It is absolutely no secret that Canada has terrible weather during the winter months. In the dead of winter, January and February, temperatures have fallen as low as -40℃, and that is not accounting for windchill. As someone who has spent many years enduring the brutal cold, I can tell you that the worst part is not the cold itself, the worst is that it is business as usual. Meaning that even though it is so cold you could suffer frostbite in seconds or if your car dies on the highway you could actually freeze to death, you still have to be at work on time. Regular errands like buying groceries or putting gas in your vehicle must also be done no matter how cold it is. But even during this time of year there is a glimmer of hope for many Canadian: Mexico.
Mexico is one of the most popular destinations for Canadians during the winter months. Spring break in Cancun, Mexico has become one of the most infamous holidays across Canada and the United States for young people ready to party. But, over the last two decades the appeal of Mexico has turned to the older generations looking to escape the cold. These older generations are not about partying but about getting away from the brutal cold. The people who leave the country during the winter and return in the spring or summer are called snowbirds. These snowbirds can be in the country for a week or two, or even up to six months of the year.
There are many different opinions on Mexico. Many people adore everything the country has to offer. And many find the poverty to be disheartening. Safety is also an issue. Some say that because of the drug cartels it is not safe under any circumstances. Others say that because of corruption, cartels make money off of tourists and therefore would not intentionally harm anyone. However, stories break every year of foreigners getting caught in the crossfire.
The massive influx of tourists to Mexico has had some bad impacts on the country. While millions of dollars are put into the Mexican economy, many of these resorts, restaurants and hotels are foreign owned and the Mexican economy sees very little benefit. The presence of foreigners does encourage bilingualism, but it also encourages children and teenagers to stop going to school and sell trinkets to the tourists. Teenagers and young adults in tourist dense areas would rather make easy money off the foreigners than invest in their own futures.
In January I visited the Chernobyl exclusion zone. While I was initially unsure about visiting the area, I ultimately decided to because if I did not, I knew I would regret it. In a brief summary it was cold and it was quiet. This made for a very eerie experience. When you walk through the exclusion zone you are going through an area which has been abandoned to time. The greenery is overgrown. The paint is peeling. The buildings are crumbling. Throughout the tour, the guide kept explaining the zone as frozen in time. But, after my visit, I have to disagree. The exclusion zone and especially Pripyat has suffered at the hands of time, rather than having been stuck in it. While the bones of these places are of course the same, almost everything else is different.
To say that the Chernobyl exclusion zone stands as it did in 1986 when the evacuation happened is a gross overstatement. The towns within the zone have largely been impacted by looters and vandals. If it could be sold, it has been taken. And if it could be damaged, it has been broken. Buildings have been cleared of valuables and furniture, pages have been ripped out of books, windows have been smashed and even sinks torn from the walls. Oddly enough, there is plenty of street art within Pripyat. Personally, I adored this discovery. Plenty of this “vandalism” was images of deer and bears. Which fit right in with how nature was beginning to reclaim the abandoned city. But not all of the art fit in with the way the city looks today. Some of the art was a dark reminder of the people who had to leave their homes - shadowy figures walking along buildings, or children reaching for light switches. But regardless of the vandalism and how things have changed, if you want to find ghosts in Chernobyl, I’m sure you can find them lurking around every corner and not just the graffiti kind.
Chernobyl is a tourist location within the realm of “dark tourism.” While I would call myself a dark tourist, I have to admit that I have issues with this kind of travel. At the moment Chernobyl is one of the most popular dark tourism destinations but it is far from the darkest one. So yes, I struggled a bit with my decision to go. But it was still an easy decision to make because Chernobyl was an accident. Many other dark tourism locations are not accidents, but mark the spots of human atrocity. Beyond the emotional cost of visiting places like Auschwitz or the Killing Fields in Cambodia, visiting can be voyeuristic - meaning looking at something I should not be looking at and getting some sort of enjoyment out of it. I believe that human tragedy should not serve as our entertainment, but as something to learn from. And where to draw the line between entertainment and education can be difficult, especially when talking about travel and tourism. But opening these locations as tourism sites will hopefully spread awareness and keep important conversation going with the ultimate goal of preventing history from repeating itself.
My name is Madison. I am from Alberta, Canada. I like to read books, go hiking and explore new cities. Even though I am Canadian, I don't watch hockey and I don't like snow. I graduated from The University of Lethbridge in 2018 after studying English Literature and Art History for six years. I have travelled to the Mexican state, Nayarit and to Tokyo, Japan. I hope to travel all over the world.