tourist and traveller

Tourist and Traveler

Central Park, Antigua Guatemala.

Tourist trots through the central square two steps behind his English speaking guide with a still camera roped around his neck as he watches the “Magical Mayan World of Guatemala” appear on the LCD screen of his new Sony digital cam corder. He scans the church *up slowly, down slowly*, the central fountain *up slowly, down slowly*, the small Mayan children playing in one of the fountains *zoom in, zoom out* and then scans over to his wife and says, “Smile honey!”. She waves. Tourist only glances away from the LCD screen to steal a glance at his watch to see how far he is away from his buffet dinner included in his all inclusive “Experience Guatemala” package. A child selling small nick-knacks approaches Tourist. “Senor, compra algo. Buen priceo.” Tourist´s wife pulls a scarf from the girl´s basket and with pronounced syllables in a voice that can be heard across the park, “H-O-W M-U-C-H?”….*she repeats*….”HOW MUCH FOR THIS?” Faster than the girl can say “Diez Quetzales” there is a mob of park vendors holding up weavings and bags and playing flutes and drums to the chorus of “Te gusta? Buen precio para ti. Cuanto quiere pagar?” This is the last we see of Tourist. Tourist is buried in the vendor-mob, but even if he hadn´t been, he wouldn´t have noticed Traveler sitting in the grass 10 ft away. Traveler is laughing.

Now traveler can´t laugh too hard, because almost every Traveler was once a Tourist. It´s almost unavoidable — for humans like to step into other worlds slowly, putting their big toe into the pool-of-unknowns, wiggling it around a bit *wiggle, wiggle* to see if it´s to their liking before jumping in. For Americans (I´m sorry I can´t speak from another perspective — we´re only given one), the kiddie pool usually goes by the name of Cancun, Paris, Hawaii or Bahamas. As for the actual evolution from Tourist to Traveler, it seems to usually start with a break from the pre-packaged tours. At this critical point, the terminally-Touristic usually scouts the nearest pool for a frosty drink in a coconut while after back-street-adventures of his own, a light-bulb forms over the head of the traveler-to-be with the realization that one can actually travel on one´s own without the hand-holding of a travel agent…”Look Mom! No hands!”. The Lonely Planet guide is then picked up and the rules of the game are learned. What rules? The rules of how to pack, how to eat, how to sleep, how to pay, how to get around, how to protect…. how to Travel withOUT a suitcase and a help desk. Guidelines can be found in the guide books. But it´s the enlightening experiences of trial-and-error that burn the lessons into our brains and keep the fire burning for hours at travel-story-telling-time. You only get on the wrong plane once (I would know). Eventually the traveler *usually accidently* finds herself on the backroads of Lonely Planet. *she searches the index* “Hey! This isn´t in the guidebook….but look at that!” Before she knows it, the guide book has lost it´s Bible-title and is proving more useful as an e-mail address book. Soon she is sitting in the grass at the park, laughing at Tourist watching the world “zoom” by on an LCD screen. Now she knows it, she IS Traveler, and there is no going back. But don´t get cocky Traveler! Because although it´s near impossible to REgress, there are always higher levels of “Traveldom” of which to PROgress.

So there you have it Darwin…my theory on the evolution of the traveler.

So now I´d like to share some of my observations from the back-packing path from Tourist to Traveler. If you may, a kind of top 25 (with a Latin American flavor, based on my primarily Latin American travels) entitled:

You Know You´re a Traveler When…

1. At least one item in your pack has been stitched, or otherwise fixed, with dental-floss.

2. You know, from experience, that a washboard is more than a musical instrument.

3. You can´t remember the last time you actually threw toilet paper into the toilet bowl, and give thanks to the all-mighty-bathroom-gods any time you find a toilet seat, warm water or water pressure.

4. You play the Russian-Roulette game of street food regularly. And win.

5. You have a 10-dollar camera and no music playing device or instrument. They were all stolen ages ago.

6. You know the difference between Amoebic Dysentery and Giardiasis and are able to communicate with the pharmacist to get any prescription-only drugs that you need — without a prescription.

7. You have a variety of services at hand to offer in exchange for room & board or food and your experiences (within local community) doing such have been some of your richest.

8. You stop fawning over every passport stamp you get and start filling in the “Occupation” blanks on the the country admission visas with “Magician”, “Philosopher” or “Nomad”.

9. You know the difference between lice, bedbug, mite, spider, ant, bee, mosquito, love, and sand fly bites. You´ve had them all.

10. You no longer blink an eye at 16-year old boys carrying large automatic rifles. They are army personnel, police or bandits — or any combination of the three.

11. You no longer convert every price to US dollars and say “Golly! What a deal! I´ll take three!”. Instead you realize that it´s half your weekly wage and bargain the price with the merchant down to 1/3 the original quote.

12. You wouldn´t be caught dead with a fanny-pack or in shorts above the knee and don´t think twice about wearing the same pair of pants all week without washing.

13. For the rain season, you´ve given the rubber-boot to hoods, umbrellas and expensive-lined-Gortex-gear and instead opt for a tank top and quick-drying pants with drain holes in the pockets.

14. You´ve learned that oranges can be green, limes are lemons, you can find 20 different types of bananas at the market and that chili pepper DOES taste great on fruit — especially unripe mango.

15. You know how to tie a hammock to a palm tree, a boat to a dock and your rucksack or surfboard to the rack of a car or bus.

16. You start cutting your hair with your Leather Man tool or give up on it all together and just start twisting it into dreads.

17. You know how to “slap” your fingers, cluck your tongue like the locals, whistle loud enough to get the driver´s attention from the back of the bus and “hisssss” to get your mate´s attention.

18. You´ve developed your more camel-like qualities. You are able to go without water and/or hold your bladder for 12 hours or more at a time (along with the locals) without having to beg the bus driver to pull over.

19. You´re thinking of making and wearing a name tag that answers the following questions: “Where are you from?” “How old are you?” “How long are you traveling?”, “What did you do at home?” and “Do you have an rolling papers?”.

20. You have sworn off sprays that include deet and drugs that end in “quine” because of their dangerous chemical composition, but have ventured to eat things you found on cow dung and smoke things that end in “juana” because of their natural composition.

21. You have mastered at least one of the following: juggling, jewelery making, fire eating, coconut carving, drumming, native dancing, card-playing, or some sort of street performing.

22. You´re completely Bob-Marleyed-Out.

23. IF you´re American, when people ask you where you are from, you hang your head red-and-shame-faced to locals or prep yourself for a battle with the “Ignorant and Arrogant” stereotype (which is mostly true) to international travelers.

24. The two words you fear most are “Inadequate Funds” and you actually KNOW your four-digit pin number to get a cash advance on your credit card (from the LAST time you had a 911 money emergency).

25. You know that your best adventures will always be found off your original path (but you hope that there isn´t an armed robber in the bushes alongside it).

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