Tuesday, May 31, 2011


It's strange how things are prioritized differently in different cultures.

Things that medium-fancy hotels in Gabon have: beautiful new tile floors, a swimming pool or pristine beach, a really overpriced restaurant, air conditioning, gorgeous landscaping, extremely diligent-to-the-point-of-annoying and thorough room-cleaners.

Things they don't have: rooms without fleas and ant colonies, hot water, towels that wouldn't be rejected from Goodwill, shower curtains, "do not disturb" signs.

Things trains have in Gabon: a well-stocked bar, overpriced restaurant, flushing toilets, soft benches to lay down on.

Things they don't have: cockroach-free compartments, running water, any indication whatsoever of the stops or schedule.

Etc for restaurants.

I'm not complaining; on the contrary I find it refreshing that silly things like nice towels and a few cockroaches aren't the end of the world. People freak out about the tiniest things in the U.S. Everyone should try backpacking for at least a week, or long enough to wear the same set of clothes so many times that rinsing them off in the river with a little 18-in-1 soap no longer helps the smell, various insects have gotten into all your food bags, everything in your backpack is molding because of the damp tent from last night's rain, you're drinking water filtered from a stagnant algae-covered pond, you have duct tape on your toe to prevent worsening blisters, and you've eaten mashed-as-small-as-possible-for-transport bread, just-add-water hummus, beef jerky and dried fruit for the last 10 meals. You don't even notice those things when the clear sky and fresh pine air and wildlife-only soundscape is so exhilarating.

Those are the important things, the things that make you feel maximally alive.


TonyFernandez said...

We in the US have become acustomed to a certain standard. As long as we are willing to pay for it, what's the problem. I for one wouldn't want to deal with cockroaches in a hotel. It's a vacation. Rustic living is something I have no desire to experience. Living life in luxury tastes sweet in small doses, however.

Fresh impulse said...

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Cheers, Paul

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Vera said...

Yeah I don't have a problem with people paying for whatever luxuries they want to spend their money on. (I have a problem with them demanding those luxuries as basic rights, but that's a whole other bucket of worms...) But absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that's true both for people and for air conditioning.

More to the point, temporarily reducing your life to the bare essentials makes you reevaluate what you really find important, and after that you probably won't want to spend so much money on those luxuries that you didn't realize you didn't really care about, or that you didn't realize were hurting you more than they were helping.

Essentially, you force yourself to reoptimize by voluntarily putting stricter constraints on yourself for awhile, and that forces you to experience things in a new way which gives you better information for optimizing in the future under your usual loose constraints.