It’s summer. Who are all these people in ski parkas?

OK, even though we’ve got palm trees, Ireland hasn’t been near the equator in 300 million years or so. Thanks to continental drift we’re far enough north these days for a lot of 17-hour summer days – and my only T-shirt accessory is a rain slicker. But all these people walking around town dressed for Gstaad in January? I wondered about these wanderers til I realized they were boat people – their ocean liners keep them on the breezy waters at 50+ degree latitudes and when they disembark to invade us in the morning it’s still a bit chilly. Mystery sort of solved.

While ocean liner travel isn’t my cup of tea or coffee, I understand its appeal to others. I’m glad to see these overdressed explorers wandering around town, as opposed to those who are herded onto buses for the Jamieson or Blarney tours before being shepherded back to their boat by sign-waving, clipboard-toting, whistle-blowing tour guides. I just hope things are as good for the truly local economy as the business cheerleaders make it out to be. Too many people appear to disembark, board the big bus, see the big site, then shop in designated spaces before being bussed back to a big meal on board.

But walking shoes and hiking boots fit for Everest? Brand new brand-name backpacks with enough pockets and straps to pack for a Normandy Invasion? The latest wrinkle-free pants with lumpy pickpocket-proof pockets and zip-off legs? What’s wrong with the everyday clothes and ratty daypacks most of us use at home?

An awful lot of our visitors spend a bit too much time with their heads in maps and less time looking at all that’s outside their heads. Just this weekend I saw a couple studiously engrossed in their map, turning it around several times and pointing in different directions before walking along the river. They totally ignored a wonderful street festival [music/food/exhibits/etc etc] that was across the street from them, a green traffic signal away.

I understand the need for a point of reference and plead guilty to probably committing the same sin on occasion. But there’s a difference between today and those “good old days”: Mobile phones. If their users are out of tourist costume, they almost look local, walking down the street with their nose in their phones. The problem with phones is that the image is so small you don’t get any perspective. You can know your location, but still not know where you are. Unfortunately this lack of contextual awareness isn’t restricted to tourists. To one degree or another a lot of us spend so much time focusing on the leaf mites in our life we forget we’re in a forest of beautiful trees and colours.

Please don’t be the voyeur who goes through life looking without seeing, collecting photos without memories. Experience stays with you forever. Live life to collect stories to bore your friends with. It’s better than store-bought stuff that becomes dust-collecting clutter. And one of my favourite travel stories? It’s not about myself. It’s a true one about a Japanese couple with limited English travelling sans camera and tour guide to experience life. You might want to take a minute to see how they did in Cork: https://www.jpmaney.com/frustration/

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