Like many people in the world of travel, I have given much thought in recent months to the problem of overtourism. Due to the pandemic and the consequent affordability of housing, Venetians are now returning from the mainland and restoring their city to life. The detritus at Everest Base Camp is being cleared; Incan ghosts have repopulated the ruins of Machu Picchu; and there are no more traffic snarl-ups on the road down into the Ngorongoro Crater. Barely a day goes by when I don’t long for the return of travel as it was 40 years ago. It was all so much more exotic back then.
Guides, he explained, were mostly freelance. As a result of COVID-19, his world had imploded.
But suddenly I am forced to have a different perspective. Recently, I was in East Africa, in the company of Mike (not his real Maasai name), an exceptionally charming and intelligent wildlife guide. He was working for an upscale camp and seemed to be doing well. Except that he wasn’t. Guides, he explained, were mostly freelance. As a result of COVID-19, his world had imploded. For a year, he had had virtually no income. His family now had to subsist on maize porridge and the vegetables they grew in the backyard. It was hard to explain to his children why there was no meat for dinner anymore, and why they could no longer attend the English-language private school that he had hoped would propel them to college. For Mike, tourism was an unmixed blessing. So, next time I get indignant about the hordes in the Louvre or the Uffizi, I shall think of Mike and try to cultivate a little humility.