The Tourist Footprint: Are We Ruining Earth’s Natural Wonders?
Friday, February 4, 2011
Much of what we read about travel is packaged into a descriptive personal essay that seeks to sweep the reader to a magical land where cotton candy falls from the sky and unicorns roam undulating; verdant hills leading to an ethereal Eden. And let’s face it, most of us enjoy reading a romantic story about a love affair between the traveler and his quest. We want to turn the pages when he stumbles upon the town flanked with colorful, artisan markets or when he sails, wide-eyed, among fjords — majestic and breathtaking from every angle.
But here at The Expeditioner we do none of that delusional crap — it’s just hard core, report the goods, travel writing. Which is why I bow down to Patrick Smith and his awesome article: “Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands: Beauty and a Bummer.”
In his piece, Smith discusses the countless times he is completely and utterly turned off by the abominable crowds on Phi Phi Don and Maya Bay, despite the gorgeous setting of these islands. And it’s not just the crowds that bother him: it’s the obnoxious, disrespectful, uncouth people in these crowds that get on his very last, already pinched nerve.
I thought back to my trip to the Phi Phi islands and to other jaunts I have taken in touristy areas of the world that are known for their spectacular settings, and realized I must have forgotten to wipe the rose tint from my Ray-Ban knock-off’s before take-off. In most cases, I was so awe-struck by the unfamiliar beauty of these places that I forgot to take into account how all the hundreds — if not thousands — of people were impacting these natural wonders everyday.
Smith’s brutally honest words made me think: “Has tourism gone too far?” And are we as travelers respecting what’s left of the magic to be seen on Earth, or are we littering, overindulging, and leaving a massive footprint on Mother Nature’s soft hide?
It’s a tough call, but many us know how much it sucks to visit a place such as Maya Bay, and not be able to take a photo of the towering limestone humps without having at least a dozen unwanted faces in the picture. It’s a total letdown that usually spews a thought such as: “Why the hell are there so many people here?” But then again, might we be one of those faces?
[Photo by Jo@net/Flickr]
By Maria Russo
About the Author
Maria Russo is a freelance writer who loves natural wonders, good eats, ethical travel, and boutique hotels. Her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, USA Today.com, People.com and A Luxury Travel Blog, among others.
When Maria is not writing for her all-time favorite site (that would be The Expeditioner), she spends her time blogging about foreign jaunts and delectable food experiences for her site: Memoirs of a Travel & Food Addict. She is also up to no good on Twitter (@traveladdictgrl, @expedmaria).