The first book I remember reading that involved travel to far flung locations was one written by an old colonial hand, Fred G Merfield, with the alluring title ‘Gorillas were my Neighbours’. Looking back, I now see it as the memoirs of a casual racist, (amazingly quite acceptable at the time), with caricatures of tribal rituals, cannibalism and bush meat in Equatorial Africa. However, it was a considerable eye-opener for an eleven year old boy and certain phrases from it still loiter in my mind.
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
The notion that working as a tour leader is one long paid holiday has in fact a proportion of truth in it, but only a relatively small one, comments Bob Cranwell. You do get to go to some fabulous places, many of which you might never have got to under your own steam. You do get an influx of 12-24 people into your life every few weeks – people who by and large, are intent on having a good holiday, seeing and doing new things. Read more . .
As might have been expected, India burst in on me like a storm. Sometimes it’s the proverbial wall of heat when you’re coming off the plane, or the overwhelming chaos of rank and sweet smells and eye-jarring colours, but most often for me it’s the milling mass of humanity which ambushes you.
I’d read somewhere, (I think it was in Trevor Fishlock’s brilliant compendium of essays called India File), that the elephant god Ganesh, or the Taj Mahal in Agra are usually seen as emblematic of India, but the true motif of India is the crowd.
Podcast version here
I was chatting to the curator when from inside the building I saw a sudden illumination and several shouts. Out came one of the group followed closely by sundry attendants who explained that the person involved had been taking photos. The curator immediately exploded with rage and demanded the camera and its contents. Read more . .