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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Culture Shock

People are funny. On one end of the spectrum are those that romanticize the notion of other cultures or societies, as utopian or ideal, on the other end are the apathetic who remain disengaged or removed from cultures different from their own, unable to see our common humanness. I’ve experienced the entire scale in 9 days.

A little over a week ago Glenn and I took a speedboat an hour and a half off of mainland Tanzania to the exotic island of Zanzibar, an idyllic tropical paradise with powder white beaches and warm turquoise water. Glenn is calling it ‘the vacation from the vacation’. After four days in bustling Stone Town - an ancient hub for traders and sellers for close to 1,000 years - we headed north to the tip of the island for a little peace and quiet. Violating one of our vacation creeds (no big fancy American hotels) we checked into the Hilton on a lead from a friend.

I had come down with a cold so the idea of bunkering down in a nice room with a cozy bed and AC overshadowed my discomfort of the ubiquitous ‘vacation resort’; you know the kind, the towering sea of luxury isolated in every way from its surroundings. Aside from the incredibly comfortable bed - covered in crisp white cotton, a fluffy duvet and down pillows - the Hilton is not my kind of place, but it did afford an interesting opportunity to observe people on vacation in Africa. Up until now we have really only come across tourists en mass in the large game parks and at the airports. We’ve seen lots of travelers, but those aren’t tourists, these are two distinct breeds. The Double Tree has tourists.

Sometimes it is embarrassing to belong to my race. Here I go romanticizing the natives, sliding back toward the former side of the scale while at the same time feeling apathy for my own. Yesterday we witnessed several Hiltonites towering a couple feet above the beach craning over the edge of a retaining wall that separates the Hilton beach from the public beach tossing candy down to the local children below, cracking up as the children fought one another for the treats. They didn’t leave the compound. They just stood there watching the kids clamor over one another laughing until all of the candy had been scooped up; but apparently that wasn’t enough. They returned a few minutes later with 6 bottles of coke to be distributed among 25 or so children. All the while they stood perched safely out of reach of the local children as the kids fought to chug the most coke before someone older, bigger ripped it from their hands. The tourists laughed and went back to their chase lounges. I cringed from mine.

Glenn and I decided to stick to our creed. Just by staying here we are supporting this kind of scene. Your dollar is your vote, use it wisely. Travel responsibly.

If you’ve been following our journey shoot us a line. We LOVE messages from home; it makes the distance between us feel smaller.

My love to you,


  1. Corrin, I so understand your perspective in this one. It's that same humiliating experience one can often feel as an american when you see some tacky woman standing in the middle of some random public square screaming "Does anyone here speak English?!" Paul and I just pretend to be italian and quickly scamper off on our merry way. Hoping, of course, never to be associated with the "ugly american" stereo type. Good for you for travelling with a conscience. Love you.


  2. We couldn't agree with you more. Mark Twain wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
    And yet, some people seem to travel WITH their prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and don't ever seem to acquire broad, wholesome or charitable views. Considering those people, I actually wish they'd just vegetate in one little corner of the earth, and preferably not vote.

  3. Hi ladies.

    @Jenny, yes, yes, yes I know the ones. It's ironic you mention Italy, the couple I was talking about were Italian so we don't have a monopoly on ugly tourists yet (thank goodness). Glenn and I tend to lower our voices a few notches when we hear other American voices drowning out our own. That sounds awful, I know and we've met some wonderful American travelers, but in general the volume of the speaker says, well, volumes.

    @Stevie, I love that quote. I so wish it were true. I even think I am ok with them voting if they would just sign over reproductive rights.

    I love you ladies, both are so inspiring. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Your blog continues to be brilliant and heartbreaking. Hope that you guys had a lovely Thanksgiving.
    Thanks for being an example of "Beautiful Americans" rather than the other more famous kind.
    Hugs, Kerry

  5. Hi Glenn and Corrin my adventurous friends.
    I've been following sporatically since Glenn's mom told me of the site. What daydreams I've had following along! I can't wait for you to get back home... Glenn, I'm shipping one of my bikes (KLR 650) to Hood River, upon your return. I need a base camp for a runs around the western states and Cananda... and Alaska. I'm hoping you can carve out some time for some N. American riding adventures in 2011. When are you going to be back? Does the adventure ever end? - Cheers!, Rod

  6. Rod,
    The answer is an affirmative NO! The adventure never ends; especially with the exciting news of your maiden voyage out to Oregon! We are so excited to have you. We are planning on being home April 1 but it will depend on selling our Cruiser here. Ship it! You can base yourself out of our casa for as long as you like. I am going to be cooking up a storm so another eater is a welcome addition. We are stoked! And GP is going to be ready to ride his machine.

    Looking forward to seeing your face,