Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vol #2, Col #5: Destination Unknown

‘Tis the season NOT to be jolly (well, unless of course you feel so inclined), but rather to hit the road, set up shop in a summertime soiree resort, and/or leave on a jet plane to some exotic destination. The solstice is fast approaching, and so it only seemed natural to write about the typical itinerary that year after year seems to accompany said weather. If you catch my drift, I’m referring to the long pinned for summer vacation.

After a hard go at school and/or full-time work, once the birds start their chirping, and the flowers begin to bloom, we all get that feeling - that feverish desire to construct one’s days entirely around basking in the sunlight. Spring and summer are after all generative times (ie: the seasons of rebirth), so this desire to explore new terrain – a “summer fling” if you will (vacation and otherwise) – is only natural. Wherein lies the problem, however, is how “contemporary tourism” is done.

While I hate to stereotype, there’s something to be said about how our friends from down South, in particular, do the whole “let’s visit a foreign country thing.” Last June while I was on vaca in Athens checking out the one and only Acropolis (undoubtedly one of the most amazing sites one can ever hope to experience in the flesh in terms of witnessing monumental history), is unequivocally where I encountered the worst of the “contemporary tourist” offenses I can imagine.

As I was coming down the peak headed back toward ground level, I heard two Americans behind me quibbling back and forth, stating how they didn’t get the “big deal” associated with this place. It was, according to one of them, and I quote, “just a bunch of rocks.” So here I am, a diehard fanatic of all things Ancient Greek and Roman, experiencing absolute euphoria because I just got the opportunity to view a part of history in person that I only fantasized about every time I read my textbooks, having to overhear blatant ignorance and a lack of appreciation for the history and longstanding impact with which this place was/continues to be associated. Suffice it to say, it was harder than you can imagine for me to keep my mouth shut.

But even in more mundane circumstances, it seems that tourism has gone all wrong. We stay at five star resorts just to sun our buns and get drunk in the hotels’ pools with their built-in bars. We order burgers and fries, instead of daring to give a “taste-test” to the local ethnic cuisine. We go on organized adventure tours with fellow wayfarers, rather than interact with the locals. We relegate ourselves to the upscale “touristy” parts of town, instead of getting in with the “nitty gritty”.

Despite the fact that their impulse to travel was almost exclusively fuelled by imperialistic aspirations (and we all know what went along with those), the globe-trotters of the past KNEW how to truly “discover” somewhere. In fact, gents like Alexander the Great (well, maybe not so great), took to immersing himself into the “strange and new” cultures of the places he travelled to such an extent that he began to adopt their dress, along with some of their customs (something that didn’t fare well with his military, but that’s a whole nother story in itself).

The point my dears is that if you are lucky enough, in the first place, to be able to jet-set around this fine planet of ours, you should embrace every moment for its full potential. It’s rather ethnocentric to desire to lead the same kind of life one does back home in Canada, while stationed in a villa in the midst of the Costa Rican rainforest.

For those of you looking for a form of tourism that’s even more rewarding personally and as a bonus assists in alleviating social issues, consider going on a “volunteer vacation.” From planting trees in areas plagued with environmental degradation, to teaching English as a second language, to assisting with wildlife conservation, not only can you get a taste for the “true” culture of a people and a land (not just the superficial nicely packaged tourist version), but further you can do the world some good. Hats off to ya sailors! Land ho!