Today was really good…I had a whole day to kill and nothing to do here in gorgeous Jaisalamar.  Just chilled out and wandered around…and what a great place to wander.  I checked out some cool Havelis in town and then drifted up a nearby hill to get a good view of the fort.  The best part was all the buck-naked kids running out of their huts up to me yelling "Hello!" "Hello!"  God’s children, unashamed and unharmed from what they didn’t know.  The parent’s didn’t care.  I didn’t take any pics, seemed rude somehow.  But it was fun.  These people out here, farthest from the city center, were the poorest.  They lived pretty much as basic as it gets in stone huts.  I thought it was the touristy "sunset point" but clearly I was on the wrong hill…cool!  How many times has something interesting or good happened the second I get away from the tourist crowds?
 
Then in the afternoon wandered down to the Gadi Sagar reservoir.  It was really peaceful, local men just chilling out in the shade, women doing the ol’ holy water thing and singing some prayers.  I guess out here such a lake would be holy.  Course it was too good to last, a Japanese tourist appeared with his posse and proceeded to stick his cannon of a camera into the women’s faces as they were trying to do their prayers.  Just started snapping away from point-blank range.  OK, I know its a cultural thing and I should be more sensitive, but…What the hell is up with the Japanese tourists!?  *!@#@!!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been enjoying a moment somewhere when a busload of Japanese or Koreans pulls up, tromps around snapping a zillion pictures of everything (with each person having to appear in each picture), and then boards back up into their death cruiser and leaves. Its like locusts: they just come in, waste the area with their armada of tank-like camera weapons, and leave the place in ruins to move on to the next killing zone.
 
I want to take pics of the local gals but try to be discreet about it since I know they hate it and I’m being a little rude.  I always ask before taking a close-up pic, which usually results in a NO (if they are one of the afore-mentioned gals) or a "rupees, please" if they are a turban’ed guy or group of saavy kids.  Being a tourist is always a balancing act.  On one hand you are providing much-needed cashflow to the mostly dirt-poor residents of a lot of these countries.  This (in theory) will put money into the local economy, allowing people better access to education, medicine, yadda yadda yadda.  Another big perk is that for endangered places, it gives the locals a stake in preservation since their income is directly tied to it.  This applies to coral reefs as well as aging castles in the desert being eroded away by too many tuk-tuks.  BUT…of course there is the ***DARK SIDE*** (as my brother Nathan encouraged me to investigate).
 
Is it really all that great for the locals?  Yes most get money to improve their lives, after it filters through the countless layers of corruption.  But exposure to Western society I think is pretty harmful to people who aren’t ready for it.  Is this condescending?  Maybe, I don’t know, but let me explain what I’ve seen.  Take Los Angeles, where I rub elbows with plenty of very wealthy, very unhappy people.  Not all of ’em, but a heck of a lot.  At the risk of running into a long diatribe of old cliches, let me just wrap it up by saying I’ve seen plenty first-hand of the ill effects of the "American Dream" and western materialism, the spiritual void that comes with me-first.  Hell I’ve suffered (or maybe enjoyed it) myself quite a bit.  But at least our society has grown up over the generations with this background.  As a result, zillions of new-age religions, self-help books, and an army of wealthy shrinks have emerged to baby us through the world we’ve created for ourselves.
 
But I hate to see Westernization taking over the whole world and melding all people into its amoebic blob.  Sorry for the nerd-ness, but its like the Borg, coming to assimilate everything in its path.  Resistance is futile.  The sad thing is that it really is futile.  It is happening and will happen to every colorful culture that is quickly disappearing under its outreaching tentacles.  And who is leading the vanguard of this movement to the last untouched places on earth?  Why, I am!!  Yeah for me!  As a tourist I have been dropping heaps of cash into the local sector, motivating boys and girls to leave their villages from Bali to India to join in the spiritual work of cleaning hotels, preparing western food, and selling junk.  Hell in Flores I know for a fact I showed my shiny new LCD-screen camera to plenty of young villagers who had never seen one before.  Shit they better go leave the traditional village and make lots of money, so they can buy one too!
 
How horribly ironic that tourists ruin everything they seek to find.  Its like they guy who unknowingly has BO at the party…he wants to hook up with the hot girls but instead finds them staying just out of reach despite his best efforts.  There are all types of tourists, but I’d say in general most of them would agree with the following: 1) They love to see unspoiled beauty, 2) They hate being harassed by touts and ripped off.  Well let’s ponder this for just a minute…a place can only be unspoiled if there are few people to spoil it.  But when a tourist comes to town and drops cash, it attracts more and more locals who see fat foreign wallets dangling for the pickin’s.  This drives up the population of "salespeople, hotels, and pollution"-to-"unspoiled beauty"-ratio until you get the annoying 7-11-packed, Starbucks-stuffed, rubbish-strewn, tout-filled hassle that is the standard tourist destination.  And why do tourist get ripped off?  Well, because enough of ’em pay more than the local rates that touts get smart and jack up prices in an endless circle.  There is no sympathy from them because we are ridicously wealthy and don’t really deserve it…kinda like a Robin Hood "rob the rich, feed the poor" mindset.
 
