It seems a little fashionable these days to travel to resorts and stay in all day – enjoying the swimming pool, the in-house activities and the big buffets. Also, these resorts usually suggest places of interest and people tend to opt for the guided tours there. Breeze in, breeze out without encountering any of the locals.
But in the words of James Michener:
If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.
Jose and I have learned a few things since we started travelling together. Yes, we go and stay in the resorts, mainly because we have a membership that makes it cheaper. But apart from the room, we use almost none of the facilities. On our recent trip we walked into the resort and walked out without paying a single rupee (we pay an annual charge) much to the shock of the staff. Since today’s prompt for the Write Tribe Festival of Words -2 is Travel, I thought I’d share some of things we’ve learned that makes our trips a good learning experience. So here goes – my travel wisdom:
Sample the local cuisine: We love our food and a vacation means a great time to sample the local fare. I’ve written about the food on our trip to Kumily/Thekkady here. On our recent trip to another part of Kerala, we enjoyed the prawns, the fish curry, the pork, the avial (a vegetable stew)- all made in authentic Kerala style. I’m not expanding on this because Jose will write about this more extensively on From 7Eight soon.
Get where the real action is: I always wonder why people travel so far to stay in the pool in a resort. They might as well go some place just out of town and find the same facilities. We love to go where the action is – the busy local market, the crowded beach, the local cafe. It’s there where you can truly absorb the spirit of the place you’re visiting.
Use public transport as far as possible: Whenever possible, we use local public transport – buses, auto-rickshaws and ferries. And as far as possible, we walk. For one thing, it’s so much cheaper, but more importantly, you can watch the locals in action especially in the buses and ferries. And you learn a lot about how that place functions.
I can never forget a conversation I heard on a ferry in Hong Kong. This couple – a big tall American and little Chinese girl, sitting at the back of me had been all lovey-dovey and then he asked her, “Do you have boyfriend?” and she responded, “Yes. Do you have a girlfriend?” Suddenly, dense old me realized that something was different about the city that day. A US Naval ship had come in and the American sailors were living up to ‘a girl in every port’! And for the local girls it was a time to make some money. This couple was one of the many I saw over the weekend. It told me something about the poverty that existed in a place that was, on the face of it, so developed.
Meet the locals: It’s always fun when, despite language barriers, you get to converse with the locals and learn a little bit more about them and their lifestyle. Children are always a joy to talk to. I remember two little boys walking alongside us on the village roads in Ashtamudi, Kerala a few years ago. They started a chat in Hindi and English – and then one of them asked me, “Which class are you studying in?” He made my day and year!
Respect the culture: This is something that goes without saying but it’s not always understood by those of us who travel. Cultures and practices differ from place to place and it’s important to be aware of those that are peculiar to the place you are travelling to. Learning ahead of your travel what to wear and asking permission before you take photographs especially when visiting religious sites or homes, are just some of the little things you can do to show respect for your ‘hosts’.
I’m sure there’s a lot I’ve missed out on, but I’m keeping this short.