Even most popular tourist locations have their ugly sides


Some of the most famous cities in the world have some dark secrets you won’t be able to read about in tourism guidebooks.

Take for example, the underground rat plague in the most famous of the world’s cities, New York.

A recent study by the city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority found half the subway lines in Lower Manhattan were rat-infested or had rat-friendly conditions.

And, horribly, they don’t live down in the depths of the tunnels but in the cinderblock walls on the platforms, separated from travellers only by the tiles.

No one knows exactly how many rats live in the subway system, but the city health department’s pest control director, Rick Simeone, says confidently it’s nowhere near the 20-to-one-human estimates of urban myth, or even eight-to-one.

The rats of New York do remind us that even the most worldly of world cities have their ugly sides.

Indeed all cities have their secrets, which never make it into the official promotional material.

Take Detroit in the US state of Michigan as a near-random example.

“No other great American city puts out so much vibrant style,” according to Motown’s marketing – none of which makes reference to a recent, growing trend in the city of Fourth of July arson fires in abandoned houses, garages and garbage skips.

“When it gets dark, that’s when the fun begins,” Detroit Fire Chief Ron Winchester explained to the Detroit Free Press newspaper. Winchester, a 39-year veteran, says the Fourth of July in Detroit is “like Devil’s Night used to be”.

Devil’s Night? That was the night before Halloween which, in Detroit, also used to be the night for burning things down.

What began as a celebration of youthful pranks had, by the 1970s, turned into a festival of arson. By 1984 more than 800 fires were lit, with property owners trying to make money out of their abandoned buildings apparently joining the mischief-makers to boost the numbers.

The authorities eventually managed to get things under control by, among other things, changing the name to “Angel’s Night”. But by all accounts the firebug element of Detroit is flickering back to life.

Stick a pin in the map and whatever the nearest city, it too will probably have its own version of Devil’s Night, or the rats in the subway walls – something best kept from would-be tourists.

Take Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-biggest city, for instance. It’s an undeniably lovely place, full of Spanish colonial architecture, plazas full of mariachis and close to the country’s tequila industry.

But it too has a secret, which is becoming less so by the day. Like so many other Mexican cities, drug-related violence is growing, so much so the US Consulate in Guadalajara has recently contacted expatriates warning them to take care.

“Multiple gun battles between rival drug cartels and police involving automatic assault rifles, armoured vehicles and grenades have been reported closer and closer to Guadalajara,” the Consulate warned, in a sentence unlikely to be seen in any official tourism material.