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Oh, Darling. Thank you for inviting me to dinner

29 June, 2015

Oh, Darling. Thank you for inviting me to dinner

“Oh, Darling. Thank you for inviting me to dinner, but this was the worst dinner of my life.”

Inside the elevator with me, two women are having that conversation. As we go down in the elevator, from a restaurant recommended by a travel guide for its food as much as for the views it has, one of the women mentions she will write a complaint letter because she felt defrauded and cheated.

The truth is I only got the door of the restaurant and had a look inside. I didn’t get to try the food because the prices were not as cheap as the travel guide mentioned and the views were not as extraordinary.

When I was traveling as a backpacker, many years ago, there was almost no Internet. Buying a Lonely Planet for South America was it and the thing I used the most from it were its maps and the info on local cultural customs. Afterwards, I used other countries’ guides that, along with the above, helped me learn some info about the language.

But it’s been a long time since I don’t buy travel guides anymore. Now I can see maps on the Internet and I use my phone as GPS when I find WiFi or I just carry paper road maps of the countries I am traveling through.

What sometimes strikes the most is some appear to take what the travel guides suggest as gospel and follow almost every recommendation to a T. Almost as if you ought to do all activities it says you should do and eat in all the places it recommends because otherwise a curse may befall you and you shall never recover from it.

Luckily, for these curses there are antidotes in other pages; throwing coins into fountains, cross bridges, touch statues that possess magical powers, stick your finger in a column and make a wish and other rites or customs to acquire health, money or love. And, on top of all this, maybe be fortunate enough to go back to place and be forgiven by the travel guide as well.

I admit that, in doubt, I have sometimes done some of these things – playing it safe in case some threat wants to loom over me because I didn’t do something. So, one day, while I was at a hostel, I checked out one of these travel guides to see what it preached about the next area I was soon going to visit. It said one of the cities was ugly and boring and the other one was the opposite.

In the ugly and boring one, I found a lot of people enjoying life, walking on the banks of the lake, skating, kids riding bikes and many enjoying a tea or a coffee with some cake. In the other one, I felt as if I was in a shopping centre.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Taste is personal. When someone writes about a place, it is subjective, so I believe that sometimes the recommendations you read on travel guides are somewhat damaging. Some places that were rather unique change dramatically to accommodate the tourists’ taste and needs to the point their essence dilutes, leaving them without much of their genuine environment.

Likewise, I, just in case, am practicing every day the art of jumping over my right leg, while touching my right ear with my left hand and balancing an egg on a spoon with my mouth. You can’t glue the egg to the spoon. That would be cheating.

I read on one of these travel guides that, if you do it, you will have good fortune. You will also get a group of people that will observe you and they’ll call some people dressed in blue and others dressed in white that will provide you with food and shelter for an undetermined time.

. .