Of Islands And Ethics

While traveling, there are always choices that one has to make.  They can be small ones, such as what to eat for breakfast, or bigger ones, such as what city to go to next.  When contemplating bigger decisions, it usually takes longer to decide because they are the ones that can affect the trip more.  When deciding what city to go to next, I have to think about what there is to do in the city, how much it costs, how far away it is from my next destination, and if I would be disappointed if I didn’t get there.  Those are just a few of the more common topics that go into decision making.  However, one that many people may not even think of is the question: is it ethical?

This is the question that I wish I asked myself before I decided to go on a tour of the floating islands on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca.  Before I decided to go to Puno (the town right by the lake), I asked myself the normal set of questions to try and find out if I should go.  After thinking about them, I decided it was a good idea to go see Lake Titicaca.  This decision seemed to be a great one when I was on the boat to the floating islands.  These are islands that are formed naturally, but a group of people changed them in order to live on them.  However, as soon as I stepped off of the boat and onto the island, my mood changed.  Everything around me felt like it belonged on a set of a TV show and the people on the island seemed like actors.  They hardly talked about the islands because most of the time was supposed to be used for buying souvenirs and eating at a little restaurant.  It seems like the only reason why these people are still living on the island is because of the tourists who come here.  They do not seem happy to be here, but it seems like more of a job that they must get through.  This little trip did not feel like a glimpse into a culture different from my own, but rather a play trying to use an old culture in order to make money from tourists.  If the goal of this attraction was to just make some money, then it did just that.  However, if it is trying to show a different culture, it did not succeed and just seemed to exploit this culture.  After the trip to the island I now have to think about one more question when I am making a decision, is it ethical?

19 responses to “Of Islands And Ethics

  1. I liked your post immensely, because I know the Uros, and the islands you visit (Santa Marta) are just as you describe, they are part of the economy of the people. The real Uros Islands are off limits to tourists and agencies who run the tours. If you check my blog for a post called Uros Islands, you will find a small story there, a sad story; it’s as close as I got to the Uros culture.

    AV

  2. It sounds more like commerce than ethics, tourism has changed the face of many areas of all countries. It’s supply and demand; if the experience was more cultural based would it bring in more cash?

  3. The question of ethics is always on my mind when travelling. Is it ethical to eat this fish ( or chicken) knowing hat the locals will be deprived of this protein. Is it ethical to tip, pay more for bus rides knowing that the local economy will inflate Should I eat so much, drink alcohol here, should I cover my shoulders, head, should I catch this boat for touring islands when it was once used for fishing, so many questions of ethics arise when travelling. That’s what travel does I guess- it opens our minds to other ways of thinking.

  4. I agree with your idea of asking, is it ethical? Many tourist destinations, especially those who live almost a third world life-style send children out to hustle visitors. The try to play on the sympathy of the tourist to get them to buy trinkets. Cruise ships actually warn tourists of these practices and try to discourage buying from the children. These children should be in school, not hustling dollars from tourists.

  5. Great point of view, I wonder if you could’ve found out about the Disney-esque aspect before going there though. Perhaps some of traveling is trial and error, and the beauty of our modern world is that we can all now learn from your experience! If you want a similar, but more authentic experience, check out the floating villages of Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. They had nothing to sell, so we just got an amazing glimpse into their real way of living.

    • Travel is a a lot of trial and error, but hopefully more times than not things go well. I have heard people talk about Tonle Sap Lake and it looks great, it is on my list of things to do if I go back to Cambodia.

  6. I think you could say that of any country you visit, sadly. I immediately think of the Southeast Asian countries where prostitution is considered a tourist attraction, but yet it’s been around for so long it’s now part of the culture.

    I try not to overthink it, but sometimes as in your case – it’s staring you in the face. Nice post!

    K.

  7. This s a really thoughtful, fascinating post. I live in NZ where “maori culture” has long been a major part of the country’s tourism marketing. We have a few “villages” that purport to show traditional Maori life to tourists and they are immensely popular with visitors, but quite a long way from contemporary Maori cultural practices. It’s the same with the artwork that is sold to tourists. I feel uncomfortable with it, even though Maori themselves have taken more control over this aspect of tourism and at least aren’t being quite so ripped off. It is good that you are thinking about these things!

  8. yeah, buddy. unfortunately, that’s the way the world has grown and developed. we are arriving to these places at the end of the Old World. it’s become about tourism. in most places. have you ever been to the Haight Ashbury in San Francisco? first world, but same thing. places living off the fame of old. at the edge of Panama there are hundreds of small islands. The Cuna Indians live on the islands. if you go the regular route, a boat takes you there and the people are perched on a stump, making handicrafts for you to buy and take home. it can be frustrating for us, but for them, it’s their livelihood. they are not thinking about the romantic feeling of old. they need to make money to eat. i ended up on a skiff bringing provisions to other islands. and when I was on Porvenir giving the guy my passport and paying two dollars for the privilege to be there, a group of lunatic sailing Spaniards arrived and took me on a crazy ass canoe to an island where two Cuna families were living. twelve people in all. outrageous. ethics is about how we treat the people we come across. rock on. travel on. and enjoy all that’s left for us to experience. JT

  9. I was just at the floating islands today and I love this post! I was fortunate enough to go to an island that did spend more time talking about the culture and traditions than trying to sell me things but this did not deter me from seeing the obvious. The fishing boats they build yearly are meant only for tourists as they have motorized fishing boats hidden behind some of the houses. While I too questioned the ethics behind this I came to realize that these islands are a means for a people who don’t have much choice. The travel company I work for recommends bringing pencils and writing books to these islands if you are concerned about contributing to the economy. I think this was a great idea since many children here don’t go to school so that they may be around for the tourists. I agree with some other users that it is very difficult to be an ethical traveller but thinking of alternatives is a great way to help locals and try to see their perspective 🙂 thanks for finding me!

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