The List

Good Times in Really Bad Places

Looking for a thrill on your next vacation? Here are seven resort destinations that are anything but tame.


Where: Hadibo, Yemen

What: Seeking out Dragon's Blood on Socotra Island

Some 150 miles off the Horn of Africa, Socotra is a naturalist's dream, an ancient wonderland of biodiversity, home to 700 species of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth -- including forests of frankincense, myrrh, and the fabled dragon's blood tree. Yes, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a bit harder to get to than most: The few flights to the remote island pass through Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, whose impoverished citizens are among the most well-armed in the world and do a healthy business in kidnapping. But Socotra is peaceful. No larger than New York's Long Island, it boasts jagged mountain ranges, brilliant white beaches, and craggy cliffs that fall into the turquoise sea. The locals don't speak Arabic, but Socotri, a native language unique to the island. You might want to think twice, though, about chartering a skiff to the nearby archipelago -- the waters are crawling with Somali pirates. If you're planning to join the few thousand or so bird-watchers and sun-bathers who make the adventurous journey there each year, the main town of Hadibo has a handful of decent hotels. But you'd be wise to move fast: Apparently, both the U.S. and Russian navies are considering the island as a possible base for fleets operating in the nearby Gulf of Aden.


Where: Kabul, Afghanistan

What: Kabul Golf Club and the Gandamack Lodge

For war-weary correspondents, military contractors, and NGO-types, Afghanistan's only golf course gives new meaning to the word "hazard." On this 9-hole course just west of Kabul, avid golfers are more likely to lose their balls amid discarded ordnance than in sand traps. Before the course was re-opened in 2004 following the U.S. invasion, the fairways were reportedly pockmarked with mortar craters and littered with spent casings. St. Andrews it ain't. But with greens fees only $15, it's a cheap afternoon for ex-pats pulling in hardship wages. In the evening, savvy travelers retire to the Hare and Hound Watering Hole at the Gandamack Lodge, run by the British journalist Peter Jouvenal. Rooms start at $75 a night, but it's not quite what it used to be: The old location, a mansion near the Interior Ministry, was reputedly the home of Osama bin Laden's fourth wife.


Where: Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo

What: Seeing the silverbacks at the Orchid Safari Club

Nestled in the foothills of eastern Congo, along the Rwandan border, the Orchid Safari Club boasts an impressive view: It's hard to beat the sunsets over Lake Kivu from the veranda. But once the sun goes down, it's best to stay in for the night. The rustic lodge is in the city of Bukavu, which saw horrific violence in 2004 when rebel leader Laurent Nkunda allowed his troops to run wild for three days, raping and killing civilians at will. There's still the occasional outburst, but U.N. peacekeepers have now tamped much of the embers. For a hundred dollars or so, the Safari Club arranges outings to view Congo's famed, and notoriously reclusive, silverback gorillas. But be warned: The small remaining population of these majestic animals is often found deep in the jungle, in regions where rebels remain unchecked. Maybe a quick dip in the lake is more up your alley? Oh, wait: It's full of toxic methane and carbon dioxide bubbles that kill dozens of people every year.


Where: Rawandoz, Iraqi Kurdistan

What: Pank Tourist Resort

Perched atop a butte in the rugged mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan lies the ambitious resort of Pank, a community of neat ranch homes boasting well-manicured lawns and stunning views of the Rawandoz gully and Halgurd Mountain, the region's highest peak. To be honest, it looks a lot like a suburban town in, say, New Mexico, complete with broad sidewalks and well-lighted streets. There's a Ferris wheel, a mini-golf course imported from Sweden, a 1,400-meter-long toboggan ride, and a "beautiful" restaurant (according to the slick website). For visiting dignitaries escaping the chaos and heat of the rest of Iraq, Pank tourist village offers three helicopter landing pads and six VIP villas, and a five-star hotel is reportedly in the works. And for Kurdish guerrillas looking for a little rest and relaxation before heading back into eastern Turkey (only 40 miles away), go on -- you've earned it.


