A dear friend has passed away. Steve Sardeson, resident of Baraboo, Wisconsin, who liked to call himself The Genuine Tourist, succumbed to cancer at the age of 62 in November. I only learned of his passing yesterday.
I met Steve online a few years ago. We were both exploring the idea of retiring in Mexico. He and his wife Pat had traveled there many times and loved the country and the people. Steve and I bumped into each other on an online forum, which sparked a flurry of correspondence.
I introduced Steve to the world of blogging, and he took to it like a bullfrog to a pond. A passionate photographer and an enthusiastic traveler, Steve populated several blogs* with stories about his trips. He loved Mexico and wanted to share the joy.
Two years ago, my first trip to Mexico coincided with one of Steve and Pat’s. We were all going to be in Xalapa at the same time, so Steve graciously offered me the use of the spare bedroom in the house that he and his wife had rented for their month-long stay. I would stay with them for the one week I would be in town.
This was the first time — and, sadly, the only time — we would meet face to face. Steve and Pat were such a delight to be around. They were upbeat and up for anything. We explored towns off the beaten path, some of which didn’t even have a path!
hard at work, performing community outreach.
Steve was a tireless and very talented photographer. After I thought I’d exhausted all the angles from a scene, Steve would still be clicking away. He was drawn to people and not shy about taking photos of strangers. In one town he had taken some photos of a couple of young boys who had been curiously following us. When I turned around, I saw Steve showing the boys their photo on his camera display. I quickly got a shot of that. It’s one of my favorite pictures of him. Being around Steve and watching him interact with people encouraged me to try to get past my shyness about photographing strangers.
Steve, The Genuine Tourist, was the best kind of tourist you could be. He didn’t buy into the whole pretentious traveler vs. tourist debate. He knew, as long as he wasn’t a full-time expat, that he was a tourist. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Steve did his research. He made an effort to learn the history of each place he went. When he and Pat made any of their three-month trips to Mexico, they blended into the community as much as possible. They shopped at local markets, ate where the locals ate, did what the locals did. They loved the culture and immersed themselves in it.
Steve wasn’t fluent in Spanish, but his sincerity, his genuineness, carried him through when words failed. On our way to the Xalapa Anthropological Museum, he had an enthusiastic conversation with the taxi driver in both fractured Spanish and English. He didn’t speak Spanish well, but he never stopped trying to communicate in any way he could. The cabbie responded to Steve with a great deal of warmth and told us a little about himself and how he came to own the cab. It was one of those great little moments in traveling — and touristing.
Steve and Pat didn’t travel just for enjoyment. A portion of each trip included such things as bringing school supplies to children or volunteering at local dental clinics. They also sponsored a needy child in Haiti. Steve was a social worker and Pat a dental technician in their nontourist lives. They always wanted to give back.
We kept in touch after the Mexico trip, updating each other on our lives and plans for upcoming trips. Although our friendship was mostly long distance and online, it was as meaningful as any I’ve had.
Steve, you will be greatly missed.
*Steve’s blogs include:
My Mexico blog, including the week at Xalapa with Steve and Pat: