December 23, 2012
Maya banned from performing ceremonies in their own temples.



Mexican authorities have banned Maya spiritual leaders from performing ceremonies at their ancestral temples, which are about to be overrun by a curious assortment of conspiracy theorists, dooms-dayers, new-agers and well-intentioned tourists who just want to be apart of the festivities.

The Ceremonies are meant to mark the end of the Maya long-count calendar, which began 13 Baktun (cycles) ago. Under the Greco-Roman Calender, that’s about 3112 BC.

Contrary to popular (mis)belief, the end of the long-count calendar is being viewed as something positive. As Mayan priest Jose Manrique Esquive recently pointed out, the current Baktun, which began around 1618, has been drenched by a continuous reign of misery that included the introduction of European disease, culture and language being erased and entire populations being extinguished.

However, the Maya are still going to be allowed to visit the sites along with the tourists, but they will likely have to pay to get in, just like everyone else.

I am full of rage and oh so unsurprised.

fuck this

(via stfuconservatives)

July 15, 2012
On bright eyed and bushy tailed travel and the scars of mass tourism in Tunisia

Being travellers, I think, makes us see the best in people. It takes us outside of ourselves a bit, lets us see different ways of life and the things that all people and societies have in common. While it has made me somewhat jaded in specific senses, overall it’s made me a much more open and interested person in everything that’s going on around me.

I’ve always noted my male privilege when writing about travel. So many of the awesome experiences I have had travelling alone, like getting into a random guy’s car and going to meet his family, getting on the back of a stranger’s moped in the suburbs of Medellin to go see a plantation, and so on, are things that I just couldn’t do if I was a woman travelling alone. Even the way I would be looked at and hastled in most of the middle east would make it very hard to me to feel as intimately connected to the region as I do right now.

So here we go. What really frustrates me about Tunisia is that it’s apparently a sex tourism destination for european men on package tours. I am not saying Americans don’t do this here, but it’s kind of absurd. I am literally afraid to make eyecontact with people on the street most of the time, because if I talk to them and sit next to them (A) they will almost as often as not try to sell me sex, and (B) every respectable person in the town I am visiting will think I am a total sleezeball. Add in that (C ) I don’t speak French, which is the language in which these propositions are made, and I am not always as immediately aware of what is happening and can accidentally go along with it for a moment, even though everyone around me speaks French and so sees me… as a total sleezeball.

Tunisia is, in this sense, the first place that I have been where I can’t be totally carefree with who I am friendly with and where I go with them. While I have had to be careful of certain things in other places (like gaurding my nationality in parts of Iraq and the camps in Lebanon) that was a careful omission of information while otherwise being open, friendly, and happy to talk to total strangers. This is different. And it really bothers me.

Since I’ve had to limit myself from many of these experiences, I have found myself flying through Tunisia. Part of travel is interacting with the locals, and it’s hard enough here that I’m leaving 9 days early to head to the greek islands to be a raging tourist. Cause at least then I will be able to talk to people.

That is not to say that tunisians aren’t the most hospitable people ever… they very likely are. It’s obviously a case of a minority ruining an experience, and I am still quite enamoured with many places in Tunisia and have had some really great experiences.

Today I went to El Jem, which has a colloseum which is MUCH nicer than the one in Rome (it’s the 3rd largest in the world and much better preserved than its Roman counterpart since Catholicism never showed up to steal its stone for St Peters Basilica), along with a beautiful museum with reconstructed villas. It’s a tourist site, but, very importantly, there are no hotels in Al Jem. Which ostensibly means that middle aged men don’t troll the streets at night trying to find 16-19 year old arab boys to fuck them (Sidenote: People can get away with doing this. They cannot get away with drinking alcohol, even buying it in a store). And the difference in hospitality was stunning. Ditto for the few times I’ve needed to crash for a night in between destinations in little towns in the desert. People were friendly and excited to give me directions, happy to hear me trying to speak arabic, and genuinely willing to say hello. I had a sandwich ant a stand in the street and asked the kid who was running it for directions to a museum, which was about 10 minutes away. About 2 minutes into my walk, he showed up with a scooter and drove me the rest of the way, out of pure hospitality. It was great. It reminded me of Sumatra or Lebanon or Bangladesh or someplace like that.

It makes me realize that the places that are most special to me, whether it’s Sicily or Naples in Italy, Lebanon in the Middle East, Bangladesh in South Asia, and so on, are really the places where the social scarification of mass tourism have yet to do their dirty work. Hopefully I’m not facilitating that process.

