A world traveler asks: Can experiential junk food—like a boat ride to a beach resort—ever be spiritually nutritious?
This was previously published on Basic Goodness.
Airlie Beach, Queensland, Australia.
It is raining very hard outside. It is 18.18 (auspicious timing) and it is getting dark rapidly here in Airlie Beach. I found a spot to write in an internet café. Only thing is that the internet is not working. But at least I can charge my laptop and my phone.
I have 45 bites of sand fleas on my right calve alone. I didn’t bother to count the amount of bites on other places on my body but trust me: I have many bites. The bites are very itchy but I have Tiger Balm next to me: to put on the spots where I want to scratch. Tiger Balm relieves the itching. Best tip I had in a long time.
Today I did something touristy again. Airlie Beach is a famous destination with lots of backpackers. Close to this place are the Whitsundays: a group of small islands. According to TripAdvisor there was a beach so stunning: everybody should see it before s/he dies. So this morning I set out on a mission to find a spot on a boat so I could take a look at Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach.
Everything seemed to be fully booked. Which caused an interesting reaction because first I wanted to just shop around and not take a decision immediately. But when I found out it was actually hard to find a spot my reluctance turned into greed and I suddenly became willing to jump into the first opportunity that was available. And surely the tour operator found me a last minute cancellation somewhere and I could hop an a boat. First there is fear of making the wrong decision by deciding too fast, then there is fear of missing out on an adventure and having to waste a whole day by not deciding fast enough. Both decisions are at least partially motivated by fear of failure.
As soon as I arrived at the point of departure all the expectations one can have around organized daily trips come true. Stand in line, sign the disclaimer, pay, get a stamp, get a wet suit, get assigned to the people with the yellow ticket, wait till the name of your boat is called blablabla. I feel very much a tourist that is taken through a prefab experience on autopilot.
And everything goes as planned and expected. Boat goes fast: tourists excited. Boat makes unexpected turns: more excitement. Staff make jokes that if tourists don’t want to go snorkeling they can join the skipper and the guide for their daily game of naked Twister: everybody laughs. More jokes involving naked Twister: more laughter. After the 45 minutes of snorkeling we go to the ‘bush trail’ (10 minute walk). From the viewpoint we, group of 22, all make the same picture from stunning view. Walk back (10 minutes). And 30 minutes later we are in the boat to another beach to have ‘lunch on deserted island’ with seven other boats. At 15.10 we go leave. At 16.00 we are back in the harbor: five hours of ‘fun’ for only $ 138,-.
From a business perspective it is perfectly understandable: offer a package with things the tourists like to see and do. Attention span is short; people need to have the idea of a ‘full day’ but should not come home exhausted. It is ok to create an illusion: everything should be safe, impersonal and superficial so it will suit the masses. Serve an appealing cocktail containing some speed, lame jokes, fascinating information (there are 6 swimming pools on this island, suites in the exclusive resort cost up to $12,000 per night), ‘delicious lunch’ on ‘spectacular location’ and a bit of stunt driving right before arriving back (big applause for the boat driver) and you have a commercial winner.
In a way I envy the entrepreneur who has 4 boats with 22 people leaving very day, creating a turn-over of $ 12.144 per day or $ 4.3 million every year coming from mostly happy and satisfied customers.
But it feels empty too.
Instead of ranting against the emptiness of the consumer driven society we live in (we are afraid of ‘just being’ therefore we immerse ourselves in superficial distraction: lots of ‘doing’) let me see how I want to relate to these things myself. I can see that it is my shortcoming that I have a hard time just simply enjoying what is being fed to me. I can see myself resisting instead of making the best of every moment. It is not that the present moment has become less sacred because I am ocean rafting.
It is a difficult question for me: do I want to train myself to appreciate something I don’t find truly nutritious? Or will my preferences fade away as I open up more? I feel that the food metaphor is insightful: it is ok to decline unhealthy food so is it also ok to decline superficial experiences? Are these experiences as unhealthy for the soul as mass produced food for the body? A Mars bar is not harmless so why should an ocean rafting tour be harmless?
I don’t have an answer yet. I do feel prefer to create my own pass and not to rush. I prefer to be with somebody who is passionate and knowledgeable about the topic/ site/ city/ area. Having such a guide enriches my experience but this is hard to find of course. Being alone can be limiting as I don’t know what I see or don’t know where to look. Commercial tours make me think, at least. Maybe I find a way to deal with them in a healthy way.
One of my responses to the numbness I see in the world is by creating full, wholesome and healing experiences at Basic Goodness. This is what I aim for when I give a workshop, a course or a seminar. I feel that his is the remedy against superficiality. It’s my contribution.
Read more from Atalwin.
Image credit: yarra64/Flickr