May 18th is the anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption that
literally blew the top off of the mountain and killed 57 people.
Recently, National Geographic ran a piece about Mount St. Helens, the eruption,
and nature’s phenomenal recovery now 31 years later. One piece of the
story that really stood out for me, was that of a man who lost his son and
daughter-in-law who were camping at the time of the eruption. The poor
man was well over 60 years of age at the time. Incredibly, for more than
a year after the eruption, he would hike out every day into one of the biggest
debris fields that nature ever blasted onto U.S. soil. He carried a
shovel, a chainsaw, and a pick-ax and his goal was to find his son. Eventually,
he found his daughter-in-law, but he never did find any trace of his boy.
story really got to me, and it got right to the core of why I love to travel so
much. Consider these definitions.
Admittedly they’re my own, but I think most of us will agree that:
A Tourist is someone who travels to a destination
specifically to see a particular site or to see a specific event, and to take
copious amounts of pictures to bore their friends with before burying the pile
of photos on some digital media somewhere to be forgotten.
A Traveler is someone who travels to a destination to
accomplish a given task, and to become involved in that destination’s culture,
environment, population, etc. A Traveler may or may not take pictures,
but he/she does return with amazing memories and a deeper and more intimate
knowledge of the destination.
A Raconteur is a traveler who can tell engaging
and true stories with wit and skill about the people and destinations they’ve
Tourists make me sad. I’ve seen them
walk straight past some of the most amazing things, because they’re blinded by
tunnel vision, fixed on the destination they’ve decided they (or their kids)
must see. I’ll bet that more than 80% of
the people who tour Rome, walk right through the columns and palaces of ancient Rome and to within 50 feet of
the prison cell of the apostles Peter and Paul without having any idea where they are. Why?
They’re on their way to see the Roman Coliseum! The Coliseum is quite spectacular, to be sure, but since
you must walk through some of Judeo-Christianity’s most important history in order to get there, shouldn’t you
try to gain a bigger picture about what’s going on around you? You’ll appreciate it all so much more!
in the middle of the “Ball Court” in the Mayan ruins of Chitzen-itza, it was
amazing to stand where people tried to kick a small ball through these small “goals”
built high into the sides of the wall. I
looked up and wondered if I could accurately kick a ball that high, especially
when it meant that if I were to lose, I would have to offer my own head to the
captain of the other team through ritual sacrifice. I wondered, “How many died here? Did they cheer for the beheading after the
game?” I heard a couple behind me say, “What
are those round things for? I’ll get a
picture!” What do you tell your friends
back home when they see the picture? “Here
are some really cool rocks that look like basketball hoops.”
the time to do a bit of self-educating about the places you go. Talk to some locals. Stories about the man who literally fought a
volcano to find his son are not a “dime a dozen” and should not go
unappreciated. As a tourist, you see a
lot but you learn little. As a traveler,
you see more and you learn so much. As a
raconteur, you’ll amaze your grandchildren for days about the places you’ve
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