As I travel, I become more and more aware of the power of spectatorship and the impact it has on experiences.
Communing with an uncharted moment
Imagine that you are standing on the precipice of a great cliff, watching the golden fingers of morning slowly creep across an empty riverbed. The heather dances scarlet on the horizon while somewhere far off, a lonely swallow croons.
Now, imagine experiencing this exact same scene with 30 other strangers by your side. Scratching, grumbling, giggling – gobbling up the essence of the moment with their intrusive presence. Iphones and irritation ground your spirit to mundane reality and the sacred splendor is shattered.
Spectatorship in all it’s glory
Instead, imagine you are present in the final moment of the final match of the World Cup.
Fifty thousand people are hanging on the edges of their chairs. The vivacious energy of the day is glowing pink in the faces of everyone around you, bouncing off the walls like daybreak through a prism.
The cheerful comradery inspires a unique kind of intoxicated bliss. For this single moment in time, you and everyone in the stadium are linked by the felicitation of the moment. Strangers are your best friends as you coalesce to make ONE GIANT FAN.
But what if the stadium was empty and the only person there to see that final play was…just you?
Spectatorship is entirely conditional and too many times in the sweep of the tourist trajectory, the distinction between solitude and conviviality is sorely disrespected.
My manufactured moment
On my recent adventure to Tikal, I was profoundly disenchanted by the way this line was crossed over and over. On the second day of my trip, I booked the sunrise tour, a 4am trek to the top of the highest temple.
Unfortunately, I was not the only one with this idea. By 5:05, the temple steps were staggered with 45 other tourists, cackling and canoodling in the early morning fog. As the girl in front of me cracked open her pack fiesta Doritos, my sense of glory evaporated entirely.
Cause, effect, and traveling true
The cause of this betrayal is largely monetary. Tour groups will market anything as a ‘unique experience’ and then turn around and sell the same manufactured moment to 20 thousand other tourists.
For travelers, this abuse of spectatorship means that we have a responsibility to engineer these moments ourselves, and think outside the box of ‘conventional tourism’. I urge my travel hungry amigos to seek the sunrise beyond the sunrise, a commitment to chase the genuine experience whenever possible.