An Alphabet of My Likes and Dislikes: “M”

This is a post belonging to a new blogging project — the title is pretty much self-explanatory, I think; the project’s introductory post can be found HERE.  Credit for the idea: BeetleyPete.

As always, the only thing linking the two items mentioned in this post in my mind is that they both start with the same letter of the alphabet.



Mexican Food


… including, of course, its incarnation in the various cuisines of the American Southwest (Californian, Texan, etc.), as well as the cuisines of the other Central and Latin American countries.  Since I like Asian food and chiles are a major ingredient in both the Asian (especially Thai / Indonesian) and Mexican cuisines — and I’m also a major fan of Mexican and Southwestern American arts and crafts (pottery, jewelry, etc.), as well as the Mexican cultural heritage generally — this is probably not a major surprise; anyway, it’s enough of a marked preference to merit an entry in this list.  It’s not just about the chiles alone, though; as with Asian food, what I particularly like is the combination of “hot” and something else — sweet, tangy, salty, fruity, creamy, whatever — that appeals to me.

Again as with Asian food, I was introduced to the Mexican cuisine early in my childhood; in this instance, by relatives who had spent one of several multi-year stints in Texas and returned to Germany by the time I turned four.  However, this one was a bit of an accidental baptism by fire: One day at the aforementioned relatives’ home, we had a soup (or stew) for lunch that was made of beef (IIRC) and several different kinds of vegetables, including tomatoes, which I don’t particularly care for.  Wanting to be a good girl, I didn’t try to avoid the tomatoes, which in that particular family would have been a no-no; even though my mom usually let me get away with it.  Unfortunately, I had no idea what the little dried red pods were that my uncle had added to the contents of the pot before it had gone onto the stove … nor that they were going to look very similar to bits of cut up tomatoes (or rolled-up, cooked tomato peel) once they were cooked and had soaked up some of the liquid from the soup.  So in my attempt to be brave and eat the pieces of tomato that had landed in my bowl, I unwittingly spooned up and tried to chew one of my uncle’s additions to the meal — and it instantly knocked me breathless and had me curling up in a coughing heap of misery, my throat feeling like it was on fire and my eyes flooded as a result of all the coughing.  The next thing I remember is sitting in my relatives’ kitchen, guzzling milk by the glassful.  After that experience, though, chile-spiced food became a bit of a dare — and once I’d discovered just how much more than chiles there was to Mexican food, I was hooked once and for all.

Mérida farmers’ market (Yucatán, Mexico) and lunch at a café in Panajachel (Lake Atitlán, Guatemala)
(All photos in this section of the post mine)



Mass Tourism

… aka “overtourism”, i.e., the kind of tourism that is vastly more burden than benefit to the destinations in question.

I’ve been, albeit necessarily just by my parents’ choice initially, a traveler literally since I was a toddler; and my parents also, from the first (even if without expressly setting out to do so) set the course that my approach to traveling was bound to take:

(photo by my mom)

The encounter with a kitten pictured above occurred during my first trip abroad, at age 2 1/2, on a Spanish beach.  My parents had initially been contemplating a stay at Benidorm or another Costa Brava resort, but this was before images of vacation resorts were ever-present, and when they saw the rows of ugly concrete high rise hotels all along the beaches, obliterating every last bit of these locations’ native character, they fled further southward in disgust.  In hindsight, I wholeheartedly concur with their decision.

(This is a more recent image, but Benidorm was one of the first Spanish mass tourism resorts, and the fundamentals haven’t changed since the 1960s-70s.)
(Image source)

But it is not merely my abhorrence of crowds that makes me recoil from images and scenes like that of Benidorm above or these shown below:

(Image sources here, here, here, and here)

(Allison Jane Smith in Bright Magazine, June 7, 2018)

The long-term results of setting the tourists’ needs and desires above those of the local population are, invariably, a disservice to all concerned; however much the emphasis on tourism and the tourists’ priorities may initially have brought about a much-needed boost to the economy of the country in question.

