As we pulled in at the gate of the airport in Antananarivo I had a sigh of relief that we completed our family trip in Madagascar without any mishap.
The moment we parked, before I could even get out, we were surrounded by locals. They had blocked the door and were begging us to give them paper bills for coins. They said “Problem with the bank.” There were about 8-10 people between me and my husband, all shrieking “Please please please...”
Carlo was already out, I didn't like that we were blocked from each other. The way these people were asking, swarming around us and distracting attention, I suspected something was wrong. I asked our guide.
“Jean-Claude, is this a scam?”
His reply was “I don't know.”
Seeing his unconcerned, calm attitude, and knowing that banks do not accept coins when exchanging money, we wanted to help them out.
They seemed desperate. They were even offering “22 Euros in exchange for 20 Euros.” Of course, you don't want to take advantage of the bad situation of these people. These must have been coins that foreigners gave as tips for carrying their bags or something.
I started changing the money. In the meantime, I was very bothered that Carlo was standing there alone, surrounded by all the locals. They could have just pulled out his wallet or something else without him noticing. You never stand in the crowd alone like that. I had my back covered in the safety of the van, but I still felt helpless I couldn't reach out to Carlo. He had started changing too and I couldn't stop him, which added another stress to me. I handle the money when we are travelling. We got into a couple of troubling situations beforehand. He is not used to travel and deal with hustlers in such countries. I am. Yet here we were, and I was getting annoyed with the situation.
I changed a couple of 20 Euros. But they kept asking for more.
“Please, me too, me too...”
But you cannot keep changing forever, help them all out. There are other foreigners around, they do a bit too, I figured out. Then I said “Enough!”
If you don't say enough and act like you mean it, you never get out of the pressure. It's really bothering.
So we got our luggage, went in, did the check-in, passed through immigration and security. When we finally sat down in peace, Carlo said “Let's count the money.” I wasn't keen on doing it to be honest, I was just glad that the whole ordeal was over. Still, we gathered all the coins between Carlo and me, started counting. Sure enough, money was missing. In between us, we had given them 160 Euros and we had less than 80 Euros in coins now all together.
But how could that be?
We had seen them count the money.
Then we figured it out. They had counted the coins in their own hands. After counting, when giving the coins in our hands, they must have kept some in their palm. The bigger coins like 1-2 Euros were obviously closer to their thumbs, so they emptied the smaller change 10-20 cents in our hands.
Then I remembered. I remembered a detail. When the first man counted and gave the money to me, I had started counting it myself. Because that's what I always do automatically. Then they started making turmoil, clamoring “Please madame please, me too” etc. This was of course meant to distract my attention. I'm sorry to say it worked
It feels miserable to be tricked. It feels even doubly miserable to be swindled when you were trying to help someone out.
What makes it all the worse is this robs trust. I've had another incident where someone whom I gave money to started hassling me for more money. I kept saying “No”, he wouldn't stop. You can be sure, I'm not helping anybody out from now on. I have trusted people until now and have been disillusioned too many times. Mostly, people take advantage of your goodwill. This includes people whom I opened up my house to robbing my stuff. It feels bad. It actually feels awful. Be it my best friend, or someone whom I had called best-friend for a decade “robbing” my car for her boyfriend, be it a total stranger... True, I am the stupid one in each of these situations. I am the one who trusted and gave people my house, my car without any binding agreement; yet, this doesn't excuse the behavior. True, there are people who return the favor and do not exploit you. But they are the small minority. No, I won't keep on doing good for their sake, not when I end up feeling so bad about it afterwards. I won't take my chances again. I won't trust people.
Worse yet, I won't ever try to help people I don't know.
My husband said we should report to the police. I tried to. I even went out of the airport to find the police. Yet, they didn't care. The three officers I found just brushed me off when I told them what had happened. Another told me to show her the people and walked away. I mean how can you identify them?! I didn't look at their faces. I wouldn't have recognized even if one of them was my friend, I am a looker but non-seer. Still... I tried to have a look around. I had one idea of a woman whom I had noticed somehow, but I could never be sure; so no need to accuse anyone. I went back in disheartened.
Then I started questioning...
Why and how come they get to do this?... I wondered about the people who swindled us. What kind of people were they, what were their lives like? How many times had they done this before, how had this scam first occurred to them? Was it a collective thing that came up as a solution to their plight or was it the doing of one person organizing the others? How did they split the money after the deal? Did each get what s/he could get away with or did they share as they were all there doing their part? I wondered if they fought with each other over their share.
I have no answers to any of these questions. I can only guess there are different types of personalities and different reasons that drive people to do such things. Some learn, they are forced to learn to swindle. I suppose I'd have learnt it too if I was left in dire circumstances. Instead of suffering or resigning to my fate, I'd have done something to get some food for my family. I wouldn't have done anything harmful. I wouldn't have stolen probably. Like breaking into someone's house or mugging anyone. No, I wouldn't be able to do that kind of stealing. But yeah, if I could get away with some sneaky means, like messing up with bank accounts, or picking up money from a stack which no one would notice, I'd have done it. I could perhaps even swindle people like they did with us. Who knows? I might be capable of doing that. You never know such things until you are tested.
The reason I don't do any of these now is not a sign of my virtue but a sign of my circumstances not requiring me to do such things. I most probably would have rationalized my behavior if I was in their place. What's wrong with what they did? They didn't harm us. Not physically. They didn't harm us much materially either. They know we have money, and it's obvious we can afford to lose that money without any significant setback in our life circumstances. It is true.
It is also true that they can make better use of that money. Yeah, I have to be fair. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Like the way I reasoned when I had money stolen in Buenos Aires back in 2001, I had reasoned “I'm glad my money went into the Argentinian economy. They can use it. I hope the man used it for something good like buying his sick mother medicines or food for his children.”
Besides, I give money away anyway. I donate. I can assume I donated that money to them.
The thing is... I cannot really assume that. Because I want to pick whom I donate “my” money to. I want to get to decide on that. And I definitely would have preferred to donate it to people who do not even ask let alone resort to such tricks which rob trust.
That is the main reason I hurt. That my trust has been stolen. I didn't think much highly of humanity before this, knowing all the cruelty man can impose on another. All the killings, all the torture, all the slavery, all the kidnappings, all the human trafficking, all the sexual abuse... I cannot complain about my share. (You always need to see the bigger perspective and keep it in mind. Always.) I am among the fortunate. At least until now I've been so. Still... it adds one more tile upon the pile of reasons to retreat from society at large.
May God (or whatever that higher force is) protect people from man's cruelty.
PS: This wouldn't have happened if I was travelling alone. What makes it worse is that it happened under the watch of a guide, it certainly wouldn't have happened if we were on our own either.
Jean-Claude should have intervened on our behalf and scattered the people away from us. So we believe it was a grave failing on his part as a guide. Sadly, his nonchalant attitude even after I asked him if this was a scam made us question if he was in on this scam. Jean-Claude works for ToursByLocals, a five-star firm. We have notified them of the situation. Unfortunately, they didn't do anything about it. So just beware of Jean-Claude in Madagascar.
You want to give... But giving has to be done in a certain way.
