Essay Preview: The Beach
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In Alex Garlands novel, “The Beach” a group of backpackers journey to a remote Thai island in search of this paradise utopia. Funny enough, this island utopia the travelers find is full of nothing but other travelers – not one local person in the bunch. And yet, in their minds, the journey is a success. This tale exemplifies what I believe many travelers want when they say they want to get “off the beaten path.”
What they really mean is they want a place that is still new enough to tourism that the people are friendly and unaffected Ð- but also manage to speak a little English. They want a place that lacks Internet, but still has electricity and maybe hot water. They want a few cheap guesthouses and restaurants, some local brew, and an eclectic mix of travelers with whom to spend long nights discussing the worlds problems. Oh, and ideally it should be a picturesque village near a nice mountain or beach, if you dont mind.
Truly being off the beaten path is HARD. It is being in a place where no one else looks like you Ð- no one. It is the realization that all communication must be done with gestures and the odd word picked up from a phrasebook Ð- and even then there will be misunderstanding. It means regularly ordering one thing and getting something else Ð- but not having any idea how to rectify the matter. It means not having anyone to talk Ð- unless YOU learn the local language.
I have never really been off the beaten path. Sure, Ive been to places that are less frequented by tourists Ð- places that felt remote and exotic. But even so, there was always another traveler or two or ten to ease the burden of communication Ð- someone you could turn to and wink and say, “what the hell do you suppose that meant?” and laugh as you both realize you have no clue.