Thursday, July 9, 2009

FTTN: La ley de montaña

In Omar’s hostel, prompted by a few things that happened in the Torres Del Paine trek, I wrote the following:

All the good will between the guests here at Omar’s, the way people go above and beyond to answer any question and recommendation request (and a lot of times asking is completely unnecessary) about your next destinations, the sharing of food and other stuff while trekking, and most of all the tent-burning incident [super long parenthesis:
as I said earlier, I was trekking with two Israeli guys. Let’s give them names: Guy and Oren. On the fourth day we met an Israeli couple (just married) who had burnt down their tent the previous night (we had heard a scream from our tents, but, since we’d already “gone to bed”, and it was fucking cold out, convinced ourselves that nothing was wrong, and if something was wrong, there were rangers in the camp site, and they’ll take care of it. So we stayed in-tent. I’m pretty sure that if we’d heard anything else we’d go check it out. Mind you, there were at least 30 people in this camp site). Since Guy and Oren had a 3-man tent, and I had a 2-man tent, for the next 3-4 nights, I slept in Guy and Oren’s tent, the couple slept in my tent, and everybody was happy. On our last night, we ended up having a very friendly argument about whether or not they would give us enough food so that we could stay another night, since we were almost out. But they needed enough to stay for three more nights (they were religious Jews and the Sabbath was coming, so it was a pretty complicated situation), and we refused, they argued, we argued back, and blah blah blah… we ended up not taking the food, winning the argument on religious grounds: if they’ll give us food, we’ll stay beyond Friday, walk and cook on the Sabbath, and they would have been helping Jewish people to break the Sabbath, which is not allowed. HA! It was a glorious win. Anyway, the point of the anecdote is: good will], made me wonder where all the good will, generosity and general kindness come from. And where do they go, in our day to day lives?
I’ve often thought before about what makes people open up and be generous to one another. I think that, in most cases, and in this one specifically, it’s a simple case of communal sentiment. After all, it’s much easier for most people to give 2$ to the nice, well spoken, clean guy who’s ATM card got stolen and now doesn’t have enough money for bus fare than to the legless, dirty beggar with the Styrofoam cup and the cardboard sign, even though the second one almost surely needs the money more. You just see yourself reflected in the former, can see the same thing happen to you. You can’t (and/or don’t want to) see yourself in the latter.
The backpacker community might be diverse, expansive and heterogeneous, but it’s still a community. Travelers can easily see themselves in other travelers, see the same day to day problems and needs they’ve had and will have. They meet in hostels, bus stations and hiking paths, and certain repeated patterns emerge. Generally speaking, this is probably the number one cause of the good will and kindness, of the feeling of belonging and camaraderie, of the knowing smiles and the exceptional generosity: in each backpacker, we see ourselves. And it’s easy to help yourself.
It’s a shame that it usually doesn’t work on a bigger scale.

About a year and a half real time, and 10 backpacking months later, I couldn’t agree more. I eventually evolved what I called “la ley de montaña” (the mountain law), which basically means that in the outdoors, if you have something, and somebody else needs it, you’ll give it to them. Plenty of times I’ve shared food, fuel, clothes, tent-space, etc. with others, never expecting any kind of return. Many a thing was given away as a gift. When people protested or wanted to pay for something or give something back, the answer was: “don’t worry, somebody else will repay me”. And it’s true. I’ve received a lot of stuff like that, and I’ve given a lot of stuff like that. Am I gaining, even or losing, in the bottom line? Who gives a fuck? I enjoyed it, I was happy with it, other people were, too, and that’s the end of that.

1 comment:

  1. Well what can I say? I guess that you are lucky or fortunate or what ever you want to call it.. I can tell you that the limited time that we spent together both at Mantengase and stuffing around BA definitely gave me a fresh way of thinking about life I guess you do that.. I remember the time you told me that you did not like to pay more than 3 pesos for a choripan, somehow that stuck with me and I vowed to take a leaf out of your book so to speak. Alas I am now studying programing with boring style monkeys and hating it.. think i'll drop out and and take off again. In particular just to name a few I liked 10,12,14,17 and i will be buying "Eyeless in Gaza" today. I hope to see you again someday..