We had some children stuff. I had actually saved Lara's nice clothes and shoes as a memory, but in the end, I decided not to keep them. Just a few. Who knows what's going to happen in two decades? If she will have children, if we can store them safely. Before going to Madagascar we wrote to Jean-Claude to ask if there was an institution we could donate children's clothes and toys. He said it's better to give them firsthand, where people in need get them.
In a way, I find that better as well. I know from experience that when you donate things to an institution they are at high risk of either:
a) being appropriated for the benefit of the people running the place,
b) being left rotting in a corner.
We had given some stationery to an orphanage in Ghana, the man in charge just kept most for his children. The rest of the books and pens were stashed in a corner, he didn't distribute, let them rot in the humid air. To his credit, the children in Africa do not really know how to appreciate things and look after them. Not that children in Europe or in other places do know it! They generally have too much and could not care less if some things went missing. In Africa, it's a different kind though. They do not value most of this stuff that they have no use for. Perhaps it's because children don't have a concept of possession yet. Or at least for things they don't especially care about, because they hang on to precious things. Actually they make a fuss if anybody else attempts to touch something they are not even using. When another wants something, all of a sudden, it becomes precious. Children scatter things around. If things get lost, they cry so hard so as to stress the parents. Then they forget. They move on to whatever is at hand. If it's found, it only takes a short time until it's tossed aside again.
Anyway... In the end, we ended up stopping on the road and giving the things in people's/children's hands.
I knew we shouldn't be doing it that way. Naturally, there are always many children surrounding us. So what happens?
We stopped at a rest place where other cars were stopping as well. Children ask for empty water bottles. They serve for so many things, putting oil, gas, drinks... Or they make cars out of them. Toy cars. Anyway, we had given out everything, had only one pair of socks left to give out. Lara took it out, passed it to Jean-Claude, who passed it out from the window. These two 13-15 year-old boys started tugging the socks. And they started a real fight over it. Seriously hitting each other. I don't know if I can describe how horrible it felt, just try to imagine. You give something to someone, you want to help, then you witness them fighting over that, hurting each other. You ask yourself whether it would have been better if you didn't give, they didn't have anything in the first place.
Of course that's not true. The thing is, people need to have their minimum needs met. As if you don't see the same ugly fight between the rich who have more than enough!
“Over something which neither of them has use for,” I said to Carlo when we were discussing what had happened.
“They trade amongst themselves,” Carlo said.
Could be... Whatever the case, it is heavy to see that there are people in the world fighting over an old pair of baby socks. No wonder about the fights going on over things at bigger stakes. Some companies do it in a politer, more civilized fashion; it's done at a subtler level. But the fight, is as ugly for the ones who can see it.
We had run out of any material thing to give away. The kids on the riverside asked for biscuits. I had a couple of biscuits that I had taken from Rome, for us to munch on on the road. Once again, feeling obliged to give something, I took the bag out to give to the children. Again, of course there is not enough to go around. I suppose in general it's best not to take out anything unless you have enough to go around for everybody. Anyway... I was going to distribute one by one. First, I randomly picked two girls to give to. A boy grabbed one from my hand before the girl could get it. Then one of the girls tried to get it from the boy. The boy, trying hard not to give it to her, squeezed his hand tighter. As he squeezed, the biscuit all fell in crumbles. The other biscuit had the same fate as the children were fighting over it.
Would it have been any different if there was enough for every kid? Perhaps. Perhaps then I could line up the kids and hand each a biscuit, one by one. Still, that wouldn't have guaranteed that there wouldn't be one who tried to grab a second from another.
This actually sums up what I learnt out of life in my almost half a century on this earth. There is a cake, or the image of a cake, and we all try to grab what we can. Some, like me, are weary of this greedy game and do not wish to get involved. (Of course lucky too to have enough.) Others like playing the game, their personality type fits perfectly for this kind of competition. Still others feel compelled to join the game as a matter of livelihood. There are not many options to live a decent life in our world. If people who are more than willing to work cannot get jobs, they may feel obliged to resort to other methods.
This may not absolve them, but it certainly is an explanation that calls for our understanding.
This time there was an elder man around the group of children. He had a stick in his hand. Anytime anybody tried to reach out and grab something as we were pulling it out of the bag, or anytime someone tried to get something given to another, the man would hit lightly on the children.
I'm not sure if I like/d this method. However, it seems to be the one that works. Do we need to have an authoritarian figure distributing the resources of the world like that to each one of us?
Perhaps that could be the only solution!
Or of course, we just keep playing this the powerful or the rapacious grabs, the others starve or just get by game.
I don't know about you, I don't like either. We'd better set up a long spoons game somehow, where the greedy cannot eat and have to learn to share if s/he wants to survive. The continuation of our race might depend on that, because the way things are going, we will keep on plucking each other's eyes, or at least trying to.
As Anand Giridharadas so aptly says in his book “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World"
“You can inspire the rich to do more good, but never tell them to do less harm. You can inspire them to give back, but not to take less. You can inspire them to join the solution, but never accuse them of being part of the problem.”
The crux of the matter is: The elite “...clings to a set of social arrangements that allow it to monopolize progress and then give symbolic scraps to the forsaken -many of whom wouldn't need the scraps if the society were working right.”
Give symbolic scraps to the forsaken... This cannot be emphasized enough.
-many of whom wouldn't need the scraps if the society were working right...
This cannot be emphasized enough either.
We really need some drastic changes. When I say drastic, I'm talking about radically different ways of thinking, not going on with the “already on the table, cold plates.” Those plates have long gone bad, they did not serve, and we live in a totally different world than when those solutions were served. I have some ground-breaking ideas that need implementation. Come up with yours. Let's start discussing them. Let's get the conversation going on a totally tangential route. It may seem erratic, but the route we are going on is the erratic one; it's time to change our approach, it's time to redefine our concepts regarding borders, nationality, money, profit, governments etc.
We need UBI for everyone. We need to establish free-market citizenships where governments woo for our loyalties and taxes instead of us being chained to them at birth, without consent.
Here are some quotes from “Winners Take All”:
“the connection between the extraordinary helping and the extraordinary hoarding, between the milking -and perhaps abetting- of an unjust status quo and the attempts by the milkers to repair a small part of it.”
“There are many ways to make sense of all this elite concern and predation. One is that the elites are doing the best they can. The world is what it is; the system is what it is; the forces of the age are bigger than anyone can resist; the most fortunate are helping. This view may allow that this helpfulness is just a drop in the bucket, but it is something. The slightly more critical view is that this elite-led change is well-meaning but inadequate. It treats symptoms, not root causes; it does not change the fundamentals of what ails us. According to this view, elites are shirking the duty of more meaningful reform.
But there is still another, darker way of judging what goes on when elites put themselves in the vanguard of social change: that it not only fails to make things better, but also serves to keep things as they are. After all, it takes the edge off of some of the public's anger at being excluded from progress. It improves the image of the winners. With its private and voluntary half-measures, it crowds out public solutions that would solve problems for everyone, and do so with or without the elite's blessing.”
“The only thing better than being a fox is being a fox asked to watch over hens.”
