Monday, July 02, 2007

Grumpy Traveler

I am so cranky.

Such a jaded... not just traveler, but person?

Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me, and other times I think "What's wrong with everyone else?"

When I went to Antarctica, I thought, "That's it?" Me and my 99 best friends traipsing around a penguin-covered rock for an hour.

I'm exaggerating. There were some wonderful moments when whales would buzz the dinghy I was on. But I realized quickly that being ushered around and pointed at things while my camera went click-click was too passive an organized "adventure" for me. And as I talked with staff and soaked up information from lectures, I learned that what I should have done was booked a trip that would have allowed me to go off with a bagged lunch and a kayak. Or camped overnight on the ice. Had a bit of personal interaction with where I was, rather than wondering how I'd fallen for the old "Spend-a-fortune-be-led-around-by-nose-get-bragging-rights" trick.

And then there's the "Pay $400 and go up in a hot air balloon over Masai Mara" excursion. Because when will you ever do it again?

Um, $70 over Luxor, winter, 2007.

Now there's this. The price of admission for mountain gorilla viewing has gone up to FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS in Rwanda, and supposedly Uganda and Congo are following suit. That's for an hour of crouching in the bushes next to a group of gorillas.

Whoa. That's a lot.

So many people I know had a life-changing, or at least life-affirming experience with the gorillas. So what the hell is the matter with me? I was horrified at spending $250 in 2001. I like gorillas, but I'd never fork over $500 for an hour of listening to gorilla farts.

Fortunately, lots of people disagree with me. The mountain gorilla population is up 12 percent in the last decade, and at least in Uganda, the UWA protects their gorillas with their lives. Conservation is big business there, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority does a good job of sensitizing everyone to the value of gorillas. I've personally seen UWA wardens arrest scrawny hungry people who so much as poach a fish. They have a zero tolerance approach, the Guiliani method of patrolling the forest. "It's Pascal time," yells the Murchison Falls game warden as he... well, but I digress.

Okay, so gorilla tourism helps gorillas by raising awareness locally, even though having people traipse around and stare at the gorillas is stressful to them. I can see the point, even though I missed out on the life-changing aspect when I visited the Mubare group in 2001. (I've been accused by one reviewer—who sometimes reads this blog—of going astray on the gorilla thing so let me state clearly that I never implied that a population growth of 12 percent was like saying the battle was over and we could all go home. Sheesh.)

I can see the value of $500 for a gorilla experience, because that money goes directly to gorilla conservation. Fine. Not so sold on the Antarctica cruise, which I suspect has no redeeming value, and in fact, may impact the very place we go to enjoy. I definitely don't see the value of a $400 balloon ride, but here's the real problem.

Guilt. Specifically, mine. What's up with me feeling pressure to say weakly, "Yes, Antarctica was cool" when someone glowingly says "I went and loved it," rather than "Maybe I wouldn't have been forced to sell my condo if I'd spent that $3,000 on a new roof instead."

So from now on, my plan is to laugh off my guilt, to ignore the disapproving expression that people have when I say I'm fed up with "once-in-a-lifetime" branding.

Embrace the crankiness.


Marc Siry said...

When you finally decide to write that 'traveling sucks, stay at home' book, and you make a million dollars from our nation of xenophobes, please don't forget the little people (and little gorillas).

Marie said...

If I write it under a pseudonym, what will I do when Oprah's people call? Show up with a bag over my head?

Marc Siry said...

Nah, just wear makeup.

Linja said...

I wonder where you got the idea that penny-pinching is a good thing?


(Oh, just answered my own question!)

Ed Ward said...

The way I see it, you're learning stuff about yourself. Kind of expensive, but then so is psychoanalysis, and it takes a lot longer.

You're beginning to perceive what sorts of experience you enjoy and what you don't. You know the sort of thing you went through in Antarctica wasn't for you, so you grew a filter for that: next time you're reading a brochure, no matter for what kind of trip, you'll have that filter on.

The only thing to be cranky about is that there's only so much time to do all this stuff. So the choosier you are, the better you get at having the experiences you want.

At least as far as travel's concerned.

The Other Marie said...

I don't go anywhere and I'm cranky too. And bored. Don't give into the guilt. There is guilt in everything if you look hard enough. Do too much, do too little. Use too much plastic. Don't use enough mulch. It just isn't worth it. Something is wrong with everyone.