Because, sure.  Tourism generates jobs and — at least initially — the economy of the host country as a whole starts to grow.  Local infrastructure (clean water, sanitation, electricity, modern means of transport and communication) is likewise boosted.  So are such things as healthcare and education, at least if the government in question chooses to invest its earnings from tourism that way, or similarly, community projects and the environment.  And tourism can be educational, for visitors and locals alike (provided preconceived notions are kept out of the dialogue or are overcome).

The so-called “multiplier effect” of tourism

However, more often than not, tourist destinations are not marketed so as to convey an image of what these places really are like, but rather, to conform to the visitors’ commercialized, romanticized, one-dimensional or otherwise preconceived ideas; and at the same time, authenticity is pushed back to make room for the tourists’ convenience and expectations.  I remember during a trip to Mexico we once joked, in full-blown gallows humor brought on by some of the things we had seen, that if Chichén-Itzá ever had the misfortune of falling into the hands of a major for-profit corporation, it would only be a matter of months before there were soft drink vending machines atop the Great Pyramid (the Temple of Kukulkán, aka El Castillo), the site’s chief attraction, to make up for the steep climb to the platform and chambers at the top.

Chichén-Itzá: El Castillo
(photo mine)

(Image source)

Moreover, the more the tourism industry grows, and the more it is dominated by big, multinational corporate players (hotel chains, aviation and car rental companies, tour operators, etc.), the more profits go to those corporations rather than to the local communities — and into the respective host country’s exchequer only to the extent that a corporate player is obliged to pay taxes there, which is not necessarily the case.  At the same time, as most recently and most dramatically shown by the developments involving Airbnb, the more the number of vacation homes grows in a given community, the more housing prices skyrocket and make it difficult for the local population to still be able to afford an adequate place to live in their own community.  (In even more extreme cases, existing homes are flat-out razed to make way for hotels; or indigenous tribes are forced out of a given area entirely.)  The same is true with regard to other goods and services:  Tourists will often be able to pay higher prices than the locals and, even in a place where bartering is part and parcel of the local economy, they will be inclined to pay the first price named to them.  Price hikes across the board are the obvious consequence of such behavior, making many kinds of goods and services less affordable to the local population.

By the same token, employment in the tourist industry is often seasonal, menial, badly paid, and — as the current global pandemic and, even before that, the 2009 financial crisis has shown — highly contingent on the absence of major impediments to the freedom of movement (both of people and of cash).  If the tourist industry suffers, local employees will be the first to bear the effects, in the form of everything from salary cuts to an outright job loss.  So, too, small local businesses such as restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops will feel the effects and may eventually be forced to close (which in turn will mean the loss of their tax payments to the state).  Ultimately, the more dependent a given country’s economic system is on tourism, the more it will suffer as a whole, and in short order the losses will also be felt in other areas of that society that are directly or indirectly funded by the income from tourism, such as healthcare and other social services.

On the other hand, as long as tourism grows unchecked, at worst you can end up with mass pollution and the depletion or destruction of natural resources (most notably soil, freshwater, clean water, and vegetation) and of wildlife, as well as lasting damage to communities, resorts and cultural monuments alike, which in recent years has caused governments and the administrative bodies of individual sites to impose tourist taxes to make up for the depletion of the local resources, or restrict tourist access outright (e.g., at Machu Picchu, Peru) or even temporarily close down a place entirely (like Boracay in the Philippines — which is significant not least because the closure was ordered by a president, Duarte, who is not exactly known for his left-leaning tendencies).  Not surprisingly, the more mass tourism a place sees, the more its population will tend to turn against the tourists … so much for the mutual benefits of education and exchange, then, as well.

