Sunday, June 24, 2012

am I a travel fraud?

"Yer what?!" My uncle gawked at us both for a few seconds in sheer disbelief, before his brow settled into a disapproving furrow. "Well, yer pair of bloody frauds!" I could detect a touch of wry humor diluting his obvious disgust at our lack of 'worldly' knowledge on the subject in question.

Thinking back, I can't for the life of me remember what the subject was - and it wouldn't matter even if I did. I'm sure I'm no more knowledgeable now than I was then, almost nine years ago, when I first took my not-yet-then-husband to visit my dad's big brother.

Much like my dad - and all of his five brothers - this uncle was a sponge when it came to acquiring knowledge. They all had a passion for learning - a thirst for knowledge that I didn't emulate - at least not to an equal extent.

Thankfully, these days - in the throes of Mommydom - I no longer feel the need to try. Belied by my bouts of baby brain, I'm not the numpty I may have you thinking I am (honest). There's definitely a bit of grey matter between my ears. 

Nevertheless, my lack of fervor for fact finding was (and still is) definitely evident in my trivial travel pursuits. I'm certainly not opposed to some leisurely learning along the way. If my brain happens to successfully absorb some interesting fact - good for me! 

The truth is, even if my brain had successfully banked some titbits of trivia during my backpacking heydays, I guarantee those nuggets have long since been buried beneath layers of what may seem like banal baby blurb to others but what has become paramount parenting particulars for this motivated Momma. 
These days I barely have head space to remember what book I read last week! 

I remember everything about my amazing adventures though and the names and faces of all the incredible people we met along the way. Even after almost a decade has passed, I can still taste our La Paz steaks as if we ate them only yesterday!
"I can't believe it! You mean to tell me you went all that way... blah blah blah.. and you didn't even see......blah blah.... you can't even tell me who........blah blah.... well! Yer bloody Travel Frauds!!"

There it was! My uncle had got us pegged from the get-go. I'd never come up with a label for what I am before. But after barely 15 minutes of sitting on his couch with a cuppa tea - he'd already gotten my hub's and my mark.

Was he right? Were we just a pair of Travel Frauds?

When I started thinking about it I realized I didn't just suffer from a lack of retained knowledge regarding the places I'd been, but in many of these locations I'd actually given many revered landmarks a wide berth - opting for a more fun albeit frivolous option. Like choosing a midnight hang-out in a New York McDonald's with my newly acquired camp buddies instead of taking a fleeting trip to see the Empire State Building on our one night stopover, or indulging in shopping and a massage in the markets of Beijing instead of perusing the Palace.

Had I been too blase in thinking there would be a next time?
 I could always come back, right....?

My hubs - to his credit - at least went to see the Great Wall of China with his own eyes during his stint in China. I lived in that vast and ancient country steeped in world wonders and history for over a year (a different time to my husband) and never made it out to see the fabulous scenery the Great Wall has to offer....  
 or the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace for that matter!

I saw them all at Disney World though (with the hubs) - absolutely incredible!

During my China days I did, however, partake in many shocking live food adventures, squat over a pile of poop so high I had to stand on my tippy toes to avoid touching it, walk street after street littered with thousands of mashed psychedelic chicks and share an eight berth room on an all male (save for me) oil rig for an entire month.

Even more pleasant, I also managed to see the inside of a hospital during the SARS crisis.

I don't regret my experiences - not for one moment. If all I'd wanted out of being in China, was to acquire knowledge about China, I could just have easily stayed home and read a book or a newspaper - or even watched the telly - like my dad and uncle.

Admittedly, even after my firsthand experience, I wouldn't fancy my chances going head-to-head with either of them on a quiz about China. But their education is such a prescribed syllabus of geography, history and facts. Education to me is so much wider than what can be sought from a book! Experiential education is second to none.

I was working offshore in China- but that's not why I didn't take in the sites. I had some days off - and if it had been a priority I could have made it happen. I just cared to use my spare time differently. Experiencing day to day local living as opposed to tackling the tourist traps.

At the time, and considering my youth, it would have felt too much like ticking off somebody else's bucket list! Just visiting places for the sake of saying "I was there" is one hell of a big bucket list - and as far as I was concerned, a total waste of my precious travel resources (time, money and energy).

Me - I was in it for the adventure! And admittedly I would have gladly gone to see any sites if some rapturous traveler had rail-roaded me into it. I never for one second believed The Great Wall of China was not worth seeing - on the contrary - so many wonderful places on Earth can only be truly experienced by being there. A picture, although still powerful, can only show you so much. You can't hear or breathe the attraction from a postcard.

Great examples of these (at least for me) are Niagra and Iguazu falls, and
 the Grand Canyon of course! However, if there's any truth in that crazy statistic, being the average visitor can only stand to look for 15 seconds, then that's a long long way to go for 15 seconds of fabulous! Especially as most of those 15 seconds you're likely looking at the canyon from behind a Canon!

