Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

Monday in off season, Aspen is surreal. Clouds threaten rain or snow but for the moment the day is warm. i take the bus in and walk around. a cute but empty downtown, a walking zone, trees on streets, high-end shops – many closed as with places to eat. it is empty – the ski season ended and summer season yet to begin. At the moment much is shut and under spring construction. The town has the empty feel with few people around – not deadened like places that have passed their prime, but empty and somewhat surreal.

The feeling is just as unreal and in many ways this is what it is – an unreal zone. On paper, or the intellectual level, it represents an ideal community – a pedestrian zone with benches and trees, walking paths connecting the outlying areas and passing through town, many with lights, a community bus, a wonderful library, parks and art, sidewalks with trees, a transit center, the apsen institute with enlightened programming, an art gallery and more.

I spent little time there on my first visit a week ago, for i felt the effects of the altitude; it sits at almost 8000 ft, and i am sensitive to the heights. And like its location it lofts above, a place for those who have reached the heights of income and status.

I take the bus 40 miles upvalley from Glenwood Springs where i stay – i make the 1.5 hour journey uphill – as many do each day – those who work in the town commute and do not live there, cannot afford to. From Glenwood, and the other towns on the way up Carbondale, El Jebel, Basalt – and also from beyond – from Rifle and other towns that sit more distantly. The communities of those who serve and build. The bus runs frequently – every 30 minutes during the day, and every hour at night until midnight or so. Many of the workers are mexican. On the climb i pass gated communities, large homes, new townhouses and some smaller middle class homes, and the trailer parks where many live – some newer and others jam packed with dirt yards and patched roofs. The divide is great. And i know i do not belong. And to be honest i do not want to.

But the ‘paper’ town and its allure call me back – give it another chance i say. I return, the day is the same, and my impressions become firmer. I have been at 5900 feet for a week so the physical altitude effects me no more. But the attitude, that comes with the altitude of some, does – i feel vibed out in this playground for the rich – as empty as it is today. The energy is prickly and too many faces seem frozen – not just a result of too much botox, but of practicing the look. Hair does not move in the wind. A few tourists, as ‘lost’ as myself wander around, maps in hand, and of course the workers who come in. But i do not want to be here, although it has so many of the elements i feel i want. And i too become more prickly myself, but then i let it go – no longer feeling shut out, wanting in. No longer caring, for it is the vibe, the energy of a place that is important, not the ‘things’ that abound.

The things can reflect an energy, or help to grow or transform one – a path and benches along a river – or they can be merely like expensive clothing – that covers but does not transform what lay beneath. It looks good, but is only on the surface – superficial. And this is a ski town, a resort town, and in these places the surface is key. The powder has mainly melted, the spring growth has just begun, and for the moment the place sits naked, waiting for the next show. The next show, drawing in the well-heeled, who will come to play and spend, who will stay in one of the many resorts, boutique hotels, or condos, who will dine and shop in overpriced restos, who will raft, hike or golf in summer, and of course ski in the winter – appreciating the surface, not wanting to see beneath. Not wanting to see those who make it happen on a daily level, who serve and do, the invisible ones who disappear at night. With the altitude comes attitude. And i know that i too have only scraped the surface, and that is all i will probably do.

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I wrote this last april during my last series of journeys through this city but so much of it still rings true to a sense. It is the beginning of what was to be a larger piece about my times in the city in 2007/2008, but it was never finished and thus not put out and it seems that i have come back to it again.

I wrote recently about San Francisco as an imaginery place. It was a place of dreams, of living out new lives, a place you could start over and be transformed. Like much of american culture, a place to start fresh and anew. A place to grow and to explore. It was a place of my dreams, and those that i have felt die. Is it just me, is it this place, or is it the times we are living in?

I think my dreams died two years ago, on those two visits here. But maybe i was blocked, and even before i think i knew. Still i tried to engage with what was here, but like so many through a tourist lens, I went on walking tours, and learned the town, its glorious history, the stories of those who came and discovered the place, and those who made it grow. But part of me was resisting the time here, the part of me who dreamed of elsewhere, the pilgrimage to santiago de constantaoble a pligrimage walking towards god, one with a direction and purpose, which here i felt was lost.

And the people who came to live out their lives, the movements remembered, now part of walking tours. City emptied out, for life is lived all around, what remains at the core is people passing through Not as true as many places, for culture is alive. But so much is merely people passing through, come to see and much caters to it.

