bilan travels // is international travel really bringing us closer?

A plane ride brings us closer, and yet we remain still so distant.

To many Costa Ricans, I appeared another American tourist coming of course to zipline, hike and do whatever other adventure activity was part of my tour package, and eventually leave. In the year 2013, Costa Rica saw the arrival of 2.4 million international tourists, approximately 936,000 of which came from the U.S. When I boarded the flight to Liberia, Costa Rica, it would seem as if I was boarding a domestic flight (and not because United did not provide us with anything beyond a drink), but because everyone on the plane was also from the USA. For too many tourists, the dream is to come, do all the exciting nature-related activities, interact in English with a few locals (to say they did), and eventually leave to converse with their friends about the exotic, amazing experience. I felt strange for really wanted to get to know the people, the way they spoke (ideally pick up a few tiquismos), the way they celebrated life, the way they lived. I wanted to be immersed in all things tico (Costa Rican). Instead, in major tourist areas like Tamarindo, I found myself surrounded by other Americans, paying in dollars, and passing American sports bars.

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Absolutely stunning beaches. Nice weather. Sunsets so beautiful, you cannot help but feel instantly calmed by the waves crashing against the shore. Tamarindo is a naturally beautiful place indeed. Despite all this, I could not help but feel sad. Sad for the way that international travel has not necessarily brought us closer.

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Closer in the sense that we are interested in interacting with one another and learning elements of each other’s cultures. Tourists stood side by side with Costa Ricans and yet there were still so distant from all that was really going on within the lives of these people. It seemed as if Americans, Europeans, and other foreigners brought elements of their culture with limited preservation of Costa Rican culture. Frankly, it does not count if it is in the form of a casado on their restaurant’s menu.  Overall, I think this speaks to a greater issue of cultural sensitivity and willingness to learn about a culture other than our own. It isn’t about being fluent in a language or knowing the country’s history to date, it is about taking the time to research, listen, and ask thoughtful questions. It is another country, another culture, and another people after all. To me, that is what travel is all about.

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