"It is paradise here." What most travelers forget to add to the end of that statement is "for tourists."
In most third-world travel destinations, the local residents often do not have the resources to enjoy the same scenic splendors of their own country that tourists do, but few travelers ever acknowledge this, probably because they've never talked to them. I think the reason I've been unable to integrate myself with the traveler's circuit is because I feel amongst them a sense of mistrust towards the local population, but I prefer to believe what my Nicaraguan roommate Amparo once told me. She said, "En cada lugar es lo mismo. Hay poco gente malo." (In every place it is the same, there are few bad people).
When I tell people I've been to certain countries for upwards of two months and only visited one, sometimes two places, they think I'm crazy, think I'm wasting my time and money, but I've realized that's how I prefer to travel. I get addicted to the people and through them I get to know a place. Through them I learn to trust again.
I've found myself doing many things I could very well be doing back at home. Last week I went to an amusement park and rode bumper cars. Afterwards I went bowling. But sharing these moments with new friends changed these ordinary activities into unforgettable memories. Seeing people enjoy themselves, look over to you and laugh at the same things, made me feel connected to a place despite all its differences.
The one thing I've learned is that most people around the world generally want the same thing. Everyone wants to smile. Everyone wants their own version of happiness. And what touches me the most is how sometimes just your friendship can be more than enough. I asked my friend Islay if I could mail him anything, like shoes or clothes and he said to me, "Si tù puedes, bueno, pero si no puedes, no te preocupes. Solo quiero que tù me escribes de vez en cuando. Dejáme saber como estas." (If you can, good, but if you can't, don't worry about it. I just want you to write me once in a while. Let me know how you are).
I try to empathize from the perspective of most travelers and maybe the desire to interact with the people is there. Maybe they just haven't been as fortunate as I am to have the capacity to. Maybe the few travel horror stories that have been conflated to misrepresent a country has gotten the best of them. I really don't know. Therefore I no longer feel anger or irritation towards travelers that appear to ignore locals, but instead I feel sorry that they are missing out on such wonderful experiences. There is already so much in this world meant to keep us apart that we need not hold ourselves back even more from discovering one another.
Sometimes I just want to stop people and plead with them: Sit down and talk with people, share a few laughs, dance a few songs, hug each other. Just give it a chance. Who knows, you might find something beautiful. I know I have.