My view is the more critical view, the place I've underlined. Even though the darker way of judging also has a substantial truth to it. The moral outrage is shushed and diverted and there can be no change without moral outrage. Because for change to happen, there has to be pressure. Where is the pressure going to come from if there is no outrage at the unjust status-quo?
Change must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Frederick Douglas
The ironical part which no one notices is expressed by Kirkus Reviews: "Give a hungry man a fish, and you get to pat yourself on the back—and take a tax deduction."
Yeah, that's what happens!
In Forbes, Jay Coen Gilbert comments:
“Giridharadas speaks truth to power, calling elites to account for giving so much lip service to 'changing the world,' while mostly upholding an unacceptable status quo."
Yes, the unacceptable status quo. Unfortunately, it's not only the elites who uphold it, it's a big part of the middle-class too. Nobody wants to give up their privileges. People are scared to lose their established status. They want their entitlements.
We're all playing a game of musical chairs. Who gets the chair?
The ones who already have a chair do not want to give up their chairs for even a short time to anybody who might be in need. It's logical in a way. They know they might never be getting their chairs back ever again. In fact, the probability of their not getting their chair back is almost 100 %. So we stick to our chairs and the status-quo.
Until somebody strong enough comes along to throw us off. Sometimes it happens, but not too often. The reason?
1- People are blinded by the status-quo. After all, they are like kittens who grew up with goggles as in the Blackmore experiment . Even the discriminated against are not aware most of the time.
2- Even when they are, “It is what it is” is a typical acceptance.
3- It's so difficult to break inertia.
So how do we change this game? The Musical Chairs Game... We can even keep playing it, but we need to establish a rule that forbids some people occupying million chairs when so many are without a seat. Plus, absolutely no stealing other people's chairs. (Which is actually what big global corporations and politicians do all the time.) Those who do, will be severely punished.
More important than that, we should change the song. Or change the game altogether. Let's start the game of long spoons. Those who are not altruists cannot survive. Solution for the overpopulation problem too. One stone, two birds.
There are two Tsingy's. The Big Tsingy and the Small Tsingy. They said the Big Tsingy is not for children less than 10 or for people older than 60. I thought the two Tsingys were close to each other, so I figured I might be doing the Big one while Carlo and Lara did the Small and we'd meet up afterwards. The Big Tsingy was supposed to last four hours, the Small about an hour, but they could hang around while waiting for me.
When Carlo announced he wanted to do the Big Tsingy as well, I now had a dilemma: How could I deny him that? But Lara's coming with us was out of the question. So what were we going to do?
Jean-Claude, our guide, said people took along younger children by signing a waiver to the authorities. Neither I nor Carlo were ready to do such a thing risking Lara. Also, we found out, that Small Tsingy was close to where we were staying, an hour away from Big Tsingy that is.
Here comes in Lara's great quality to interact with strangers. I love it that she is very well adjusted to a foreign environment and has no reservations about being among “others”. Almost none of her friends at school would be capable of doing that, I hear that most do not even want to stay the night at their grandparents. Ok, we weren't going to leave Lara for the night, but if there was a need and we told her it was okay, I'm sure she would have done that too without any fuss. She loves company, she loves being among people. As long as they are friendly, it doesn't matter who they are, their color, their age, their nationality... She doesn't have those differentiations. I'm not sure how long she will keep that trait, I sure do hope she doesn't meet any bad people in her life to make her lose faith and trust in people.
Anyway, when we told her she'd be staying with Jean-Claude while we went on trekking, Lara was more than happy. We had our reservations, to be honest, as parents... We were going to leave our precious daughter with an unfamiliar person for the first time.
“Are we really going to do this?” we asked each other.
Weighing the alternatives, this being the special thing to do in Madagascar apart from seeing the baobabs, having no extra-day, and Jean-Claude being a well-recommended person who looked trustworthy, plus given Lara's enthusiasm about interaction with local kids, Carlo said “Yes, I suppose so.”
“I suppose so too,” I echoed
As we had to hire a separate guide for the park, Jean-Claude was free. So he'd be staying with Lara while we did our Big Tsingy trek. We'd do the Small Tsingy all together after we returned.
Reason 1: Pressure of Guilt Too High
Okay, I got that it was a trek but I had not imagined it to be anything like this. Even when they said we had to use a harness, I don't know why I just imagined it to be on a huge big rock, just slanted, so no big risk there.
When we got there with Carlo and I saw the reality of the trek in the pinnacles I had seen in photos, the risk, the precariousness became real too. Ok, we were harnessed, but say an accident happened... Who is there to help save you? Where is the nearest hospital? What can be done as first-aid?
If something happens, and it can... Just one mis-step, just a slight turn of the head, dizziness, that is a quite high possibility too, after all, it is hot and exhausting... Just one missed mistaken step and we are all in for trouble as a family.
If something happened to one of us, be it Lara, Carlo or me, I know very well who my mother is going to put all the blame on. Me!
Who is my mother-in-law going to blame? Of course everybody knows that I am the one who is dragging my family into this. I don't know if she'd only blame me, I suppose she'd see Carlo as responsible as well, as he has followed me and/or given into my wishes. Still... I'll be the main responsible. I'm going to be made to feel guilty. It's going to be all my fault, my doing. Take me out of this equation, none of this would have happened.
Mind you, both of these grandmothers are supposedly religious, i.e. they should be believing in fate/destiny. As I said, I cannot talk much for my mother-in-law but there is not the slightest doubt of my own mother's reaction. I have to confess -it's a hard thing to say, but... I hate her for that. I hate her for loading all the guilt of the world on me.
No, I wouldn't expect her to say “It was the will of God”, “Everything has a purpose” or anything... Just accepting life as it is would do. I know it's very hard sometimes. I know how next to impossible the difficulty is when you see a loved one suffer, come to harm, or to even lose her. I know because I have lived it. Yet, it has to be done.
I will be blamed if anything happens to any one of us. I don't want this!
I kept thinking of all these all the time we were climbing. I watched Carlo with attention. Is he putting his foot in the right place? We are now in a cave in the dark, is he watching out his head? Did he put his harness in the right place? Is he strong enough to do this? He fainted in both of our girls' births. I was doing the one giving the birth, I was in labor, he fainted.
Well, I suppose you cannot afford to faint when you are actually giving birth. Unless they put you out on purpose.
What if he faints now? Is his blood sugar fine?
We are at the top now. A successful climb. Is the view worth it?
I mean it is nice. I would have enjoyed it had I been alone. But is it worth with all the stress attached to it? It will be much better when we are finished and done with it.
If you need to think that about something, it probably isn't worth doing in the first place.
The return was not any less stressful. Going down is actually harder than climbing up in many places. What if Carlo stumbles and rolls down?
Minutes like this turned to hours. But in the end, we made it. We made it back safe and sound. I had a sigh of relief. I wiped my forefront with a “Whew!”
Then it was time to go back to the town, to our daughter. We had made Jean-Claude exchange phone numbers with the park guide just in case of need. He has not called. I suppose that means everything is alright. The hour drive back passes with some anxiety too. Not too much. Just a touch.
Back in town. Everything is alright. Lara is happy. She has played with the children a bit, she even made a sister. She played with a cat. Jean-Claude bought her some candies. She is a lively and lovely girl. I am proud of her. Proud of her adaptability. Proud of her independence and ability to interact with different people.
