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:
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.