In discussing his movie Grizzly Man, director Werner Herzog commented that when you look into the face of a bear, you begin to understand the monumental indifference of nature towards humans.

You dont need to live in grizzly country to understand how profoundly indifferent nature is to us -- in many parts of the world, you need only look up at the skies or out to sea.

In just 10 months, a tsunami and a (partial) hurricane season have not only demonstrated natures disregard for mankind but have also underscored the intimate relationship between tourism and water. A shoreline has to be profoundly ugly or inaccessible not to inspire some tourism development, so its hard for the industry to get out of the way when disaster moves toward a coast.

The courses charted by natural forces are, if not arbitrary, certainly beyond our ken, but lately, they would seem to be targeting large-scale tourism destinations. And of those, Phuket, Thailand, and Cancun, Mexico, bear a number of striking similarities. Each developed rapidly, going from obscurity to prominence in a flash. Both cater to mass tourism, both are frequently dissed as being unrepresentative of the culture of their respective nations, and both employ thousands and thousands of local tourism workers.

Its on this last point that we, unlike bears and hurricanes, are not indifferent. In January, the industry rallied to support tourism workers in Thailand, half a world away. The industry outpouring of sympathy and assistance was amplified when the disaster struck closer to home, after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. (Visit to view some of the efforts still under way.)

And now, Wilma. Among the misfortunes facing Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and other resort areas on Mexicos Mayan Riviera as well as Florida is that theyve been damaged by the third major natural disaster to hit the travel industry in less than a years time. Add the bombings in London and Bali to the list of recent tragedies, and we face not feelings of indifference but sheer emotional overload. Its part of nature -- human nature -- to slide toward numbness in the face of serial disasters.

But its also human nature to connect to places through people. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Juan Martinez Dugay, Travel Weeklys advertising sales representative in Mexico, and his wife and son over the past several years. He lives inland, in Mexico City, but as I watched the satellite images of Wilma bearing down on the Yucatan, I thought of his son, Juan Carlos, who lives with his family in Cancun.

Juan Martinez reports that Juan Carlos is OK, but in reading reports coming out of the area, I know that OK is a relative term. His family survived the storm unharmed, but his job is among the thousands related to tourism that has been disrupted.

Though Cancun is often said to have only a superficial connection to the culture that lies outside the resort area, in fact Mexican culture literally lives and breathes in the resorts through the thousands of local employees who come to work each day. I have a particular name and a face that connects me to Cancun, but anyone who has visited the area has a catalogue of dozens, if not hundreds, of interactions with local workers that they can bring to mind. Whether these connections will be strong enough to move the industry to action once again will become clear in the coming weeks.

As the hurricane season progresses through the Greek alphabet, Im reminded of a quote from the British geologist Derek Ager, who famously observed that the history of life on Earth is like the life of a soldier, consisting of long periods of boredom punctuated by short periods of terror.

Though I know that nature, indifferent as ever, will ignore me, I have a plea: Give us boredom.

And if not boredom, shelter from the storm.


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