Second Class Buses in Antigua Guatemala
If you actually want to look like an American tourist, stay the hell away from me. When you look at me as if I were a fellow gringo, I will answer you in my rather coarse Hungarian. I don’t want to be anywhere near you with your flip flops, fanny packs, baseball caps, and selfie sticks. You will be the target for anyone who can rip you off in broken English, and I don’t want to be a witness to that.
I remember my friend Janice. Her ex-boyfriend took her to Europe, but they didn’t really see anything. He was what I call an “experiential traveler”: “Hey, look at me. I’m walking on the Champs-Elysées” or “Hey, we’re in Amsterdam. Isn’t this cool?” They took pictures of each other in front of various famous locations which they didn’t take the time to visit. If I were her, I would have dumped his inert corpse into the canal.
Early Morning on Laugarvegur in Reykjavík, Iceland
The best way to enjoy strange places is to explore them—and not in large groups. I keep thinking of Rudyard Kipling, no mean traveler himself, who wrote in “The Winner”:
Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, He travels the fastest who travels alone.
I have on occasion been tempted to replace the word “fastest” with “farthest.” I have done most of my traveling alone, especially as Martine thinks I am too adventurous for her comfort. On the other hand, I have enjoyed traveling with her and on two separate occasions with my brother. But as soon as I find myself in a large group of Americans, I quickly search for the nearest exit.
When I was in Mexico last year, I frequently hired guides by myself at the various Maya ruins I visited. Rather than joining a group that sauntered around absentmindedly, I enjoyed asking questions of the guides, who invariably knew their stuff. As opposed to the tour guide the parents of one of my friends had in Yucatán: He told his boat people tourists that the Maya ruins were built by Egyptians.
I know I must come across like a horrible grump sometimes, but I have had numerous bad encounters in foreign countries with my fellow Americans. And yet, in 2013, when I went to Iceland for a second time, I helped a couple of French tourists find a hotel in Höfn in the Hornstrandir, where no one spoke their language.