Where: Poipet, Cambodia

What: Star Vegas Hotel and Casino

Ten years ago, the dusty Cambodian border town of Poipet was a miserable place awash in prostitution, touts, drugs, and pickpockets. For backpackers making their way from Bangkok to the Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Riep, it was a place to get a passport stamped and a cold soda. But now, not far from where the remnants of the Khmer Rouge once holed up, it's Southeast Asia's Las Vegas, a glitzy development of hotels and casinos that lures Korean high-rollers and Thai punters looking to make a quick baht. Driven by cultural and legal prohibitions against gambling in Thailand, the border town is booming. Star Vegas's motorized rickshaws pick up guests at the border and deposit them at the gaudy complex along Mao Ze Tung Road. There's even a golf course, which the manager assures guests is now completely free of land mines.


Where: Mazatlán, Sinaloa State, Mexico

What: Narco-tours at El Cid

Too old for spring break in Cancun? Looking for something a bit more authentic than Cabo San Lucas? Look no further than the beaches of Mazatlán, a beautiful seaside town about halfway between Mexico City and the U.S. border. Great weather, good food, friendly authorities, and a highway straight north to El Paso -- so fine is the location, in fact, that it's home to the notorious Sinaloa cartel, among Mexico's most ruthless and brazen drug organizations. Locals offer narco-tours of infamous gangster shootouts and take curious onlookers past the glitzy homes of Francisco Arellano Felix and Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, heads of the Tijuana and Sinaloa cartels, respectively. In June, 28 gang members were killed as two cartels clashed in Mazatlán prison, and in December 2009, Mexican marines literally stormed the beaches in a raid on narcotraffickers. For lodging, try the El Cid hotel chain, which has four posh resorts on the shore and was popularized in a recent "narcocorrido" (or drug ballad) by Andrés Márquez, who waxed rhapsodically about armored cars, nosefuls of cocaine, and the hotel's fine suites.




Where: Kashmir, India

What: Gulmarg Ski Resort

If you're fed up waiting for the lifts in Aspen or in the boutiques of Sundance, look no further than Gulmarg ski resort: the only line you'll be near atop the vertiginous peaks is the Line of Control. Granted, you wouldn't want to cross it in search of some off-piste bowls. The contours of the heavily militarized high Himalayan border between India and Pakistan remained unsettled during partition in 1947 and four wars have been fought over the strategically vital terrain. The latest, in 1999, saw Pakistani troops cross the border and infiltrate Indian defensive positions, bringing the subcontinent to the brink of nuclear war. But after weeks of shelling and a 2003 cease-fire agreement, tensions along the border cooled (local ski websites nonetheless recommend checking the political situation before booking). Though once a playground of Mughal kings and, later, a British hill station, the accommodations at Gulmarg are relatively simple, but for those in search of fresh tracks, there are heliskiing guides and tours. Just make sure you've stashed any contraband, as the road in from the Kashmiri capital of Srinigar is dotted with checkpoints. As for the après ski scene, don't get your hopes up: India's 2001 census counted 664 people in the town of Gulmarg, of which 1 percent was female.

Wikipedia; SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images; LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images; Flickr User: KURDISTAN; Flickr User: MsNina; Flickr user: Snuskie; CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images

The List

The World's Worst Counterterrorism Ideas

As the Washington Post explores the unwieldy and unaccountable intelligence sector developed in the United States since the 9/11 attacks, here's a look at some even less efficient ways of combating militants around the world.


Country: Germany

Scheme: Germany estimates that it now contains as many 29 radical Islamist organizations with some 36,000 members. These figures include the so-called "German Taliban," which is said to have recruited fighters for militant groups in Pakistan. To combat this growing radicalization, the country's domestic intelligence agency recently announced that it is setting up a new "exit program," including a telephone hotline for militants who are looking for a way to get out.

The program, called "HATIF" -- or "phone" in Arabic -- aims to help radicals transition out of militant organizations by finding them jobs or relocating them. The hotline staff will be fluent in German, Arabic, and Turkish.

In announcing the hotline, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière warned the public to keep its expectations low -- and his caution is probably justified. HATIF is based on a German program from the early 2000s aimed at deradicalizing neo-Nazi youth. Despite the call center's best efforts, however, only a few dozen low-level skinheads out of the country's estimated 33,000 took advantage.


