Tourist vs. Traveler
Here’s a riddle for you. It was midday, the 16th of August, when the bus dropped me off. Five days later, I left on March 9th.
The main difference between being a tourist and a traveler is that a tourist is looking for a safe, easily consumable experiences that offers the perception of something genuine. A traveler is looking to delve into more grimy realities, often the experiences are borderline uncomfortable, and usually require a bit more nuance and interpretation. Honestly sometimes I’m still a tourist who is searching for those easily consumable experiences. My recent foray into the Ecuadorean Amazon challenged me to not be a tourist, and to embrace being a traveler in a fairly uncomfortable situation.
I left Baños, Ecuador in search of Tawasap, a community of Shuar people in the Amazon. A friend of mine had been there a year prior and recommended that I go. Without being entirely sure of what to expect, I headed into the Amazon. I had directions, and little else. The bus dropped me off at a town called the 16 de Agosto (see riddle above), from here I needed to walk down a dirt road through the jungle until I hopefully arrived at Tawasap. Drenched in sweat and thankful I had taken the correct road, I was warmly greeted as I walked into the center of a small collection of homes.
I was quickly served a lunch of chicken neck and broth, and then shown to the guest’s bungalow. The bungalow was a two story treehouse set on top of the sacred mountain, offering a great vantage point of the surrounding jungle, and if you were lucky enough to be there on a clear day, a spectacular view of the far off volcano Sangay.
However, the next three days provided nary a ray of sunshine. I found myself fighting off treehouse fever, as a near constant deluge of rain hemmed me in. Luckily there were two other inhabitants of the treehouse, an Argentinean traveler and a young Shuar named Guillermo who was living there for a few months of work.
After my 8th consecutive meal of rice and mashed plantains (what we ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner every day I was there), I began to wonder if the community had forgotten about me, or if this was the norm. This was where I really struggled with wanting the tourist experience. Where were all the jungle animals? The tribal rituals? Where was I gonna get the stories I could tell my friends back home? The reality of my experiences were very different from the tourist packages you could buy in the city, where they drape caged snakes around your neck and paint your face like you’re a warrior. That’s when I realized that this was just life. I was sitting around in a hut, massively bored, while it rained for hours on end, doing exactly what everyone else in the community was doing, which wasn’t much.
I was having a hard time embracing my time in the Amazon for what it was. Probably a lot of that stems from the fact that I have such a hard time being bored. How often do I let myself do nothing but read, think, or sleep? Not often.
I am thankful for my unique experience, my connection with Guillermo, the beauty of the Amazon, and the ability to sit around in a treehouse and read.
At long last, the skies parted on my last day in the Tawasap community. Sangay, an active volcano, with a mini-eruption moments before this photo was taken.
I think there’s an Internet meme waiting to be had with this photo. Any takers?