After a lunch composed of a poor skinny fish for me, mixed fruit for Carlo and a big plate of rice and chicken for our guide, we are off to our miniature trek.
Okay, Jean-Claude had made it sound like Small Tsingy would be a walk in the park. Sure enough, it was much easier compared to the Big Tsingy. The steps were a bit lower, the walk was much shorter, about an hour and a half instead of four hours; yet, the same risks were still there. The fact that a harness was not necessary did not mean we did not need to climb or crawl by some dangerous alleys. This time my worry had doubled. Now I had to watch out Lara's every step, making sure she put her foot in the right place. Taking a deep breath every time we got to a risky spot and giving a sigh of relief after she made it. The same would be repeated with Carlo. Then it was my turn. No need to say I didn't feel the same anxiety for myself as I did with Lara or Carlo. Still, I had to make sure I was careful and fine. The family needs me too. My failure would cost them dearly. After I made headway, I'd watch Carlo this time. Take a deep breath, fix your gaze firmly on Carlo's feet, give a sigh of relief after he made it. Lara, me, Carlo. Repeat as many times as necessary. About fifty or so I'd say.
Our guide was a young guy named TB. Of course that was not his real name. He was nicknamed so because he was Tre Bien, Very Good in things he did. He had taught himself English from cassettes. That's typical in such small places. They have to find a way to survive. English is the gate to foreigners, tourists, which means access to money.
TB was really quite good, he helped Lara with high steps and dangerous corners. I trusted him. It's like the little girls who took Lara swimming in Tonga. My first reaction was “What is this kid doing taking my baby to swim?”, the impulse being to stop her. Then I acknowledged the facts: These kids in such places are not really kids, they are given the responsibility of raising their younger siblings at a very young age. They know how to swim, they swim like a fish and probably know well how to handle a baby. They might have been even better than me when I became a new mother at 40. Similarly, this guy probably knows this place inside out. He must have done it several times.
We ask him about his family. He has many sisters and brothers. He is now sending the youngest girl to school. He needs 50.000 Ariary. Which is about 16 USD. His father has gone blind a couple of years ago. These people amaze me, their resilience and acceptance of life as is. We are not capable of doing that. With our reactions to the smallest bit of adversity. We do not like being “beaten” by life and our circumstances. That's why they are survivors more than us.
Anyway... I'll be giving him a big tip once we get out of this all fine and unscathed.
We are nearing the end. How much is a big tip? Perhaps I won't give such a big tip after all, money's worth to them is much higher than it is to us. I asked Carlo. He asked “How much is 10 dollars?”
“We can give 40-50.000. That's about 15 dollars. We can do that.”
Sure, we can do that. He got 100.000 for the day. I mean the park charged us that amount for the guide apart from the park entrance fee. I wonder how much of it TB got.
Yeah yeah, I'll be doing it. This guy needs to be rewarded and encouraged. So we've funded a year of school for his sister, it's the least we could do.
Okay. At the end of the day, we made it back to the hotel safe and sound. Now there is the trip back. It's 880 kilometers in total, we'll be on the road twelve hours each day for two days. The roads are another danger, anything can happen any moment. There are news of Italians or other foreigners dying in accidents here in Madagascar or in other places. It happens. Traffic accidents happen in Italy too, but when you are in your own country it is, or can be, taken more easily, accepted as part of life; however, if it happens when travelling it's going to be taken as you having taken the risk. In a way, it is true too, risks are higher in some countries. Madagascar is one of them. Risk of death in traffic accidents is high. Yet... Do we even know what life is?
Even with some mishaps, with delays in the flights, we made it back home safe and sound as well. It doesn't matter. I'm giving up travel as a family in Africa because the pressure of the expectation of guilt being heaped on me is too much to bear. I haven't even taken into account any kind of sickness that any of us could have contracted. Or being attacked... I would have thought Madagascar was sort of safe, especially given that we were with a guide, there was really no chance of our getting mugged or anything. However, we found out from Jean-Claude that, lately, there has been attacks on foreigners on this route. So much that some drivers had started carrying guns and even hotels requiring guests to form convoys when going back. No no, thank you. I'm not taking any risks or responsibility on behalf of my family, the two most precious people in the world for me. My travelling is enough. (Even then, I am now much more reserved than when I was single. I no longer can afford anything happening to me. It's not going to be only me, my being has great importance in two people's lives, one of them a relatively tiny sweet creature. Responsibility is heavy.) We travel together in “safer” places.
After Mauritius and Seychelles, which are actually not Africa, I think Madagascar was a good introduction to Africa, even though that too, is not on mainland Africa. Ah, there is a nice story about that:
One day Jean-Claude was waiting at the bus stop and he saw this man who looked like he was not from Madagascar. Jean-Claude asked “Are you from Africa?” and the man responded “You think you are not African?”
Aaah... People and their sensitivities...
Reason Two: Being a Target
When you travel as a family, with a small child, you are targets. You are hassled as they know you have the money. At the post office in Antsirabe when I was sending some postcards, Carlo was out. Women surrounded him. He said “I told them I didn't have money, that my wife had it. They were nice and calm, telling me about their lives and their families when I was there alone. The moment you came into the picture, they started all the screaming and shouting.”
Yeah, it is always like that. When there is a bounty on the table, people start scrambling for it.
I don't like being a target. We are ruining these places. Tourism is bad, travel is bad in that sense too. Yeah, we bring money. But money should not be coming walking on two legs.
We shouldn't be seen as cash machines. But how can we not be seen as cash machines when we actually are?
I believe this situation, the chasm between the haves and have-nots of the world needs to be addressed and solved at a global level. Individuals going to off-the-beaten countries and “contributing” to the economy do not solve the underlying problem. Sure, it relieves some people for a while, but it is a very short while.
There is also the fact that some of these “Western” travellers exacerbate the situation without meaning to. They have the best of intentions, but they have no concept of the value of money in the places they are travelling to. They dish out “huge” amounts of money, which is actually “small” for themselves. Refer to the example above. I considered that when giving to TB. Then I judged in favor of giving because it was a worth cause. Plus, what I gave was still not so much. There are many people who dish out hundreds of dollars out of fear the locals might hurt them, or just out of a pure selfish desire to get certain photos. I gave 5 USD to stick-fishermen in Sri Lanka, they sort of spit on my face because the rich tourists that stay in the 5 star-hotels nextdoor, who go around with two expensive latest model cameras hanging around their necks give 20-50 or even 100 dollar bills to them. And not only to one but they give to several. These locals then get the idea that all foreigners visiting their country are rich, -I don't blame them, we all have a tendency to dump similar-looking objects or one same-trait objects all together- then they hassle any foreigner to basically feed them. They don't know that the circumstances of all travellers are not the same. They can't process it as they have no knowledge apart from their limited experience. And their limited experience tells them any white man is rich. Sure, we are richer, I was richer than them even when I was a filthy backpacker. However, that doesn't mean I have to give them all I have, that doesn't give them the right to ask from me all I have. Yet, this chasm is unacceptable and unfair. It is not fine that we sleep peacefully in our luxury when a child is starving out there and a mother prostitutes herself for a couple of bucks to provide some crumbles for her children. It is not. But again... I cannot do anything on my own. I need people to back me up in trying to change this corrupt system.