Obviously the solution to all this can’t be to do away with tourism altogether — not only has that boat sailed long ago; it would also (apologies for the clumsy cobbling-up of two water-related idioms) mean throwing out the baby with the bathwater, as tourism can be beneficial to everybody concerned after all.  In a way it’s a shame that mass tourism, or “overtourism”, is still such a pervasive and necessary topic of discussion, as the answers to many of its problems are have long been known.  They’re the tenets of what is called sustainable tourism:  Research and be prepared for the necessities of your trip (equipment, permits, medication, etc.), “buy local” (stay in locally owned hotels or B&Bs, try to find out which operators at your chosen destination invest in and give back to the local community, make a reasonable attempt to get the real thing when buying souvenirs instead of a cheap mass-produced copy, etc.), when visiting a nature park or cultural monument, take home nothing but photos and memories (or get your souvenirs from the park’s own shop) — seriously, what do you think you’re going to do at home with that rock from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park that you’ll probably only end up sending back anyway? –, use natural resources responsibly, avoid single use plastics, don’t litter, and at least try to embark on your trip with as much of an open mind and a willingness to learn as you can muster.  Also, if you can, plan your trip for the off-season — and don’t just go where everybody else goes, too; often a country’s less known spots have as much or even more to offer than its alleged “must see” places.  Most of all, however: be respectful.  Often, it’s the seemingly small things that matter most. 

And of course: don’t forget to have fun.  That’s what traveling is all about, after all, isn’t it?

(Image source)

Also: if you should ever run into a trophy hunter, give them a good whack on my behalf, please.  And on behalf of Cecil and each and every other wild animal whose life was cut short solely for purposes of man’s entertainment.

“He was an old lion … [b]ut he had the dignity of all free creatures, and so he was allowed his moment.  It was hardly a glorious moment.  The two men who shot him were indifferent as men go, or perhaps they were less than that. […] [T]hey shot him without killing him, and then turned the unconscionable eye of a camera upon his agony.  It was a small, a stupid, but a callous crime.”
Beryl Markham: West With the Night

“I suppose if there were a part of the world in which mastodon still lived, somebody would design a new gun, and men, in their eternal impudence, would hunt mastodon as they now hunt elephant.”
Beryl Markham: West With the Night


A Few Supplemental Facts and Figures




Overtourism and vandalism at Machu Picchu
(Image sources here and here)

(Image sources here, here, here, and here, here, and here)

(Image sources here and here)

(Image sources here and here)






15 thoughts on “An Alphabet of My Likes and Dislikes: “M”

  1. I can’t disagree with you over your castigation of mass tourism—ignorance is one thing, and capable of solution, but sheer callousness and cruelty and greed are unforgivable traits.

    1. “I can‘t disagree …“ sounds a bit like you‘d like to! 🙂

      What about ignorance deriving from willful blindness? I think with many people that‘s the main problem. Either way, it‘ll probably take another generation for attitudes to change … as well as closures and access restrictions to many more popular sites for people to wake up.

      1. Hah! I’m afraid I’m partial to litotes (even “I’m afraid” underscores that), a particularly British habit, found in expressions such as “I ain’t half glad” when we mean to say “I’m over the moon cockahoop with joy!” So the understatement averring that I can’t disagree really affirms my wholehearted acquiescence. And yes, I’m also partial to flowery language…

        Ignorance deriving from wilful blindness is the worst case scenario, and I think that, like the common cold, one can never wipe that out where people of a certain disposition are concerned; I think it comes from a tribal disposition as much as anything else—it’s hard to disavow a certain way of thinking if it’s ingrained in the culture one is part of.

        1. “I ain’t half glad” is one of those expressions that totally crack me up — particularly when coming in the incarnation of “I ain’t ‘alf glad” (that one is almost a cockney cliché, I think). — Emphasis certainly is one of those instances where “consider the speaker” is the watchword, at least when it comes to American vs. British English. “That’s great” or “fine”, coming from an American, more likely than not just means “it’s OK” (i.e., adequate, functional, but nothing to write home about), whereas “that’s *fine*” — especially when pronounced by a Scot — is very likely the highest of high praise imaginable. 😀 These are the things for which I love the English language!

