Services in Bariloche
When I was in Bariloche in Argentina, I was chatting to the particularly well-travelled owner of the hostel we were staying in and it emerged that he hadn’t done South America’s number one hike – The Inca Trail.
When I quizzed him on why, he said that it was his policy to never do a hike he had to pay someone to take him on.
In Hong Kong, we met up with a guy who I knew vaguely through friends back home in South Africa. When we told him that a visit to the world’s largest outdoor Buddha was on our itinerary, he shrugged dismissively and said he hadn’t bothered since it had only been erected in the eighties.
In El Calafate in Argentina, my boyfriend Ter and I were burbling with enthusiasm at the ice walk we were about to do on the sky-blue Moreno glacier. A girl sitting near us said that she had chosen only to view the glacier from afar, because she’d heard that the ice walking was better in El Chalten, four hours away.
“Have you been to El Chalten already?” I asked enthusiastically, having loved the place and wanting to swap stories.
“No, I’m not going,” she said. “I’ve just heard about it.”
The Holy Grail
These three stories show that the world is full of diverse and divergent opinions. While the majority of people that I met on my travels might have been backpackers like me, we were all searching for completely different experiences.
In the three stories I have listed, the key features that each of the travellers were questing for were hiking freedom, antiquity and, in the case of the last, somewhat confused (in my opinion) girl, only the best possible adventure in any category.
The one thing that backpackers seem to crave universally, however, is a truly unique experience. To be able to tell other people about an experience that no one else has had and no one would be able to replicate is the Holy Grail of travelling.
Much of this desire revolves around doing things like a local; finding that cheap, grotty restaurant that serves great food, knowing the secret path to a hidden waterfall or locating the great nightclub where only the city’s brightest and finest dance ’til dawn.
Most of the time, you can only have these kinds of experiences by getting to know a place really well, practically becoming a local yourself. For people passing through, they are generally only stumbled upon by accident.
I am not one of those travellers who purposefully catches buses to nowhere anyone else has ever been, or refuses to stay in towns that are “too touristy”. While it’s nice to get off the beaten track, the tourism trail is great too, in my opinion, and there are plenty interesting experiences to go around.
Home away from home
How fortunate I am, then, to have a grandfather in Lisbon, ready and waiting to provide me with an array of experiences to let me live like a local.
My boyfriend and I arrived in Portugal after a year on the road, and our joy at having someone to welcome us at the airport and show us around knew no bounds.
Instead of checking into a backpacker’s hostel, we are ensconced in a bedroom, on the very same floor as a bathroom with hot water that we don’t have to queue to use.
We’ve been shopping for food to keep in the fridge for a week, because we’ll still be here in the same place. We’ve been cooking these provisions without throwing every last shred into the pot, because what we don’t use now we can always use later.
We’ve bought the cheaper, multiple-journey tram tickets because we’ll be able to use them up in the month that we are here.
And best of all, we’re spending time with my architect grandfather, who is showing us his secret and favourite nooks and crannies, and regaling us with tales from his brilliant mind, so that we are in fact having a truly unique experience of Lisbon.
Georgina Guedes is a South African woman who quit her job to travel the world for a year. She is aware that it’s been more than a year, but plans to be home in the next couple of months.