What Kind of Traveler Are You?

What Kind of Traveler Are You?

“There are two types of travelers,” the 26-year-old Nicaraguan hostel employee told me. “There are the traveler-travelers, what I call them… They are the majority.”

I kept listening, waiting to hear how down-to-earth the foreign guests are, especially here at Managua Backpackers Inn, a modest backpackers’ haven in Managua, Nicaragua. I haven’t spent much time in hostels, but when I encounter foreigners through volunteer work or outdoor activities, the majority have big hearts and an inspiring curiosity towards the place and its people.

After explaining to me that he lived in the USA for over four years, my new Nicaraguan friend reassured me by saying, “The travelers are not like the people who live in the U.S.” At this point I knew we were on the same page – travelers from the U.S. and elsewhere tend to be more thoughtful and open-minded, right?

Why would people come to Central America or any other place and not even be interested in getting to know the people who live here?

Swiftly he continued with, “…se hacen drogas, hacen sexo con mucha gente… they do drugs, have sex with lots of people…” He noticed my raised eyebrows and after some further explanation of his view as a local Managuan with much insight, he concluded with, “I don’t care what they do with their lives, but it is disappointing.”

I too, was disappointed. How could this be true of the majority in which I appeared to be a part? Why would people come to Central America or any other place and not even be interested in getting to know the people who live here? Aren’t we known to go out of our minds enough at home through our various avenues of distraction: TV show marathons, Fireball, the occasional one-night stand?

I wanted to tell him that he had a narrow view, and that his ‘traveler-traveler’ group doesn’t represent all foreign hostel visitors. But there was no denying his perspective – he works here, and I just got off of a plane a few hours ago.

What Kind of Traveler Are You?

“What is worse are the females,” he continued, causing my eyes to latch on to his face, more alert than before. His eyes continued to look out behind me, flashing back every once in a while. So far he had spoken openly to me without reservation, even though we had just met, about a group anyone could assume I was a part of. Now he was crossing into the zone I could not evade as a female traveler, but the way he said it made me think I was not quite included.

“They have no self respect,” he explained. Now I really hoped I wasn’t.

We sat under one light bulb that faded quickly into the night, and his eyes kept shifting across the surrounding darkness, at a loss for understanding.

I asked myself: What was I doing, and by whose rules was I playing?

I swung in the hammock thinking as he chatted with another guest. The breeze helped calm my sweating skin, which was adjusting from a day of bustle from sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures to heavy heat. I was saddened that most travelers who come through here don’t care to seek more than the superficial party life, according to him. In a moment I felt the weight of my own truth – a story from my last trip through Latin America that supported his claims.

I had been that gringa – one night in Huanchaco, Peru, three years ago. It was Thursday night, and we could get two drinks for less than two dollars. I didn’t trust myself, and often didn’t drink more than a cuba libre on a random Tuesday night, but my last evening in town had to be a night to remember, I told myself.

At age 18, with everyone I knew at one of the two bars in town, I foolishly thought that involved some escapade with a muscular surfer I had encountered before. What a catch, right? Other people’s thoughts, or perhaps my own voice echoing what I assumed to be theirs, filled my head.

What Kind of Traveler Are You?

The next morning I felt sick, and thought less of myself— I’ll let your assumptions do the work to explain what happened. Sobering up and soaking it in, I asked myself: What was I doing, and by whose rules was I playing? Was this what I wanted? I was ignorant to think a physical act could bring people together. I couldn’t wait to leave town, and just wanted to forget what little I remembered from the night before, where no piece of Eliza existed, but rather a body without much life.

This story is hard to think about, so I pushed the thoughts out of my mind and redirected my attention towards the man in front of me once again, finding safety in the present.

I couldn’t wait to leave town, and just wanted to forget what little I remembered from the night before, where no piece of Eliza existed, but rather a body without much life.

“What about the other group of travelers?” I asked him. “You said there were two groups?” I held out hope for recognition of those I knew existed – the ones who sought the lessons of another culture, a friendship with difference, and an experience worth living.

“Yes… the very small group… the group that has a goal, an aim… to learn, be with the people. But they are rare.”

I kept looking at him and nodded. He sighed and wished me a good evening. “Class tomorrow,” he explained, “gotta go.” When asked what he is studying, he replied, “linguistics.”

Hasta mañana?” I asked, “Until tomorrow?” I wasn’t satisfied finishing this conversation so soon, even if it was nearly midnight.

Por la tarde, si.” In the afternoon, yes.

After I heard the clap of his sandals on the tile fade behind me, I rested my head back on the soft rope fabric, surprised how the day was born. I knew I had too much energy to sleep. As the minutes passed I relaxed my mind in the quiet, reminding myself of why I was here.

 

What Kind of Traveler Are You photo credits: Jessica Shen

About Eliza Salmon

Eliza SalmonSeeking a global classroom in hopes of better understanding global inequality, Eliza has dedicated herself to traveling in a way that seeks local connection. She has visited Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico in the last few years, but first left the U.S. at the age of 14 on a school trip to China (that rocked her world.) Currently she is in either Nicaragua, Guatemala or somewhere in between.

3 thoughts on “What Kind of Traveler Are You?

  1. Eliza Salmon
    Eliza Salmon
    March 9, 2015
    Reply

    Thanks all! And will let you know Ben – thank you for all the contact sharing!

  2. Avatar
    March 5, 2015
    Reply

    Well written for sure. Good job on that front.

    Your friend is pretty spot on and it sounds like you see the truth of his observations. The heavily traveled Gringo trail in Central America is predominantly populated with mochileros looking for cheap liquor and a drunken hostel hook up with a foreigner. Not a local mind you, but someone from somewhere else in the developed world.

    Let me know if you find yourself in Honduras or Belize and I’ll connect you with folks that can get you well away from those shenanigans.

    Keep enjoying your trip. It sounds like you’re learning things that can’t be learned in the classroom.

  3. Julianne Kanter
    Julianne Kanter
    March 4, 2015
    Reply

    Eliza, nice piece! Well written and enjoyable. Looking forward to more of your pieces.

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