Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Trouble Tourists Head for Places Where History Is Happening

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Trouble Tourists Head for Places Where History Is Happening

Article excerpt

MILLIONS OF AMERICANS watched on television in November 1989 as euphoric Germans tore gaping holes into the Berlin Wall, taking vicarious pleasure in the death of the Cold War.

But that wasn't enough for Nick Homer of Irvine, Calif. He grabbed his suitcase and his young daughter, hopped on a plane to the once-and-future German capital and took pickax in hand to bash the Wall.

"It was history, and I just felt that there was no way that I couldn't be a part of it," he said.

Homer is a trouble tourist, a small but intrepid group of people for whom a vacation hot spot is something other than a strand of warm sandy beach and a pitcher of pina coladas.

For the trouble tourist, itineraries are found not in the newspaper travel sections but on the front page. Destinations aren't Cancun or Kauai but Belfast or Burma.

Whether it's one trip in a lifetime or a yearly jaunt to the latest revolution, the goal isn't relaxation, but a buzz of adventure adrenaline or a chance to play a bit part on the world stage.

U.S. State Department officials wince at travelers who go out of their way to dip their toes in troubled waters around the world.

"Obviously we would prefer that people don't go to troubled areas just for fun," said Gary Sheaffer, a State Department spokesman. "Unless you are an aid worker or have legitimate business, people should avoid countries where there is unrest. Thrill-seeking can be dangerous."

The United State bans travel to only three countries: Iraq, Lebanon and Libya, which support terrorism targeting Americans.

In a second tier of countries, led by Cuba and North Korea, the Treasury Department has severe restrictions.

"We don't say you can't go there, we just say you can't spend any money if you go," said Hamilton Dix, a Treasury Department spokeswoman.

But tour visits have been arranged to challenge or get around the laws. The Justice Department hasn't decided what to do with the 60 citizens it says broke the economic embargo against Cuba last year and were detained when they re-entered the United States.

In another group of countries, war, insurrection, disease or crime is so rampant that the State Department has issued a travel warning, indicating Americans are at risk.

"We would prefer you don't go there, but we can't stop you if you really want to go," Sheaffer said.

Currently 21 countries are under travel warnings. For example, tourists who have traveled to Guatemala to visit the famed Mayan ruins and lush forests have been robbed, beaten, raped or detained because of bizarre rumors that Americans are stealing babies. In the African nations of Rwanda, Yemen and Somalia, civil wars and ethnic murders have made travel unsafe.

Next comes a long list of current and former hot spots - Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, South Africa, Nicaragua and El Salvador - covered only by State Department notes that Americans may find higher-than-normal crime rates or pockets of unrest.

Finally, beyond the pariah countries and various warnings are former headline-grabbing destinations where tensions are capped for the moment or at least on low boil. …

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