Throughout my travels something stood out to me, I am once again the minority. In three different ways I found myself the minority amongst my diverse group of travelers.
#1. I’m American (MURICA!)
American backpackers are not as common as the English, Australians, Kiwis, Germans and many others, but why? Well, It’s simply not built into our culture. During my initial 3-month European tour I encountered 2 American travelers in Berlin, 2 in Madrid and 3 in Istanbul. Surely I thought I would have encountered more Americans in every place I visited, after all we have such a large population and overall good economy. Strangely enough I encountered more Australians than anyone else. Australia has a smaller population than my entire state, and their currency is weaker, yet you will find one in every inch of the world. I asked my Australian mate why this is, and he explained to me that Aussies are so far away from everyone else that they might as well make their trip worthwhile, but there’s more to it than the distance. Their culture encourages travel, and by the age of 25 most Aussies are globe trotters.
Unlike our kangaroo loving mates, Americans are built different. We are driven by our capitalist nature and our need to achieve the American dream. This success is measured by our achievement in education, career, property ownership, family and retirement. Derailment from this course is considered unwise and unsuccessful. Because of this we tend to push off traveling till we are older or better yet, till we reach the ripe old age of retirement. Only then when we are old, fragile, with a small bladder, talking about how much harder life was back in the day, only then is it acceptable to travel. I’ve seen these herds of Americans flock the streets of Europe in their overpriced tour groups. Because of this mentality I commonly found myself to be the only American in the group.
South East Asia was different, and I began to encounter more Americans, but still are numbers were small compared to others.
#2. I’m Peruvian (Where in Mexico is that?)
The most asked question amongst travelers besides our names, is our place of origin. Typically, I’ll blurt out one of these answers: the states, U.S., California, San Francisco. A common response I’ve gotten is, “No you’re not. Where you really from?”
“Ummmmm, the fuck you mean? (confused look on my face). I’m pretty sure I’m American.” (checks passport for verification) “See, the giant bald eagle on my passport confirms it.”
What people are getting at is what ethnicity I am. Their doubt comes from the mere fact that I don’t look like the Americans they’ve seen on the tube. At first glance many think I’m Italian, Israeli, some kind of middle eastern, Greek, Indian, Spanish, a brown Ryan Gosling, and the most dreaded one, Mexican (pukes a little in mouth).
Growing up I was the only Peruvian in my group of minority friends. The outlier. As my circle of friends grew outside the minority spectrum (white people) most would assume I was Mexican and when I told them I was from Peru they have no clue where it was.
I leave my liberal home state for Georgia, a place where people believe all of central and South America is Mexico. “Peru? What part of Mexico is that?”
Upon my return to the West Coast things had changed. My countrymen were suddenly geographically inclined and when I told them I was Peruvian the response I would get is, “Oh man I love Peru! Machu Pichu, Incas, llamas, lomo saltado, fucking love it all bro.”
“Um wait a sec. You been there?”
“Yea dude. Hiked the Inca trail, did some ayahuasca and rode some barrels bruh.”
(Confused/surprised look on my face) What the fuck is going on? Somewhere during my time spreading freedom in foreign lands, my birth place had become extremely popular. Not only were people familiar with Peru and its culture, many had actually visited the country. Peruvian cuisine had exploded in San Francisco and my family and I now had several Peruvian restaurants to choose from instead of one.
I’ve met one Peruvian traveler in all my time globe-trotting. Like Americans culture restricts travel, but Peru’s economical place in the world is the major deterrent of travel for young Peruvians.
Many of my fellow backpackers had seen more of my birth country than I have.
#3. I’m a Veteran (G.I. fucking Joe, Pew Pew)
A fellow veteran once asked me, “What’s it like traveling as a veteran? Do you they like us? Do they understand us?”
The United States has been at war since 2001, ever since the attacks on 9/11. After many years of combat several veterans have returned home trying to find their place in the civilian world. Just about every American has a veteran friend since so many answered the call of duty. This of course does not mean that they understand us. There is a great division between civilian and veteran, but over the years many organizations are bridging the gap between both sides. This is not exactly the case for our allies.
Our allied veterans are not as common in their communities as in the states. Hardly anyone knows a service member in their country. This leads to two things, a stigma and a curiosity towards veterans.
Since most foreigners have never had an interaction with a veteran, I am a sudden curiosity. The questions start flowing in. What was war like? What’s it like shooting guns? What’s Iraq/Afghanistan like? What did you do? Did you kill anyone? I tend to avoid revealing that I am a veteran when I travel to avoid these questions, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. I don’t mind people’s curiosity, I’m sure I would be just as curious if I was in their shoes. I’m typically very vague with my answers because let’s face it’s hard for them to comprehend my experience. There are very few travelers I have met where I have felt comfortable enough to share my experience with. These are usually fellow veterans from other nations. Sometimes I have fun with it and tell people it’s exactly like Call of Duty.
Then there’s the stigma with being a veteran. A girl once told me after finding out I was a veteran, “Oh no sweetie, you’re damaged, you’re fucked in the head.” The only detail she had about me was that I was a veteran and automatically she assumes I have PTSD, some mentally ill soul walking this earth seeking pity. Yea, no, and go fuck yourself. Usually I play it cool and shake it off, but other times my twisted mind plays along and I recite the last scene of Rambo with my own twist of course.
Back there I had all these fucking guys. Who were my friends. Cause back here there’s nothing. Remember Danforth? He wore this black headband and I took one of those magic markers and I said to Feron, “Hey mail us to Las Vegas” cause we were always talking about Vegas, and this fucking car. This uh red ’58 Chevy convertible, he was talking about this car, he said we were gonna cruise till the tires fall off … We were patrolling the streets of Kabul and this kid carrying a shoe-shine box comes up. And he says “Shine, please, shine!” I said no. He kept askin’, yeah, and Joey said “Yeah.” And I went to talk to the village elder, and the box was wired, and he opened up the box, fucking blew his body all over the place. And he’s laying there, he’s fucking screaming. There’s pieces of him all over me, just…like this, and I’m tryin’ to pull him off, you know, my friend that’s all over me! I’ve got blood and everything and I’m tryin’ to hold him together! I’m puttin’… the guy’s fuckin’ insides keep coming out! And nobody would help! Nobody would help! He’s saying, sayin’ “I wanna go home! I wanna go home!” He keeps calling my name! “I wanna go home, Carlos! I wanna drive my Chevy!” I said “With what? I can’t find your fuckin’ legs! I can’t find your legs!” – John Rambo
Yea pretty fucked up, but if you assume all veterans are fucked in the head than yea you deserve to be fucked with. Fortunately, this is not common and people are usually respectful and just curious about my experience.
So to my veteran friend I would say this, no they do not understand us but it does not mean they don’t like us. They simply can’t comprehend our experience since they haven’t lived through it, therefore we can’t fault them for this. Travel the world and express yourself freely, people will like you for you. All I ask is to respect them with the same respect you seek. They also come from a different world and experiences we don’t understand. In the end we are all the same, human beings trying to understand each other.
I guess that last little part applies to everyone hahaha. Safe travels fuckers, till next time.