And the walking tours of town by City Guides, reliving the history, the stories of the famous quake of 1906, of the goldrush and more, chinatown, the hippies and the beats. I never made it to the tour of the Castro and gay liberation, but what were the significant moments by which a place defines itself, from which it grew. I have journals of scribbling from some of this time but now the memories are not as fresh, the discoveries no longer new,

The gold rush, a time i had been facinated with, my time in Victoria for another, and to the north to Yukon, Seattle seeing the history of the place. A journey here from around the world, in hopes that you would get rich.A dream of the west, of a new life to be found, an energy to the place on the passage through to the gold fields and towns, But it was the glitter of gold that often proved to be false. A quick fix and a shortcut to your dreams – though often more work in the end, and the riches were often not there, the gold that came often mispent, and the riches of a life in another way. Those who stand are those who set up an institution to profit, the legacy of wells fargo and more. And how much of my journey, not only to the locales of the gold rush, has been in search of that false gold.

And walking downtown how i began to feel that this place had been built to money and more. Not the spiritual sense – grace cathedral walk the labryith

And maybe it was the tourist lens that led me astray, a looking and seeing of what was here, not truly engaging in any way. but as i look around the core that is what i see, camera toting tourists, really not that different than me. And maybe that is what the centre has become, maybe it is what it always was. Sit at the ferry building today as i edit this, look at the dark buildings in the centre and see why maybe i felt that way then – a place where no one lives, passing through buying happiness off a shelf, and remembering lives that once were lived, the barbary coast trail of the gold rush years, the building constructed after the earthquake, fisherman’s wharf where no one has fished for years, and the area of the beats and more. chinatown still populated aand bus rolls in crowded on a saturday, but do not live there.

I am bored with San Francisco or is it that i just see no more. Or that the activities that once claimed are now diversions, maybe they really were – activities to be done once or twice but that is it. Or is it that my eyes have merely become clouded over and i no longer see, didn’t really want to come here so i no longer engage. Once upon a time i explored this town, engaged with what was here, dicovering so much about the place. Has it shifted because i no longer define myself as a traveller, have given into fatique.
I think of those i’ve met who live in the bay, and so few actually lead out their lives in the centre in a great way. A few days ago i went to Hayes Valley and the inner haight, areas i discovered then, and felt alive, for that is a place where people truly live. I remember sitting on day outside at a coffee shop on the busy corner of hayes and divisidero, where traffic flowed by and people walked along and feeling incredibly at peace. It was a sunny day, and i had walked out of the tenderloin to Alamo Square, was on my way to Golden Gate Park and found myself there. And it is a place, i still go back to.

And while on those times i discovered the museums, sights and more, the greatest that came to me was stumbling on different neighborhoods.
But those times seem to no longer be here, maybe it has expanded to the Bay, outside the centre and what it once was, or maybe it is gone altoghter.
See the lives of those left down sleeping on the street.

The two visits here in Oct’07 and jan/Feb’08 blur together though there was only three months in between but so much that seperated them. I know that certain events or discoveries took place in one or the other, but often i do not remember what i discovered when. for it was in those visits that i explored the city, but still through the eyes of a tourist and was much more engaged than in later times through, it is just because i feel that i have seen it all before, that i retrace my steps that there is nothing new, or is it because i have become fatiqued and tired myself. ennui
Was it in the fall or the winter that i first discovered the N-train out along Judah that took me to the beach? And when did i become bored of the ride? but it was then i found areas off the map.

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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 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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I have walked around the centre of Granada too many times, circling the central squares, walking the restored streets in the centre of town so many times that i should know them by heart by now. Finally had the guts to walk down to the lake, had been wanting to for several days, but i felt afraid to venture beyond the zone, the zone that is marked in darker green on the tourist map. Still, i have not really felt the energy here, have not really looked, too consumed by the voice in my head that says “what the fuck have you done now – just what have you gotten yourself into this time girl.?” wondering just what i am doing here, why i have come to this land.

What is it that i hope to see? What is it that i have to prove? I pace the streets, the same ones over and over, feeling like a street walker of sorts – see a few others who do the same.

Maybe it is because i have not really met anyone since i arrived despite moving between hostels – the first one empty, talked to a couple, her mainly as he was sick for a day and a young german girl who i could tell felt as caged as i but i was exhausted that first night and just wanted to sleep. It was recommended by the woman who i met on the bus, attached to a non-profit centre which felt good. Yet it was the people who used the centre who took up the common couches in a group and i felt like hiding in my private room – a guys bonding and tv watching and i felt lonely. I walked around, not in the present, wondering where to move to and checked out the other places – most seemed just as bare except 3 – one a party place, the other a pothead place, and the one where i am now – a much younger crowd and i do not seem to bond with any – more in groups sticking to themselves – and many who are on the way to the beach and spend intense late nights at the bars – so that may influence how i feel here.

