As she lines up in the umpteenth queue to board the umpteenth means of transport that will bring her to the umpteenth destination, Maggie Mee is dead tired. –However- she thinks -this ease of movement is super cool. Moving at this speed is awesome and makes us feel omnipresent, infusing a sense of pride as if we were blessed by the gift of ubiquity. Actually – Maggie Mee estimates as she looks around her – it is not so bad to travel in high season and join the flow of Western backpackers on holiday.
Much less headaches than travelling the local way.
Firstly, these buses used for backpackers are much calmer. The seats are larger and much more comfortable and there is no risk a hen, a bag full of fruit or a screaming baby will fall on your lap. Then, instead of thousands of curious eyes and gargling sounds revealing guts movements and throat clearing, you are surrounded by white-reddish faces swollen by sleeping pills. The crowd of flabby bodies creates a harmless mass movement and there is no much difference with a colony of penguins on migration.
Even the screen placed at the front of the bus offers entertainment that looks familiar. In fact, American movies filled with photonic weapons, fake sex scenes and final wise moral lessons facilitate sleep more than endless shots over romantic landscapes and cheesy dances seasoned by loud and crackly music. Then, let’s not forget that yelling and pushy sellers have been replaced by products well known on the international market, easily available at impersonal automatic distributors. Bye-bye soggy peanuts! See you later expired cookies and stale chips! Here are our friends Nescafe and Coca-Cola, cheerfully welcoming us at every corner!
Last but not least: the toilet. Yes, in fact, tourists are particularly obsessed with toilets, so here we go! Maggie Mee does not want to miss the opportunity and she goes to the loo every five minutes to enjoy a clean toilet seat and endless toilet paper rolls. Ah! It feels good! Wow, this is a real treat! Let’s seat back and enjoy the holiday, let’s follow the herd in seek of fun and fake luxuries with a tropical twist!
Punctually, a few months after the summer holidays, here comes New Year’s Eve. Here we are, ready to celebrate and party.
The migration of clusters of bodies wearing singlets, flip-flops and backpacks having the same design has begun. The only distinguishing mark is a bright coloured sticker placed on tourists’ chest, which is different according to their final destination. The local professionals of cheap wandering herds have found this solution in order to easily sort tourists among buses, mini-vans, pick-ups, ferries and speed boats fuelled by the unlimited supply of backpackers. The common theme of the backpacking industry is the Lonely Planet guide; its multiple facets are the sleepy and happy faces of these 20 year-olds, who tour the world strictly on beaten paths, following well-trodden tracks and known itineraries.
Nothing is new; it is just slightly different. Same same, but different. In fact.
This mass of piled bodies that look like livestock is actually composed of individuals. Each one of them is on a quest for his or her way, special holiday and unique experience. They will surely find it while in line behind hundreds of people on a journey towards the same destination or when clumped on a beach trying to survive New Year’s Eve celebrations. Of course, a close contact with tropical nature is a must in this quest.
Nature is calling and, distracted by two tourists running away in tears after seeing a moth, Maggie Mee wonders from what corner nature may be calling. She looks left and right and she notices territorial and fearsome ants striking terror among the sleepy tourists and ravenous mosquitoes preparing an ambush before greedily sucking any uncovered part of those sunburned and easily irritable skins. She doesn’t notice much else.
Magge Mee gets more attentive. She wants to hear nature calling, she wants to hear Mother Gaia whispering in her ears. So, she closes her eyes and tries to focus. Immediately, pungent air tickles her nose. It is strong-smelling air enclosing a blend of trash and pollution, supported by open-air dumps and all varieties of exhaust pipes. She opens her eyes in disbelief and she sees electric cables intertwining to form grids of strange shapes; she focuses more and she catches a glimpse of a squared blue sky. Yes, because the sky is still blue and, if you look up beyond the asbestos roofs, you can even see the landscape.
The island is there, fighting, in silence, a stubborn and impertinent struggle. Lush green after the rain, tall palm trees reaching for the light and shades of red and orange at sunset trace the profile of a beautiful coastline, giving an impression of what it must have been like. Emerald green hills stand out in the blue of the sea, which fades into the lighter shades of the sky over the horizon. The island is there and it is beautiful, but it is tired and exhausted. Its hills have been open, dissected and disemboweled by concrete-castings, which are now hosting any kind of vehicle trudging under the weight of obese tourists and reckless locals.
Amazingly, the island is still there. As a tiger in a cage, it is majestic, but keeps a weary eye on its visitors and looks worn out.
