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Tourists With Backpacks are Conquistadors

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FINCA TATIN, Guatemala- “Your guide is here, guys,” my wife spoke to a group of tourists at the Finca Tatin.

We had previously arranged a guide to take them on a hike through the jungle, all the way to Livingston. This is a walk that requires a guide who knows the paths — it is easy to get lost in this jungle. The guide that we hire is the man who made the trail himself, some years ago the hotel gave him the job of cutting a path from the back of the finca through the jungle to the nearest city, Livingston. The guide now makes a living bringing guests from the hotel into the wilderness, where he teaches them a little about the plants and animals that live there.

The guide is an older Mayan man, a jungle man in every sense. He knows this forest, the travelers he brings into his jungle home come back satisfied.

But all too often the tourists offer him little respect. He shows up on time — always — and he usually waits for an hour for the tourists to slowly finish their breakfast and morning chats.

The guide tells me that he is use to this treatment, that it is no problem, that he always has to wait for his clients, but this still bothers me, it eats at me for I know the cultural context that these tourists come from:

They would never make a cab driver in NYC wait for them for an hour while they slowly drain their morning coffee, they would never make their plumber wait on their door step so they could finish their conversation. This would be considered rude. They treat our guide differently because he will smile and be polite to them no matter how long they make him wait. He is Maya, he was born with a passive disposition. They walk on him just because they can.

Because they are on vacation and won the right to do just as they please with their time without regard to anyone whoo hoo.

These people are modern conquistadors. They pay for the tour and act like they own the guide, they don’t even consider that maybe he has other things to do, that maybe he wants to get back home to his family, that maybe they are not the center of his universe.

This group of tourists particularly annoyed me. We set up their tour the day before, had the time set so they could leave the hotel early to avoid the mid day heat of the jungle. They were set to leave at 8:30 AM. At 8 AM they were hanging out on the docks, playing around. Five minutes before the guide was to meet them they ordered breakfast.

I reminded them of the time their tour was set up for. They said, yes, yes, yes, we know. They ordered breakfast anyway.

The guide arrived and took up his usually position on a couch in the corner of the Casa Grande. He sits here a lot waiting. My wife goes and tells the tourists that their guide has arrived, that it is time for their tour to begin. They say yes, yes, yes, we know.

There breakfast is served, I expect them to eat quickly and get going. They do no such thing. They sit back, relax, chat with the other tourists. They eat very slowly, sipping their coffee, completely disregarding the fact that someone is waiting for them.

I watch them getting more and more angry as I do each time this happens. I buy the guide a soda, as I do each time this happens. This is my fault, I tell myself, I should have made sure they were ready.

But I know deep down that this is not my fault, that these tourists are just rude when outside of their country. They are rich here in Guatemala, and likewise they seeming think that everybody will bow down before their money. They hired the guide, they give him money, he can wait.

He is nothing other than a poor, passive brown man who will never demand respect, so why show him any?

I watch as one of the tourists picks at her pancake. The guide has been waiting for over a half hour. I walk up to the group:

“Come on, guys, your guide has been waiting for a half hour. The quicker the better.”

They look at me as if I had just turded in their peanut butter.

How dare this man rush I through my breakfast!?!

Needless to say, they don’t hurry, they continue chatting. Their breakfast is completed at this point, but they remain sitting at the table, pomp and posh and tending their conversation. These tourists are young backpacking liberals on their college break, they talk about how bad the US government has been to the local people in Guatemala, they talk about how amazing the local culture is.

All while they exhibit the same respect patterns of a conqueror. These tourists have no respect for the local people, they walk all over them and they don’t even know it. They are brutes who act as if their money is worth more than other people’s self respect.

But, honestly, the guide really does not seem to care. He is use to being treated like this. He is a modest, poor man who knows his place and station. He defers to the rich, white tourists who give him money. Waiting does not seem to bother him. But I apologize for my people anyway. My wife does too.

A half hour more goes by, the tourists by now have become obnoxious. Their tour was suppose to have started over an hour ago, the guide has been waiting for an hour and fifteen minutes. My wife goes over and finally yells at them.

They go and spend another quarter of an hour preparing for their hike.

Do you think we need boots? Should we take mosquito spray? What are we going to do for food? How long is this hike? Oh, what? The guide is here? We are ready to go? Wait a minute.

These girls would never, ever do this to someone in their own country. Never. An American would not accept being treated like this.

—————

On the hike one of the girls somehow stepped off the trail, fell in a hole, and hurt herself pretty bad. The guide seemed to have no clue how someone could exhibit such stupidity.

“I thought at first she tripped and fell, but no, she just walked off the trail and stepped right in a hole.”

The guide laughed as he spoke.

He deserved the laugh.

———————–

There seems to be a mentality held by the moneyed classes of the planet that they can treat people any way they want, just so they pay them. There is a class system that is ingrained in most countries: poor brown people defer to white rich people. This is not the way that people from the USA are raised to see the world, but they all too easily find themselves disrespecting people when traveling because the people allow themselves to be disrespected, they allow tourists to walk all over them, and the tourists stomp without regard.

To call out a stomping tourists is to turd in their peanut butter, as they are truly acting in accordance with the social system they find themselves in. It is I who am off base. It is I who tries to intentionally rearrange the cultural patterns.

Perhaps I am wrong for trying to hurry up the tourists?

It is my impression that these tourists who made the guide wait for well over an hour so they could sit around talking did not realize that they were being rude. The context of the situation allowed for them to be rude, and they acted that way without regard. I tried to let them know that they were not treating someone very well, but they did not get it. For the tourists, the road through Guatemala has been paved with passive brown people deferring to their money.

They are modern conquistadors who fund an industry that has turned so many instinctively passive people into servants. Servants tend to know their station in life, and they allow for those they serve to walk all over them. The tourists stomp on the Maya in their pursuit of hedonism, leisure, and full service. They have the money and they pay to do as they please with the days of their vacation. Respect is a dynamic that just gets in the way. These are the power structures that were set up long ago, the power structures of tourism: you pay for someone to fend for your organism so you can turn off and take a break. You collect false smiles from those who take your cash, treating them as you please is a part of the package.

In the tourism industry there is no such thing as respect, there is only money. Tourists have no real respect for the locals, the locals in turn seem to have very little real respect for tourists. How can you respect anyone when you are here today and gone tomorrow? How can you be respected when you are little other than a temporary apparition who spouts money. The idea that the tourist should respect their Maya guide is an impertinence, they pay him money.

This is tourism.

A pretty ugly mug if you ask me.

Guatemala Travelogue Entries | Guatemala Travel Guide | Guatemala Photos

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Filed under: Central America, Culture and Society, Guatemala, Intercultural Conflict

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 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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