Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Amazing Race 19, Episode 3

Yogyakarta (Indonesia) - Salakmalang (Indonesia) - Borobudur (Indonesia)

As The Amazing Race has gone to more and more obscure small countries (Oman, Estonia) as well as large countries little visited by foreign tourists (Bangladesh), Indonesia has stood out more and more as by far the most populous as well as the most touristed country the reality-TV show had yet to visit. I’d begun to wonder whether the TV producers had decided (or been ordered) not to go to Indonesia, and whether they would ever visit the ultimate archipelagic nation. Indonesia was long past due for its turn in the limelight of “The Amazing Race”.

There’s plenty of petty property crime in Indonesia, of the sort that’s to be expected anywhere with such a disparity in wealth between “guests” and “hosts”. There’s even a modicum of mugging and rape (and not just the too-rarely-acknowledged global problem of “date rape” of foreign tourists by other foreign tourists in hostels and backpacker ghettos), although with nothing like the frequency of violent crime in countries like the USA, South Africa, or Brazil — all of which have been visited multiple times by “The Amazing Race” (and all of which I’ve visited, and would visit again, although with due attention to personal safety).

The real reason, presumably, that The Amazing Race stayed away from Indonesia for so long wasn’t danger but fear: a fear of terrorism in Indonesia grossly disproportionate to any rational assessment of the risks of travel, in which terrorism ranks quite low compared to other sorts of violent crime, violent crime is less of a risk than property crime, and the greatest hazard to life or limb — in Indonesia or the USA or anywhere — is road travel, not any sort of crime.

The racers’ visit to Java this season is a welcome sign that, ten years after 9/11/2001 (and ten years after the premiere of the first season of the race the weekend before on 9/5/2001), travellers are finally taking some of the destinations most unjustifiably stigmatized by the fear of terrorism off their travel blacklists.

Even while it shied away from some countries, however, the race — like real travellers — carried on. Far more of my readers and other would-be travellers re-routed their planned trips after 9/11 than cancelled them entirely, and the same was true after other scary events in the years since. While there are some people for whom the decision to take a “big trip” depends on a particular destination, the generalized desire to travel and “see the world” — or, more realistically, some pointillist sampling of it — is typically far stronger than the pull of any single attraction.

There are a couple of hundred countries still to go for “The Amazing Race”, of which the most populous, in order, are Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Pakistan is a fascinating and potentially wonderful destination, and I had a great time there myself some years ago, but I can’t recommend it to tourists at present. I know people who’ve enjoyed their travels in Nigeria, but even the savviest travellers I know have been robbed there, and it gets fewer foreign tourists per capita than any large country except Bangladesh. The DRC is less than half Nigeria’s size, but more dangerous and harder to film a TV show in.

Were it not for political fears even more intense and more unfounded than those about Indonesia, Iran would be the logical standout as the next place “The Amazing Race” ought to visit. It’s large, extremely safe for foreign visitors (as police states often are), welcomes foreign tourists and especially those from the USA (no, I’m not crazy and I’m not making this up — that’s been the consistent report of people I know who’ve visited Iran), and has recently welcomed the filming of a travel program for broadcast on US network TV. And it’s a major tourist destination with outstanding monuments and attractions. Isfahan has been at the top of my personal “must-see” list for several years.

I won’t hold my breath for The Amazing Race to land in Iran. But if the race could finally make it to Indonesia after a decade, maybe in another decade it will make it to Isfahan. In reality, though, I suspect you or I are likely to get there before Phil Keoghan and his TV production crew. If not, I’ll be jealous of Phil, but happy to eat my words.

(I’ll be in Europe for the next couple of weeks, where I may not be able to watch the race, at least not in real time. I’ll try to catch up, but be prepared for some delays in my posts.)

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 9 October 2011, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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