For whatever reason I've never liked the idea of being a tourist. But on Sunday when I was checking out my new room at a seaside hotel with fresh sheets and towels, a nice bathroom, and even a comfortable front porch, I had to admit that I was right smack in the middle of a tourist zone, had just arrived a month before high tourist season, and was more or less a tourist here myself, complete with overloaded suitcase and camcorder.
But, I felt good. Happy. Relaxed. The place was nice and I was looking forward to a good time here. I found myself thinking maybe I'd given this tourism thing a bad rap. I was comfortable in what I'd been told would be a gorgeous area of a foreign country. Really, what was so wrong about tourism anyway?
I answered that particular question about five minutes later when I walked to the cliffs overlooking the Arabian Sea. The view of the horizon broken only by the waves and a few scattered clouds was stunning. The view of the gift shops, cheesy restaurants, and resort hotels broken only by the people hawking souvenirs and the paths to more of the same was not. I walked north along the cliff's edge, trying to escape, but thee cliffs ended before the cheap internet and plastic Ganesh statuettes did.
Still, there was a nice stretch of beach and what appeared to be a small fishing settlement up ahead with a thatch house and several large wooden boats. As I walked up, an old man greeted me with the usual “hello!” reserved for obvious foreigners. I said “hi” and waved back.
“Want some gank?” he asked.
“Do I want... what?”
“...ganke!” He tried again, re-pronouncing the word, “Gang! Gange! Ganja!”
The old man was trying to offer me marijuana.
There I was, trying to enjoy a relaxing walk by the beach away from the (other) tourists and this guy thinks the only reason I'm here is to buy drugs. Fantastic.
When the second guy I met offered me weed, I started getting irritated. So when the third, even older man who was missing a few teeth said “hello,” I ignored him completely. Then he said two words which took me completely by surprise.
That stopped me. He pointed at some logs, then one of the big boats on the shore covered with thatch. This was unlike anything I'd ever encountered in India. I'd been asked for money before, I'd had people try to scam me with fake offers to be in bollywood films, I'd had people forcibly try to “assist” me in some manner and then demand money, but I'd never met anybody who genuinely wanted a hand.
I helped him carry the logs over and position them so that they propped the boat up. He didn't speak much English beyond “yes and “no” and I didn't even yet know the name of the language he spoke so most of our communication involved pointing and grunting, but we got the job done. After we finished, he invited me to sit next to him on a log.
We just sat there, looking at the horizon. I pointed to some other tourists playing in the water, asked “they help?”, the pointed to the boats. The man shook his head emphatically.
He then signaled to a friend, said something to him and motioned me to follow him. I looked at him questioningly.
“Coconut.” He said.
Two minutes later, the second man had shimmied up a coconut tree, tossed down several human-head-sized green pods, cracked two open on a rock, ripped white fiber away with his teeth, cracked them open again and handed one to me, filled to the brim with coconut milk.
“Fresh coconut!” He declared triumphantly.
I took a sip from my first fresh coconut and grinned. You really can do better than just being a tourist.