Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Puerto Vallarta Part 1 (I need a better title)

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (disclaimer: I didn't take this picture; blogger won't let me upload my pictures at this moment.)

I don't travel the way most people travel when they think of traveling. I'm pretty much a backpacker, wandering around foreign places, staying at cheap youth hostels, meeting people at random points and sharing a bit of conversation and friendliness with someone you'll probably never see again. In talking to others, I realized that what I like most about traveling is the chance to learn about people. Others chose to travel to explore nature, mountains, and scenery. More often, most people like to go to warm sunny places where they can sit by a beach / pool and relax.

I like doing all of those things too, but to me, there's something magical about wandering a foreign city, whether it be Amsterdam or Bangkok, and seeing new things, and learning about people and different ways of doing or thinking. For me, it breaks me out of my shell, and makes me think about how little the disturbances and bumps in my life really mean nothing in the big picture. That sounds nihilistic I know, but it's not; it forces me to reconnect and think about the more important things, which in the end, sometimes are the little things; sharing a meal with people you don't know anything about and whose language you don't speak, and yet you still end up communicating anyway; getting on the wrong bus, which takes you to a place that you didn't mean to go, and yet, seems to have dropped you off at exactly where you needed to be. For me, traveling is a way to reconnect with myself, while learning about the wider greater world that we live in.

In general, I've tended to lean against vacations like all-inclusive resorts or cruises. They seemed mockingly insular and excessive, not to mention expensive. Maybe it's a remnant of the fact that I grew up in a resort town, but I found resort mills that locked you away from local color and culture just not my taste. (Jamaica Kincaid has an excellent book, "A Small Place" that talks about these themes and the varying points of view between a Western tourist visiting the tourist island of Antigua and a local native). Furthermore, resort mills in places like the Caribbean often do little to contribute to the local economy and people as the profits tend to go towards foreign-owned entities. They lock tourists away in a tiny little protected enclave, highlighting the economic, cultural and at times, racial disparity between the haves and the have-nots (and if there is anything I believe in fervently, it's the idea that real learning and communication takes place between people of disparate backgrounds). Moreover, the waste produced by these resort mills and drawing in tourists often accelerate the destruction of the very landscape that makes the place such an appealing getaway (just think about the amount of sunscreen that is probably washed onto delicate coral reefs every year in these islands, and about the amount of water it takes to sustain lush gold courses and water parks).

Of course I say this quite hypocritically as I've enjoyed the beaches of the Bahamas, and stayed at one of those mega-hotels. But we made an effort to put money into the local economy by eating at local restaurants and going with an independent tour company staffed by locals who practiced environmentally friendly practices. (And I have to say, the Valerie's fish fry on the beach served once a week out of an old abandoned schoolbus was one of the best meals I ever had; a great illustration of Rule #1 of Eating: When in a new place, always try what the locals are famous for making, even if you think you don't like it; often people unfamiliar with how to properly cook certain things will screw it up (the same reason why you don't look for New York bagels on the West Coast of the U.S.). In the islands of the Caribbean, that was fish; I hated fish, but damn if that wasn't the tastiest barracuda and shark I had ever had; fresh-caught that very day).

Recently, my sigo (significant other) and I went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and stayed at this massive resort complex, the Grand Mayan. Now, normally there is no way that we would have been able to afford a trip to a place like the Grand Mayan, but it was a wedding gift from the in-laws. And I have to say, that I really enjoyed myself, which causes me to rethink certain stereotypes and ideas I've held.

To be continued...

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