Two types of travellers I can’t stand! (Part 1)

12 Aug

After my admittedly mushy first post about Ecuador, where I made it seem that I loved everyone I met and they all loved me back and it was all sprinkles and rainbows, I’m going to clarify that I can, and do, get annoyed with people. Sometimes I tell them off when I think their ideas are not properly formed. I’m not necessarily mean about it, but I am put off that they are talking in platitudes in an effort to seem “smart” or “cool” without considering what is coming out of their pie holes. It’s the type of thing our very grumpy gourmande (love you, Clementine!) would do to undergrads who write stupid first year papers. Neither of us have much patience for dumb-dumbs who think they’ve figured it all out.

Here is the first of two types of travellers that I met in Ecuador (but I am sure are everywhere!), and who I really can’t stand:

1. The one who is looking for “an authentic experience” and wants to “do what the locals do”.

I met Don* on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos. I was waiting for my new travel buddies to show up for happy hour on the beach and he was sitting with his girlfriend enjoying the sunset. I love engaging with other travellers and knowing what brought them to the same place that I am, so I asked what brought them to Isla Isabela. His answer? “I didn’t lI ike Puerto Ayora and I wanted a more authentic Galapagos experience, so we came here. I didn’t come all this way to hang out in an overpriced and touristy port town, ya know?”

After figuring out he wasn’t a prominent Galapagos historian or that he used to live there, I really bristled at the word “authentic”. Who was he to decide what an “authentic Galapagos experience” was, anyways?! I decided to remain polite – as you never know how if a stranger is stupid or just drunk, so I asked him what he really meant by “authentic”: did he mean it didn’t meet his expectations? did it not look like the pictures he saw? did he actually mean “rustic”?

Oh, poor dear Don. I don’t quite think he knew what he meant in the first place! He started moving his hands around a lot and playing with his prayer beads and saying that authentic was “where the real people lived”. This also confused me. Because, were people who lived in Puerto Ayora (the main port in the Galapagos) not real? Were they hallucinations only seen by tourists? If they weren’t real, what were they?

According to Don, they were “puppets of commercialization” and that no one who worked in a shop selling t-shirts would be doing that if tourists weren’t around to buy them. On that, I could agree. But he didn’t agree with me that they were benefiting by having so many tourists, he instead thought they were “suppressed” by the tourists. I am not sure who he was talking too, but I am sure that economic vitality and growth didn’t make a port town “inauthentic” or its people so “suppressed”. I said he might find it tacky to have so many tourist shops, but that didn’t make the city inauthentic. At this point, I was wondering if he even read the guidebook. If he had he would know that Puerto Ayora was a really bustling city (of close to 30,000 people!). If he wanted to get lost in the wilderness by himself, this really wasn’t the place to do it. My bitchiest comment was the following: “If you’re reading about it in Lonely Planet, it’s already been done and vetted by thousands of people”. I really don’t have time for dumb-dumbs, especially when they are ruining great a sunset.

Don was also insistent that he wanted to go “where the locals go”. I didn’t get into this with him, because I wasn’t quite sure that he could think so far as considering that that action might actually be invasive. As tourists, we don’t instantly get access to a local culture by merely buying a plane ticket and showing up. You are permitted to see what they present to you, which are the tourist destinations. Sometimes the tourist experiences are constructed to show us what the “local” people want us to see, and at the same time, not see.

I found his opinion misinformed and weirdly idealistic about the way the world works. That he didn’t enjoy that a city was set up for tourists was odd. Did he not consider how hard it would be to navigate visiting the Galapagos if it wasn’t set up for tourists? (Note: Don didn’t speak a lick of Spanish. Surprised? Me neither).

Finally, I dropped the subject once I got him to agree that what he really meant was “rustic” instead of “authentic”. (Mind you, he was kind of pissed that I was correcting his travel nomenclature in front of his girlfriend, who remained silent for the discussion. Sweet girl had probably been through something similar before.)

I spoke to my brilliant friend K about this because I wasn’t sure if I was the only one who would be so taken aback by Ron’s worldview. She put it well : it’s insulting to another population, not to mention condescending, to be upset that they are entering the modern world. She wrote out how Don (and his ilk) must consider travel to places that don’t meet their “authentic” expectations: “You’re entering the modern world and improving infrastructure? Shame on you! I need you to remain prehistoric for my own enjoyment!”

All experiences are “authentic” even if you deem them to be cheesy or silly. Even Disney World is authentically Disney World: it came to be with the intention to be a theme park, and it remains so.

For Don’s sake, I really hope he finds the authentic that he is searching for. But I also hope he doesn’t need advanced medical care when he’s there. Because then, as K put it, the “authentic” suddenly becomes “barbaric”. And that, would really be too much for him to process with just his prayer beads to calm him down. 

*obvi not his real name, but close enough that I will never forget what his real name was!

The view that Don was so intent on ruining!

The view that Don was so intent on ruining!

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4 Responses to “Two types of travellers I can’t stand! (Part 1)”

  1. David January 21, 2014 at 1:48 am #

    Interesting. I think Don perhaps meant that he preferred to find smaller towns which are not as made for tourists. This way he could find out about ‘normal’ and most likely, more interesting local life without having to see the same kind of things which exist in all other tourist destinations. I have met many travellers with the same kind of idea. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. If he travels a lot then it is understandable that he would get bored with having the same experience over and over, no?

    Also, it is a little annoying when you are aware that the food is overpriced just because they know tourists have no choice and don’t know the area to make a more informed decision on where they eat. Usually, if you dig a little deeper into a place rather than staying on the tourist trail you meet friendlier locals who are happy to tell you great places to see and things to do locally without any interest in your wallet.

    Obviously I’ve never met Don, but I would guess that this is what he would have meant by authentic and real. Perhaps he used the wrong words and was simply unaware of how specifically argumentative you were towards correct vocabulary. He could have been a nice guy.

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