Thursday, February 24, 2011

Don't Wait Too Long to Go to that Special Place

     In an earlier blog where I mentioned the indigenous Indians who can still be visited in Panama, I described the Embara of Panama whom I visited on two separate occasions about six years apart. The most dramatic observation I noted during my travel to that area was the enormous change that had come to the relatively remote culture in such a short time. The Embara were half naked in their villages the first time I visited and were now much more fully clothed. The children were almost all attending school by the time of my second visit and were trekking home in school uniforms. The folks we saw at lunchtime were serving us instead of our bringing prepacked lunches on our first trip and sharing what we had with them. The main house of the village was more organized and the formality of the visit had increased significantly. More canoe loads of tourists dropped by also. The most important change to this smalll cultural group, however, was their dependence on outside visitors for income. The government had recently provided help for that purpose but, in exhange, they had prohibited the group from hunting animals in their habitat. The hunter-gatherers were now tourist show persons. I guess a group can't change much more than that. The neighboring group of island dwelling Indians I mentioned in the previous blog had long since been "touristized". They were managing their islands like businesses, charging $1.00 per photo and selling artifacts clearly made for visitors.

    I fully support cultural development and economic improvement customarily. Advancements in agriculture, medical care, self-government, technology, etc. are generally beneficial to the people of the world. But the traveler should be alert to the impact of such changes on the uniqueness and history of the places and people they wish to visit. The most enlightening and interesting aspects of Third World Travel are the differences in how people live in various places. We Third Worlders look to learn from others and how they have adapted to the challenges that life offers them in their environment. Most of the recent changes in those cultures have been the product of assimilation into a larger, more homogeneous culture and these, in turn, tend to weaken the singularity of the group that offers the traveler and the world a special experience. We know how languages are disappearing rapidly from the world's richness and history and the same is true about distinctive subgroups in remote areas.

    So, travelers, the moral of this tale is Do Not Wait for some Future Time.  So many of us put journeys to the Third World (or any place for that matter) in the back of our minds seeking a perfect time. Often that time is an anticipated retirement or some other life event that may make such travel more opportune. While we are waiting, however, the world is changing rapidly around us. New governments rise and induce conformity in many places, i.e., Afghanistan, Libya, Venezuela, Ethiopia, etc., where indigenous tribal life morphs into nationalism.  New technology introduces information  to isolated peoples about the rest of the world and lures the group into competition to match what they see. Much of Africa fits this category. The internet, in addition to its being a very valuable new tool for knowledge is also a powerful culture changer. Who among us does not want to see more representative government in Egypt or Somalia, Zimbabwe or Cambodia. At the same time, adventure seekers who want to learn about the world with its incredible cultural diversity better get moving. It is still a challenging and exciting undertaking but the prospects of such adventures diminish as small cultural groupings with their unique ways of being, talking, honoring traditions and believing reliable narratives, etc. disappear from the earth we live on. Get going, fellow travelers.

Smile and Sadness, Lombok Island, Indonesia

1 comment:

Mark Benson said...

Very well said! One should not wait a long time before heading towards a desired destination for vacation purposes. Going for a cheap flight to Zimbabwe isn't a bad option at all as the situation in the country has been improved and still is being made better as time is passing by. The travel and tourism industry of Zimbabwe is doing a lot for the industry in the country.