Country: Yemen

Scheme: Yemen was once considered a leader in terrorist rehabilitation, after the government set up one of the first rehab programs following the 9/11 attacks. Unfortunately the program, known as the Committee for Religious Dialogue, proved to be a complete disaster.

As part of the program, hundreds of radical prisoners in Yemeni prisons engaged in "theological duels" with religious counselors, who urged them to renounce violence -- a process that generally lasted only a few days.

Once the debriefing was over, the men were released into society with no support or follow-up. More troublingly, the counseling tended to focus on convincing the militants that Yemen was an Islamic state and receiving their assurances that they would refrain from carrying out attacks within the country. Discouraging militant activity elsewhere was not a priority. Perhaps not surprisingly, the program had a high recidivism rate: Some distinguished alumni were killed while fighting U.S. forces in Iraq, and many others remain unaccounted for.

Due to a lack of funding and political will, the program was cancelled in 2005. In counterterrorism circles, Yemen is now best known for releasing some of the world's most dangerous militants from jail, including the American-born cleric Anwar al-Alwaki, who reportedly counseled both Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan and the "Christmas bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.


Country: Pakistan

Scheme: For many years, militant front groups in Pakistan were able to take advantage of a loophole in a 1997 anti-terrorism law to hide in plain sight -- so long as they changed their name.

The law treated groups with new names as entirely different groups, even if they were founded by the same members. Lashkar-e-Taiba, for instance, the anti-Indian militant group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was first banned by Pakistan in 2002. But many of its leaders continued operating under the new name Jamaat-ud-Dawa. When that group was sanctioned by the United Nations in 2008, the Pakistani government cracked down and members rebranded themselves as "Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool." Most recently, senior members of the group were holding rallies under the name "Tehreek-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awal."

To close down the loophole, the Pakistani government amended the law in late 2009 to say that a group formed by members of another banned group with the same aims would also be banned.


Countries: Chechnya, Russia

Scheme: Beginning soon after the 2004 Beslan school massacre, the regional government of Chechnya began a policy of punishing militants by targeting their families. That year, eight relatives of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov were detained in a small room for six months and tortured with beatings and electric current. Relatives of other militant leaders simply disappeared.

Lately, authorities have adopted a new tactic -- burning down the houses of militants' families. While only top leaders used to be targeted for this treatment, Human Rights Watch documents 26 cases of punitive arson between June 2008 and March 2009. Moscow-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov hasn't exactly gone out of his way to deny responsibility; he has publicly warned the families of militants that they can expect punishment unless they turn their relatives in.

Kadyrov's tactics are proving popular. Regional authorities in neighboring Dagestan have also taken to threatening villages with destruction unless they turn militants in. But the measures appear to have little effect, as the deadly attacks in the Caucasus and Russia continue.


Countries: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Syria

Scheme: Throughout the Middle East, mass arrests are a popular strategy for suppressing Islamist movements. The problem is, locking up large groups of radicals in a room together is not necessarily the best way to keep their ideology from spreading. Egyptian prisons, where the father of modern militant Islam, Sayyid Qutb, wrote his most influential works during the 1950s, and al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri was radicalized, currently hold somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 political prisoners. These include members of the banned but relatively nonviolent Muslim Brotherhood and partisans of more militant groups like Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

Rounding up the usual suspects is also a popular tactic in Jordan, where human rights groups say prisoner abuse is widespread. Jihadist groups are thought to have established extensive networks in Jordanian prisons, at times even organizing simultaneous riots in multiple prisons. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who went on to lead al Qaeda in Iraq, is said to have been radicalized during a prison stint in the late 1980s that turned him from a petty drug user into a committed Islamist militant. Mass arrests have also been used to crack down on Islamist movements in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Syria and elsewhere -- with, mostly likely, similar degrees of success.

Of course, it's not that prison never works. Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, the former al Qaeda early adopter, began to publish books critical of his old militant friends once he was locked up for life in the Egyptian prison system.