One of the few things that I remember from elementary school was this mind-blowing fact: goldfish have a memory that lasts only three seconds. I actually googled this fact before starting to write this article, only to realize that this is apparently a myth and goldfish can actually remember as early as five months back. While I yet again feel that one of my foundational childhood realities has been shattered, I will still stand by the fact that an unsettling parallel exists between goldfish living in a fish bowl and resort life. If you need a refresher, let me paint a clearer picture for you. Have you ever had a goldfish as a pet? Perhaps you won it at a carnival, or you purchased it from a pet shop and proceeded to pick out a fish bowl. Maybe you even splurged and bought marbles or neon rocks that you covered the bottom of the bowl with for decoration. If you were feeling charitable, you probably bought some fake plants to wedge between the fake rocks. And if you're really an amazing goldfish owner, you bought a fake little cave for your fish to hide in when he wasn't feeling social.
You created this whole environment for your new pet, fed it, and gave it a place to swim around. Once you're done, and you're sitting around watching your fish wiggle its way through your strategically-created habitat, a natural question arises, "how is this fish not going completely out of its mind swimming around in circles all day?" Now that I know that the answer to this isn't related to short-term memory, I feel even more uneasy about all the goldfish that I've ever owned, left to swim around in their little glass prisons. The thing is, the goldfish knows nothing of what is going on outside of the fishbowl, it experiences what you allow it to experience, and that is precisely what I feel a tourist experiences at a resort: whatever experience is created for them.
I've been to a few resorts in both Jamaica and Mexico, and had a similar experience at both. Some bonuses to being cut off from the outside world (in some cases, literally, because internet and phone were not an option) is that it can be relaxing. You remove yourself from your stresses, eat delicious food, lay on a beautiful beach, and then return to reality when you're ready. However, I couldn't help but notice the surrounding areas of the resorts and how cutting myself off from the world also meant ignoring that I wasn't actually experiencing that country's culture and all that it had to offer by remaining inside the fishbowl.
While in Jamaica, I spent most of my time in Kingston, which I was grateful for because I got to spend time going through farms and outlying towns, as well as experience the city life, and also meet locals who gave me a wholesome view of their traditions. On the way to the resort, we stopped at a small market where vendors were selling food, and were nearly unable to leave because the sellers would not exit our bus until we purchased something. There was a sense of desperation and the reality of poverty that we came face to face to right before setting foot at the nearby "upscale" resort.
The first thing I noticed was that the majority of tourists were either European or American. The food served was not local, and it consisted of hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries. The beach itself was absolutely beautiful, but it was surrounded by cheesy "tiki" style bars that served sugary alcoholic drinks. For activities, we could scuba dive, kayak, or walk the beach, but all the areas were roped off. You were stuck in a specified area where everything about the experience was already decided upon for you by someone else. This scene seemed to create the facade that Jamaica was a beautiful and luxurious, which is absolutely true. Everything that I saw while I was in Jamaica was so beautiful to me, but this environment was different. It was fake and incongruous to the country that was outside the walls of the resort. It had reduced something beautiful, charming, and somewhat rough into something with much less depth. By the time I'd visited a resort in Mexico, I started to wonder if this was just the case for most resorts in existence.
What I've learned is that there is a valuable take-away from every experience. I was so appreciative to be able to indulge a little at a resort and see beautiful beaches filled with beautiful people. However, I also made a promise to myself. I wanted to make sure that I went back and saw everything else. I wanted to acknowledge everything about that country and not just limit myself to confined spaces. Luckily, I was able to fulfill that promise in Jamaica by traveling quite a bit before having to leave the country, but I'll need to circle back to Mexico to experience more of the true culture. While I wouldn't advise travelers to steer clear of all resorts, I would encourage them to try to also expose themselves to other parts of the country that exist outside of the resort when planning a trip. It's okay to leave your comfort zone sometimes, and unlike goldfish, you can keep these memories forever, you're not just limited to three seconds.
Have you ever been to a resort? Did you feel you received a wholesome view of the country while there? Did you enjoy your time there? Share comments below about your experiences!