Sure, I am still a target when I travel to these places alone; yet, when I am on my own, I can blend in. Plus, I am a keen observer, my intuition is full open, I am agile to get away from situations. With the family, we are exposed. I cannot act independently, I have two other people to think of. So we are open to scams. In fact, the airport scam in Madagascar left a very bad taste with us on return.
So no... I'd rather face the bad on my own without getting my family involved. No more travelling in the poorest countries of Africa until the world status-quo of musical chairs game changes.
I'm afraid it's going to be a long time...
“No peeing on land.”
What??!!! I was startled hearing such prohibition. I mean I'm not keen on peeing but if my daughter had to pee I'd find it ridiculous to go back to the ship to pee, especially when you've got so little time on land. This is Antarctica of course.
But what is it for God's sake, what is my pee going to do, isn't it organic?? Plus, was the shit of explorers or is the shit of scientists sacred? I mean I know they fly shit back to the main continent to flush but I find all this too... I don't know which word to use... perhaps too out of the world. Too out of common sense. Exaggerating too too much.
Especially the British... All the things they do on the islands... The money, the time, the effort they spend. They know how to market stuff too. All the overpriced nice items... Blahhh...
Then you need to clean your gear every time before and after landings. Every cabin is announced, you vacuum all your gear, clothes and bags. The boots are all sterilized with chemicals before and after landings. I understand the concern of course. But I'm not sure of the meaningfulness of the method.
First of all, the gear vacuuming is fake. Anybody who doesn't wish to do it, wouldn't. Or they wouldn't do it properly. You may be saying it's at least something and it is true. But if you claim it takes just one bug to contaminate the place, it takes one person to forget to vacuum, to just decide to take/wear something s/he didn't vacuum at the last moment. Or just do sloppy work.
As for the boots, I'm not sure if they are protecting the environment with all those chemicals they are using. Or if they are not jeopardizing our and their health. The stuff they use is so bad and corrosive that you are advised not to use your own. If you insist, you need to sign a waiver that you know they might be damaged.
Again... Who checked all the first explorers there? What would have happened if they were to go on exploration like this?
The crux of the matter they are missing is this:
Responsible tourism is an oxymoron when it comes to pristine wilderness like Antarctica."
You say you want to protect Antarctica? You need to stop all these cruises and give up your nice profits. Full-stop.
I know you will be turning your heads away, that's what we do when we see a reality that we do not wish to face. That's what we do when we feel incapable. But we are not incapable, it only takes some effort to break your complacency with the status-quo, break your inertia and do something about a very important issue that very few people in the world are aware. Racism in the 21st Century.
I'm upset at the travel community, especially the extreme travellers because none seems to care about the right of movement of others, only of themselves. They are travelling the world looking at themselves and just bragging. How can they not notice the injustice at birth? They, who should be aware of the idiocy of visas the most.
Gunnar can go to #EveryCountry twice and "make friends" because he has the right passport and the money. Thor can go to every country overland too because he has the right passport and money. Graham, Lexie, Jessica... They all can go to every country; they have the right passports.
Other people die to just move around the world they were born on. Not only because they do not have the money, but even if they do have some, they are obliged to spend it on smugglers as the Global Apartheid political system, the #EconomicApartheid we have does not allow them to get a visa and get on a plane. Because they do not have the right passport!
Support #Mission2EveryCountry to #BurnPassports to #EndGlobalApartheid.
What has carbon gas emissions got to do with making friends? Nothing if you ask me. But for Gunnar Garfors they are certainly related. In a far reaching attempt to justify his excessive flying, he has come up with this idea/claim that when you fly to travel and meet people, you get to make friends with them, that means no wars or at least less wars, thus less carbon emission from warfare.
He has an excellent point, but mixed with ridiculous assertions, so I need to dissect t/his thesis.
In his piece “How travel can contribute to the green change” Garfors writes:
“If we travel differently and use our trips to exchange knowledge and establish friendships with people who live where we go, then travel can be a part of the green change as opposed to a part of the problem. Increased mutual understanding, more friendships and more trade across borders and cultures can and will reduce risk for conflict and war. Which in turn will result in reduced military budgets, fewer military operations across the world and therefore a big decrease in both fear and the perceived need to maintain big forces with their significant emissions.”
I was just so bewildered to read such a ridiculous claim! “Increased mutual understanding, more friendships and more trade across borders and cultures can and will reduce risk for conflict and war.” ???? This guy really thinks travel, especially his way of travel, going to a place for a day or two will increase mutual understanding and friendship so as to reduce conflict and war??? He really must be very very naive. Conflict and war are not caused because of un-understanding; even when they are, you cannot form friendships just like that. It takes a lot of effort and time to really connect and have a bond between people.
This is only sharing a moment, making a contact. Sure, even that is something. Sure, it is nice to have that feeling that you have touched the life of someone. Even for a fleeting moment... But that's where the magic is. The fleeting moment. Just wait until you live in close contact for some time with all those people you claim to have formed "friendships" when travelling! We see how long it takes you to get into a conflict of interest and fall apart. The fleeting moment gives you an illusion, an illusion of "friendship".
Relationships are not easy. Even among family, even best friends. People who are so in love with each other fall out so quickly. In a world where even mothers have difficulty in loving their children, this kind of “friendship” discourse is being a starry-eyed romantic to say the least. So much zero understanding.... after all these travels! I am amazed.
War is caused by politicians, by big, global corporations out for hunting and suppressing other people to make a profit for themselves!
Actually I know... It's not that he doesn't know, it's only that he is trying too hard to defend himself. He is not aware how childish he comes off.
“Which in turn will result in reduced military budgets...”
????? Even bigger question marks are necessary here.
This guy is trying so hard to clean himself and his conscience; there must be too many people attacking him for his carbon print. I understand why he doesn't allow comments on his website. I understand his need to defend himself, but come on...
Yet, I must give him credit. Because then, he makes a very very good point!
“But first; How much do wars and military activity pollute? I ask the question since the world’s defense and military organizations have achieved an exception from emission statistics. And that is by no means because they do not pollute. They have however managed to convince the world that their emissions are military secrets, and that they therefore must be kept secret, and not given any attention.”
This is the big problem. The bigger problems are hidden from our eyesight and hearing. We pretend to not know. We do the three monkeys. We did not see, we did not hear, we do not speak. These things do not happen (!)
“A reduction of 14 percent in defense activities will reduce the world’s carbon footprint with as much as the entire global aviation industry currently emits. But let me be realistic. There is currently big resistance to any reduction in military operations. NATO, with its de facto leader USA, would rather see that NATO members increase spending and buy more arms, something which will undoubtedly result in “enemies” following suit, and we have another vicious circle. Increased military spending comes with an exceptionally high cost to the climate, which will eliminate any emission decreases the world population manages to achieve through eating less meat, building in wood instead of in cement and steel and knitting our own clothes from wool instead of buying polyester. To maintain current military spending is in other words probably the most positive climate measure we can dream about in the short term.”