So these two things are really saying the same thing: the ideal tourist destination is the one with no tourists (except yourself of course, haha).  Hmmm…what does that teach us?  First of all, it says take the 10 kg guidebooks weighing down your pack and use ’em for firewood at the next chance you get.  Or better yet, study them intensively so you know exactly where NOT to go.  Because the only really cool shit you are going to see is the stuff you see by getting off the beaten path (GOTBP).  Yep there’s the ol’ phrase that pays, uttered by a million wannabe cool backpackers.  But this is what REALLY kills me.  Everyone knows this simple fact and noone has the balls to actually go do it.  I mean, not REALLY do it.  Sure you get the guy who tells you the story of when he was in Indo and got stranded by the boat when it left without him and eventually had to get on a the fisherman’s canoe and cross the channel to another island and hop on the motorbike to get back to civilization.  "What a great story!", you say, and congratulate him for his little GOTBP.  But wait a sec, isn’t he telling you his story at the full-moon party in Ko Phan Ngan, surrounded by a million other Definately On The Beaten Path "backpackers?"
 
The sad truth that no wannabe cool backpacker will admit?  Its HARD doing the GOTBP.  I mean, I love the story of me riding around in Flores on the motorbike going from village-to-village in the rainstorm, noone speaking English, not another tourist around for a hundred miles.  Communicating with my pidgeon Indonesian and paying with cigarettes instead of money.  I love the story.  But actually doing it sucked!  Secretly the whole time I couldn’t wait to get to a decent hotel in a couple days, take a nice hot shower, and relax on the beach with a rumrunner.  People want that unspoiled OTBP experience without the effort it requires.  They moan and complain about how such-and-such a place used to be so cool but now its gone to hell.  But secretly they love their tourist infrastructure, hotels with clean towels and hot water, ATMs, Starbucks, and McDonalds.  They want their cake and to eat it too.  How many times have I waxed on about how tasty that $4 grande latte was after a month in bird-flu infested Sumatran jungle towns eating nothing but rice and veggies?
 
So let the hippies in still relatively unspoiled Ton Sai and Pai and Perhentian Kecil grow their hair long and moan and complain about that new 7-11 in town.  As they go back to their clean hotels and guesthouses and order a nice dinner prepared by the local cook who is part of the massive tourist economy that drives the town.  That they are paying into.  And causing to grow.  Because there is only one real backpacker, and this type of primordial backpacker is extinct today (well at least, to find one I’d have to be one so they might as well be).  These are the guys who came to Thailand in the 60’s and 70’s, when it really was unspoiled beauty.  But, they had no hotels, no guy selling ’em local weed or fixing their errant dreadlocks when they go astray.  These guys learned the language, lived with the people, probably got sick quite often from malaria and bad food, camped in pretty tough conditions, because they just had to be there.  Its the same type of guys who pioneered surfing in Indonesia back before the first charter boat ever plowed the waves.  It was worth the effort and hardships to be in a place like this, somewhere truly unspoiled.
 
Today to surf Indo, I hop on a jet, take a taxi to a hotel, and take a motorbike to the beach with (how thoughtful) surfboard attachment in place.  After a surf I go to the local huts for a feed and beer, maybe a massage, miraculously there already as if they knew I was coming.  Sure, I did a little OTBP stuff in Flores for a bit.  Maybe Sumatra counts a little, but not really.  But each time it was with the knowledge that soon I’d be back on the yellow brick road paved in my guidebook, full of sure-fire temples and beaches that give you guaranteed, risk-free, bang-for-buck.
 
Don’t get me wrong, its great to see the beaten path.  Its easy, number one.  Number two, there’s a hell of a lot of great stuff, I mean no way should you miss the Taj Mahal or Ko Phi Phi in your life.  BUT, if you have the balls, get off of it too.  I mean really off it.  Just go somewhere.  And if you really want to do it in style, stay awhile, learn a little of the language, and don’t take too many pictures.  Then when you get back tell me all about it.  I’ll be up on my rooftop restaurant, eating pasta and drinking cold beer.  Thinking of how I accidentally stumbled up the wrong hill that morning, and it turned out to be the highlight of the day to see naked kids running up and sincerely yelling "Hello!" to me for a change.  Thinking I should accidentally stumble up the wrong hill more often.
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