Thursday, August 13, 2009

Confessions of a Travel Writer, the view from Chile

I stumbled on the last fifteen or twenty minutes of Confessions of a Travel Writer on the Travel channel quite by accident. I happened to be in the United States, and relaxing after a long family-intensive day by turning on the TV as my mother, who'd had an allergic reaction and was resting up from that, sat beside me.

What I saw was a group of people explaining how to do something that I think I already know how to do, but want to do more of. They were traveling around Chile, from mid to south, buying fish, eating food, riding horses, regarding wild vistas, misidentifying the Torres del Paine massif as the Torres themselves, and bumbling around my adopted country, in a van. Then they'll go home and write about it, or post their video entries, as the case may be.

Now to me, traveling around Chile has something to do with Chileans, which requires talking to them, not just looking at them, and buying stuff from them. I understand now that this was a travel junket, and you do what you're told, and add on items that you'd like to know more about as time permits. I also know that travel writers travel all over the world, and can't be expected to speak every language, even as Chilean Spanish bursts from my every pore.

Popular opinion on the show's premiere tells us that in a word, it reeked. Maybe it's because of Charles Runette(the host)'s personality (get a peek here), or maybe it was something else, such as viewers not wanting to see the behind-the-scenes work of travel writers, or finding them spoiled or something else. The offical website of the program is here, and if you'd like to see other commentary on the show, you can see it here (with some really choice comments left by viewers).

Here's the thing: I don't much care about any of it. I live in Chile, I write about travel, I know a couple of people who went on the very same trip (but were in a different van, good news for them). What it makes me think is mainly that it's another cheapshot at reality television, aka TV that requires no plotline, no script. It's a moneymaker (or not) for its sheer honesty (or edited honesty), and for showing people tal como son (just as they are) or como quieren que creamos que son (or how they want us to think they are). I just wonder what is going on at the Travel Channel between this latest foray into I don't even know what, coupled with their 4-day courses on putting together travel videos, which they call the Travel Academy, where they are going to squash 1 year of NYU film school into four days. What are they up to over there, and who's in charge I wonder? (and as an aside, this reminds me of when I worked for a publishing company and I was asked by one of my fellow editors to put together a two-page sheet to explain everything they needed to know about the law, since I'd graduated from law school. Three years in two pages? No problem! Right after I engrave the Gutenberg Bible on this postage stamp).

Then I remember that I don't watch TV, am not a videographer, or even a wannabe videographer, and am not really the Travel Channel's target audience, and certainly am not the right audience for this pilot program. If I want to see Chile tal como es, all I have to do is open my eyes, open the window, go for a walk. If I wanted to be at Torres del Paine I could get there by noon, tomorrow. In fact, I've been thrice. But only once did I actually get a decentish view:

Torres del Paine

The program has not yet been shown in Chile, and I imagine that when it does, all eyes will be glued to the set, snippets of conversation will be strangely, if not badly translated, and everyone in Chile can think once again that the nation that I come from is populated by critical, self-important, whiny jerks. Kudos Runette, and kudos Travel Channel. I look forward to unraveling this for Chileans. One hour to undo nearly five years of mutual understanding. Good thing I have that engraving project to keep me busy.

None of which means I'm not up for a travel junket here and there. Bring them on. Or for a real look into Chile, read here, or any of the Chile-based blogs on my blogroll or out there on this equal-opportunity soapbox they call the internet.

5 comments:

Margaret said...

Good one Eileen. Although the program may never air here (I'm counting on YouTube), all the comments I've seen so far were aimed at Runette and have said amazingly little or nothing about Chile OR the experience of being here!
I'm hoping that people's negative responses to him will have a positive impact on Chile... hopefully they were able to see the beauty beyond his griping and want to come take a look for themselves.
Like you, this is my adopted country and I think it's really worth going on about!
(and I can't believe you've been to Torres del Paine 3 times!!)

Bystander said...

I think I will probably skip watching it if it comes here. Just reading about it sent the blood pressure up a bit. However, it does explain why a lot of people are giving guidebooks a miss in favour of forums on the internet.
The upside is that he won't be back and the people who liked him on the show won't be coming!

Eileen said...

@margaret, I was there once with my mom just for the night and hiked up the the torres, then went back 4 years later to hike the W, and on that occasion had hideous weather for the towers, and then went back for two more days (I was in Punta Arenas for a couple of extra days after another trip) just to go up to the torres. I was glad I did! The Chilean entry fee isn't so terrible, and I stayed at a rustic campground, so that was free. Exhausting, but free!

@bystander, true, all true!

planetnomad said...

That picture is amazing.

And the tourist's view (travel writer or not) is just going to be so different from the expat's experience. I have been reading some tourist's views of Morocco recently, and shaking my head, and wondering. They are inevitably either too sanguine or too cynical.

Emily said...

Granted, I hated this show too. BUT, don't knock the Travel Channel just for this and some of their other stupid programming. Anthony Bourdain's NO RESERVATIONS is the best show on television, period. Well-written, beautifully shot, intelligently produced, and full of excellent content——with lots of talking to locals! And Travel Channel dishes it up.