Sunday, 27 March 2011


There are many different kinds of traveller in the world. There are many different kinds of traveller in Latin America. There are many different kinds of traveller in Chile.

There is the kind that plans meticulously and packs in anticipation of every possible need. They always carry a satchel or backpack brimming with first-aid implements and emergency numbers, and are wary of any food sold in the street or any brand that doesn't look like it has an english-language equivalent. The kind that carries all their money on them at any one time, but hidden in various (intimate) parts of their person. The kind that panics upon discovering in transit that their connection is located on the other side of the airport. The kind that calls home. A lot. 

There is the kind of traveller that dives headfirst into the culture of the new country, making considerable noise as they go. That has a dubious past and has assumed a new identity to accompany their new surroundings. They have often chosen a particular niche of society, the maya in (on?) the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, the Mapuches in the South of Chile, and have learned to perfectly imitate the language and behaviour of their host society. They have cut ties with the outside world, and are in the habit of popping up every so often at the sound of an anglo-accent or a word of english, offering advice and directions whilst all the while attempting to draw attention to the fact that they were once, like you, a traveller, but are now a superior species that has completely absorbed and acculturated to their new environment. The kind that is usually seen riding a rusty bike with half a handle. The kind that often sports matted, slightly greying hair no matter their age and an unwashed look, as if to say to the world that they are so atune to their new environment that they are no longer bound by capitalist habits of cleanliness, or apparently the even hygiene of their host culture for that matter.

There is the kind of traveller that likes to like to travel. They like to make conversation and tally up the places they have visited, notching their belt for every museum, ruin, gallery, monument and national reserve that they lay foot on. They invest in package tours, and end up experiencing places in ways unknown even to it's residents. They take crash courses in the language, spend on souvenirs, pose for picture after picture in front of tourist attractions and are rarely seen without an (oh-so-fashionable and oh-so-handy) bum-bag/fanny pack. They do not scour for discounts or barter with local merchants (not successfully at least). They travel in packs and can be seen following an umbrella or flower across town squares or the nearest, picturesque field. 

There is the kind that bought into the idea of travel in relation to their situation at the time. Perhaps they chose their destination for it's similarity to their current surroundings, or the fact that the official language was the same as their mother tongue. Upon arrival they scout out the nearest pubs/bars/restaunrants that serve the food they're accustomed to. They make friends with other anglophones, and manage to live for months, even years in their host country without learning more than a few words of the local language. When they travel home they bring back supplies in bulk to sustain them until they can make their next trip back to (as one such traveller recently referred to it) "Civilisation". They congregate with other, like-minded travellers for conversations based around the general theme of 'this country' and its shortcomings.   And when they leave, they take with them friendships that could have been found elsewhere, and the memory of the views of the towering mountaintops or rolling seas, from over their morning, starbucks cup of coffee.

I have met all these kinds, and more in my life. Especially since being here. I have found myself, at different times and in different circumstances to be one or a mix of every kind of traveller I describe here. But there is a kind of traveller I want to be. The kind that considers their new environment their new home, not a temporary fix or a experience that brings them to count down the days 'til they leave. The kind that appreciates help and advice from fellow foreigners on how to settle in and struggle through the red-tape of moving country, but quickly sets about trying to get to know the residents of their new host country. The kind that understands the appeal of the natural and manmade attractions that the country has to offer, but is more interested in getting to know the country's greatest resource and export- it's people. The kind that can find humour and amusement in the quirks and differences between what they're used to and what they're faced with, without allowing their humour to turn to condescension or frustration. The kind that is keen to see the lay of the land through the eyes of those who live in it. The kind that refuses to speak their mother tongue unless it's absolutely necessary. The kind that is willing to entertain different ideas and attitudes, even when they surpass threatening to the point of being offensive, but is able to appreciate the difference in the root attitude that is being expressed. The kind that leaves having impacted and been impacted by the cultural differences and similarities between the host country and their country of origin. The kind that leaves taking with them a few or many precious relationships and unforgettable experiences. The kind that by the end of their sojourn can truly say that they have 'lived' in every sense of the word, in the country in question.

I'll let you know how it works out in 8 months time...

1 comment:

  1. Esa es mi chica, estoy orgulloso de ti!