Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Exploration, Not Exploitation: When Travel and Travel Blogging Have Lost Their Way

"There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot... Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress begun to do away with them. Now, we face the question whether a still higher standard of living is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech." - Aldo Leopold, US Forest Service advocate as quoted by author, Philip Caputo, in "Alone", Wild Stories: The Best of Men's Journal, 2002, 2003 Three Rivers Press 

More than a decade ago, being a travel blogger actually meant something. A source of pride.  Sort of a badge of honor.  To get almost first dibs at a place yet unsullied by tourism.  To be able to enjoy a place of quiet, away from the din and noise of the city.  Then social media happened.   Traveling became more of a showing-off, one-upmanship game where Instagram/Twitter/FB likes became the be-all and end-all; a numbers game where "travelers" race to tick off the most number of destinations on their "bucket" list.  Nevermind if that meant just stepping on the provincial boundary line and coming home with no real idea how the locals live.    Nevermind if that selfie came at the cost of trampling vegetation, evading local regulations, dirtying the watershed of the place.

It seems that traveling and travel blogging in the age of social media have become not really an experiential exercise but more of an adventure in exploitation.  How many listicles have we read advocating this and that "hidden" Eden/gem?  Next thing you'd know, the place is crawling with people along with their trash and trashy behavior.  Sad thing is, even once-vaunted advocates for the environment like mountaineers/hikers, are guilty -- case in point, the 5-acre fire on Mt Pulag was caused by hikers/mountaineers who reportedly panicked after their portable stove exploded and fled.

This is why I think the half-century-old Leave No Trace principles still apply.  Even better is the updated list from Outside Magazine, adding #1 Don't do it for the 'gram, #2 Minimize personal pollution, and #3 Give back.    Item number 3 is especially important as I think there are too many takers and not a lot of givers.  We have no shortage of tourists but little in the way of tourist education.  I've actually overheard fellow tourists proclaiming that because they paid for the entrance/environmental/bathroom fees, they have every right to dirty up the place, most especially since they have no plans of coming back anyway.   I mean who cares if you bang up the whole village if you're not returning, right?  This is the YOLO attitude at its worst.

What's even worse is that the degradation comes at a steep price while the gains sometime are a pittance in comparison.  In a Businessworld article entitled "Tourism: Boon or Bane?" author Chit Juan writes that in the context of Boracay, nature was degraded for more hotel rooms in the hopes of luring so many tourists who spend so little travel dollars/pesos.  Last time I was on the island 3-4 years ago, talk was rife about this condominium developer which plan to bring in over 200 vehicles for their guests -- a preposterous thought considering that there's already tricycle traffic on this 10 square kilometer destination.  I'm not even going as far as touching on this issue, I only have to refer to countless travel bloggers who advocate 'budget' travels to the point of recommending prices which will not support the livelihood of the locals.  So is this is where travel blogging has gone?  Shame.  

Can't blame my contemporaries for not updating their blogs anymore, keeping their discoveries to themselves.  Why bother at all when exposing a place to a greater public (and often mistakenly identifying it as the next paradise/next Boracay/next Palawan/next Batanes) opens it to exploitation?  Chit Juan has a reason to fear that other places like Siargao, Coron, Batanes, may soon follow in Boracay's lead, which is indeed frightening.  I've personally seen some places like Sagada and Batanes shed their older, simpler charms to accommodate and cater to "more sophisticated" tourists who like their creature comforts from the city wherever they go.  It may take some time, or no time at all, when they altogether lose their original identity.  Is that we want?

Which reminds me what Philip Caputo further wrote in his article, "Alone", in Wild Stories:

"The one thing our society does hold sacred is growth.  Not intellectual or spiritual growth but economic growth; and not sable, sustainable economic growth but le 'er-rip, boomtown, pave-it-don't-save-it growth.  Our goal is an ever-higher standad of living that must be sought and grasped at almost any cost: polluted air, a soaring crime rate, a degraded quality of life....  Our national religion is a kind of evangelical consumerism.

Of course, we pay a price for a consumer culture such as ours, a culture that demands its instant gratifications.  It isn't paid only in the coinage of rivers drained dry to irrigate courses or of sacred petroglyphs bulldozed to make travel more convenient for commuters.  Our bodies pay a price...

It seems that the more we despoil the land and divorce ourselves from the rhythms, cycles, and beauty of the natural world, the less civilized we become."

No wiser words written, indeed.  We were warned but will we heed the warning?  Only time will tell.



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