The price of Third-World passage

Over the last four months I have traveled to a number of third(ish) world countries.

Mexico, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia

It has been awesome.

The Temples – amazing


The people – simply happy.

The infrastructure, especially the roads (I’ll write about the roads later) …. a bit lacking. But, what do you expect when the dollar is king, and a ‘traffic ticket’ is easily bribed away with $1-$5 to the cop who pulled you over. (We heard stories of tourists riding a motorbike without a helmet while completely intoxicated, down the wrong way on a one-way street trying to outrun the police. When they finally pull over, are they arrested? Nope. The police are happy with a $10 bribe, and let them go on their way.)

It is simple.
1) Always buy your water (never drink out of the tap)
2) Always carry a bit of toilet paper with you, you never know when you will be facing a squat toilet with a bucket of water next to it.
3) Eat at the busiest restaurants (try not to look in the kitchen) and when in doubt – order chicken. (Chicken’s are everywhere…)
4) Always keep a $1, $5 and $10 in your pocket (and not in the same pocket as the rest of your money) just in case you need to go somewhere or bribe someone.

But, glaringly obvious is the influence of America, first rate – first world consumption and waste. Granted, many of these countries I have visited do not have the luxury of having a waste removal service, but they have developed a taste for plastic bags – and everything America.
Plastic bags are everywhere.
They use them for everything.
Do you want your dinner take-away? You will get it wrapped up nice in a plastic bag.
Juice? Awesome. In a plastic bag with a straw.

Most of the garbage found on the beaches, in the gutters, piled on the corners… all packaging.

But when a local asks where you are from – and you say “USA”, the response is usually one of two things.
1) Cheers and shouts of “OBAMA!” followed closely by some variation of “capital is Washington DC, wife is Michelle, born in Hawaii. Do you know Obama?” (they just loooove Obama).
2) A look of awe and a remark of ‘ooooh’. Like they just saw a unicorn. And in that one instant, you go from being a normal-everyday-run-of-the-mill tourist to being very rich.

So far, it has been wonderful, beautiful, heartbreaking, awe-inspiring and totally and completely worth it.


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