I guess these are the impacts of tourism. It’s presence (especially when “it” is manifest by 5 star hotels with high walls around them and wealthy, non-assimilated westerners being shuttled in and out in airconditioned tour busses) kills part of a place. The city I’m in right now, Mahaida, built as a capital for the Fatamid dynasty before they took Cairo, could be Beirut in some ways. It has great food, sheesha pipes burning into the night, palm trees along the corniche (seafront drive), ruins scattered throughout the city, and nice beaches, including quite a few which are dominated by Tunisians (I was more Burqinis today than I have in a long time). All that is different is the mass tourism. And it means that a 30 minute walk means one will be hustled for money or by kitch-pushers at least a couple of times, that half of the restaurants are sealed off, air conditioned monoliths full of middle aged white people in short shorts, and that you’ll be propositioned to pay for sex at least 7 or 8 times, at least if you are a young guy blonde walking around alone.


September 23, 2011
(Package Tourists) In Pablo Escobar's footsteps

A controversial Pablo-Escobar-themed tour has been launched in his home town of Medellín, once Colombia’s notorious cocaine-trafficking capital but now a growing tourist destination

I think it’s an interesting idea…. it’s not like the Escobar family hasn’t been cashing in on this on their own for years…

September 17, 2011
I don’t want to leave Bangladesh

So. I am feeling very weird. I am in the Dhaka airport. And anyone who has talked to me much about travelling knows that I generally love air travel and airlines and even airports (though not necessarily airport security procedures, but I guess that’s another story and nobody does). I like the fact that they represent a state of transition and motion and statelessness and integration, a state which I wish could be found more commonly outside of them. But the point is. I am not happy to be here.

Not due to any unpleasantries with the airport (though the announcement system is just an irritating guy who walks around yelling names), but rather due to the fact that I am really happy to be in Bangladesh. Sure, I have been on what in Bangladeshi terms was a super luxury cruise for the last few days (in which I came face to face with a wild Bengal tiger in the wilderness. I mean. What the fuck. But more on that in another post), but most of the time I have spent here has revolved around the amazing friendliness of the Bangladeshi people. This trip has almost certainly changed my perception of myself and the world more than any trip I have taken besides my very first few, to Latin America when I was 14, and my first experiments with overseas living at 19 and 20. It isn’t really because of the sites, but more a product of some of the most genuinely helpful friendly people I have ever met. Be it the political elite I met on my luxury tour, or less privileged chai wallah’s in the street, everyone has been more helpful than I have ever seen anywhere. Sometimes it is overwhelming, as Bangladeshis have a very different sense of privacy than we do, so pretty much every moment spent outside will be in some kind of social interaction, but it is also amazing.

One thing of note is that Bangladesh has finally made me realise a little bit of how absurd it is that I can afford to fly halfway around the world to have a 15 day trip through this country. Or, more realistically, the fact that anyone can afford it. I live a pretty simple life by the standards of the United States, and that is what allows me to bankroll most of my travels, but that isn’t something that means I deserve the life I have. Rather, it shows that we are all far too wealthy and powerful. I have met so many passionate travellers in Bangladesh who have managed, despite the fact that the process of getting a visa to most western countries (and even neighbors on the subcontinent) is exponentially more difficult than with a US/EU passport, to do quite a bit of travelling. But still. For the first time, I feel a bit weird or uncomfortable about my ability to rocket at a cruising speed of 550 ground miles per hour from Dhaka to Dubai to New York City with emirates service making it such a cushy experience. I am also a little bit uncomfortable with the luxuries and excesses I will be immersed in when I get home, whereas normally after a trip I am craving them (though that is not to say I am not excited for New York Pizza.)

The Pride that Bangladeshis have for their country, be they “wage earners” abroad, generally referred to in the Western and Arab press as “migrant labourers,” is stunning. The commitment to pluralism is stunning, in all but the tiniest villages you can find substantial Hindu or other religious minorities, and they are generally always fully integrated into village life, with the children playing together without much of any judgment. It is quite possible that I have never been to a more proud country. Lebanon would be up there. Latin America is up there too, but much of that pride is in being Latino/a, rather than being from a particular nation-state. What is also cool about Bangladesh is that, while there is this pride, there is also not much of the general brutish attitude that seems to come with nationalism. They sometimes refer to themselves as “India,” not in a political sense but in the way that we call this part of the world the Indian Subcontinent. Despite a few territorial disputes with the Indians, there are generally good relations, both between Indians living in Bangladesh and their neighbors and between the national governments. Comparing both this diplomacy and religious pluralism to that of Pakistan, which committed what is widely considered an act of genocide (assisted by the United States) in 1971 against the Bangladeshi/Eastern Pakistani people when Eastern Pakistan seceded and created the modern state of Bangladesh, is quite stunning.

Bangladesh is on the up and up. While there are still substantial issues facing the country, such as a lack of reliable energy supplies (important for a country who’s economy is generally driven by technology intensive fabric mills) and bureaucracy, it is clear just from interacting with the youth of the country that there are quite a few opportunities on the horizon, not only through leaving the country, but within the Bangladeshi borders. And this, frankly, makes me feel so good inside I have nothing more to say. I love Bangladesh. It will be in my heart forever. And despite my love of New York, and the fact that my visa expires in 5 hours. I am genuinely hesitant to step onto the plane.


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