A Tourist in Latin America

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First of all it's nice to be back home after traversing South America for last 14 days. Went through Peru and saw the remarkable Machu Picchu. (one of my "bucket list" items) Then went to see Chile and my oldest daughter who is studying down there. Like any trip out of your neighborhood and country, you see and experience things that force you to examine your values and your own worldview. Hard not to have your ethnocentrism tested when you are a tourist. Traveling can be a trip into introspection and self evaluation.

Standing at the foot of the great redwoods, the edge of the Grand Canyon, traversing the Great Wall, or ascending the Eiffel Tower, stunning natural or man-made phenomena give us pause to consider our significance and insignificance. How vapid our lives can seem when we are so focused on the accumulation of material goods that never will be enough. What am I doing here? What will my contribution be? Out of the box travel can be a type of mentoring. You are forced into reflection by shared experiences, by what you see and what you think. That's the way it works. Your experiences create thoughts and those thoughts have emotional content and if you pay attention, they can shift your perspective and your future plans and actions. That's powerful mentoring! 

I had two modest goals for this trip:DSC03483

  1. To get my teenage kids out of their little electronic cocoons and be inspired by reality, without technology. 
  2. To see and experience a little of different cultures, to understand and appreciate our commonalities and differences

I realize that as a tourist you most often see a highly skewed part of that world. Your view is warped by the magnetic economic forces between the tourists and tourism. Yet, if you venture off the path and explore a bit, you will see more reality and more truth. I could easily argue that most of us are de-sensitized to the special qualities of our own home towns and neighborhoods, which in turn excite tourists. We do not stray from our routines and similar to tourists we see and know only a limited view of our worlds. As a visiting tourist you have fresh eyes and you can ask questions that often stump the locals. Putting on the tourist hat even when we are home could yield many benefits. 

That disorienting feeling when you have little competence in the language or where things are definitive parts of being a tourist. However, there is an overwhelming tendency to seek comfort in things we know and trust. In the extreme, when abroad, we stay at the Hilton hotels, get coffee at Starbucks, and never try to utter a word other than English. All of the trappings of the ugly American. When I travel I awkwardly try to converse and understand what I see, eat, and experience. That was my focus this time too. My kids would say, Dad you are still ugly! All of us tried to resist our less adventuresome impulses, try new things, and show respect for the new cultures.
DSC03411

Without getting off on a giant historical and anthropological tangent, the Incans have always impressed me with their accomplishments. But ascending to the top of Machu Picchu brought my admiration to pure awe. The innovative technology, the sheer devotion to precision, the respect for nature, and the focus over a long time horizon. Not fully understanding the hierarchical systems and the means by which "incentives and motivations" were sustained, the results are stunning. No surprise why this is one of the seven modern Wonders of the World. Our guide Fabricio kept urging us to see beyond the images. Imagine what effort and work it took to accomplish these feats. Think about the journey rather than the destination. What sets Machu Picchu apart from many other extraordinary wonders, is the treacherous location of this complex agricultural and urban development. It sits atop of a 8000 ft mountain.

In the end, we return to the beginning and we are different. (apologies to TS Eliot) We accomplished our goals. We have traveled far and our experiences have altered our perspectives. We have an appreciation for Peru and Chile, that heretofore did not exist. We have a greater appreciation for what we have. Our respect for the Incans and the inspiration of Machu Picchu will not fade. But will the mentoring we received from our travels last? Will it make a difference in how we act or what we do with our lives? That's up to us to maintain that slightly uncomfortable, curious, and experimental tourist frame of mind. Our journey continues. 

Thanks for traveling along with me. John

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2 thoughts on “A Tourist in Latin America”

  1. Daddy this article is so beautiful. I am so glad that you and the family came to visit. I think that what you have written is so true. We live in a time when technology and materialistic things dictate our lives. I am so glad that you and mom allow us to have these types of opportunities to learn about people, cultures, countries, and languages that are different than our own. I hope you you enjoyed Chile. I definitely loved sharing this experience and this country with you. I love you so much! xoxo
    your loving daughter- Jenna

  2. Loved the article! I also believe that WHO you travel with makes a huge difference on the whole experience. When traveling to a foreign country, not only are you immersed in a new culture, but you are also forced to learn so much more about yourself and your traveling companions. It sounds like this group was able to really enjoy and bring all of the experiences to a positive level together 🙂 Looking forward to your next article.

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