I am so happy that he is putting this in the front. This is a very important point. War is the thing people should be pounding on when talking about climate change, not our individual impacts. Talk about the big players. And believe me, for all his flights, Gunnar is not a big player in the field of carbon emissions.
“To maintain current military spending is in other words probably the most positive climate measure we can dream about in the short term.”
Well... we should NOT be maintaining, we should be striving towards eliminating this spending.
“While more travel between cultures can potentially reduce the need for armed forces.”
This is, once again, too much forced. “More travel between cultures” is not going to reduce the need for armed forces. Less greed, more pressure on politicians will. “Cultures” do not really have anything personal against each other. People are people. Greeks and Turks are neighbors and friends. Just like Indians and Pakistanis. Sure, there is enmity due to past history and conflict of interest, but it's the politicians who fuel the fears and hatreds. Without that, things would stay at the personal level and could not escalate. Politicians need to fuel fears and hatreds because that's how they stay in power. Otherwise, who needs them? Otherwise, how can states manipulate the public and rob their money? The money robbed from the public gets into the pockets of the politicians and keeps them in power. That's what the real fight is about. That and the grabbing resources by global corporations.
“Peace and stability are way too important subjects to leave for politicians and business people alone.”
Yes! So True. However, that's the status-quo of our world. Come and break the inertia. If you can!
“We need more “normal” people to contribute too, in the shape of open-minded tourists that seek unusual destinations.”
Again... Exaggerating what travel can do. Merits of travel. Just because he travels, he feels the need to.
On the other hand, there is certainly truth to that. We need more “normal” people, we need more open-minded people. They don't necessarily need to travel but travel to unusual destinations is generally a sign of curiosity and willingness to make one's self vulnerable, not fearing the different. Of course, I'm not talking about this every country chasers.
In his article “No, Flying Doesn’t Have the Worst Carbon Footprint” Gunnar writes: “Given my extensive travelling it may not surprise you that I am often accused of having the world’s biggest climate footprint.”
Yeps, just as I had thought. He is constantly being accused.
Understandable. That people accuse. Understandable. That he tries to defend himself. Looking for ways to defend himself.
“I got so much abuse over my flying that I eventually looked into figures.”
Ehh... I bet he did.
Then he lists all the other culprits, pointing fingers at cars and building houses with bricks and steel... Then comes the laughing out loud part!
“And let me not even get into the yearly climate footprint of having a kid, per parent (alright then, it translates into over 500 average flights).”
Seriously??? Are we going to stop having kids because of yearly climate print?? And how did he get this figure of 500 average flights??
“It might in other words make more sense to ditch the dog or to crash the car if your goal is to reduce emissions substantially, compared to avoiding a few flights here and there.”
Ahh, good thing he doesn't mention/conclude it might be more sensible to not have kids! Even though the way he reasons hints that.
In his other article “Comments From a Climate Culprit”, Garfors writes:
“But let me also touch upon something way more sexy: Reproduction. To raise a child in the western world causes an enormous carbon footprint, according to a 2017 study published in Environmental Research Letters. Having one child less will save each of the two parents as much as 58.6 tons of CO2 per year for the rest of their lives. That equals between 163 and 532 flights per year (depending on which of the four figures I use). And no, I am not suggesting that people should stop having children, far less that parents have their offspring murdered. It is just worthwhile being aware that having a kid contributes substantially to CO2 emissions, and that that knowledge may mean that more prospective parents want to persue another option. There are unfortunately a lot of unwanted children in the world, one possibility is to consider adoption and/or to become foster parents.”
I agree with his suggestion of considering adoption and/or fostering. This IVF treatments and the extraordinary amount of money spent on this industry is another symptom of our egocentric lives, wanting someone from “our blood”, this need of propagating one's genes... I wish people were more considerate of other beings living on the same planet as them. I wish money was not fuelled into such places but elsewhere.
“I am often confronted by journalists with my carbon footprint 'which must be huge as much as I fly.' With a job in public service broadcaster Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) I have a rather normal paycheck. Almost everything that I make is used for jetfuel, which leaves little money to spend on other ways of polluting the planet.”
Stop it Gunnar. Don't defend yourself. There is nothing to defend. Even if you had other ways of polluting the planet, your impact is seriously inconsiderable. Its our overall effect we should be considering. It's our lifestyles we should be questioning, not only yours. It's not you only, it's all of us who are responsible.
Making friends should be exercised on the upper levels. If politicians can manage to behave themselves, rein in their egos, then we might have a chance. We need to change this definition of Us and Them into Us + Them We are all in the same boat after all. If the boat sinks, we all sink.
Yeah, some later than others, but at the bottom of the sea we will all find ourselves. Not like Aylan, but washed ashore like these kids even.
“Gunnar has been to every country twice?!! Wtf!” was my reaction when I first read the news of Gunnar Garfors.
“No country deserves to be visited only once, and I decided to revisit every country in the world” Gunnar explains.
No country deserves to be visited only once?? What about “No country deserves to be visited for a day or two?”
“Another reason to do it is that people and places change, just like your hometown and the country you live in. That I have been in a country 15-20 years ago doesn’t exactly make me an expert on it anymore, if it ever did.”
Yeah, if it ever did! It's true people and places change. Yet, it is truer that you don't get to see much of that change in the short time you visit. What's more, you do not meet the same people so you have no way of knowing how they have changed, you can only observe the physical space. And, you don't really need to go to all countries once more to see the effects of time.
“Oops, I did it again!"
That's the title of Gunnar's announcement.
“The last two years I have visited the 20 least-visited countries on the planet. And many others. Primarily to research my next book which is due in April 2019, but during research I realized that no country deserves to be visited only once. So I decided to visit every country in the world, all 198, for a second time.
I finished on December 16, when I landed in Tallinn, Estonia after a little bit of a world-tour to ten countries on three continents in three weeks. No one else has visited every country twice, making this my tenth travel related world record. But that was never the motivation.”
Really?? That was never the motivation? It's quite difficult to make us believe that statement.
“I met people with incredible stories, saw jawdropping sites and sceneries and found myself left with countless unforgettable experiences.”
I wish we heard some of these incredible stories. Some insight somewhere. Again, superficial words. That's the trademark of “world travellers”, every country chasers these days. Look at them. All are trying to show off how great they are! They are in a pissing match.
So are we going to go for third and fourth rounds now? And then the fifth? Is he raising the bar? What kind of a madness is this? Do these people think they are achieving nirvana or getting rockstar status by crossing some arbitrary line just because they are called borders? When are they going to shed their society-imposed blindness, when will they see the pointlessness of borders and boasting about crossing them? I suppose it's too much to expect much out of this crowd who are so full of themselves; such monumental egos! I thought there was something wrong with me; I was asking “What kind of a psychological problem does doing three round-the-world tours point to?” But no, I realize I'm just so fine when I see these people.
Obviously they believe they are doing something special and/or becoming something special doing these “travels”. Otherwise, they wouldn't have done it or wouldn't be bragging about it like this. They think they are the greatest. While actually they are in a race to be the most stupidest (I know that's wrong English, I should either say “the most stupid” or “the stupidest” but stupidity of this size requires more superlatives, for emphasis ;) and they are not aware. The most stupidest to spend one's money and time on flights, visas and the logistics of it all for such short visits, what's more, to do it twice!