The hubs and I barely lasted 10 minutes gawping at that gorgeous and grandiose canyon before getting back on the road to Vegas. I'm sure if they'd had the Skywalk built back then we'd have stayed at least another ten minutes. We couldn't resist an impromptu stop at the Grand Canyon IMAX on the way out of town though - a very cool way to see all of the Grand Canyon!

It turns out I've been to a number of places, leaving many boxes un-ticked. Had I really visited them? Certainly not like a 'true' tourist would have. But then I never thought of myself as a tourist - I was a traveler. Two very different species.

Would any traveler choose to burn up thirteen days of their life inside the Louvre? Perhaps if you lived on its doorstep maybe. We found the fifty minute Da Vinci Code Soundwalk to be a great way to tackle the museum. What a relief to be guided through such an overwhelming kingdom of culture. It led us right up to the Mona Lisa, and even up to the infamous bathroom featured in the book! A whole lot more fulfilling (for me) than walking down endless corridors perusing painting after painting....

Likewise, why bother going all that way up to the top of the Empire State building, when they've got that Skyride on the second floor - that's how I chose to see 'The Big Apple' the second time around! And I can certainly vouch for the cafe at the base of the Statue of Liberty - there's a great view of the statue, and it's so much more relaxing than fighting throngs of tourists to get all the way up to the crown! I recall my twin brother was pretty appalled that I'd wasted both my first and second opportunities to scale both his favorite NY structures. I got him some mini souvenirs to ease the disappointment.

As it turned out I returned to New York City for a third trip - at Christmas - and again I found my time was far too valuable to waste on landmarks and architecture! Instead we saw The Color Purple, stood at the base of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, and people watched at the side of the ice rink in Central Park. I'm sure I'll be back again, but will I ever see the top of The empire State Building? I wouldn't bet on it....

Even on the great Galapagos Islands, I opted out of several hikes in favor of sunning myself on the upper deck of our anchored boat: blue skys, crystal cool waters, a gently bobbing boat and an new English smoking buddy to swap stories with... not really a hard decision for me.

The not-yet-then-hubs was amazed at my ability to blow-off some of the Galapagos Islands' tours I'd forked out good money for. But what do I care about the volcanic tuffs on the islands? I studied Geology at University. What did I want to go and see more rocks for, when I had such a limited time to lap up my sun-cruise experience?

The hubs did, however, opt to stay outside of Che Guevara's house with me - refusing to pay the admission - when we visited Alta Gracia in Argentina. We were a little over budget to be fair - but quibbling over a dollar? We reasoned with ourselves that good old Che wouldn't appreciate the locals' capitalizing from his childhood home. Plus I was very hungry - and for me it just wasn't worth a dollar or the energy to go inside and look around - no offence Che.

Che's House in Alta Gracia, Argentina
We've been and seen his home from the outside though - at least we've 'ticked' that one off our back-packer bucket list! There was absolutely nothing else in Alta Gracia - not even a place open to eat - so why did we bother to go? I can't answer that exactly. It was something to do I guess - more travel experience - and there aren't that many tourist day-trips to choose from out of Cordoba. It was a joint-venture with some new back-packer buddies we'd met in our Cordoba hostel. 

Like most of our off-beat backpacking detours - we'd been inspired by our fellow travelers' plans. I'd had a fun and memorable day, at least, and the experience was as 'real' as they get. If I remember rightly - it being a Sunday - we were forced to hitch part way back to our hostel. Not the first time, and it wasn't the last I've had to compromise on my rule of  'no thumb'!

I'm sure, if I thought really hard about it, I could list many more half experiences or ones I simply passed up entirely, to hang with fellow travelers at the hostel, visit an internet cafe, shop - or relax and drink coffee or wine, simply just living and taking 'ít' all in......

The world is jam-packed full of wonderful sites, experiences, locations, people and culture. Nobody can do it all, so why bother to try? My traveling days are some of the happiest I can remember. Especially the slower days of visiting the vineyards in Northern Argentina, and basking on the beaches of Northern Brazil.

I have no travel regrets. And if what I am is a travel fraud, then I'm proud of it. If I had it all to do over again, I wouldn't change a single thing...

I just asked the hubby to proof read my blog draft (he's an English teacher after all) and he clearly remembers the subject matter in question that had my uncle denouncing us as travel frauds:  

We'd been on a UK road trip up North to Edinburgh, Scotland where we had visited the castle (our 
stopover with my Auntie and Uncle in Newcastle was to break up the drive back home to Yorkshire). Upon hearing of our recent adventures in Edinburgh my uncle had asked us if we knew what the real name of Edinburgh Castle was..... 

Of course we didn't. 
I've never found it out to this day - if indeed there even is another name - and we've been back to visit the austere 'Edinburgh' castle on a number of visits!  

Do you know it's real name?

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle, Scotland