Pegi Vail is an anthropologist and filmmaker who recently screened her film, Gringo Trails, at Three Camel Lodge. This intrepid traveler has been all over the world, but this was her first visit to Mongolia.
We spoke with Pegi upon her return to New York and here’s what she had to say about her first visit to Mongolia, as well as her fascinating film.
Question: What inspired you to make the film?
Answer : I was looking into backpacker culture when we first started filming in 1999 but there was a long time between when we began filming and when we picked it up again. The number of tourists had risen so much and the film changed direction…it was more about the cultural and environmental impact now.
Question: What significance do the different destinations play?
Answer : As a longtime backpacker, traveler, and anthropologist, we looked at different stages of tourism and globalism. I had been to Thailand (which serves as the cautionary tale), Bolivia is in the middle stage of tourism since it’s still mostly backpackers and independent travelers, and Mali is experiencing the emergence of tourism. Then there is Bhutan, with growing tourism and controls.
Question: Though it’s not featured in the film, where do you see Mongolia on this scale?
Answer: Mongolia is similar to Bolivia. There is tourism, but it’s mostly independent still. There are definitely pitfalls to avoid to protect it.
Question: What did you think of your first visit to Mongolia this summer?
Answer: My husband and I hardly ever travel in an organized way but we really enjoyed it. Perhaps the most memorable experience was milking the mares and drinking vodka with a herder family near the Lodge. It’s those cultural encounters – that’s what makes travel wonderful.
Question: What’s next for the film?
Answer: We’ve screened it around the world over 100 times but I’d like to do more. I want people to see it and be aware of the impact but know that they can still travel.