Tourism, and Religion

What a funny beast tourism is: the world’s biggest industry. And, it has more than a few similarities to other big industries. Certainly the way I see some tour groups move around, I can’t help but think of herds of cattle, grazing on the tidbits of local culture, nature and history. And in terms of waste, the average life of a glossy brochure must be less than 12 hours, and that millions of these brochures are heading straight to landfills across the globe at an alarming rate! I could go on, but want to keep this brief!

Before coming on this trip I was really unaware of the range of different types and levels of tourism available: all I knew about was camping, eco-tours (from a guides perspective) and cycle touring. I didn’t know whether the guides had to disclose if they were on commission; I didn’t fully understand how lazy and pampered you can be if you are prepared to pay for it; I had no idea how many ways your money can be diverted from the local people after leaving your hand to pay for a tour in their country; and I just had not thought about the number of ethical questions that can be thrown at you by the menu of Contiki tours, boat trips and hop-on, hop-off buses.

Which brings me to religion…

‘If you are not a fan of organised religion, the least you can say is that it leaves and produces some great buildings’ is what I have thought more than once on this trip. However, immediately upon thinking this, I have wondered about those cultures that left no monuments, and may have arguably been just as interesting, creative and advanced: e.g. Australian Aboriginal people and other nomads.

In these more mobile cultures, you can not simply look at a few buildings and think that you have experienced something of their cultures. Instead, when seeking a cultural experience, you may be more inclined and encouraged to seek out a tour lead by a local; learn the language; or something about they way they lived (rather than what their noble classes lived in). For me, being encouraged to interact with practices and language is a more meaningful and insightful process than observing relics. E.g. Ilhara gorge in Turkey, some of the open air museums, the folk displays in Tartu’s museum etc.

Although I have adored some of the churches and towns; of far greater interest is the people who are there worshipping. Happily, I’ve had a number of meaningful, genuine conversations and meals with local people along our trip…and they were the most memorable parts of my trip.

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