We are a mysterious breed, we travelers. I think I spend about as much time trying to make sense of my fellow travelers as I do getting to know the countries and people I visit.
Today I’m taking a bus from siem reap to phenom penh, Cambodia. It’s no ordinary bus, the entire passenger roster is made up of foreigners lured by the relative luxury this bus provides (leather seats affixed to the floor, bottled water, English blockbusters). There are multigenerational couples from around the world, backpackers younger than me, families traveling with young children, single older men, a gay couple and even a baby. The languages I can make put include French, Spanish, German, Pali and there are English, American and Aussie accents. A diverse lot but all of us strangers to this land and weird.
No matter where we come from, we travelers are a plain weird lot. Hauling massive suitcase and bags all over the planet. Complaining of heat, complaining of wind, complaining of clouds, complaining that the mobile wifi on the bus is slow, complaining of bumps in the road, complaining that the food is too cold, complaining that the onboard wifi is too slow and where are the electrical outlets? We’re a demanding lot, no wonder our crowd is so resented.
Looking around at my busmates so many are sullen, downcast. The baby is crying (she’s allowed) but why does they 20-something young woman look so upset, so disgusted with everything? This is travel? You call this adventure?
I’m perplexed by so many travelers, they don’t seem to be enjoying themselves! They are rude to local people. What’s the problem I want to ask them… The one time I did ask a fellow busmate (on a separate journey) after her sustained whining interrupted my sleep. Her reply blew me away and confirmed my worst suspicions: I’m stuck on this bus and it’s going nowhere and it’s taking forever and it’s a damn local bus… She pauses to allow the insinuation to sink in, when I clearly fail to follow her logic she wails out: it’s full of Cambodians! This woman, I warn you, lives in Cambodia and works here with children. Oh dear.
So I think next time I’m curious and breaching unbearable sympathy for my fellow travelers I will do my best to refrain, lest I provoke some harshly obvious and unbearable truth of their suffering: they are in a developing country and it’s not as clean/fast/English-speaking as where they come from. Isn’t that awful?!?!?
Perhaps I should give them a break, they’re only here on vacation after all…