In the mid 1990’s a company I was working for as a tour leader wanted to capitalise on the Channel 4 TV series “Beyond The Clouds”, the name referencing a mis-translation of “Yunnan” (South of the Clouds), a province of southwest China. I would be the first person from the office to visit the area and therefore there was no tour leader manual, save some pages photocopied from the Lonely Planet China guide for the region.
I had completely forgotten that my name might arouse some amusement, to say the least, when I went on a trip to Central Asia. Bob, you see, means a bean in Russian (also Hungarian for that matter), and a polite but wry smirk crossed the face of every Intourist guide and receptionist for the next few weeks.
The question of value, and of values, can often be highlighted by travel in countries with which we may only have a passing acquaintance. The commonest example of this disparity is when people part with money willingly. It stands to reason, I think, that when people dive out of a tour bus in a small town to get a few bits of fruit or whatever from the market; one, you’re a stranger to local prices; two,Europeans are usually unversed in haggling over prices; three, whatever you’re asked for a bunch of bananas e.g. will be still be trifling compared to what you pay at home; four, as a foreigner, you’re likely to be one of the richer people around and therefore fair game for what I like to call “skin tax”.
Podcast version here
We were on a tour through Ethiopia soon after the summer rains, and much of the country we saw was covered in a green pointillist haze for the time being. We were in Bahar Dar, a substantial town on the edge of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. A normally wide and shallow outflow within walking distance of our lakeside hotel allowed us a view of the waters at the start of their long journey through Ethiopian gorges until debouching onto the lower lands of Sudan, at Khartoum, where our Nile joins the White Nile, already well travelled from Lake Victoria. From there the combined waters would irrigate an intermittent strip of habitation until reaching Egypt where the population crowded around the river as far as the Mediterranean. Read more . .
I remember an early morning cycle rickshaw ride to Old Delhi station, rucksack on knee. There was a “Public Carrier” by the side of the road with a bloke lying under it messing about. But he wasn’t. Read more . .
Some corner of a foreign field that will be forever. . . . France ?
I’m feeling a bit out of my depth here, it must be admitted. I came down to Pondicherry last night on a bus with a driver who knew nothing but full throttle, recalls Bob Cranwell, so my arse and brain are almost entirely numb. Also 18 extra passengers crammed in the aisles, and I jest not, under some seats.
One thing I had not really expected was the vastness of the Puszta, the plain which starts in Hungary, stretches through the Ukraine and southern Russia, skirting the Urals and continuing into the Steppes of Central Asia. Read more . .
Quetta, New Years day walk, Chiltan Hill, – Bob’s story. Ah, yes, as I was saying, our New Year’s day walk. This involved getting a bus out along Brewery (pronounced Biroori) Rd for perhaps 5 miles or so, 1½ Rupees in a bus we unexpectedly found was divided by a curtain hung across the middle, one end for women, one for men. Read more . .