Thursday, May 21, 2009

Consider the tourist

The trip is over. We are home now, but many thoughts have still been beating against my skull about the nature of travel. I was working on a big post about these thoughts, but it just ended up sounding like a contrived Travel:Good or Evil creative writing assignment.

I found this quote the other day, buried in a footnote of David Wallace's "Consider the Lobster," and it is no surprise that he is able to put into words what I have been thinking better than I ever could:
As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it is only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim steely-eyed, let's-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. [...] To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all non-economic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.

He hits dead-on what bothered me about the idea of mass tourism, most notably to places like Uyuni or Machu Picchu where there is a dependence on the influx of foreign currency to survive. By the mere act of being in those places, I felt deep-down that I was part destroyer (although just a soldier in a greater army). Every time I bought dinner or payed for a hostel, I felt that I was helping to perpetuate a type of tourist based welfare state, spreading my ¨alien, ignorant, greedy" nature...ending up disappointed in the mess that we had created.

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