their doubts about capitalism, Teresa has launched a political manifesto to counter austerity measures by the Spanish government. The document calls for an independent Catalonia to carry out a more democratic and progressive agenda, including nationalizing banks and energy corporations.
On my first evening in Barcelona, I’m going to an event, Women, Spirituality and Social Change, a dialogue between Teresa and Lekshe Karma Tsomo, a California Tibetan nun, who share the same commitment: to promote social change based on inner transformation.
Travel Log to Northern Provinces of Spain
If you might travel to Spain or if you have been there and would like to compare notes, please check out my page here where I have pictures and video of Sister Teresa at the event I attended. I also chronicle a trip to the Northern provinces, which will include commentary on politics, cuisine, language and art.
I will occasionally do a post, but for the most part I’ll be updating the web page. Thanks for checking it out!
Social Justice, Travel Journal