Village Travel

Thoughts on an alternative to standard tourism

One of the articles in Being Global Neighbors (IC#17)
Originally published in Summer 1987 on page 51
Copyright (c)1987, 1997 by Context Institute

David Farrelly is a prose poet, a dynamic and compassionate man. I met him in 1981 during a week of lively work on various projects. My memories of many stimulating conversations are summed up in the image of David asking a group, "Isn’t what we’re really after, maximal learning per square moment?"

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, USA, David has taught at Washington University (St. Louis), the University of Iowa, and the University of Saskatchewan. For the past twelve years he has worked at planting, harvesting, and building with bamboo in rural Mexico, Nicaragua, and throughout the United States. He worked for the Ministries of Education and Agriculture in Nicaragua. David recently authored a sourcebook on his favorite obsession, The Book of Bamboo, published by Sierra Club Books.

He would like to explore the ideas presented in this article with interested people, and can be contacted at: Not for Sale, Box 666, Bolinas, CA, 94924 USA, (415) 868-1072;1930c Folsom, San Francisco,CA, 94110 USA, (415) 621 0903; or No Se Vende, Apartado Postal 383, Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico

– Laurie Childers

Over a decade of living and working in Mexico and other Latin countries south to Peru has brought me to realize that, just as the U. S. counter-culture basically has no clearly articulated foreign policy (we have isolated fits of outrage, but this is merely protest, crisis by crisis, and is as fragmentary as the "government by crisis" which many see as a chief cause of our government’s jerky mismanagement of world affairs.), so too we have done little to create institutionalized alternatives to the global installations and institutions of standard high-rise, high-cost travel. I suspect these two "missing pieces" are intimately related.


Why create alternatives to the travel business as usual? Standard travel, nineteen eighty-now, is high cost and for a profit, highly centralized and urban. The "host" (hotel, restaurant, etc.) does everything. The passive "guest" does nothing. Relationship between travellers and those who service their needs is as minimal as possible. The "better" the establishment, the greater the gulf between servants and the served.

English Spoken Here: in Standard Travel there is an attempt to minimize linguistic effort for the lazy traveller, increase the ease with which the ignorant can jet around the world without departing from their mother tongue.

Adults only: High chairs, yes, will be provided for children, but you must comb the globe to find any deep designs for family travel. Camp, a month-long summer baby sitter where you can safely park and forget your child is one format for child travel. Others, like Disneyland, mimic the plastic and commercial format of adult tourism.

Economically, Standard Tourism reinforces the present global elite: it is run by corporations, anonymous managers at the top, underpaid employees at the bottom of the hotel hierarchy. It is hyper-consumptive, ecologically negative, and energy-dear.

Standard Tourism, beneath its mask of cherishing diversity, promotes global sameness. It encourages the idea that international high-tech is the most civilized manner of modern living. Standard Tourism depends on and strengthens extreme imbalances of the world’s distribution of wealth, and reinforces large business structures, the world of boring and uncreative jobs, the exodus from village to town in search of unemployment.

Tourism is supposed to bring dollars into the country; in fact, much of the foreign exchange leaks back out, importing the international stuff the tourists want, such as good Scotch in Hong Kong. What does stay in the country is mainly in the bulging pockets of the elite of each nation. What these privileged locals get often leaks out also because the tourists define an import-oriented style of luxury which is then imitated by local elites.

"Selling Southeast Asia" is an analysis of standard tourism in that region (from the Southeast Asia Chronicle, #78, April, 1981. Published by Southeast Asia Resource Center, Box 4000D, Berkeley, CA 94704 USA, tel. (415) 548-2546). An excellent series of articles analyzes the cultural impact of little islands of America in the 80 Hiltons that necklace the globe propagating the idea that luxury means American style consumption.


Naturally, the trip as is suits many just fine. They are firmly aligned with Alcapulco and Co. But the rest of us, who vaguely feel we’d like something else, have not yet been united by clearly stated objectives of a design for world travel in favor of the planet and the many on it. I’d like to offer some suggestions in that direction.

Freedom to travel is as important as our freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and so forth. The right to wander the planet in a manner which does not collide with the wandering of others should be assured to everyone because the need to know the earth we inhabit is a valid and primary human hunger. In a design for appropriate travel for our time the learning journey would be available to any creative traveler who preferred an active vacation at low cost to a trip format in which everything is done for you – at great expense. Utopian travel aims at maximal learning per mile, optimal cultural impact on visited and visitor, an immense contagion of international friendships infesting the planet with Appropriate Inns.

The Alternative Trip is decentralized, rural, and active. Guests participate in making, maintaining, and extending the inn they inhabit. Guests learn to be hosts, plant and build and speak in the local idioms, take care of children, invent their own special methods for relating to the village in terms of their own special interest or skill.

In Utopian travel the commercial hotel and restaurant is replaced by village families. Living with families both greatly accelerates learning the local language, and fosters international friendships, which we regard as a primary "tool" for personal growth and cultural change.

Get the children together: an obvious priority for a peace-seeking planet is to design ways that children of neighboring nations can make friends with the culture and people next door. Any designs for Utopian Travel must emphatically include a very special focus on the dazzling capacity of children to learn languages in their earliest years. Studies in Venezuela indicate that the human brain, in these early years when it is most sensitive to and most retentive of the language spoken in earshot, can process four languages as easily as one.


