This week Johanna and I have journeyed to the coast with Vanja as she concludes her time in Tanzania and we travel after completing the semester at school.
Starting in Arusha on Tuesday we drove east with a van full of friends to a beautiful desert oasis that the locals call the Hot Springs. They are not particularly hot, but it was a wonderful secluded watering hole with deep clear warm water surrounded by tall palms and mangroves all crawling with local boys doing flips off the rope swing. It was loads of fun playing with our Arusha friends and enjoying water play with the other Tanzanians of all ages. There were only a couple other wazungu travelers/tourists present.
I want to flesh out a little of my experience with those words: travelers and tourists. I find like most things we each have our own assumptions and connotations with these words, and again like most things I find my self experiencing the grey area of both/and rather than either/or.
I generally have a positive opinion of “travelers.” They are adventurous, flexible, open, curious, and have a desire to engage with the variety of human experience and perspective that this vast planet has to offer. On whatever scale they have the means and time for.
“Tourists,” I feel less kindly toward as they often travel in large groups, take pictures of everything, are oblivious to nuances of everyday life in whatever new place they decided to visit. They rely on schedules and structured consumer methods of seeing, experiencing, and tasting the world.
The negative of the tourist title is most definitely just as stereotypical and overstated as the admirable depiction of the “weirdly traveler” is. The grey area of my experience with these words come from the knowledge that there are usually a time and place for everything, and often they way I feel and think can be silly feels silly and yet true in the moment. Here’s some of my experiences and feelings on this coastal trip, with some previous trip anecdotes thrown in:
I feel like a traveler when I pack only a carry on or small backpack. I feel like a tourist when I check a suitcase.
I feel like a tourist when I take pictures of food. I feel like a traveler when I blog about pictures of my typical local meals.
I feel like a tourist when I wear a backpack on the front and the back. I feel like a traveler when I walk around a big city with a backpack on the front and the back.
I feel like a traveler when I wait for an unscheduled bus on a small bench under a tree in Tanga with a huge group of locals lounging around presumably for the same reason. I feel like a tourist when the only reason I get a seat on that bus is because a friend we just made fended off three people so we could get to the seats.
I feel like a tourist when I opt for the taxi ride from point A to point B. I feel like a traveler when I hop on the bodaboda, squeeze in the daladala, and wedge myself between people for the long bumpy ride from point A to point B.
I feel like a tourist when I go to the Arusha Nakumatt supermarket. I feel like a traveler when I buy and barter in Kiswahili at the secondhand market or any stand on the street.
I feel like a tourist when I stay the night at a gorgeous beach lodge where I’m fed food of all kinds. I feel like a traveler when I stay a night in a tiny Tanga hostel room with a tiny little fan where I eat a breakfast of beans and toast with a men’s basketball team from Mwanza.
I feel like a tourist when I “see the sites.” I feel like a traveler when I “just visit” a town and the highlight is meeting a local named Medy who’s returning home from school and was happy to spend lunch and the afternoon showing us around his pleasantly sleepy coastal home town of Pangani.
I feel like a traveler when I learn something new about where I’ve been, who I met, and who I am. I feel like a tourist when I had fun appreciating a luxury.
I feel like a tourist when I make decisions based on comfort. I feel like a traveler when I am uncomfortable and it was worth it.
The maskitos feasting on my ankles right now qualify as slightly more than uncomfortable, but they are well worth the ocean breeze passing through my open windows that frame an uninterrupted view of palms and the Indian Ocean at sunset. We’re making our way down the humid and beautiful coast lined with low key port towns from Tanga to Pangani, and on to Bagamoyo tomorrow where we’ll enjoy our last two days with Vanja. She’ll head to Zanzibar before home, Johanna off to Lake Tanganyika, and me to Dar Es Salaam for a bus home to Arusha.
I am beyond thankful for such wonderful women to travel with. And I’m so thankful for the chance to get out of the very tourist centered Arusha and experience more of the laid back friendly Tanzania. I am thankful I enjoy traveling and have gradually learned to embrace the good that being a tourist is too.
What are some of your traveler vs. tourist experiences and stories?