The World in Words: Our Travel Writing Competition Winner
In honour of our Travel Special, we threw open the door to contributions from our readers with our debut Travel Writing Competition – and you responded in your droves. Our winner is Damien Cifelli – and here he is...
Fuck you Tourists, An open letter
You are not a 'traveller.'
I know you went to Vietnam last year, but everyone knows Vietnam is just the new Thailand and Thailand is just the new Magaluf.
As you were vomiting into Halong Bay with Dean from Milton Keynes, do you know where I was? North. Fucking. Korea. Whilst you were flirting with a ladyboy at the full moon party I was being escorted through the outskirts of Pyongyang by eight uniformed men. That is what travelling is.
Oh you went to Australia? Well the less said about that the better…
What's wrong with being a tourist you ask? Well, have you ever heard someone use the adjective 'touristy' in a positive way? No. Because you make everywhere shit. Mainly with your ignorance of proper pronunciation. (It's pronounced ho-ri-tho not cho-reetzo you fucking pleb.)
Whilst you scour the streets for poppers and tequila in your three-quarter lengths and flip-flops, I am in the jungle awakening my spirituality with the powers of ayahuasca. Yeah, my camera went missing and I woke up in a Peruvian family's back garden, but I'm pretty sure I felt something spiritual.
I've made close connections. There's a guy who sold me a knitted ukulele cover in Marrakech, that fat woman who braided my hair in Goa and the black kid from my Facebook profile picture. You know they're authentic because they don't even have Facebook.
But don't bother travelling. The last thing I want to see when I'm watching the sunset from my Bhutanese Ashram is you, stumbling across the horizon with your moneybelt and sunburn.
My next trip will be volunteering with the Congolese Space Program. The Solar System, the least touristy place there is.
See you in space bitches!
Smiling. Teeth like an overcrowded graveyard.
"This is Morocco my friend. Not Mogadishu…" I think this means I won't get it cheap.
His moustache, missing in the middle, hangs like furry parentheses around his mouth.
There is a balcony overlooking the city. My eyes trace the daggers of minarets and gentle oscillations of domes. Below, tiny figures trample calfskins and waft stinging sulphurous odours down dusty alleyways.
I'm not sure how I got here. Above the bazaar. Above vaults that cascade from the flanks, dripping in Berber history. Above faces with wild eyes peering from dark rooms. They are traders on the darkness of this never ending market. Their bristled lips speak of sales, of cloth and kif and opium dens. And fill the soft air with promises.
And I am here. In this room many floors up. Stone and tin. In his cave of fabric and incense.
I touch the cool skin. It reminds me of other things. A school trip to the riding stables. I never rode my horse. I just patted the soft hair on its flanks and looked into its eyes, proud and resolute.
It's the same eyes I see now, reflecting the warm candlelight.
He tells me he has children. I tell him I have none.
"Then you can afford a little luxury," he says. "I am just a poor man."
I don’t know if I believe him but it is too late. He smiles and infinite creases creep from the corners of his eyes. Unlike me, he is no amateur. He is as old as the walls. His life is strategy, maneuvering himself constantly between the pillars of decision and indecision.
He smiles because he knows he has won.
This is a game of chess and it is check-mate.
The Nordic Club
On a leafy back street in Dhaka's high-security diplomatic zone lies the Nordic Club. It cuts an imposing figure, a blank stone wall with an iron gate and armed security. I have been told that this image is deceptive. That from the inside it is a paradise of tennis courts, swimming pools and cocktails.
I am not here for the nightly karaoke party nor the offers of a 'Full English.' I'm here for the availability of alcohol in this dry country. Post security and passport control, beer in hand, I settle in a corner beneath some chic barbed wire detailing and review my surroundings.
I could be anywhere on earth. Bankers with the look of re-animated waxworks play tennis as their wives watch from the jacuzzi, like hippos in an Attenborough documentary. It's as if an alpine ski weekend has been grafted into the heart of this Asian metropolis. Today I was being escorted around the old town by an entourage of excitable locals. Now I'm watching a woman try to swim without spilling her martini.
I'm regaled with advice from the regulars: "You can get a good fish and chips here every night. Out there they'll feed you a Labrador for your dinner." I glance over at the local staff apologetically. They smile.
"Out there" is mentioned repeatedly. It's as if they're dug into trenches, defending themselves from the people whose city they have occupied. I suppose the walls are there to keep marauding hordes of locals from using the karaoke machine or taking a dip in the pool.
I begin to yearn for the noise and smell of "out there," its crumpled knot of streets and traffic chaos, to swap these veneered scowls for the Old Town's toothless smiles.
I think I can forgo a pint for that.