Archive for the ‘Tourist places’ Category

How much has Fisherman’s Wharf really changed over the past 30 years? Then again how much has it failed to change? Or is what is there now, just a continuation of what was? And how much of it is me that has changed? And how much is it the world? What i see is a ticky-tacky tourist trap, but has is always been that way.

I have walked through the streets many times on my visits here, and much in the last week now that i am staying nearby. It has often failed to capture the romanticism that it held for me in my youth and in my teens on family vacations here. It seems more commercial, stripped of its soul, but is it really all that different than 30 years ago?

More tours buses appear to pass through the place, and chain restaurants are around, but when i look at it, so much remains the same. Pompeii’s, Castignola’s and some of the older seafood restaurants still are here and people still buy walk away crab cocktails and clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. The art galleries that thrilled me once with the prints by Salvador Dali, still have his work on display, and feel much the same.

Vendors still line the sidewalk by the park in front of Ghirardelli square selling bead necklaces and silver rings, and drawing caricatures of the tourists for a small fee – in fact it seems like those prices haven’t risen all that much in the many years. But is seems to me, and maybe it is just my memory, that they were once more handcrafted, the beads strung by those who sold – artisans rather than just retailers. But then again, maybe i’m wrong – for at the time the products seemed more unique – did not vary that much from table to table, but i had not seen those necklaces everywhere. Then again there were lots of puka shells and silver rings. They also sold pipes back then, the bowls braced by chicken or other bird claws, and it seems strange to me right now, that you do not see the paraphernalia there, now that pot may be legalized, and marijuana has been recognized as a major industry.

Cost Plus has shrunk down to a single store next to Barnes & Noble, but how much of what I once found so different, gifts and items from around the globe, can now be found anywhere, in shopping malls across the nation and in dollar stores. For the world has come together in the past 30 years and what belonged to one place, no longer does. And even the zone seems the same, for how many tourist places are like this. Ghirardelli bars can now be found in locales around the nation, it was long ago that you could taste the wax and the names of the sunday’s changed from Alcatraz and twin peaks to hot fudge and banana split.

The haunted house with its ride is long gone and the wax museum is under renovation, but tackiness is still around, and i may be mistaken but i think a rainforest cafe sits where one once was. Pinball arcades were replaced by those with video games, which can now be enjoyed at home or on the road on a laptop. Souvenir stores abounded then with postcards and t-shirts mugs and more, though it is true, fleece did not exist back then.

The wharf has been up and down over time. Sea lions moved in and saved pier 39, but still is here. Tourists still line up at the circle waiting for cable cars. Many are excited, chat about their visit here, and smiles light up many a face. A busker plies his trade, and collects coins and dollar bills, as the tourist board the cable cars.

Buskers still play to the crowds in many locales along the street though the human jukebox is long gone. The park has been redone, and on a nice day you can find many sitting there and along the beach, and down in the park by pier 39. For it is a place of fun, and a place to be.

It is funny that i don’t write about the fisherman, it seemed that there were more here, providing a rougher edge. Today that is provided by a few street kids with dogs and some beggars who spend their nights on a bench. I never fished here, or anywhere, and hated the fish stench that was stronger then. I went out on a boat just once years ago, with some guys i met drinking beer on a bench. Today there still are a few small boats with handmade signs offering tours of the bay. The fishing industry that gave the area its name was never truly part of my experience but rather part of the surrounding background ambiance.

And our actions visiting back then, helped make the wharf what it is today. We were tourists who came down here back in that time, that time of transition and development from fishing locale to tourist trap. We played a role in what it has become – we ate the fish and enjoyed those stores, sights, and amenities provided for us, and looked at and bought the trinkets in the shops and along the street. And thus our actions, visiting here, added to its growth. And what does any little action bring, what are the long term consequences?

Did the developers expect that it would become what it is today? And what about those who valued the place? Why do we condemn its success, it made the transition and now it is a place visited in hoards – a sunny day you cannot pass through. While i feel more that it is a place that lacks soul, it was not totally abandoned and left to ruin. And the tourists who come on a sunny weekend afternoon, smiles on faces, to take a boat tour or to dine, are on holiday, and for them the sun still does shine. And while it may have become something more, the actions of us in tourist mode helped to make it what it is.

