If you’re like me, you spend an awful lot of time on Wikipedia, the preeminent publicly accessible online encyclopedia. I look up just about everything on it. If I watch a movie, I search for it. If I read about someone, I use Wikipedia to find out more about them. Basically, as soon as I take in new information, I’m turning to Wikipedia to discover more and to give me a base of knowledge about whatever that thing is.
A “wiki” is really just a tool that allows end users like me help create and edit a given website. The users actually input the content on the site and update it (in the case of new events relevant to the topic) and/or edit it (in case whoever wrote it was wrong, insane, or both). Once I spent enough time on Wikipedia, I realized there were all of these other Wikipedia-style offshoots that pertain to specific topics. There is a wiki page for the video game DOOM. There’s a wiki page devoted to Mystery Science Theater 3000. There’s a wiki page for the Boston Red Sox. And there’s a wiki page for travelling.
I’m sure there’s more than one wiki-style page devoted to travelling and sightseeing, but my favorite is Wikitravel. Wikipedia articles are usually reliable for general information about a given topic. They’re usually sourced, and there are generally active “talk” pages behind each Wikipedia entry that tell you the history of the edits to that entry and the debates that occurred that allowed the inclusions to that entry. Wikitravel entries read like they were all written by the same person, no matter what place you’re looking up. They often emphatically state the grave danger you’ll be in should you actually decide to go to a certain country or city, and explain in hilarious and painstaking ways the methods you should take to arrive to a country or city and to stay safe while you’re there. Instead of level-headed, well-written analysis, Wikitravel articles usually read like long-winded cautionary road signs. It’s a lot of fun!
Today’s Wikitravel journey takes us to Chad, a nation in north-central Africa.
We’re immediately greeting with a red warning box featuring a stop sign with a “hand” logo in the middle. We’re told,
“Chad is currently experiencing political turmoil and the UK and U.S. governments advise against all but essential travel to Chad. Anywhere outside the capital, N’Djamena, is highly dangerous, especially in the north—where a special travel permit is necessary.”
OK then. That doesn’t bode so well. Well, let’s say we want to go to Chad anyway. How can we get there? By train?
“There are no usable rail links.”
I see. Well, surely I could take a car over the border and get to where I need to go?
“Roads are in bad disrepair and are typically unpaved – there is only one paved road, which currently runs from Massakory in the north through N’Djamena on to Guelendeng, Bongor, Kelo and Moundou. It is the best road in the country but still has numerous potholes and runs through the center of a number of small villages and drivers should exercise caution and moderate speeds even while on the main road.
There are several border crossings with Cameroon, most notably via Kousseri near N’Djamena and near the towns of Bongor and Lere. Be very careful, drive defensively, don’t stop unless there is a very good reason. Do not drive at night, as coupeurs de route (road bandits) are common. They are a particular concern along the two roads leading out of Guelendeng, towards Ba-Illi (where ex-pats were attacked in two separate incidents in 2005, resulting in the death of one Catholic nun) and towards Bongor.”
So there’s one paved road in the country, described as the best road in the country, which is covered in potholes and has a speed limit of twenty miles-per-hour. I really like how the Cameroon border crossing is described so ominously: “Be very careful, drive defensively, don’t stop unless there is a very good reason”. Everything about driving in Chad sounds harrowing. The article gives me the idea that driving a car in Chad might very well lead to your death. It reminds me of Wages of Fear, except with a strong possibility of being shot by “road bandits”.
Let’s say I was to make it through Chad’s American Gladiators-esque Eliminator full of potholes and banditry and I found myself inside the country. Are there any areas I should avoid?
“Northern Chad is barren, scorching desert and guides (good luck) and meticulous planning are required.”
This is the best indicator to me that despite being a wiki, Wikitravel is not vetted, updated, or edited like its wiki brethren, and that the entire article on Chad was written by one person. “Good luck”? Really? The author is letting you know, in a sarcastic, dickish way, that finding a guide for northern Chad is extremely difficult. Since this is a travel tip site, how about letting me know how I might find a guide for northern Chad, or helping me cut down on the supposed difficulty of finding one? How about some tips? I guess it sounds like it sucks up there, so people probably wouldn’t want to go anyway, but I’d think useful information and not parenthesized sarcasm is the purpose for the wiki.
Each Wikitravel page contains a “Stay Healthy” segment. Readers/prospective travellers are told what types of food to eat and to not eat, information about the medical facilities in the country, diseases endemic to the country to be aware of, etc. Here’s Chad’s “Stay Healthy” report:
“Don’t accept water from any stores unless you know the brand. Eat only your own food that you buy in grocery stores. Avoid restaurants whenever possible. Stay away from people that look sick, there are many diseases in Chad to beware of. Go to a doctor once a month if you can afford it.”
Sounds great! Don’t drink the water, don’t eat the food, don’t go out, don’t interact with people, don’t drive, don’t explore, spend most of your time in the hospital, did I miss anything? Why doesn’t it just say “Don’t go to Chad”? You’d think a travel website about Chad would relay some positive things about the country and get you to want to go there. The most positive thing I could find in the whole article? “Meat dishes are very popular in Chad, and foreign travellers speak highly of the meat (such as lamb).” That’s it. Eat the lamb. Although you are cautioned to bring hand sanitizer and to take care not to eat with your left hand, so as not to offend the Muslim population.
Wikitravel leaves you with this nugget of information to remember as you plan your trip to Chad:
The Chadian-Libyan conflict is something to be avoided at all times; Chadians known to be living in Libya have been tortured & murdered on previous occasions.
And I was so looking forward to interjecting myself in the Chadian-Libyan conflict during my stay there.