Savannah Grace

Travel Authenticity

Last week on #TRLT we chatted about authenticity. When travelling, it’s easy to become too focussed on the destination and forget the authentic experience you’re missing out on. When travelling to cities and sites with a heavy tourism factor, something in the mentality of both locals and visitors alters, wiping out the genuine interactions and engagement that would have naturally occurred. Every top ten site in the world like the Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower and Pyramids of Giza, have been influenced by the mass flow of tourists and the monetary attraction they bring. Souvenirs and cheap trinkets being shoved in your face amidst the barking of vendors leaves no chance to say, “Namaste” or “Bonjour”. Even a normal human interaction like this is often skipped.

If you’re looking for a truly authentic interaction, it’s necessary to venture further down The Road Less Travelled. Sniff down the less crowded streets and escape the buzz of the attractions others have come to see. The most captivating interactions I ever had were where I dove into the cultural scene and connected with locals who were excited and eager to meet the real me. They’d take my hand and show me their world in the remote corners where few who resembled me, a caucasian Canadian, had crossed paths before. 

In 2008 while crossing a West African border on foot, our backpacks strapped to our clammy backs, we walked out of Guinea Bissau over the border into Guinea. Rarely do tourists or hikers travel in this fashion, especially here. We walked over unfenced deserted land under searing midday heat, our faces singed by brush fires chasing us along the left side of the road. On the right side were signs warning us “Danger MINES” and to stay on the dirt road or risk death by blow up. Miles and miles later we collapsed in a heap of backpacks and strained bodies under a tree providing a slices of shade. Bottoms in the dirt, it wasn’t long before a troop of Guinean children crept out of the bushes surprising us with bulging eyes. They stared at the bizarre guests that had suddenly arrived on their “doorstep”. We had chanced upon a tiny village of straw huts tucked away in the African bush. 

They were timid at first. Their complete lack of technology or modern comforts, left them mesmerized as they had never seen anything like us in a book, on TV or in real life. They stood there perplexed. Some fled like rodents when we made sudden movements. Others giggled as they teasingly pushed their friends toward the martians from outer space. Our backs to the tree, the group encircled us, nearly collapsing as the bravest of them worked up the courage to approach me and poke me. The game was run up, poke us, then quickly skitter off laughing, screaming with excitement. Once they realized we weren’t gonna bite ‘em, as a group they slowly moved in, group confidence giving them strength. Soon the warning spread to the village chief, an elder, who wandered out to officially greet us. By this time the children had their hands all over us. Twirling our hair in their fingers, they were amazed at the length, the softness and the lack of spring in our hair compared to theirs. It was clear they were experimenting with our bodies as compared to theirs. Their black eyes danced over the discovery of our blue ones and they gently took turns stroking our pale sunburned skin.  

The village elder led my brother and me into the center of the village to their communal well to fill our empty water bottles. Thanking him for his gift of valuable water, we continued on our way down the rusty orange, stained road in search of a place to lay our weary heads for the night.

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JOIN US today on “The Road Less Travelled” Twitter chat for a conversation about FREEDOM at 1pmNYC/6pmUK. What does travel FREEDOM mean to you? Search the hashtag #TRLT to find us and don’t forget to include the hashtag in your tweets to participate with your fellow travellers! Inspire and be inspired. You can find me each and every week hosting with my fellow travellers Shane Dallas (public speaker, visited 100+ countries), Jessica Lipowski (accomplished author and “foodie”) and Anton Magnin (specialist in family travel). 

Stay tuned for more on #TRLT. Next week our chat topic is BUSY PLACES!

Savannah Grace 

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