In a recent video posted by Red Bull, professional wakeskaters Brian Grubb and Dominik Preisner traveled to the rice terraces of Banaue, a Philippine National Cultural Treasure, and wakeskated on them. The rice terraces are often referred to by the Philippine people as “The Eighth Wonder of the World” and are man-made, which is all the more impressive given that they are 2,000 years old. They use an ancient irrigation system, and are used primarily for the subsistence farming of rice by locals.
The Red Bull video has caused a bit of a kerfuffle among Philippine conservationists, who believe that it has the potential to damage the site’s environment, and was a cynical stunt that exploited a global treasure to sell an energy drink that tastes like cough syrup (okay, I added the last part about cough syrup).
Red Bull responded by insisting that the environment was not damaged, and that they sought and obtained consent from the locals in order to film the stunt.
Here’s my take: It’s probably a safe bet that some money changed hands, and that the locals were compensated for the use of the rice terraces. It seems like it would have been difficult for them to agree to otherwise. That assumed, there are definitely some issues here: Should people be allowed to climb to the top of the pyramids, possibly damaging the priceless landmarks, as long as they pay a small fee? Or, for that matter, should hundreds of thousands of tourists a year be allowed into Machu Picchu, possibly doing damage to the ancient city?
It’s the uncertainty principle of travel: You can’t visit a place without changing it. When you decide to travel, you have to accept that fact, and if you find it too hard to swallow, there’s a simple solution — stay at home. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t still be respectful while traveling, and that you shouldn’t limit your damage. But what’s more respectful than asking local elders for permission? And if everyone consents, what’s the problem?
To me, this is okay. Each community should be able to choose how open they are to tourists, and that choice should be respected. While it may be a bummer to see many communities swayed by the prospect of money, they should be allowed to make the decision for themselves.
What do you think?