I'm here in Ireland watching the sheep, and they strike me as being a lot like Americans on vacation. The Leenane Hotel does a good business serving bus loads of tour people who stop there as they are driven through Ireland. They are taken from place to place where they can shoot pictures and buy things and then get back into the bus with the rest of the flock and be herded to a different location where the grass is another shade of green.
My friend Molly Peacock said that she liked to think of me driving around Western Ireland in a small car narrowly missing being hit by lorries on the tiny roads. She thinks my life is one big adventure. She's right about that, but when we're here on vacation, we like to explore our immediate environs. We hike, read, write and cook. We have long conversations about life, the universe and everything. Actually, the most dangerous part of driving on these Irish roads is the huge lumbering buses.
There are people who enjoy extreme sports as a means of vacation, and I like that idea very much. I'm not sure I want to try bungee jumping but cliff diving, spelunking and parasailing all sound great. But what doesn't sound like a vacation to me is lying around on a ship and then eating your heart out every five minutes. Americans are already overweight, so let's take a vacation from being overweight at home to being overweight at sea.
The fact is that Americans who like to be active find a way to be active on vacation, but the majority of Americans like to be sedentary, and dream of being sedentary permanently -- in fact being waited on so a cruise is the perfect vacation followed by any kind of tour because you don't have to do any thinking at all, god forbid, you just have to be part of the herd going from place to place an you have the illusion of luxury, you are in fact being waited on. The problem with that is that we'll all be sedentary permanently eventually whether we like it or not, so why not be active while we can? Why not move our body before you hit eighty and you need Viagra to move it?
When we were in Greece on Patmos, the sheep would come by cruise ship and they would be brought by bus up to the Cave of the Apocalypse where one morning, we were sitting when a bunch of them came in, and I started laughing like a banshee. We had to leave. I can't really explain the laughter except that by that time I was deep into study of the plants on the island of Patmos especially the psychedelic ones that seemed to grow close to that cave.
Americans tend to be in a rut when it comes to living and of course vacation is part of living. Timeshares, tours and cruises are all a way of being somewhere else without having to actually experience that culture except through safety glass. "I don't want to go anywhere on vacation where people are poor," a woman told me recently. "I don't want to sound bad, but I just don't want to see that."
Part of the reason I travel is to experience another culture. We are living in a cottage in Western Ireland, shopping for groceries and going to the pub for a pint. I am hanging our clothing to dry, and taking medicine from the pharmacy even though I don't know what I'm taking. If you see the world out of the window of a cruise ship or tour bus, you won't get wet, and we are definitely getting wet. In Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Chiapas, Mexico as well as here in Ireland, we meet poor people. We are all poor people. Poor in that we have not lived as completely as we could. We live without television and people ask us if it is because we can't afford cable. No, we can't afford cable, and we can't afford tours and cruises. We can't afford boxes and the cost of living inside them. Americans need to walk out of our safe, calm protected world where we live as Forche would say, "exactly like netted fish." Swimming upstream is how trout become salmon.