According to the writer Daniel Kalder;
‘As the world has become smaller so its wonders have diminished. There is nothing amazing about the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, or the Pyramids of Egypt. They are as banal and familiar as the face of a Cornflakes Packet.’
He further embellished on this via the following decrees originally established at the Shymkent Hotel in Shymkent, Kazakhstan on October 1999 as part of the so-called ‘first international congress of Anti- Tourists’;
The duty of the traveller therefore is to open up new zones of experience. In our over
explored world these must of necessity be wastelands, black holes, and grim urban
blackspots: all the places which, ordinarily, people choose to avoid.
The only true voyagers, therefore, are anti- tourists. Following this logic we declare that:
The anti-tourist does not visit places that are in any way desirable.
The anti-tourist eschews comfort.
The anti-tourist embraces hunger and hallucinations and shit hotels.
The anti-tourist seeks locked doors and demolished buildings.
The anti-tourist scorns the bluster and bravado of the daredevil, who attempts to penetrate danger zones such as Afghanistan. The only thing that lies behind this is vanity and a desire to brag.
The anti-tourist travels at the wrong time of year.
The anti-tourist prefers dead things to living ones.
The anti-tourist is humble and seeks invisibility.
The anti-tourist is interested only in hidden histories, in delightful obscurities, in bad art.
The anti-tourist believes beauty is in the street.
The anti-tourist holds that whatever travel does, it rarely broadens the mind.
The anti-tourist values disorientation over enlightenment.
The anti-tourist loves truth, but he is also partial to lies. Especially his own.
Considering these resolutions were written a little more than 20 years ago, I wonder what Kalder would make of travelling today? In 1999, the internet was barely a few years old. Back then, households that had an internet connection had a slow dail-up connection. There was no broadband and neither were there smartphones. 1999 seems rather ancient compared to the world today in the context of the exponential growth of global digital connectivity.
The world today is much more globalised than the world of 1999. A consequence of this has been even more demand to visit the worlds ‘wonders’ be it the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China or cities such as Venice and Florence. The ‘very desirable’ places that the so called anti-tourist snubs.
Then again, on the other hand, such wonders are an important part of the history of a country regardless of whether they are popular or not. Most visitors to India visit the Taj Mahal yet the Taj Mahal is an important part of the history of the Mughal Empire. Indian history is fascinating and one of the best documenters and narrators of this history is the writer and historian William Dalrymple. Dalrymple is a black belt regarding the history of the Indian subcontinent and has a deep passion and interest for that part of the world. So much so that he has lived in India for over 35 years. What this means is that this goes beyond any labels or identity. Dalrymple is neither a tourist nor an anti-tourist. Traveller or dilettante. He is simply someone who loves the subcontinent and dedicates a substantial chunk of their time to writing, educating, reading and learning about it.
When I think of my very first trip to India, I did a lot of the typical tourist things. I visited the Taj Mahal in Agra, I visited all the well trodden places in Goa and went on popular tours. Yet I also, unwittingly, did a lot of anti-tourist activities. I stayed in some of the cheapest and most unsavoury guesthouses I could find. I ate street food at rock bottom prices. I developed a habit of roaming the streets of the more down and out parts of the cities I visited. I didn’t document any of this neither did I really brag about them. I had no digital social media accounts at the time and I never kept a physical journal. Friends and family would ask me if I was writing about my trip, but I had no desire to. It wasn’t indolence. I suppose I was adrift in multiple intangible fleeting experiences and frequent moments of disorientation and I had no inclination to hole myself in my threadbare guesthouse room to put it all down to paper. People often talk about ‘finding one-self’ or ‘becoming enlightened’, but I wanted to get away from myself. In at least a semi-masochistic way, I revelled in my anonymity and frequent discomfort.
Every time I spoke to a tourist who expressed an interest to visit Brazil they would invariably say that they wanted to visit Brazil during Carnaval and specifically visit the city of Rio De Janeiro. In my mind I would say to myself, ‘I would like to visit Brazil anytime except during Carnaval.’ During this period, especially in Rio, accommodation prices go through the roof, many parts of the cities become unbearably overcrowded and the levels of crime spiral out of control. Rio is already a dangerous enough city at night, do I really want to visit it when it becomes even more dangerous? Nao obrigado!
Staying on the subject of Brazil, one popular activity many backpackers undertake when they visit Rio is a ‘favela tour’. Favelas are slums located on the the outskirts of cities in Brazil. Rio has a much higher proportion of them compared with other cities in Brazil owing both to the layout of the city and the extreme inequalities of wealth. Even the richest neighbourhoods in Rio seem to be just a stone’s throw away from one. I think the popularity of such tours is down to the belief that backpackers think they are doing something ‘edgy’ and ‘non-touristy’. Yet the irony is, considering the relatively recent popularity of such tours, they are anything but. It may be considered ‘anti-tourism’ on the surface and such activities do conform to Kalder’s resolution; ‘The anti-tourist does not visit places that are in any way desirable’. There is nothing desirable about these favelas. Yet neither is it clever or cool to visit such places which are downright dangerous. Also most of the people that go on such tours do so to brag and get a so-called one-upmanship over other travellers. The anti-tourist would never brag or boast about such things. Furthermore, there’s no danger during these tours since you are always accompanied with protection just in case anything does flare up. My Brazilian friend Carlos finds it comical that such tours exist; ‘Why would any tourist want to pay to visit a favela? Anyone who lives in a favela wants to pay to get out!’
There are other tours with anti-tourist themes. They could be ‘street tours’, tours to visit abandoned buildings or tours to visit derelict and defunct places destroyed by war. When I visited Bosnia a few years ago I went on a tour in the capital, Sarajevo. The city was under siege for three years from 1992-95. It was a fascinating tour and I dont regret doing it. Our guide lived through this terrible period and almost died at one point during the conflict. It would be pathetic and poor form of me to categorise it as a tourist or anti-tourist experience. I don’t wish to plunge to such low depths.
I guess the bottom line is that the anti-tourist does not purposefully try to be an anti-tourist. The anti-tourist is not aware that they are an anti-tourist. It is almost like a hardwired way of life with no underlying agenda or anything to prove. We seldom ever hear about such people, because they have no desire for notoriety. They prefer to remain invisible and anonymous.
Calling oneself an ‘anti-tourist’ is missing the point completely.
By Nicholas Peart
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