Many years of grizzled travelling will give you a cavalier attitude to roadside cuisine and a thick skin to the casual xenophobia which occasionally greets the weary traveller.
Most tourists have trouble-free experiences, meeting people grateful for their presence and aware that their daily bread (or chapatti) depends on it. But that isn’t true everywhere.
Thomas Friedman coined the McDonald’s Theory of Conflict Resolution to explain why he thought nations that shared a common fast-food culture wouldn’t go to war. But then Friedman enjoys artery-clogging burgers while I enjoy independent travel.
Tourism is the largest employer and most valuable industry in the world. And so I present the Tourism Theory of Conflict Resolution, or â€“ more simply â€“ the Trouble with Paradise.
Times are tough
The Trouble With Paradise (my ebook) is dedicated to the idea that travel is not about sitting on idyllic beaches sipping banana daiquiris. That funny smudge on the horizon might be a tsunami.
Seriously, though, who are you going to give money to come a terrible disaster? Iran after an earthquake in Bam that levelled a city and buried half-a-million people? Or Thailand and Indonesia where you had such a fantastic experience two years ago while there on vacation?
The tsunami which so devastated parts of South East Asia happened around the same time as the earthquake in Iran. Aid agencies are still somewhat embarrassed at how much money they got to deal with the tsunami. Billions of dollars was needlessly wasted.
No-one talks about Bam.
And now we have Pakistan awash in water and begging the west for money to help clean up the mess. I’m willing to bet that, apart from the UN, the response will be minimal. Perhaps, if the television images get really bad, and nothing much else comes along to distract you, some people will give. But nowhere near the epic proportions of the Indonesian tsunami.
There is a trade-off in the community of nations. If you choose to go it alone – if you choose to shun the world â€“ then you are truly alone.
Times are hard
In the past few weeks we have seen rioting in Pakistan as people protested the knighting of Sir Salman Rushdie who once wrote a book that esoterically referred to a disputed section of the Koran. British and, to keep things even, American flags were liberally burned.
Pakistan is a country infamous for the murder of Daniel Pearl, a US journalist. For their detonation of a nuclear weapon in contravention of international agreements. A country that keeps a troubled and messy relationship with international terrorists such as al Qaeda.
This isn’t a country that western tourists are rushing off to include on their itineraries along with Vienna, Milan and Paris.
Hugo Chavez, in Venezuela, is in the process of cutting his country off from the rest of the world. His regular pronouncements on the inequity of the west project from every channel and newspaper. As long as the oil flows he can afford what he likes. But it won’t always flow.
All the more reason to play nice
And this is the trouble with paradise: it isn’t sufficient that your land be beautiful; it isn’t sufficient that you be in need; you must, in every way, be conscious of the humanity of others.
Otherwise they are frightened of you and cannot see your humanity in your time of need.
As in relationships between people so in the politics within the community of nations we call Earth.
x-posted to whythawk.com
Having travelled across Mexico (in my twenties) by bus – epic 23 hour journey with stops at little roadside ‘shanties’ – I drank only my bottled drinks and refused all food after the first cafe on that 23 hour journey down to Belize. Why? Because when I went out the back to visit the loo I found the meal being prepared on a dirty cracked surface with a dog standing on it’s hind legs with mouth grabbing at the meat. Hygiene standards were obviously lacking.
Little bus journeys between Mexican towns usually involved stops where locals and their chickens came aboard (great fun), a few police checks and money being handed over. I asked why. “Bribes.” said my fellow Brit traveller (then husband).
Mexico in general was gorgeous, the people warm and friendly and I enjoyed the food the locals prepared in the busier built up places. Mexico City was still showing evidence of the earthquake it had endured and it was advised in the literature at the hotel that if female there was a dress code and I should cover up, not wear shorts etc. No idea if that would still be the case.
Belize where I stayed for three weeks was an incredible place which I would jump at re-visiting. The jungle, the water, the islands, the parrots – just about everything.
Belize City one had to be careful in and I got used to being called ‘whitey’ a few times by locals initially as I had not yet acquired my freckly tan and looked as though I had just stepped off the airplane.
My daughter’s friend is of Indian heritage and used to walk to 6th Form College and is now about to embark on a Medical Course at University. She had to endure the odd comments en-route from scummy types due to her skin colour but after the bombings in London the most painful one was “Are you carrying a bomb in your bag?”
She couldn’t do or say anything and all her friends were angry on her behalf.
We have the usual liberal/socialists such as Shirly Williams apologising for Knighting Sir Salman Rushdie…
Let’s get a new high school program started that sends kids abroad for 6 months to a year. It’s hard to hide your head in the sand and pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t matter when you’ve actually spent time out of your suburb and in the rest of the world.
Why would you want to go to someplace where conditions are unlike
anything you can imagine – If you don’t have to? Now, being candid,
I would not trade my tour of duty in Thailand for anything in the world. It was awesome. The two tours in South Korea were also
wonderful experiences. I LOVE Japan.
But Pakistan? Sell me on that. Unless you are after drugs or joining
al-Quada, why in the world would you go to there? Or, for that point,
travel across Mexico?
Keep your life and your health and enjoy what this country has to
offer. Have you ever been aboard the “Delta Queen”? How about Mammouth Cave? The Arch? The National Museum of the United
States Air Force? Wrigley Field? “Jungle Jim’s” in Cincinnati? Or, the
Falls of the Ohio? Churchill Downs? No?
These are just those close to Indianapolis! My point is – there is just
too much do do here. I recommend staying here where you are safe
and subscribing to National Geographic. Now, if you are “really” into
that danger and adventure” shit – GW is hiring. Hell, you might even
make it through three closely spaced year long – or longer, tours
in Iraq. You might even get a break and get to see how beautiful
Afghanistan is. However, I hear that those Taliban guys aren’t very
Being a military brat and veteran, I can say that traveling and living in other countries was probably one of the best things that has happened to me. I think that every able citizen of this country should spend some time outside it- and I don’t mean Canada or Mexico, either. When you’re in a country where even the alphabet and the body language is different (Greece, anyone?) it can change the way you deal with things for the rest of your life.
I wouldn’t travel in any third world country without a Life Straw or Katadyn water filter- but I’ve experienced what it is like to be the exotic stranger- and sometimes it isn’t comfortable. I learned that on a 12-hour layover in the base in Izmir, Turkey, where one of the guys stationed there offered to take me and a couple of other stranded passengers to the local souk. I got at least 5 marriage proposals. I was glad I was with a group.
My budget is tight, so my travel is limited to my state- but that’s not a bad thing- it is lovely and full of woods and lakes and rivers and mountains to explore and enjoy. Plus, I get to visit different cities as part of my job, which is also a lot of fun. I hope to someday take a road trip around the US, maybe with a couple of Brits, so they can get their kicks on Route 66 (or what’s left of it…)
Ah, but you need to look at this the other way around. How about encouraging tourism into the US? And, yes, sure, the US is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. But how about inviting your enemies to visit? Cultural tours for Iranians? Home-stay for North Koreans?
Of course, this may encourage a minor illegal immigrant problem but, hey, a few guest-workers isn’t a huge expense for the cause of furthering global understanding 😉
Nice work, Gavin. Book me on your next guided trip to … you choose!
Denny, how’s your ocean kayaking form? I am on record as saying my next trip is to kayak along the coast of Vietnam. As soon as my financial “rehabilitation” is on track I’m offski. You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to that trip.