When Your Dream Destination Disappoints You

Walled City, Cartagena, Colombia
Walled City, Cartagena, Colombia

Those of you who read my last travelogue entry, Colombia, Part I: Cartagena in the Time of COVID, may have recalled that I had some rather harsh words for the vendors of Cartagena. 

The fact of the matter is, in parts of the world where the foreign White and Asian tourists frequent, those tourists are usually among the more well-off people there. This is not always the case (I, for all the travel I do, would be considered lower-middle income), but it also doesn’t matter; perceptions are hard to break. The vendors will mob you. It’ll happen in Antigua and in Teotihuacan. The less well-off parts of Africa and Asia. It’s just going to happen.

I think a lot of us expect travel to be like the Instagram photos and videos we see in our feeds. And, if you only hit up the resorts and all-inclusives, it could very well be. Nothing wrong with that kind of vacationing. But I think some of us who do take a step off that beaten path come across local poverty and obnoxious street vendors and feel overwhelmed. Look, I tried to get to know the local culture, we may think, and I didn’t like it. So much for that.  

I think there’s another layer to it. Like a lot of things in the United States these days, there’s this very this-or-that, black-or-white aspect to travel. People want you to fall into one of two categories: you either do the all-inclusives and you don’t try to get to know the local culture, OR, you make an effort to get to know the local culture and then fall in love with it

Like a lot of things in life, it isn’t that cut and dry. There are levels to it.

I make an honest effort to get to know the unvarnished truth about any place I visit. I don’t care if it’s a foreign country, another American city, or even a different neighborhood within a city. There are all kinds of things to find out and explore. 

What that doesn’t mean is that I’m going to like it. 

You are not obligated to fall in love with every country you visit. 

Just to be clear, regarding my latest travelogue, I actually really liked the small part of Colombia I saw. But the vendors of Cartagena do need to **** off. 

Just like I really liked Mexico! It’s one of my favorite countries that I’ve been to so far. I just don’t see how hard it is to have toilets that actually have toilet seats on them! That doesn’t mean I hate Mexico; it means I’ve spent enough time to see the good and some of the bad. I’ve seen the country for what it is, and overall I really liked it.

Belize was one place I did not enjoy. I thought Belize was overpriced and cultureless. I also have to keep in mind that I only say San Pedro and a small part of Belize City, and that the country was a British colony until relatively recently. At the end of the day, my personal opinion does not impact the people who live there. 

Hell, I love the US. America’s my home. But don’t get me started on everything that needs to be fixed with it! 

All I’m saying is that I respect anyone who travels to a foreign country and makes an honest effort to get to know it. You may not fall in love with it or have your life changed by it. And you don’t need to. Sometimes I feel like people either want you to be some out-of-touch rich person, or some idealistic Peace Corps volunteer. Sometimes, real life treads the no man’s land in between those two camps. 

And that’s okay. 

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