How to See the Real (Insert Country Here)
It seems like most people who travel to exotic countries aren’t actually seeing the “real” version – it turns out most Mexicans don’t lie around on beaches all day and most Moroccans don’t ride camels – but how do you get past the tourist facade and into the heart of a country? I’m glad you asked, because although I may seem like a shallow tourist who is happy seeing the sights, meeting some locals and generally not worrying about authenticity, my mind has been churning over the question for a while now. This is what I came up with.
Get a cyborg to travel back in time and force your father to impregnate a native woman
This is probably the best way to be ushered in to the “real” society of a country, because you can’t come across as a tourist if you were actually born there. It might mean growing up in a tiny village with no electricity, but wouldn’t it be great to say you had a real experience in a third world country instead of a manufactured one? How would this even be possible, I’m pretty sure you’re asking…? Well, assuming Skynet doesn’t take over the world, there’ll be a whole lot of cyborgs with nothing much to do. Send one back in time to find your father and accompany him to whichever country you want to see the real side of – easy! This cyborg (we’ll call him Arnold) will take your father to bars and clubs to meet the local women. He’ll also help him set up a small beach bar where he can raise you as a local of (insert country here).
Don’t have access to a time machine? I’d better give you some more useful tips then! While I think it’s impossible to find the “real” side of a country (if that even exists), it is possible to get to know a place without being too smug about it.
Eat cheap food
Budget travel has its advantages, one being that you’re basically forced to eat where the locals eat in order to not starve to death. The food is often as good (if not better) than you’ll find in the more upmarket restaurants and you’ll also mix with the common man a little more. This tip (and most of the others) apply to developing countries – eating cheap food in New Zealand won’t gain you access to the inner ring of our society, it’ll just put you on the fast track to scurvy and heart disease (fish and chips is the cheapest/one of the least healthy things you can eat in NZ).
Take local transport
Again, you’d probably rather take a hovercraft or a helicopter, but if you’re on a budget you’ll be stuck on buses that look like they just jumped out of a horror movie. While not likely to be hell bound (unless they are driving to Cancun, some would say) they are often rough, but it’s all part of the fun. They’ll wind through small villages, past markets full of fruit and will make more stops than you can count. You’ll be stared at by children, giggled at by teenagers, offered food by the women and cigarettes by the men, and although you might occasionally have to hang out of the door or sit on the roof, you’ll enjoy the ride.
Go to markets/music events/festivals
If you really want to see real, day to day life in a country, it’d probably be a good idea to hang outside office buildings and watch people do the same jobs they do in your own country. I’ve never seen a travel writer advocate that though – I guess there’s only so much realism a person can handle. It’s far more interesting to go to night markets, festivals and other events – you’ll see the local population doing what they really enjoy – and if you enjoy it too you might just be on your way to living like a local, the holy grail of travel.
As you can probably tell, I’m not one for travel smugness – basically people saying their way of travel is better. The whole “Living like a local” and “Seeing the real ….” is a popular trend at the moment, but never feel like you have to do it. If you want to sit and watch reruns of Friends all day while you order more and more magic mushroom shakes then go for it. It is possible to get to know a culture in some small way by forgoing a few luxuries and supporting small, local business – just promise you won’t start being smug about it!
How do you feel about cyborgs, authenticity and travel smugness? Let me know!