Travelling slowly is observing while we travel. Visiting a bigger number of amazing beaches doesn’t mean you are ging to enjoy them more. Perhaps a day well lived is a day where you stopped to see the sun rise and set from the same spot while you bury your feet deep into the sand, instead of spending it visiting a thousand islands, all differey but the same, with the impression of having had only a glimpse, with just enough time to take a picture that will help you remember that moment in a place that you almost didn’t live.
Falling sick while you’re away from home is the best antidote for the “wanderlust” syndrome. It’s also a slap in the face to make you realize that we all have moments where we need somebody to take care of us, a bigger structure we can trust, and knowing that we are in the hands of the best professionals with the best equipment to help us feel healthy again. And this, in many parts of the world, is something that can only be bought with money. In countries like the Phillippines, a tourist paradise, this is something most of the people cannot afford. In a place with almost no public services, the most basic sicknesses can take somedody’s life away, and erase little by little their bright welcoming smiles.
It’s possible to be happy when you have nothing. This is a sentence we hear all the time when travelling in developing countries. We tell it to each other, fascinated, when we see the honest smile on their happy faces. We, living in the first world, permanently stressed out and them, capable of enjoynig every ray of sun and every wave that touches their feet. Indeed, they look happy. But it’s scary to think of the fragility of that happiness, a happiness that can break for something as simple as a flu, a bad harvest or a typhoon, things that happen all the time. A happiness that leaves many scars. Having nothing means you can lose your life at any turn. We have much to learn from them but we wouldn’t like to be in their shoes.
Many of us choose the poorest countries for our holidays, and we vaccinate ourselves against this poverty by telling ourselves tourism leaves money in these communities and that we are actually helping them in our own way. This is true, but there is a downside, and many times it’s very difficult to choose the best way to travel making the lowest negative impact. When we bargain with a tricycle driver who works for 14 hours straight breathing pollution, when we decide to buy a small bottle of water instead of having to carry a 8L container, when we travel hundreds of kilometers to be able to visit that incredible and exclusive place so we can brag in front of our friends, when we get so close to corals that we end up destroying them, we are putting our comfort and happiness first. And we a have a right to do it, after all: it’s out hoidays and we are paying for this right, but we are also helping create problems in a place that after all we will be leaving soon and whose consequences we are never going to suffer. I don’t have a solution for this, but it is something that bothers me more and more.
We want to visit places that are “authentic”, but those are often the places in which life is very different to ours. We smile at the sight of a family of 6 riding a scooter. We are quick to take a picture and post it on Instagram. Authentic means underdeveloped, and that’s how we like it. But what they would like is to be able to travel in an air-con car.
During our trip we had the “chance” to spend a couple of days at a very “authentic” clinic. So authentic that the walls were made of palm leaves and the floors were just wooden boards. There lived, aside from the doctor and nurses, several full families, chicken included. When you are in that kind of situation, a few thoughts come to mind, the first of all is that you want to get out of there as soon as possible, as you don’t want to get sicker than you already are. You anxiously check if the doctor cleaned his hands properly, how he disposes of the old syringes, silently doubt of his methods when it comes to reading the test results and mentally calculate if the holes on the palm leave walls are big enough for a dengue-infected moquito to slip in. And this is not a public hospital for underpriviledged people, but a private consultation. If things are like this here, how will the public hospitals be? You’d rather not know, and you just cogratulate yourself on being born at the right side of the world.