Gunnar says “Will I do it a third time? I'm not that innocent.”
What has innocence got to do with it? I suppose he meant to say “I'm not that naive” and used that naive in the sense of “stupid.”
In his blurb for his second book “Elsewhere” it writes:
“Garfors still doesn't think such world records count as travel, merely calling them records in logistics.”
Yeah yeah. Good for him he doesn't count world records as travel but records in logistic. But then one feels compelled to ask: “Why would you want to break a record and do it twice?” Also why do you then promote yourself as a travel guru? You may say he doesn't do that, but he is all over the media for what he has done and is seen as an expert in travel. I'm not saying that he is not. Just drawing attention to the essence. After all, he has promoted himself in the media with “Regardless of progress, I’ll publish photos every day on social media, using #everycountrytwice”, not #logisticsexpert!
“Normally he travels at a relaxing pace, taking his time to properly explore every destination and getting to know those that live there.”
So we are supposed to believe he normally travels at a relaxing pace taking his time to properly explore every destination and getting to know those that live there? Where does this guy find all this time? I thought he was working. Even if not, with all the running around for the records, how does he find the time to travel at a relaxed pace? How old is he anyway, how much time could he have spent in all these places? What's his idea of a relaxing pace and properly exploring a place? How does he get to know people who live there? I feel like throwing my hands up in the air and giving up. It's so easy to just shoot bullshit today, and people believe it. Without questioning.
To Gunnar's credit, he does not say “I am and will always be the first person in history to have been to every country twice.”
I said it, I mean wrote it to Thor too. He keeps iterating how it's never been done and he'll be the first in history. It's no secret he is fed up and finding it very difficult, and I suppose we are among the few who can conceive how trying it is what he's doing. On the other hand...
“Just think of this... How would people who live in a borderless world and see this current state of the world like the way we see Apartheid or slavery today look at you and your project? How would those future generations look at you?
Someone in that distant future would be just travelling to all the “countries” without the need to get any visas or cross any borders in no significant amount of time; s/he might even trace your exact steps, only without the visa and border hassles. How long would it take? Definitely less than a year.
What do you think they'd think of you? I'd say they'd think you a fool. So I'd beware if I were you, lest you go down history as a laughing stock while intending to be written as the biggest hero in history ;)”
Trouble is... These recorders get all the hype, all the attention. The people I look up to do not have their names all over the media, so many people do not even know about them. I wish, rather than the racers, Anthony Asael was known by everybody in the community. Of course I also wish that my project was more respected, popular and followed.
Gunnar can go to #EveryCountry twice and "make friends" because he has the right passport and the money. Thor can go to every country overland too because he has the right passport and money. Other people die to just move around the world they were born on. Not only because they do not have the money, but even if they do have some, they are obliged to spend it on smugglers as the Global Apartheid political system, the #EconomicApartheid we have does not allow them to get a visa and get on a plane. Because they do not have the right passport!
Let's not have HumanityWashedAshore
Support #Mission2EveryCountry to #BurnPassports to #EndGlobalApartheid.
In Those Were the Days and Anti-Travel Advocate I gave a glimpse of tourism in popular cities today. The crowds and the measures authorities take to rein them in.
Another ban: Milan has banned selfie-sticks. As someone who has not taken selfies more than the fingers of one hand in her life, I appreciate it; on the other hand, I loath this patriotism and bans.
Selfie-sticks may be a bit extreme in my opinion but I sure am not endorsing such behaviors like drunken horse-playing, swimming in the fountains, littering and all the disrespectful things tourists do. It's just that I loath the idea of living in a world that basic decent behavior needs to be enforced by police. It's a shame on humanity that such measures need to be taken, that we need to put somebody in charge, a higher authority, who is given the green card to use brute force to ensure a certain level of tranquil communal existence. Instead, we should campaign for better manners, to educate everybody. There should be a decency, a certain decorum when you are travelling, or basically when you are in any public space.
This is not the girls' private pool, it's Il Fontanone ("The big fountain") on the Janiculum Hill. It was built in 1612, that is more than four centuries ago! Is it really so difficult to "know" instinctively that that this is an art heritage, a historical site belonging to all of us, that you do not get in for a swim here? I am really dumbfounded how thoughtless, how tactless these young girls are! I mean they are not some uneducated ignorants we look down upon, just by judging from their headscarves, skin-colors, or the poverty of their dresses. They are obviously "Western", educated (even though obviously unsuccessfully!), and have money as they could travel to Italy in summer. Again obviously, money doesn't buy manners.
You may say "What's the harm?" First of all, these actions might damage the monuments, even if inadvertently. More than that, it's stemming from and enforcing the egoistic self. There is no "What about others?" in that action, there is "Only me."
And this is Fontana di Trevi for God's sake! Is it so difficult to "feel" that it would be disrespectful to bath your feet there? Is there anybody else doing that among the crowd? Some do it to show off and brag that they've broken some rules. I confess, I've done a couple of such things. Like driving in Saudi Arabia when it was still illegal for women to do so. But there is a difference, that was my private business, between the driver of the car and me; whereas these people are acting as if the public space is theirs and theirs alone.
In his Guardian article “Mass tourism is at a tipping point – but we’re all part of the problem” Martin Kettle writes:
“Nearly 30 years ago, researching for a Guardian series on global population pressures, I interviewed the zoologist Desmond Morris. During that interview, Morris said something that was hard to forget. “We have to recognise,” he said, “that human beings may be becoming an infestation on the planet.”
I'm not sure if we are really becoming an infestation because of our numbers; I believe it's rather the degenerative culture we are pumping up through advertisement and capitalism, the way we have set up our economic system. In Venice, cruiseships need to be banned. Simple as that. The city cannot take this flood of tourists. (Talk about migrants!) But it takes guts to say no to huge money. If you are the government and have power, at least do something useful! Take some radical steps. But take radical steps, you are taken down from your power. In this case it might be working though, because in 2017 UNESCO started considering adding Venice and its lagoon to its ‘World Heritage in Danger’ List. That list generally includes historical ruins in war-torn countries! So just contemplate the gravity.
It's just that we live our lives money-centered. As long as we live profit-based, things will not change. People are talking about sustainability, but we need to give it more than lip-service. Social media is contributing awfully to this ego-centric culture as well. We need to stop this race towards vanity and stupidity. We should stop overrating travel. We should stop the pissing match in travel. If you really need to do a pissing match, let it be about your understanding, moral values and character. One does not acquire nirvana status by being to every country, being to as many locations as possible. That just makes you a dromomaniac. Focus on developing your intrinsic values, not the extrinsic ones all media, be it traditional or social, flaunts...
The infestation is not me. Seriously, I'm not a part of the problem. On the contrary, I am trying to be a part of the solution. If anybody cared to listen!
The problem is the fact that they (authorities that is) are trying to cure, or rather find a solution to the symptoms instead of finding a remedy for the causes. Badly behaved tourists, badly behaved people. So you put rules/laws and punishments, you put bans and fines. That's their solution. People really do not know how to strike at the root.
