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Tourism can be Watched on the TV Screen

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Tourism can be Watched on a Television Screen.

My mother tried to teach me about tourist traps when I was a child. I do not think that I understood her lessons until last weekend.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country. The hills are full of trees, birds, lizards, and small dirt roads perfect for tramping. I try to stay in the noname places while in countries such as Costa Rica, the small towns that no one has ever heard of are really nice. You can just walk all day and talk to campesinos, swim at waterfalls, and while the day away just pondering the weird ways of some lizard. But I warn you, when in Costa Rica, stay far, far away from Lonely Planet’s trail. As Costa Rica is a beautiful country if you can look past the hoards of tourists, the needlessly high prices, and the whole Costa Rican “song and dance.” This is not difficult to do, just head into some noname mountain town and walk, asking only the local farmers and a dirty map as your guide.

But sometimes, every once in a while, you get off a bus and look around to discover that you have been unwittedly caught in a tourist trap:

Walk down to the end of the beach, go hide in the woods, try to eat at the markets, try everything you can to travel cheap, and they still have you. Tourism is an idea which seems to pervert the minds of local people all around the world; an idea which trains entire populations to view foreigners not as people, but money. And from what I have witnessed, this is not very difficult to do.

[adsense]This is my working definition of tourism:

A quick, easy, pay-per-view show that is meant to confirm the superficial ideas that foreign visitors already hold about a certain place or culture of the world. An idea which was originally constructed by the most visible elements of past explorer’s and writer’s stories of their journeys. We have been told that the Naxi have wonderful dance ceremonies, so we can now go to Yunnan and watch them dance in costumes that they do not really wear in the public squares, take pictures, and go home and tell of exotic experiences. Tourism is for fun, plain and simple, expensive fun.

Tourism is not real, it is a show, but it is a show that most tourist seem to want to see. They seem to like it, so I cannot complain. It is an interesting phenomenon that so many people would rather see what they expect to see in a place rather than be surprised by what is really there. I suppose photos of lavish costumes and smiling faces are much better conversation pieces than poor people dressed in grey slacks and baseball hats herding cows. What is real is never interesting. Interesting is a term reserved for the unreal, the unusual, the better than reality world of the imagination. Interesting is what we want to see. So tourism shows it to us, quick, easy, and for a price.

I would much rather be with genuine people wearing jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers than with people who dress up in traditional costumes so that they can charge me for taking their photograph. I do not like being taken for a fool, even though I know that a fool is exactly what I am. I do not blame anyone. The world is like it is because people want it that way. I like the world how it is. I find tourist areas interesting for the very real dynamics that occur everywhere. I like it when I find people discovering just what they came to discover. There discoveries are just a little boring to me. I think that I am the one who is odd.

When I descend upon a tourist town I immediately feel stuck. They are usually very expensive, and it is very difficult to maintain ones hold on being a human being. You are money on legs in these places, you are here today, gone tomorrow, nothing special, just another white person who is going to leave money and take away a sunburn. Tourism is a show: a show which puts the physical manifestation of cultures and places on display, complete with a big, smile; for it is known that you are going to leave more money behind than the tourists who were ripped off the day before you. No matter how nice people in these areas seem, it is a show to separate you from your money, you are not human, you are money. I cannot blame anyone for making an easy living off of tourism by charging prices that seem to grow by algorithms. Amenities are expensive in tourist areas because people are willing to pay bloated prices for what they want and need.

Tourists are money, not humans.

I refuse to believe that any human on this planet could be as stupid as the average tourist seems to be. Every animal in this world seems to have the basic senses of self preservation to ensure their survival. I am not sure if the tourist has the sense of a springtime butterfly. A cheap hotel room in Costa Rica should not cost $80, a plate of rice and beans should not cost $5, a national park that claimed a beach should not charge $6 a ticket. I am bitter, yes, I am bitter, because it becomes severely hard work for me to pass through tourist towns. They are too expensive. I need to search and search for what I need to live. I try to avoid tourist to the best of my ability, but, as I do not research my travels nor really care where I go, I sometimes end up on a beach full of rich white girls in bikinis. I wonder how I could lament this fate hehehe.

On poor advice, myself and four friends ended up in Manuel Antonio- a beach town in Costa Rica filled up with tourist- last weekend. The cheapest room in the entire town- which was dirty, small, and full of bedbugs- costed us $40. We even had to barter the manager really hard, as he wanted $50 for this crappy room. This was perhaps the worst room that I have stayed in this past year, and by far the most expensive. But this was the going rate for a room of this quality in this town. Mira and I woke up the next morning, tried our best to have fun on the beach, were successful, walked around for a minute, looked at each other, and got on the first bus out of Manual Antonio, leaving our poor friends behind. (I just found out that they had to pay $68 for a hotel room that night, a little glad that I took French leave of them, I must say) I am in Costa Rica, Latin America, rooms in crappy hotels should not costs what they do in Europe. But this is what people pay, and the rooms are booked. Good on ya, Costa Rica, charge these gringos to the brim . . . I have a feeling that they will just keep paying whatever you charge.

I must keep to walking in the hills.

A good rule for Costa Rica:

If the town is in the Lonely Planet, avoid it at all costs. Use the guidebook as a tool to indicate where NOT to go.

This is a pretentious post, you do not have to comment to tell me so.

I need to write some romance. I need to walk some romance. But romance comes hard when struggling for an existence in the needlessly expensive parts of this country.

I am getting tired of writing about money.

But lack of money while traveling does forces me to dig deeper . . . much deeper into the places that I am traveling through. I wish poverty on all travelers, because it is poverty, not money, that enables you to travel.

Tourism can be watched on a television screen.

Wade from Vagabond Journey.com in Heredia, Costa Rica, February 5, 2008

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Filed under: Accommodation, Central America, Costa Rica, Travel Problems

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Polis, Republic of CyprusMap