The morning of Saturday #107 found me lazing around Barcelona’s swanky Generator Hostel. I had two more nights at Generator (before moving to another hostel) so there was no rush to check out. My plan was to have a leisurely breakfast at a little cafe down the street and spend the afternoon touring the city on a double decker tourist bus. I’ve ridden these buses in several cities and they’re all pretty much the same. I get on, find a seat on the open air top deck, and I don’t get off until the bus returns to the starting point. Sure, the other passengers are often annoying and the facts and figures spouted by the guides are easily fact-checked and rarely more than 50% correct, but at least you get a whirlwind tour of a city and can always come back to areas that pique your interest. At least that was the plan for Saturday #107.
The change of heart came during breakfast when I noticed a comment on one of my Facebook photos. A friend’s father wrote: “Looking forward to your videos from La Rambla (a popular pedestrian-friendly street) and while you’re in the area, you can’t go wrong with the Hard Rock Cafe.” Yes, the Hard Rock Cafe. When I asked what he thought was video-worthy on La Rambla, he mentioned buskers and mimes.
I try my best to be polite on Facebook but in this case I’m afraid I probably came off as a world class travel snob. Sorry, Gene, I hope you weren’t offended. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the thought, it’s just that after two years on the road, I have some pretty well-defined likes and dislikes and right now places like La Rambla just don’t do it for me.
Elvis impersonators, moon-walking Michael Jackson lookalikes, ladies slathered in green makeup posing motionless as the Statue of Liberty and lanky drag queen versions of Cher are tourist magnets the world over. I accept that reality. Personally, I’ve never understood the attraction of lip-syncing drag queens – even when paired with cheap beer or smart cocktails – so I’m certainly not going to stand around on a sidewalk and watch one do absolutely nothing. That ain’t me, babe. No, no, no.
Sure, I’ll watch jugglers and magicians and the like if I come across them but I’m not going to take three subways to seek them out on La Rambla. I’ve been happy to sit and “people watch” in just about every city but I’d far rather watch the locals go about their daily lives than hoards of selfie stick brandishing tourists dripping ice cream down their Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts and onto their new white runners or, God forbid, socks-n-sandals. And it’s not even the crowds that bother me. If there’s something really unique to see or do, I’ll wade into the largest crowd and soak up the vibe. But 200 people crowding around a magician who in 10 minutes has done a lot of talking but not one single magic trick? Gimme a break! (And not a break dance; I’ve seen enough of those, too!)
You’re probably thinking that I’m just burned out at this point. It has been two years and three weeks, after all. In reality, I’m torn between two very different options for the next year of my life. I could settle down in Canada and be very happy being productive for 8-10 months of the year (and traveling the other 2-4 months) or I could simply keep traveling. I’m already well beyond the 100th Saturday and there’s no reason I couldn’t make it 150 or more if I stick to Third World countries that are considerably cheaper than North America.
Of all the places I’ve visited in the last two years, the most interesting were rural and urban areas that were as far from what I’m familiar with as possible. I loved the rural areas in Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Western China, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and India. I was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, smells and genuine warmth of the people I met in densely packed urban centres like Hanoi, Udaipur, Pushkar, Agra, Varanasi, Tbilisi, Sheki, Samarkand, Turkmenbashi, Ashgabat, Baku… And that’s the short list!
So when I walk around the streets of a city like Barcelona and I see mainly tourists, western style fast food restaurants, and stores and shopping malls full of the same things I’d see in Toronto, I start counting the days until I’m actually home in Toronto. I also know that if a job doesn’t materialize before the snow flies, I could very happily spend another winter in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, or especially India where every minute of every day is an adventure.
I’ll have one or two more posts before I touch down in Toronto (on the evening of Saturday #108) but there’s also the very real possibility that I’m still writing from somewhere “on the road” come Saturday #130. I just won’t be snapping photos of women dressed as the Statue of Liberty of tourists downing bottles of Coors Light at the Hard Rock Cafe.