The Gringo Trail

17 05 2009

If the description from the Footprint Guide of `party hostel` didn`t clue us in, the cover charge wristbands they gave us upon registering for a room should have given it away. 

My first night in La Paz was overwhelmed by the bar above my sleeping quarters.  We hung out for awhile and played bar trivia (a very traditional Bolivian game).  I ordered my drink in Spanish and the bartender looked at me quizzically.  Nobody at the hostel even spoke Spanish.  Somewhere between limbo and the stripper, I lost track of what country I was in.  Frazier, a Canadian, summed it up nicely:  `I haven`t really seen La Paz during the day.  I just stay in the hostal and go clubbing at night with everybody else.`

Ah, the much-maligned and much-followed Gringo Trail.  I have never encountered it quite as strongly as I have here.  There are some positive aspects.  For example, it has provided me with travel partners, smoothed the way for a more `comfortable` journey.  Yet, it irks me so.

The typical party gringo doesn`t appreciate the `Art of Travel:`

`Journeys are the midwives of thought.  Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains.  There is an almost quaint correlation between  what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places…….it is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves.  The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, who may not be who we essentially are.`

The party gringo isn`t traveling to `encounter their true selves` or to have ìntrospective reflections` or to be changed by an encounter with something  wholly other or an experience with something bigger, greater than themselves.

The bar scene at Wild Rovers hostal drove me mad because these were (all Europeans?  All westerners, at least ) English-speakers hanging out with one another.  Why leave home to go to clubs and hang with people so similar to yourself?  Only getting out to cross items of the `I did this` list.

This list is not bad of itself, of course.  But travel is not a visit to an amusement park.

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