Go west young man. No, go east. Wait, better to go north but on the other hand maybe south would be better at this time of year – oh bugger it, just GO.
Travel Advice – Always listen to your elders – yea right!
In 1966 I was 15 and my father decided it was time to discuss my future.
“David, I have decided what you are going to do when you leave school.” Please notice the use of “I “ and “you.” That’s the way it was in those days.
He continued with:
“You are going to work in a bank. It’s good pay and a secure job with decent promotion. And, most importantly, you get to retire at 55.”
I was completely gobsmacked and for one of the few times in my life was temporarily rendered speechless. Apart from the fact that I probably would’ve lasted less than a week in such an institution the thought of the next 40 years tied to a desk seemed like light years away.
I secretly plotted to run away to sea when I was 16. My father was furious. My mother was secretly proud of me but could only reveal this when my father passed away many years later.
Anyway, this episode germinated a wanderlust that has only gestated and grown in me. However, sometimes, just sometimes, when I’ve been completely broke and really down on my luck I have wondered should I have listened to my father’s ‘advice’?
Advice can be given or received. It can be good, bad or indifferent. It can be dangerous or just plain stupid.
In 1976 my first wife and I did a cycling tour of Normandy and Brittany. Before leaving I remember one bit of advice or rather a misinformed opinion.
“France? Why would you want to go there, they eat snails and frog’s legs AND the people smell of garlic.”
Every time I have embarked on a new adventure I’ve received, as per my opening quotation, advice and opinions from self styled ‘experts.’ Often contradictory and very often wrong information. Comments like:
“It’s a violent country with very unfriendly people.”
“What a dump, boring and uninteresting.”
“You’ll get ripped off.”
If you are unprepared or travel with blinkered vision all of these statements can be true.
Travel Advice – Always try to be diplomatic
Cultural advice can be very helpful. While travelling in Iran on one occasion I was seriously glad of such help. A Greenpeace friend and colleague and I were travelling from Tehran to Bandar Khomeini (for the background to this read a previous blog entitled EMBARRASMENTS). This was a three-day road trip through the most incredible and diverse scenery and meeting really friendly and helpful people.
As it was getting dark we arrived at a hostel. There Paul Horsman and I bedded down for the night on sleeping mats on the floor together with 20 other men in a communal ‘bedroom.’
Several hours later, while still dark, we were startled awake by a loud wailing. This was the men all doing their morning prayers. I simply did not know what to do. By not joining in were we, at best, simply insulting the prophet or at worst creating a terrible diplomatic incident? Conversely by attempting to join in were we also insulting the religion?
I found out later that Paul was going through the same thought processes and we both individually dared not speak to each other for fear of compounding our predicament.
Our dilemma was resolved when one of our Iranian travelling companions, presumably sensing our unease, came over and quietly advised us to go back to sleep. We did. When we eventually woke for breakfast the other hostel occupants had either already left or joined us without a mention of our actions or rather inactions! Advice well received.
Sometimes it pays to listen to a police man. Well certainly when it is decidedly in your best interests!
In 2012 as part of the Amazon campaign I did a road trip with two Brazilian colleagues. We needed to find out information on a huge cattle slaughtering operation that was linked to de-forestation to provide grazing. I won’t say where it was – suffice to say somewhere in the Amazon basin.
After a series of adventures or, perhaps more pertinently, misadventures (some of which I relate elsewhere in our blogs) we’d arrived in a small town. Our 4 x 4 had develpoped a fault and we’d left it at a local garage and borrowed one their cars.
After a long day scouting the vicinity we aimed to go back past the meat plant to check it out again, pick up our repaired car and retire to our hotel for the night.
The first part went well. Then after leaving the plant we were just entering the town when we were stopped by a police roadblock. Hrmmm. They asked for our papers.
When they saw my passport they took it away and a few minutes later a senior officer appeared. He started questioning Wayne and Vagri in Portuguese. I could tell they were not doing very well. Then the senior officer moved into a huddle with his other cops. Eventually he came to our car and indicated for me to lower the window. In perfect English he said:
“Sir, although you have done nothing wrong we have reason to believe you are from Greenpeace. Given the sentiments felt towards you I can only advise you to leave town immediately.”
I felt it pointless to deny.
I asked “Can we stay in the hotel after collecting our car and leave first thing in the morning?”
He replied “Sir I cannot guarantee your safety and I cannot spare my men to babysit you guys all night. But I will give you one piece of advice. Do not leave by the asphalt road I assumed you arrived on [which meant the farmers were waiting for us – but the cop would neither confirm nor deny this] and take the long detour, and sir, do it now.”
Hrrrm pretty emphatic!
We changed cars and rushed to the hotel, paid and we were off. Ironically the route we’d been told to take was the one we wanted to check out next morning anyway. The problem was it was now dark and dirt roads here are definitely not a fun thing to attempt especially after nightfall. But having no choice we were stoical. To paraphrase the Blues Brothers we had loads to drink, a full tank of gas but only some junk food to eat.
After 15 kms the asphalt ran out and we were on dirt. For the first hour we were OK and able to manage about 60 kph. Then the road started to deteriorate big time and had turned form dry to very slippery wet mud. Even with the 4 x 4 on we were sliding all over the place and slowed down to about 20 kph. We were debating stopping and sleeping in the car until morning when we saw a light in the distance. We had contacted the office by Satellite phone to warn them of our situation and had a tracker with a panic button. I also figured if the light was farmers and they see us stop they would come to us anyway. So nothing for it but to continue.
To be continued…..!