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I write this entry sitting in a coffee shop in a grand hotel at the end of cannery row in Monterey. And i cannot help but think that Steinbeck would have never written the works he did or receive his inspiration in the cannery row of today – for it is a cannery row in name only. In reality it is another tourist zone in a location by where people once did hard work and lived on the edge, inspired by a reality that was rough and yes, smelly. And yes, here, it is inspired by the famous works of the famous author whose books are sold all over, and whose quotes might be found on colourful banners or flags. The place is colourful, not so much in terms of the characters on a sunny Saturday afternoon, for it is mainly families visiting, shopping in the tourist stores, eating the chain and vacation food – ice cream and here seafood, some of which is to be found mainly in tourist zones. Yes it is alive with people smiling and enjoying, but a different type of liveliness than im sure once existed. But this is what it is today, a play place and a marketed destination. Behind the row, away from the water, is a clean bike and walking path where people pass through, clean with no garbage or smells from the back doors. The seagulls still hang around, and a seal or two, the few sea lions seem to be by the main dock down the way where clam chowder is sampled from the restos that line the pier. It is now a place where people visit and play not live and work, though some do, still in low wage jobs. and it has been transformed into something new.

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I was right last night when i said that i would miss the oppressive air of the jungle (entry still to come) and in some ways i was right. Tonight i find myself in San Cristobal and i wonder what i have done. I have been here before, three years ago, and it was a significant place in my travels then for it was here that i turned back and did not continue on my journey south to Guatemala and to las pirimides, a journey that i now have done. And it was here that i made that phone call – to my mother – after no replies from her on my last blog – and realized that she no longer wished to speak with me and that i had been cut off – and that i would never see her again. So this place is significant, and maybe that is why i had to come back to truly let it all go. Or at least that is what i thought this morning, laying in bed, in shoddy cabana, listening to the sounds of the jungle – i had bought my ticket yesterday. And this was the place i imagined going way back in October, when i planned this journey on rainy october day in Buffalo – the place where i was born. And maybe this central american journey has been a bit of the same as my last trip to mexico – a fleeing when i felt rejected. But i finally made it to the other places, and now maybe i can break free – not let old pain stop me or block my path – or twist me up inside.

And so i am here, already thinking of leaving but to where i do not know. i am not giving it my full energy i know – maybe i already had let it go. Again i am at that point – my ticket out of Guatemala City in a week and a half, into NYC, but there i have nowhere to go, and returning here, and to palenque the other day, i question my previous desire to return to the west coast. But i must make a decision.

It is interesting returning to a place you once visited, (but unlike the circles i have been making – in the more distant past – 3 years – but a lifetime ago) memories of place return and in some ways you question them. I am staying in the hostel where i stayed last time – but i remember it as calm and nice – now twice as many beds in the dorm, packed. And the city seems bigger, and livelier with more tourists around – prices still low, but the tour operators no longer have discounted prices listed outside. And another street, so it seems, has been closed to traffic and is filled with restos and cafes and people wandering up and down. Or maybe it is just a saturday night, where people come to let loose.

And maybe my discontentment has to do with where i have been – Antigua, Granada, colonial towns – and in many ways so similar – tourist zones. The central square, the old churches, the cobblestone streets, and the restored historic buildings and the dedication to tantalizing the senses – much a pleasure to the eyes (especially compared to the chaotic practicableness of regular towns of concrete) with nice places to stay, to eat, to drink, to live the good life but on a cheaper budget. All so nice, but somehow lacking a soul – devoted to tourists pursuing please with historic ambiance mingled with modern conviences. A place to relax, being ¨cultured¨, though without the plethora of museums and arts – some, for us. It is nice here and cool (maybe even cold), but it merely seems indulgent, the ¨good life¨ a surface pleasure and not a deeper resonance. A tourist place all the same – the colonial town – a zone, a place though it has many different physical locations in different countries – it is oh so similar. I look at more crafts, drink a coffee, walk the cobblestones, eat a meal, look at a church and feel empty. The novelty gone.

