Thanksgiving is almost upon us, when North Americans contemplate their previous yearís good fortune and begin planning for their "holiday season." Knowing how much they have on their plate at this time of year, poor things, I thought I might lighten their load a little, and suggest some alluring destinations to make this a most memorable vacation. The biggest temptation of these hot destinations is that they are already paid for -- courtesy of the US taxpayer!
No matter what holiday you celebrate, whether itís Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas, what better way to get in the spirit of the season than an ocean cruise, sailing to a different warm weather destination -- the Indian Ocean, perhaps?
The ocean has an almost mystical effect, seemingly changing your perceptions of who and what you really are. Experience the winter wonderland of one of the festively decorated prison ships, with attractive yet practical wall fittings that conveniently fit around your wrists and ankles to prevent accidental falls caused by the motion of the waves.
Entertainment Director Stephen Hadley guarantees exciting on-board activities that make the sun seem to shine brighter, that electrify the senses and make you forget the humdrum of the life you left behind. And if all this doesn't make your smile grow wider, the people that you meet will! The crew have been handpicked to ensure they express their intense interest in you, yes YOU! Regardless of how many others are on board, every passenger is made to feel the center of attention, and offered a sense of safety, comfort and excitement that is hard to beat out of them.
Best of all, there are none of those wet-blanket party-killers to fear -- it is all in international waters, and out of the reach of US law...
But donít forget to take out sufficient advance travel insurance. You wouldnít believe how often return is delayed, how inestimable the number of tourarists still sailing the briny ocean without a notion of when their travails will come to an end. The Manfred Nowak Group seemingly offer a reasonable deal, but unfortunately are notoriously slow to respond. And if you donít word your claim perfectly, they just wonít play ball.
For those who get queasy at the idea of an ocean cruise, and letís be frank -- they're not for everyone, what could be more stimulating than an overland jaunt taking in Eastern Europe, Turkey, the Middle East and Central Asia?
Poland, whose history stretches from invasion to invasion (Mongols, Russians, Prussians, Austrians, Nazis, Soviets, and now the capitalist West) has become a major destination. Here you can experience a way of life which had seemingly vanished only half a century ago. 70km from Krakůw lies the site of the Oswiecim-Birkenau (Auschwitz-Birkenau) concentration camp where 4 million people were killed by the Nazis. The camp area has been designated as a memorial monument and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and the way things are shaping up, UNESCO will soon have another memorial site on its Polish plate.
Next stop are the resorts in Romania and Bulgaria, largely unexplored territories with magnificent wildernesses that guarantee privacy and tranquility, and well-preserved customs and traditions -- who doesnít recall the luxurious accommodations and practices that were the legacy of Ceausescu, and which US tourist companies have now elevated to an art form?
The next few days can be spent enjoying water sports on the Black Sea coast -- despite the deceptive name, guides can readily arrange golden showers and any number of similarly stimulating excursions, limited only by their imagination. The independent traveler may like to take a side trip to the former Yugoslavia, where a good time is not just an option, but a grave responsibility.
You will then make your way southeastwards past "Pipelineistan", keeping your eye out for Turkish resorts, and those under construction in Azerbaijan, before experiencing the Iraqi heartland of the Middle East. As US resorts in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and elsewhere in the region have become relatively tame of late, they have been excluded from the itinerary, in order to concentrate on the truly astonishing -- Iraq.
Throughout the last few years, Iraq has hosted many national celebrations -- a favorite was the week long carnival called Fallujah that just kept on keeping on, and lets not forget the fireworks! Now, these truly are the experience of a lifetime, and something you will surely never forget -- not least because the white phosphorous burns may well have seared right down to your bones. Another must-do: check out those party animals at Abu Ghraib, and sashay down the fun-filled streets, where at any time you might be whisked off your feet and swept away for a few days or weeks of unrivalled entertainment courtesy of the Interior Ministry! Don't worry about eating, sleeping, or any of those boring everyday aspects of daily life -- you won't need them at the Al-Jamiyat resort in Basra. Although you may run into a few limey mates and their Iraqi apprentices, and have to humor them by doing a few drill exercises to keep you awake, 'cos boy, do those guys ever know how to party! And thatís what makes the country so special -- the reason so many visitors return decade after decade. You will feel itís your home away from home and want to come back again and again, and so will your children. Once youíve experienced the Middle East, youíll understand why Bush, like his father before him, says ďIt doesnít get better than Baghdad!Ē
If time and circumstance permit, take a quick glance at North Africa for possible inclusion in future itineraries, then off to Afghanistan, where there is not actually a hell of a lot to see in Kabul, given that at least one-third of all public buildings and approximately 40 per cent of the houses were completely destroyed in the search for whatís-his-name, the guy who supposedly blew up the Twin Towers and was going to be made to pay for it, but whose embarrassing disappearance from the radar, thus the news, means everyone's forgotten all about him.