          1. It’s interesting the give and take between US and British English. For example, I always used to pronounce ‘surveillance’ as surveyance, partly following the French pronunciation which gave us ‘survey’ and ‘surveyor’ from surveiller and surveilleur. Suddenly, about two or more decades ago, UK broadcasters to my great distress started pronouncing the ls the transatlantic way (perhaps it was earlier, during Watergate).

            Ditto with the stress in ‘harass’: French harasser has almost equal stress on each syllable, while British English put the stress on the first (since conventional usage tends to place it on the penultimate syllable). Then US speak took over, as though this was a completely new word, virtually displacing the UK equivalent; I found, and still find, this most painful!

            American English habitually transfers UK stressed syllables, I’ve noticed, Birmingham for Birming’m, for instance, or Paree for the French capital where we’d say Paree (if we were being pretentious).

          2. I can‘t blame you. 🙂

            Same thing with the use of the word “shall”. In school, I was taught that it‘s simply the first person future of “to be” (with “will” reserved for the 2nd and 3rd persons) — and it was only a command if used impersonally or with the 2nd or 3rd person. And that‘s indeed how I remember the word being used (at least by British speakers) when I was growing up. These days, though, the first person plural of “to be” is invariably “I / we will”, and “shall” has become a command across the board, so “I shall” expresses an extra amount of resolve, not merely something one is going to do.

            That said, my non-native speaker‘s accent is a mess of contradictions between both British and American English I‘m afraid, with school-taught British English battling the effects of having grown up around U.S.-proximate family and later having lived in the U.S. myself. (As a result, Brits by and large seem to believe I‘m American, while Americans know I‘m not one of them but can‘t seem to make up their mind what else and usually seem to end up going for Irish.) So it‘s “surveyance“ à la presque-française and, I am afraid, “harass” American style …! “That‘s harassment!” is such a pervasive cry over there that it‘s hard to get out of the impact of the pronunciation.

            At least Brits understand American pronunciation, though. I will never forget the completely nonplussed expressions the first time I pronounced the word “clerk” the British way over there (with the e sounding like an a) … they genuinely had no idea what I was talking about, until someone finally had a visible light bulb moment and burst out, “oh, you mean ‘clerk’!” (with a prounounced “er” in the middle).

            And of course, the examples of words with transposed meanings are legion. My mom, whose predominant linguistic experience was a year spent in Cambridge as an au pair, once told American friends of mine that she‘d had “a flat” somewhere. Same puzzled expressions as above, until another lightbulb moment produced “oh, you mean an apartment!” 😀

          3. Ha, those transposed meanings! Emily was invited to give a talk on bullying for the Melinda Gates foundation in which she used the phrase “stubbing out a fag”—you can imagine the bewildered looks on those audience members who had no idea of British slang usage of “fag” in this case to mean cigarette…

          4. Oh dear!! 😀 (I‘m still glad when starting out in the English speaking world I never chanced to use the word “rubber“ in company that might have misunderstood it …)

  2. I find mass tourism such a tricky thing! While their effects can’t be denied, I sometimes wonder if it ends up in a “tourism for me but not for thee” type of stance. In Singapore, for example, the “ugly PRC tourist” is a very real stereotype and I don’t know how much of that is rooted in bad behaviour and how much is in classist attitudes.

    1. I actually didn’t have any particular group of people in mind when composing that text; neither the so-called “ugly Americans”, nor their European equivalents, nor the Japanese or Chinese (FWIW, I didn’t even know the Chinese had that kind of reputation in Asia). And it’s not about “I can do what you can’t” or other forms of privilege — it’s very much about common sense rules that apply to *all*, and should be taken into account by every traveler, regardless of their national origin and regardless of their destination. There are certain types of tourism that are more harmful, all told, than others (e.g., cruises) — but at bottom it’s all about where you’re going, how you travel, and what you do once you get there. And that’s entirely a matter of each individual’s attitude, and the kind of thought they put into their travels, both before and during their trips.

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