February 13, 2010

Off the Beaten Track

This morning I had coffee with a friend who'd just gotten back from a cruise. He mentioned that when their ship docked, passengers were advised to stay on the main street of the city. They were warned that stepping off onto a side street might be dangerous and they couldn't be responsible for what might happen. The main street was lined with upscale stores similar, or in some cases identical, to the stores US passengers had left back home.

My friend ignored the advice and turned onto a side street where he saw the reality of life in this third world country. He could look into doorways and see families at work, children at play...life going on among the poor of the city. What he saw was real and at the same time so far removed from life on the main street that the two paths seemed to be in different countries.

It is curious to me why one would take the time and trouble--and spend the money--to travel to another country and stay on the "safe" main street. I think main streets are much the same, no matter where one finds them. It's the side streets that offer a glimpse into the culture of another country. Side streets offer authentic restaurants and the richness of everyday life expressed in the native language and customs of a country.

It seems to me that in life, as in travel, the greatest rewards come from stepping off the main strip to see what's waiting down a side street. The determination to stay "safe" can lead to missed opportunities to experience other people and their culture.

No comments:

Post a Comment