Friday, February 4, 2011

FTTN: Doubts, or The Dark Side Of The Trip

My conversations with Ruti in Bariloche brought up (or accentuated) my first serious doubts about the whole “big-trip” concept. It was centered on the subject of the Israeliada, on the flock or mass mentality, on the “everybody does it” of The Big Trip After The Army™.
First of all, something that Ruti said, but that I obviously knew beforehand: the trip is a very egoistic endeavour, it’s all about me, what I want, what I decide, what I deserve. On the one hand it makes a lot of sense, but on the other, there’s a basic imbalance at work. A (wo)man needs to give, to create, to compromise, and not just receive and decide. Well, maybe needs is not the right word.
I believe it’s better (in the short, and definitely in the long run), and there’s a good argument to be made for it building character. Man by nature is a social animal, to quote Aristotle (at least vaguely). I think the “I deserve it” attitude is one of the worst and most corrupt aspects of the trip. It creates most of the ugliness you see in a lot of Israeli travelers’ conduct (which is infamous in several areas I’ve been to): the rude bargaining on everything, the bossing around and disrespect of locals (the basic generalization of everybody as “locals”…), the careless distortion of place-names and the places themselves… Many people, I feel, come to South America (or Thailand, India, Kazakhstan, whatever…) to rape and squeeze the country of what it’s got, receive the most for the least, without bothering to get to know where they are and who is in front of them. It might be the extreme and not the norm, but that aspect exists to some extent in every traveler (including me, the patron saint of ziyunei sekhel- i.e. mind fucking -, of course. This is not an exercise in “holier than thou”ness. At least I hope not…). I’m going to claim here (and nobody will argue, since this is my blog- although you're welcome to disagree in comments, of course) that in these places the Israeli traveler comes, to some extent, from an unearned superiority perspective, as opposed to a trip in the US or Western Europe. Rethinking it, maybe it exists while traveling there, too, but in a somewhat different way.
Another big problem I have with the trip is the whole monetary-social aspect. I spent such a long time traveling there (and later in Central America), and spent a sum that for many people would’ve been a yearly paycheck, or more. And that’s without even getting to the poorest countries in the region. It’s obviously my money and I can do whatever I want with it (at the very least it’s obvious de facto), capitalism, individualism, bla bla bla… But the fact is, it made me feel guilty.
Another question that comes up is: what does someone gain from the trip? I saw many amazing places, real natural wonders; I met many great people and learnt a lot about, well, tons of stuff; I came to know two countries pretty well (one of them having a big and important place in my personal and emotional history from before, and the other "gaining" that status), and two others moderately well. OK, amusingly enough, I realized how much I had gained from the trip while writing. I guess sometimes that’s the point of writing… The wonders of the stream of consciousness. One more thing: the trip(s) developed my thinking and my independence to a degree nothing else I’ve done has.
So, to finish on an optimistic, if condescending, note: I hope that most people’s trips ended up being as positive an experience for them as mine was for me, and that it was as mutual (with the people, the countries and the other travelers) as possible.

(Note: this was written in Valparaiso in April 2008, and only slightly edited, but almost three years later I can say that these doubts followed me all through my travels. And you can say that to a certain extent, they've entered into my "regular", day to day life, too)

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