What will tomorrow bring?

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I am back in Antigua as i write this – fled the lake yesterday, and not knowing where to go, or being stuck in an energy vortex of sorts, one that i had to pull myself out of, wonder if i should have but i did.

Lake Atitlan was supposed to have been wonderful, a place of spirit a place of growth, but in the end i found it was a place where i could not be still, indulged, saw the beauty of the mountains, water, evening clouds, and it is a land of seekers – and i found myself seeking and not finding. the critic coming out, feeling removed from all i saw and felt – it was supposed to be one of the best places, but i left feeling disappointed and alienated from all – questioning my role here on earth, not liking what i was doing or what i have done.

The lake as i wrote earlier has many towns and villages connected by boat, and each has a different feel, yet in some ways there is a similarity. I like most first arrived in panachel, the transportation gateway, the place where most shuttles take you, the main gate to the outside world. It is a tourist zone, like most of the lake, with restos and travel agencies and mayan linens and crafts lining the main street – cheap food and hotels – thought of staying there my last night but i did not – should have – would have been cheaper now that i realize just how little money i have left. There is a town, refreshing a bit after the ¨village¨where i stayed – but the whole thing feels so temporary and as all the guide books say it has not developed beautifully – a park down by the water but one where you cannot sit without being peddled scarves or bracelets or necklaces or blankets, and cheap restos with good views where they all try to call you in – i should not be critical but i am. Maybe i should have spent the night there – would have made moving on easier but i am tired of moving on. An ex-hippie not just tourist town.

I stayed in Santa Cruz where the expats had the lakefront – the few hotels, dining-in more connected to reality where i was as the main dock was there, It feels so far away now – reminded me of the oregon coast in a way – a retirement community yes, ex artists, hippies etc who made money and live there now in nicer houses, but the seperation of them and the mayan community immense – it is the latter that does the work, and i feel that i do no work, and want to but do not have a place to. A community art gallery opening, the art that i seen elsewhere – my eyes are jaded. At the hostel people nice but several canadians who let it be known how superior they were to americans and questions of career and what do you do and i the old lady on the backpackers side – no longer see myself as one, yet too young to be a retiree.

I went to San Pedro – the other bigger town on the other side of the lake – the one where you get off the lancha and the first thing you see is a sign saying the buying and selling of drugs is illegal though as you walk though the lower town – by the water – where the small hotels, bars, restos and language schools are connected on a narrow twisting street and a dirt path by the water – you feel that not all obey the sign – a bit of a grungy feel among the interesting menus and patios. I am gone from there and i cannot explain. Up the steep hill, the regular town, with the market, a church, traffic, people, mainly maya, selling fruits and veggies on the road, and the small dark shops with the junk food and goods. And i did not feel part of the place, visited a few language schools, with the desks set out on patios or lawns, but did not see.

San Marcos i also wrote about – the holistic healing village with the narrow paths in a jungle like setting.

The lancha rides across the lake in the afternoon, when the lake got choppy, only one childs life jacket on board one of them – the lanchas the one place all go ride in the same boats sit on the same benches.

In some ways i felt like i had gone home to the west coast – yes a lake rather than an ocean, but that feeling of not belonging returning though i chatted with several people. was it being in a contained environment, a low brow resort, a group environment, that i cannot relate to, the nervousness i feel in groups, the nt getting the chit chat and more, or of an opening or a party never knowing what to say or how to act, not really enjoying them when surrounded by those that do.

