Friday, October 9, 2009

FTTN: The trekkers bubble

After a not entirely friendly first conversation with Haim and Itamar, which included a cynical “wow, it sounds like your trip has been really hard” as a reply to our trek stories, and ended with a decisive “we're really not into trekking”, we actually bonded pretty well. Talk in our dorm room flowed really well [sidenote: that's if you ignore the two Ethiopian-born Israeli mochiclubber girls (for the definition of that term, read on), with which we had nothing to talk about, a situation we pretty quickly dubbed the “apartheid”. Isn't that what you're supposed to do with apartheid? Ignore it?]. I guess I knew before that that there were many kinds of travelers and many ways to travel (it would be very dumb not to realise that), and that not everybody that doesn't like treks and the outdoors (not mutually exclusive...) is one of the dreaded “check-markers” (same as above with the definition), that room is the first time in my trip that I had a good time with somebody who wasn't a trekker.
It was also the first time I really saw and understood how many groups and sub-groups there are within the Israeli backpacking community: trekkers, check-markers (people who do all the 'must-see's and 'must-do's even if they're things they don't really enjoy; it's a surprisingly big group, at least by my classifications), mochiclubbers (clubs, alcohol and drugs people), stoners (just drugs, and barely leaving the hostel), spreaders (bad translation, but it basically means people who stay for a long long time in each place), shanties (people who travel looking for spirituality or “spirituality”. It's more prevalent among backpackers who go to the east, but there's plenty in South America, too)... I shouldn't forget the Europeans, a “group” that not only bunches all people from a whole continent together, but also for some reason includes Australians and Canadians but not people from the US. You also have the Israeliada, the anti-Israeliada, the anti-Israeliada Israeliada, and those who try to avoid the Israeliada and fail (it was only in Mexico that I met Israelis who had actually managed to succeed in avoiding it. I guess I was even one of them).
This whole classification process, of course, is inaccurate and makes broad generalisations. People can belong to different groups at the same time, move from group to group, change, not belong to any in particular... And there's other groups besides those that I mentioned. But it's clear that there's patterns, directions, social constructs and guidelines that people follow. It's quite hard to step out of those lines, to do something that wasn't recommended, to go somewhere “new”, a place that isn't a placemark on Gringo (Gringo, to those not versed in Israeli backpacking, is a Hebrew site that has more information than you could ever want about backpacking in South America, including all the touristy places, hostels, restaurants, prices, attractions and activities. Lots of people use it religiously. I preferred not to, and, as amusing as it seems to me now, took pride in the fact I never once visited it during the trip. There's a big love-hate relationship going on between that site and the backpacker community).
I like the way Kfir, who I traveled with later, put it: someone put a little shack next to the Villarica and started selling maps, so people started going there instead of the myriad other volcanoes in the area, and 30 years later the whole town is run down with tourism and there's 15 different agencies fighting for your dollars. It's scary to do things that are not safe, unmapped, not recommended. It's painfully obvious that trekkers, for example, have their own map, with their own checkmarks and placemarks. Like Kfir said, when I finished telling him about the treks I'd done before we met: “wow, Ofer, you are the ascending wave”.
This is getting kinda long. To wrap up the subject of the 'trekkers bubble':
- It exists.
- Trekkers are not necessarily the ones I'll have most fun with
- Trekkers are not necessarily the best people.
- Treks are not necessarily the best way to travel.
- There is no right way to travel, and everybody will tell you what it is.
- Talking about camping equipment is really boring, but still constitutes 30% of conversations between trekkers.
- We're all different, we're all special, and we're all equal.
- All you need is love, pa pa da pa pa...

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