Change the crooked system that is corrupting and degenerating. Stop enforcing extrinsic values and creating a superficial society, start feeding intrinsic values of youth. Do something that will have a foundational more lasting effect!
After writing Those Were the Days about Argentina, I came by the place I had stayed in Macao ten years ago. As I had the link to their website, I clicked on it; for the sake of reminiscence. This was the announcement that I found:
So so much shame. Macao was such a nice place. That they say it has lost its colonial flair...
What about Venice? A friend had told me he would not have gone there had it not been for his wife who had not been there. I did not particularly understand it. To me, Venice is such a beautiful and romantic city. Then I came across some articles:
It is now "forbidden to stand without motivation"
!!!!! Really?? What does that even mean??
Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro proposed a “sitting ban,” which would fine people up to $590 for “taking a seat in any public space.”
There has already been a sitting ban on the Rialto Bridge and major churches. “No lingering” on the bridges for too long.
No sitting? No lingering?? How long would you consider lingering?
Well... That's one of the pleasures of travel. You linger and take in the place. Then I realized I was thinking of the Venice of 18 years ago when I thought of Venice.
I suppose the city must be so overcrowded that they have resorted to such measures. There was an #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign in 2017 asking tourists to refrain from littering, sightseeing in a bathing suit or bare-chested. These are things I can understand. Even not riding a bike through the historic city center... But they issued a ban on fast food restaurants as well, to curb littering. Some measures seem extreme to me.
“According to The Independent, offenders can expect to pay 100 euros (~$118) for littering or engaging in “any kind of horseplay that could be considered annoying,” 200 euros (~$240) for wearing a bathing suit or going shirtless in public and 400 euros (~$475) for writing on or otherwise damaging any building, bench, tree or piece of pavement. Also on the list of restrictions: attaching a love lock to any bridge or monument (100 euros, ~$118), lying down or standing on a bench that’s meant for sitting (100 euros, ~$118) or climbing a tree (200 euros, ~$240).”
Authorities are proficient at concocting penalties! Once upon a time Venetians were bothered with the wheeled bags that tourists dragged on the cobblestones. A fine of 500 euros was proposed but that never happened.
I don't know how they apply these fines. It's one thing to put these into writing, another to exercise it. People would object, say they don't have money. These are not your citizens, they are tourists, how do you charge the money from them?
Venice introduced a tourist tax too. This is easy to collect, they charge it on the accommodation bill. They are thinking of introducing an entrance-fee as well. Even for day trippers. At least they make money. But residents are furious about the suggestion. For cruisers it makes sense, but charging the once residents who have been forced to leave the city when they wish to visit family and friends is outrageous.
Venice has 54,000 residents. The islands of historic Venice sees up to 30 million tourists a year. 30 million! Travelers outnumber Venice residents in about a hundred to one. It's not difficult to understand the locals' frustration. Flyers began popping up around the city saying: “Tourists go away! You are destroying this area!”
They even installed barriers, sort of “tourist checkpoints.” People counters to stop tourists. Perhaps it is logical, you wouldn't want to be in an overcrowded city either. Nothing is much fun with such a crowd.
Perhaps you become a tourist-repelling country, and it might even be good. Then you lose income. It's all a balance. And where the balance should stand is different for every single person.
Citylab writes: Giovanni Di Giorgio, a 23-year-old native-born Venetian and member of pressure group Generazione 90, says that this pressure is fundamentally re-shaping the city, and not for the better. “Venice as it was 20 years ago just doesn’t exist anymore,” he says. “Changes have happened so fast that it feels like waking up from a coma to suddenly find places you know are weird and ghostly, unfriendly. The population has dropped hard, theaters have closed, one of the largest bookstores has become a clothing store for visitors. Even though the streets are full to bursting with tourists, for us Venetians the place now seems empty. We feel like we are an endangered species.”
Day-to-day life has become more complicated, says Di Giorgio. “When I was a kid, Venice was full of historic, local shops, but now there are loads of stores selling mass-produced junk to tourists. Small silly things, like finding someone to sew buttons on to a shirt that’s lost them, are becoming impossible.”
These cruise-ship pictures in Venice are amazing.
It's sad to reminisce that the old Venetian republic was once known as “La Serenissima”, the most serene...
In Florence, they're hosing down the steps of cathedrals with water so that tourists cannot sit and picnic on them. Apparently there is a famous panini shop (I'm not advertising by giving the name, you can find it easily if you wish) which makes great sandwiches. One reason for the ban is that restaurants are not making enough money because tourists prefer to eat cheap; the second is that people eating in their hands are clogging passageways. So eating in certain places are fined. From 150 euros to 500!
Rome has similar bans too. No picnicking on the famous Spanish steps. Say arrivederci to eating gelato by the Trevi Fountain. No snacks either. No eating and drinking beside any of Rome's ancient fountains. Naturally, no swimming.
“Climbing, washing pets, and throwing objects into the water—is prohibited as well.”
“Why?” you would think. To me, it sounds ridiculous to even state such things. But of course there have been such incidents with tourists that the authorities have felt the need to come up with this stuff. So many people have jumped into fountains, three girls in bikinis went into Fontana dell'Acqua Paola to refresh, a guy jumped naked into Trevi in daylight, a British actress went in with her fur imitating Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita. Most of these have been caught and fined but five Dutch guys jumped in their clothes at night, shot a video, posted it on Youtube, boasting they didn't get caught. There have been vandalism as well. Or people brushing their teeth etc. etc. It's amazing the stuff unleashed people do.
Fountains could have been washing places once upon a time, but no longer. Now they are places to be preserved and enjoyed for their beauty. Is it so difficult to see that?
“No littering” is another such unnecessary ban if you ask me: These should be basic behavior, there is something called decorum. Sadly, it's not. Trash grows with the number of tourists. Our single-use plastics and packaged goods don't help either.
Rome banned tour buses in the city center, which makes sense if you ask me. There is also a “no-go zone” at night around the Colosseum.
By the way, the Colosseum was cleaned for the first time in 2,000 years. The Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain were recently renovated. These are huge projects costing millions of euros. Of course there are sponsors too, but the money mostly comes from the residents' pockets. Is it so difficult to respect keeping a place clean?
And most of these measures are only for the summer season (or the tourist season!) until the end of October.
Apart from Venice, Florence, Rome... Barcelona, Dubrovnik, Split... All these are over-crowded cities too. There are many historical, artistic and archaeological sites in these cities. It is to our benefit to conserve them. These are all efforts to preserve a city’s character. It seems a necessary effort too given how affordable travel is becoming.
In short, before venturing into popular destinations like Venice, Florence, Rome, Barcelona, Dubrovnik, remember, you've been warned!
You see one photo all around in the media, but the reality is the garbage behind it. Really makes me want to just sit in my house and not leave. In fact, that's what I plan to do after I've been to every country. Luckily for me, the remaining ones are still the uncorrupted ones and it will take some time for them to be corrupted, so I'm good.
Yes, I'd definitely be an anti-travel advocate if I was to be anything related to travel. I'll be quite happy to just hang my hat and live in my quiet corner of the world after being to every country.