Did i draw the boundary around me – yoga three days that i was there but i only joined in one day – felt awkward in a downward dog or a twist, as the locals around did the work, and there is more that praying and meditating. As i change my clothes as the sun goes down, and the temperature along with it, novels of the british in south africa, or whites in the south on their plantations – changing several times a day and for dinner – come to mind. And i wonder, is this not just a new form of colonialism that i am engaging in. And other questions – in north america we often complain that those who come from Mexico or further south, cling to their language – and their ways and people, forming sub-communities –  but what do i see here – a tight knit gringo community, employing some locals but also foreigners, speaking english, clinging to more holistic, alternative north american and european ways, providing some emplyment, but driving up prices and buying the best land, and how much money stays in the area, how much is put back in – and how many of the local ways are adopted and to what extent to the expats blends in and to what extent can they – yes some community projects, and an appreciation fr the maya – assistance a bit with development – but how many times do i here ¨why dont they….¨especially when it cmes to environmental concerns. So confusting, conflicting emotions – a new paradise, found, bought and used up? i dont know 

I wanted to go home. but the alienatin i had felt has returned big time. disconnected but did i just shut it out. An observer of what goes on.

In antigua i felt a little at ease for a while but as i tried to sleep to the nightclub outside i felt like i had entered Babylon again, the drunken cries, and the good life gone bad – the three groups intermingle a bit more here – the grings there are many, the well healed from the city (guatemala city) on the weekends, and the maya – not all who just sell. I walk the town, use the internet, go to see a film.

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I write this from Panachal which i cannot spell, came into town to write, to use the internet, to check out the place that i have heard of and which i passed through on my way to santa cruz – it is busier here, a tourist town with crafts and clothing lining the main street, pressure to buy a scarf or a necklace, and  tuk tuks parade around, walk in the street with them, and travel agencies and restos and cheap hotels – and i ask why am i here, what is here – look out onto the lake, it is nice, but contained and i feel my alienation increasing – another tourist  town, a different country, different people selling wares, this time the maya, a different beautiful locale – but what is it all for – indulgence i guess, but in what. I feed my body, the weaved scarves, clothes, necklaces and purses crowd my vision, and do i go back now to the contained resort – a backpackers resort – but a resort nonetheless – where i stay and relate to less and less.

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Tonight will be my third night here on Lake Atitlan and i am not sure how i feel about the place. It is beautiful – a lake surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, a world of its own. And i stay in a small place – not really a village – along the shore line – accessible only by boat – the lanchas that ply the lake. A new road lay uphill, above the village where the maya live, but it is unused, dangerous, steep and twisty even by Guatemalan standards. But down by the water where i am in my hostel/hotel is another world – a world away from it all – not quite true since we are by the main dock in town where the lanchas – small motorboats used for transit and transport come in, and beside the steep road that goes up – and up – with the few red trucks used to carry goods, and the few tuk-tuks (the three-wheeled “cabs” that you see here, in other villages and in antigua) to carry the people on the long climb. But down here is gringaland – as is the waterfront in many of the other villages along the shore and in the two real towns that exist. A land of beautiful homes and gardens – tended by the locals – connected by paths as cars do not exist here. Dirt paths along the water and between the villages, and a cobblestone path between the walled homes   – peoples homes – 2nd or 3rd or maybe 1st, homes of artists and others who have left the other world behind. homes with great views, in yellows and oranges, with creative gardens and inspired architecture. – and three other hotels – none too large. And you see the good life down here – a quiet place – but richer and those who do the work are the maya – the women all still in traditional dress as they are up the hill where they live. Carrying bundles of wook up the street. I sense more of a separation between the us and the them, and it makes me wonder about the expat community -here and everywhere – is it the good life that i want – but something is missing – the integration of reflection and action – of linkage between all.

I visited another community today – San Marcos – where i had thought to stay – a slightly larger community – the lower lakeside gringo area – a lush setting of trees and pathways – no road until you get up above to the regular town – where i saw no cars only tuk-tuks and trucks. Little inns and healing centres offering yoga and massage and meditation, that had first drawn my attention when this area appeared on my radar three years ago – and i walked – few people around, and a bit of construction. But again i questioned the healing and focus on mediation and being that i had yearned for then – important but as a part of a larger whole. And the focus on energy, which was to be the focus here, and how it seems something is askew.