Concrete walls mark the boundaries between the beach and the sea, drain pipes discharge any kind of stuff in the water, which is surprisingly still pristine, while multi-coloured fish swim among plastic straws and used sanitary pads.
Welcome to Paradise!
Maggie Mee feels a bit lost. She doesn’t know what to look at. She focuses on the theory, she directs her attention on the banners written in capital letters and in all languages that encourage to respect the nature and to protect the environment of this paradise tortured island. Nevertheless, reality wins over environmental campaigns. Bad visitors and equally bad locals. Together, humanity reveals its hypocrisy. Humans who want, want, want. Nothing is never enough; we want more, more and more. And if we cannot have it here, we will go there. And if we cannot have this, we will have this and that too. And if we cannot do it here, we will do it somewhere else. And if the hole left behind is unfit for us to live in, somebody else will live in it and we will be sorted. Innovative, creative and most of all sustainable solutions will be found to make this hole habitable again. Sure there is always going to be a way to feed arrogant, aggressive and insatiable creatures.
The feeling of nausea is stronger and Maggie Mee feels the need to lie down for a while. –Perhaps – she says to herself to calm down – Perhaps I am just unlucky, sitting in the first row of this show displaying fast general decay. Perhaps – she adds to comfort herself and be able to enjoy the mango juice and the dish of spicy pat thai magically appeared on her table facing the beach – It is just another cycle. Nature adapts, eats, swallows, regurgitates, evolves and survives. Mosquitoes are more and more resistant, ants more motivated and omnivores, cockroaches more numerous and satisfied. – It is not the end of the world. – She tells to herself as she sits back straight. – It is just another stage, I am simply experiencing a typical biotic transition. –
Maggie Mee smiles and she now feels much better. The nausea has almost gone and she happily sips her transgenic juice and appreciates the MSG that makes her dish so tasty. She can finally enjoy the sunset and she even feels lucky and proud to be able to take part in a typical night of the sixth mass extinction.
After having hesitated for a bit because of too much thinking, Maggie Mee starts enjoying her holiday and she joins the groupings of youngsters going up and down the concrete roads and the crowded marine hallways.
Wasn’t it easy to win the waves of nausea?
Time flies and Maggie Mee is a bit sad when she boards the low-cost flight that will bring her home. She takes a seat in the narrow rows and takes a deep breath of the bad quality air of the overcrowded plane. Rocked by babies’ cries, cell phones ringtones, videos displayed on electronic devices of any shape and size and pushy multi-language in-flight announcements nagging about purchasing who-knows-what, Maggie Mee closes her eyes and immediately falls asleep. Suddenly, she is swimming laps in empty subway tunnels, which have become underground lanes filled with air.
In fact, Maggie Mee has plunged into a dream where the subway tunnels have been converted into a swimming/flying practice room filled with compressed air. Maggie Mee finds herself in full training. Air pressure has been regulated to suit human lungs and, wearing an Olympic swimsuit and flamboyant swim fins, there she goes, fluctuating back and forth and doing laps up and down the brightly illuminated long tunnels.
Suddenly, a crossroads. A huge crossroads. An Asian-looking young lady smiles at her and shows her the way. Maggie Mee swims closer, showing her best finning technique and easily enters inside a huge industrial warehouse. At least, this is what this enormous space looks like. It is huge, she cannot see the boundaries. She cannot identify the height of the ceiling nor of the walls, but a feeling of fullness fills her eyes and a sense of repulsion fills her nose. In fact, Maggie Mee gradually realizes that the space of undefined dimensions she has entered is full of trash. She looks more carefully and at a distance she can see some figures messing around piles of stuff. She hears voices yelling in excitement “More! More!” Maggie Mee feels confused. Another young lady with Asian features and skinny legs approaches her, she gives her a deep bow and then hands her a pamphlet. Maggie Mee reads it:
“Welcome to Hell! Here, you can live eternally with the trash you have produced during your life. All the garbage you have generated and breathed, in which and for which you have lived. You can have it all in the same spot and for ever! And it’s all free!”
Maggie Mee wakes up abruptly hearing the dull thud of the plane’s landing gear. She looks out of the window and concrete monsters smile at her from the runway.
Finally home! She is finally back to the city where trash is out of sight and buried in the neighbouring island or burnt in hidden locations.
-Oh! What a relief! Maggie Mee thinks – I can go back to carefree consumerism without having to see in my dish the discharges of my guts or of my vices! Out of sight, out of mind. -