Saturday, June 09, 2007

June 8, 2007 - Pacific Crossing, Day 6

During our trek up the volcano on Isabella, James (one of the two volunteer English teachers) made the comment that he was a traveler, not a tourist. I hadn't previously considered the distinction. This morning I came across a scene in a Paul Theroux book that delineates the difference, with humor. Theroux is on a flight across the Pacific, when the man sitting next to him says, "I've been all over the Pacific . . . Bora-Bora. Moora-Moora. Tora-Tora. Fuji."
"Fiji," his wife said.
"And Haiti," he told Theroux.
"Tahiti," his wife said, correcting him again. . . . "We're members of the Century Club. You can only join if you've been to a hundred countries."
"What does 'been to' mean?" Theroux asks. "Pass through the airport? Spend a night? Get diarrhea there?"
"Guess he's not a member!" the man says, joyously.
'Tourists don't know where they've been,' Theroux thinks. 'Travelers don't know where they're going.'

I don't know what category we fall in. Some islands we pass through so quickly that we don't get a real sense of the place. We hardly lingered longer in some ports than those vermin of the high seas - cruiseship passengers. Others, like Bermuda, we spent long enough to start to understand the people and their place. As one Bermudian told me, "After three weeks here, you are a local." But length of time spent somewhere can't be the determining factor. It would certainly be easy enough to spend two weeks at an all inclusive hotel and never talk to any locals other than those waiting on you - this is far too many Americans' experience of the Caribbean. Not much of an improvement was our experience of St. Maarten - during the month we were there last winter we spent most of our time (in bars, markets and marine stores) surrounded by other cruisers. I hope that we experience the Pacific islands as travelers, rather than tourists.

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