The places are emptier after with the trouble on the lake – an algae bloom a month or two ago – on one of the prettiest lakes of the world, died down now but maybe still in the centre – water quality, fish and more effected by it. And is that bloom a sign of something more to come.

And the division between the communities – the gringos at the water and the maya up above (i hear that the rich (and i mean rich) guatemalans have some estates on the other side of the lake) makes me wonder – is it smarter to live up the hill, or were they pushed up there, the land down here bought up. People still talk of hurricane stan – of 5-10 years ago – that devastated the area – many steep hillsides deforested and under cultivation – and it is better to be on the slope or down below.

The land is magic through – as clouds without rain puff up over the volcanoes at sunset, and the stars shine bright at night, and you walk the leafy paths or along the water. I will write more when i go to town – panachal – tomorrow where i came in – and hopefully be more creative in what i write.

i update this after i go into town  – i realize a bit what i feel – a  small resort of   sorts,  an artsy-hippie retirement community  – not  quite real – like california a rich alternative, a  different way of being.

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Antigua is becoming like another fishbowl, a small lovely town of cobblestone streets, restos and cafes, of churches and ruins – and it is comfortable and feels secure. I wander around, at times though feeling that i am in a cage, pacing. But it has the comforts and to an extent the familiarities i have desired – part of me wanted to go home, and this is as close to it as it has come. But, like with many places i feel that something is missing – i sleep in a comfortable bed – spending more than i should 13 for a private room – i eat well, i have time to write, and i eat different foods. It is like the much needed but very long sleeps i have had, i lay in bed in that in between zone in the morning, comfortable in my dream world, not wanting to awake, to crawl out – and here the days start later – i sleep until 8 or 9 – the cooler mornings here are chilly, and the heat of the day not as intense – so there is less of a need to get out early. And as i pace the streets here, i also do not want to leave, to venture forward, captured in the comfort zone.

But i see the hills and volcanoes that surround the city, the green expanses that claim me – but i cannot walk up there alone – it is not safe – too many armed robberies. And while i have been in several colonial towns where you can climb the volcanoes i have not wanted to – or do i just resist. All walks here involve a tour with a guide and a police escort for security. And there are so many tour agencies in town offering not only transport, but guided climbs, tours to coffee and macademia nut farms, but i crave the green ad become overwhelmed by the choices, too many to choose from, just take a pick i know, but do i really want to climb up there.

And i do not know why i resist the necessity of a guide and a police escort for throughout my life i have wanted a guide, someone to hold my hand and show me the way as i venture out of my comfort zone into new and unfamiliar territory, someone to guide me and help me along the way, and yes to protect me from the dangers that might be lurking out there, not to walk blindly, not really knowing what i am doing, but pretending to be sure and more confident than i am, feeling that i am supposed to know what i do not. Feeling lost and alone much of the time. Where the pressure is to stay safe, a return shuttle offered, but not a guide along the way. Do i resist because i am just too accustomed to doing it all on my own, of having no other choice. But do i really want to climb the volcano, to hike up there, al long climb that is more the feeling that i should than a want of my own – or maybe not – it is what you are supposed to do in these places. How to venture out to other places? I look at the one cross up i a park just off the edge of town, but you cannot go there alone – no guided tours from what i see. Or do i just head out to the lake that has claimed my imagination, where i have wanted to go for a long time – book one of the many shuttles there – and how to chose, more decisions to make, yet, i yearn to see it.

And so many tour agencies, some legit, some less so, and to make a choice is so hard – i become overwhelmed, my mind begins to swim. And the language schools here – so many over 50 i believe, of all ranges of quality – do i want to study here of elsewhere- do i want to spend my days learning spanish – yes, i want to learn and study but history and geography and spirituality and change – to join with others in that pursuit, but i do not know how. And how to negotiate my way through the maze of choices, of schools, of destinations i do not know how.

But have learned to do it on my own, taught that i must do it on my own, and here is a place that i cannot walk out on my own – travel the country yes, and meet and join with others. I will go back out, check out the market and more, come back to write and decide on what is next.

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