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Vignettes of a Lazy Traveller

Reality Check 101

CHILE | Wednesday, 22 April 2009 | Views [630]

She swings dramatically between two camps: 1) wanting to go home now and 2) to keep travelling, finding new homes and new friends forever. These two extremes oscillate with the time of day, amount of food in her belly, liquid in her head, how many hours she has been on a bus and how many backpackers she can hear in the immediate vicinity. In the last week, there has been a dramatic shift towards the unpleasant side of travelling, to be sure.

Apart from the usual lonely and tired space that life can exist in, no matter what you do, there is another layer of exhaustion that exists in the life of a traveller, methinks, that differs from that of the stationary life.

Travelling is for the rich. Even if you think you are poor and have a bare 200 soles to rub together, you are still rich, cos you know that you can do it. You have the education that promotes it, and you have had a job at some point that has earnt excess money that you now choose to spend on hedonism. (Even if that hedonism involves long bus rides with stinky seat neighbours)

When you travel in a developing country, it is no longer possible to ignore the effects of capitalism, wealth, poverty, colonisation and the breakdown close family units. These things happen all the time in your own country, but you are an expert at avoiding it. Here, you don´t know how to avoid it: with people passed out on the pavement, hats shoved into your face to beg for money and taxi drivers literally running to get to you first.

And you can´t ignore the effect that you, as an outsider with a backpack, a good education, no mouths to feed and money to burn, have on these people. There can be at worst a hatred and at best an apathy in their dependancy on the tourist. And you would have to be devoid of all of your senses to be unaware of it.

Now this doesn´t happen everywhere...by far the majority of the people she has met are open and honest and giving and content with their lot in life. But these are people with whom the travellers they have met have offered an open, human exchange: with food, language, stories, smiles or friendship. These people are often on the edges of the tourist zones, in places where people take time to interact, have conversations, buy real food or items needed for living, not only wierd little souveniers that forever concrete a culture into a static box.

For one week I have been on a bus at least once every 24 hours. Accidentally on the backpacker trail. And I have been astounded by the difference 50,000 pleasant, young people with good intentions, money to burn, speedy itchy feet but no clue, can make to the feeling of a place. It is completely unreal. It can be dangerous. It makes me feel funny. It makes me want to go home.

Home where I know how to ignore the seedier side of affluence. 

But travel is slow here. There´s no scotty to beam me up. 

So I leave my backpack behind at kind old lady Thelma´s and walk to the other side of town. Where I am stared at, and every now and then whistled at...

But every time I slip into a corner shop and buy a coke, an empanada, a safey pin or a banana I am greeted with real smiles and laughter at my terrible spanish and miming that is far more valuable to me than a "Genuine Andean" wall hanging. And I give a little back with my antics and my little moneys and stories of my family.

And I don´t feel so bad.

Yeah, I could do this forever.  

Tags: backpacker, exchange, oscillate, rich, tourist

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