Appropriate Travel is village-based, for many reasons. E. F. Schumacher, in Small is Beautiful, and all of his works, returns repeatedly to one central flaw in modern world management: the managers simply do not know, first hand, the village world they set out, like computerized Quixotes, to save. But the village experience is basic to any whole understanding of our planet now, because the human earth is still half village.

The need for trained, modern people of good will to get to know the village is complemented by the urgent need of the villagers for actual friends from this new world engulfing theirs. At present, their main guide to the world beyond the walls of the village is the tele, the tube. Soap operas and commercials clue them in to desired behavior, which is such a discouraging distance from their present norm.

Their objects are not the objects of the tele world, and the tele people are definitely not them. In the commercials, the ones who know the best soap are always blond.

Our reply to the modern ignorance of the village and the village ignorance of the modern in any but its most tawdry forms: small garden-inns, operated by village families, a guerrilla tourism welcoming the cash and cultural contribution of conscious wanderers from the whole wide world. The wanderers need the tranquility of the village. The tranquil – and untrained – village needs the stimulus of input in a thousand ways.

"If it’s so beautiful, why clutter it up? If it’s not, why go there? The best thing you can do for the village people is to leave them alone." A familiar response to pleas for a rural travel design is that these wonderful villages shouldn’t be "spoiled." But the villages in Mexico, like all breathing mortals on this mortal globe, are not asked by history now to choose between no change and change. Change is inevitable. Their only choice is between changes. The main task of their schooling should be to prepare wise choosers of changes, so that the village, out of the flood of futures surging towards it, can select that future most friendly to its past.

Village travel reverses the unfortunate normal flow of cash from country to city. Alternative travel would seek to redistribute world wealth more evenly. The village poor are about the lowest rung on the global ladder, apart form refugee camps where an even denser deprivation is the norm. Consequently, renting a room, for example, even to a single travelling student at a modest price, represents a significant income to participating village families.

The migration from village to city left many houses empty throughout rural Latin America. An unused house decays. Twenty million houses are needed now in Latin America, and many are rotting, beautiful relics of a better age of craftsmanship, for want of active use. They can be repaired cheaply for a low-cost, high-minded network of student "travel for study" hostels, model embodiments of appropriate architecture and domestic technology in the dwellings, hotbeds of horticultural exploration in surrounding grounds, a sane local model of rational resource use, and a point of contact between the village and the Modern World out there.

An Appropriate Inn would not waste but create resources. Planting gardens in a manner geared to maximal production from a small plot of ground; creating nurseries of useful species for reforestation; learning local methods in gardening, farming, building, and other trades and providing, when possible, more ecological or effective alternatives – The Appropriate Inn would function in its area as an experimental station for the nearby communities, aware of the technologically alert communes and groups in the U. S. such as the New Alchemists, and trying to function in a similar way for its region, addressing itself to an experimental examination of the most basic food and shelter and educational needs of the local people trying to come up with sane, economically feasible, ecologically sound solutions.


The Modern Village – in touch with the most authentic portions of modern culture, not simply purchasers of modern gadgets – will only exist if it manages to create possibilities for advanced learning, a school, and agreement to learn between the villagers and the visitors from Elsewhere.

The village people who go off to town to study tend to stay there. Their formal education away from their people generally neglects their own roots, or is actually hostile to them. The 20th- century urban world they have entered is hard to mesh with the village way. It is hard to be two people. The most gifted and trained, instead of returning to enrich and fortify the village, are drained from the talent pool. They, in turn, draw others away by being a model for departure. To make the modern village attractive to "trained" people, whether from the village or outside, the traditional village must add to its advantages the possibility of advanced studies.

New universities, "multiversities," must be grown, more practical than their urban cousins, self-built and self-fed, the "campus" productively integrated with the learning process and economic support of the school. Admission must be based not on capacity to pay a fixed tuition, but on a spirit of cultural adventure and a capacity for cheerful hard work. The course of studies would depart sharply from the scattered modern style, where colleges have become a kind of knowledge supermarket.

Its studies would be based on cultural constants: food, lodging, language, the education of children, creation of their toys, cramming their childhood dense with myth, fairy tale theatre, masked dancing and music; there would be a creative integration of the old with the community learning process until death. Presently, universities and pre-schools are more or less segregated. In the modern village they are sitting in one another’s lap.

Central to village-based learning would be the sharing of culture and that most important tool of culture: language. In our global polyculture, the minimal mouth for entry into the 21st century will have two tongues; bilingual is a primary specification for citizens of the planet. Currently an enormous cultural lag exists in language books and schools. Both content and style derive from the same outmoded worldview and cultural formats that presently mis-direct world tourism. We need ways to exchange languages to accelerate intimacy between peoples; not texts to produce bilingual functionaries of government and big business. There is no more efficient, enjoyable and natural way to do this than immersion in village life.

Cultural diversity is becoming the planetary norm. Experience, in depth, of at least one other culture is the best preparation for the multi-culture we are all coming to inhabit. The closeness of Mexico and the importance of Spanish as a colonial language of vast distribution among 500 million people, in some twenty countries, suggest that our neighbor nation to the south is an excellent place for U. S. people to begin exploring this process imposed on all people now, whatever their culture, of learning to live with the fact of cultural diversity.

For additional alternative travel suggestions, please see the Resources section in this issue.

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