But i also feel like Granada is a large tourist city – an old montreal, a quebec city where you do not venture beyond the walls. Is it because i have entered a poorer country and notice the difference, the street dogs are skinny not like in Costa Rica, and when i do see the side streets and look inside the homes i see it, as i did when we crossed the border and the simple country homes of costa rica (which looked poorer as we approached the border) became shacks. Is it just a city vibe descending upon me? Is it a new culture shock? Or is it travel without a purpose? My plans messed up by the time on my tourist card 30 vs the 90 in my passport so it is hard to commit. I spend time sitting in cafes, in front of the computer, yes, maybe this is gift i had been given since i said i wanted the time and focus to write and it has been forced upon me. Or is this a realization of what i have felt before, travelling, observing, standing on the outside. That the difference between those who visit and those who reside is so great – and i am on the other side.

I visit the churches – magnificent outside, but so plain within – high ceilings but devoid of much decoration. I climb the tower in one and look out over the city, much greener than it appears from the street, as all the trees are in the courtyards to the homes. The centre area is nicely restored, smoother sidewalks, fresh bright paint of blue, orange, yellow etc. on the buildings you walk beyond, sidewalks crack and paint fades. It does not seem dangerous like a big city, few policemen or armed guards, just outside the banks where they sit bored, watching the money changers who patrol the corners outside.

It is dusk, i hear the birds sing outside in the park, gathering in the trees.

I was not the only one who feared the walk to the lake – just a few blocks beyond where the dark green zone and the pedestrian area of Calle la Calzada ends. I went today, a Sunday, and a few families walked down the emptier boulevard. I had walked some side streets on my way there – past homes, a few horses grazing on an empty lot, kids playing ball in a street. There is little down there at the lake, polluted is seems. A few from the hostel were wondering about going down and had been told to be careful so it was not only me.

My new hostel is on the edge of the market area which goes on for blocks – narrower streets with vendors selling shoes, lotto tickets (everywhere) food, bras, DVDs with tvs set up on the street which at night a few sit on chairs and watch, taxis (not the uniform red of Costa rica) but a variety of cars, many beaters, most older, some independent, others granada taxis, and a few buses mainly longer distance, and the bicycles other with more than 1 person, and the mini bikes and motor cycles, a few horses with carts (the nice horse-drawn buggies do not include the busy market on their route), and the people, buying, selling, bread comes out at night, a few men carrying large bags on their heads, and a few women baskets, all walk on the shady side of the street (it is hot here and the sun is strong) and the sidewalk is full of vendors, so it is a mix of pedestrians and vehicles. The market building itself is dark inside and a bit of a maze – i enter breifly – in the front section many bras, tshirts and shoes, yes more shoes.

I venture beyond to the bus area to Rivas where i might go, a block beyond the market down a narrow side street. All are helpful, i look at the unpaved lot with old yellow school buses, a crowded one pulls out, and i wonder about the romance of bus travel in this area. The expresos that go to Managua and then with a transfer to Leon, while cramped mini-buses with open doors to let in some air, do not seem so bad.

I shut myself down and hide inside quiet a bit. Most are friendly, the vendors are not agressive, a few beggars, and a few kids that seem to be trouble, wanting food from the table at restos, but seeming strung out.

So many kids, in arms and all. the sidewalks and streets vary from packed to empty with little in between.

Still i wonder why i am here? That as a poor gringa i am a rich nica and can enjoy the cafes and places to stay that i could not at home? What do i want to do here – write but about what if i shut myself down and do not reach out? I feel caged – makes me appreciate the freedoms of home.

I do not know what to do with myself? Volunteer – but where – i want internet connection so not an isolated farm. my time here is shorter than i imagined – need to cross north or south and that has been eating at me. but with that, have wasted at least a day, which has become valuable, mulling over it. I am not as in love with Granada as i had imagined. Yes, the colonial centre has been restored, but i had been expecting something more, had rushed up here, had built it up in my mind perhaps too much so.

I have taken few pictures here – do not feel as comfortable pulling out the camera. Do i head north up to Leon another colonial town or down to isla ometepe? Only tomorrow will tell. Or is this just culture shock?

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