Tourarist advisories say trips inside and outside urban or rural areas in Afghanistan are ill-advised and dangerous, seeing as how people who make them tend to either disappear off the face of the earth or end up in commie countries like Cuba, where in Guantanamo human rights are totally ignored. So when/if you emerge from your underground hotel (single rooms guaranteed, but don't count on getting much sleep -- these boys also like to party hard) youíll keep on moving, down through Pakistan to the last resort on our itinerary -- Thailand.
Where else but Thailand can you burn across the bay on a converted rice barge, roar upriver in a long-tail boat where your screams are swallowed by the rainforest, take a white-knuckle ride on a bamboo raft, stay indefinitely in jungle tree houses, all as guests of the US taxpayer? Equally memorable are the trails leading deep into the rainforest past cooling waterfalls, heaven to the tortured limbs after a hard dayís grind, and the simple beauty of the sound of the translucent sea lapping onto endless white, soft sand -- or is that the sound of blood splashing, and the sandy feel of grit on the sole of the boot crushing your face into the ground .....
Plot it all out on a map and, like the waxing moon, you will see a great crescent that, as Tom Engelhardt pointed out, ďmore or less coincides with the Middle Eastern and Caspian oil heartlands of the planet.Ē Wow! Itís not just God, the entire heavens are on your side!
And fear not, you US citizens who canít afford such exotic locations, no matter what your budget there are over 6,000 camps right there in the USA ready, willing and able to fulfill your dreams of adventure -- and at no cost. In fact, the US taxpayer will pay YOU to go there! Not only are these camps a great introduction to the outdoor life and character-building to boot, but many thousands of "happy campers" have subsequently gone on to several of the aforementioned popular foreign destinations, and plans are underway for Venezuela and Cuba to be on next yearís itinerary!
Do bear in mind that the domestic destinations cater only for those over 18 years of age, and some Florida and Texas resorts are strictly reserved for foreign guests from the Caribbean and Latin America, to express US solidarity with the poor and impoverished of the region and ensure they also benefit from the facilities and services so generously funded by your taxes.
Consider also that many guests become so totally overwhelmed and engulfed by their life-changing experiences that they never return . . . but rest assured that the generous move of the current administration to remove death duties means your family will not have to pay for such foolish follies as dying while playing at such extreme sports, the taxpayer will. The New Yorker reported that through the removal of these death duties the 25 richest families in the US will benefit by an amount equivalent to what the war in Iraq is costing... if the war in Iraq is costing x dollars a day and driving the budget into deficit, how does it make sense to give the tax-take that was paying for the war back to the richest people in the nation? Oh, I get it, the rich donít pay taxes, the poor pay for the war, then the Bush administration rewards the rich and recovers the costs by cutting social programs and pensions, in other words, robs the poor, the old, the sick and the homeless to pay for their sons and daughters to be slaughtered in Iraq -- now that's just plain evil. Yes, you US taxpayers have much to give thanks for this year!
But weíre kind of scraping the barrel out here in the rest of the world, especially in the developing world. What can we be thankful for? We canít even grease up to you, with the price we have to pay for oil products -- if we happen to have any income, that is. What light is at the end of our tunnel?
Maybe that shining light beaming off the southern coast of the US for the last 50 odd years, warning the south and anyone else with the requisite humanity and sensibility not to wreck itself on those rocky shores of consumerist greed, capitalism and imperialism. That lighthouse Cuba, showing that there really is a simple and just way to distribute a countryís, a planetsí, resources -- equally and fairly, and according to need. Showing that despite hardship and cruel external forces such as the US blockade, where there is genuine political will, health, education, food and shelter can be made available to all.
We can be thankful for the example of the Cuban people, whose strength and fortitude against all odds has provided such an inspiration to their fellow citizens of the world, and is now bearing fruit in the flowering of genuinely just social and political movements not only in Venezuela, but throughout Latin America, Africa and the world, showing that indeed, a better world is possible.
We can be thankful that at least 53 million US citizens, along with the majority of the rest of the world, do not share the current US administrationís desire to rape the world and destroy the planet for the benefit of a few short-sighted, self-interested gluttons.
We can also hope that on 24 November the current US administration and all their supporters, instead of talking turkey, killing turkey, basting, roasting, eating turkey, will all sit down to a steaming great plate of taxpayer funded humble pie -- and swallow.
Julie Webb-Pullman lives in New
Zealand and can be reached at: