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Travelers and tourists August 6, 2013

Posted by stinawp in Uncategorized.

Tourists and travelers


I know analogies aren’t on the SAT (or the GRE) anymore, but this one should be pretty easy:


tourist : field station ::


A. clown : circus

B. student : school

C. gringo : Costa Rica

D. hospital : doctor


The correct answer is C.


Ecotourism is an important funding source for Palo Verde and many other field stations in Costa Rica. Most station biologists will admit this even as they use “tourist” as a pejorative. When pressed further, they may even admit that some tourists can be nice people too. I’ve reconciled this by thinking of short-term guests of the station as “visitors” until they do something worthy of being demoted to tourist status.

A couple from Canada gave me a view of this from the other side: they said that a friend of theirs described them as travelers, not tourists. I had to agree; for one thing, they had the self-awareness to ask the question, “do you all get sick of having people like us pop into the station?” It was a pleasure to be able to honestly answer “no”.

For better or worse, I basically demote people to tourist status when they annoy me. However vague and arbitrary that sounds, all the tourists I’ve encountered here have been annoying in one (or more) of these ways:

1. Group size. Travelers come singly, or in twos, threes or fours. Tourists almost always come in larger groups. Fortunately, Palo Verde is out of the way enough that we don’t get busloads of people unless they’re on some sort of course, but one night we had two sections of a university study abroad course totaling 75 people. I’m not sure what the minimum number for automatic tourist status is, but it might be eight—the number of seats at a table in the station dining room.

2. Reason for visiting. Travelers have specific reasons for going to Palo Verde or anywhere else. At Palo Verde, that reason is most often to see the huge variety of birds, but any specific reason will do. Tourists often seem to have picked Palo Verde at random, or at least from a list of equally meaningful (or meaningless) options. This can hold true even for large groups—I never figured out why the 75-person group was here in particular.

3. Politeness. Travelers tend to be friendly and curious, or at minimum, unobtrusive. Tourists tend to confuse researchers working at the station with staff working for the station, and expect assistance with things like reservations, hiking routes, and administrative questions. In spectacular cases, these expectations are not only not station researchers’ jobs, but aren’t anyone’s job: another biologist told me that at a different field station, she was given a cup to bus back to the kitchen.

4. Preparation and/or resilience. Travelers generally know what to expect and are prepared for it, and can roll with the unexpected. Tourists are unprepared and unpleasantly surprised, with the unpleasantness often engulfing the people at the station who have to deal with them. In one notable instance, a father and mother of two asked me about the boat tour of the river, about which I knew anything. The father then asked about possible hikes. I suggested a few, but said that most of them needed more than the sandals and flip-flops everyone was wearing. His reply that they all would change their shoes was interrupted by his wife, who declared that the black leather sandals she was wearing were her only pair of shoes. I escaped soon after, rather wishing I’d dusted off my German and pretended not to speak any English. Despite the fact that the father had said they were staying the night, I never saw them again.



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