by June Lin, community manager at Vayable.
Over the last couple of weeks, all of us at Vayable talked about starting our own monthly columns in the Vayablog, and I’m kicking mine off with this post! We thought about what personally motivates all of us to work on Vayable, and a common theme was “keeping culture alive.” That is at the heart of Vayable, and everyone had a travel experience that made them realize just how important that is.
Even though I experienced the effects that tourism has on culture before, my real wakeup call was when I went to Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica earlier this year. When I was there, it was almost like Disneyland. The city was sprinkled with hamburger stands, pizza joints, restaurants that were more like Red Lobster than anything else, and places that sold daiquiris on the beach. Whenever I spoke to someone in Spanish, they would most definitely respond in in English, and sometimes there wasn’t even a Spanish version of the menu at the places I went to.
To get a cheap and delicious gallo pinto or ceviche, you had to trek to the nearby town that wasn’t nearly as nice. It was so odd to me that you had to downgrade in order to get a better experience and eat more delicious food. In that town, I met a couple of locals that didn’t speak English but were trying to learn because, according to them, you have to fit in with the tourists to get a decent paying job in there. On Facebook I uploaded a bunch of gorgeous photos from my time there and called it “Manuel Antonio, a soulless dream.” There were rain forests that fed into the ocean and some of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen in my life, but it didn’t have to be such a culturally vapid experience. Locals shouldn’t have to change in order to accomodate us.
As travelers, we want to be able to have access to amazing things but also preserve the integrity of local culture. We don’t want to trample on it. We want to tread lightly, respect the culture that exists, and experience it for ourselves. That is why we travel. I’m passionate about movements of people, the influences that the past has on the present, and how things came to be the way they are. From the Lower East Side of Manhattan to that tucked away village in Peru, each month I’ll profile one specific part of culture that is unseen from the surface yet leaves traces in the cities that we think we know well.