Friday 3 October 2008

DBM - Probably the Worst Traveller in the World!

Here I am, on a four month travel odyssey around South America and I am now admitting to being the world’s worst traveller – probably. How can this possibly be? Well, let me outline some of my travel foibles:

1. Health issues. If you read my previous blog, you will know that I went through a little stomach cleansing on my first night in Ecuador. Well, since then, I have had an even more thorough purging of the whole digestive tract. There are many reasons why travel tends to elicit such violent reactions from me. Exertion and stress are two of them. There have been many occasions when I have scaled some large mountain, reached the top and triumphantly lost my lunch. Apparently, sitting on a plane and doing absolutely nothing for hours, followed by the intense exertion of lugging four bags 50m is enough to set off this reaction. Combine this with jetlag, lack of good food and sleep, and there you have it. The perfect, heaving, storm. Now, added to this, we have the complications of high altitude, which can also bring on bouts of nausea...................well, you can probably already guess what happened when I tried to do the Inca Trail. Stress, exertion and high altitude all rolled into one, convenient, four day package. Not that I want to spoil my next post for you............

2. Issues with social customs in foreign countries.
Being English, I have had many social customs drilled into me from an early age. Don’t drop litter, hold open doors for people, stand on the right of escalators to let people pass, let people off the train before you get on, form a nice orderly queue and wait your turn..........I could go on, but I think that you get my general drift. Common courtesy, that is what I am talking about here. Well, such courtesies often do not apply in other countries. And it really bugs me. What is so hard about holding a door open for the person behind you? Would it kill you not to walk in a group of four along the pavement and make everyone else go around you and have to walk in the gutter? Doesn’t it just make sense to let people off a train before you try to get on? This little tirade is mostly due to the fact that to get from our hotel to the town square in Cusco, you have to walk along a very narrow street with a pavement that only allows one, lean person on it. To me, the sensible thing here is for the people facing oncoming traffic to vacate the pavement for those going the other way – after all, they can see if there is a huge tourist bus coming that may just take their heads off with a well-placed wing mirror. Of course, nothing so sensible happens, and it is every man, woman and child for themselves. So, one day, I decide that I am going to challenge this. I am going to walk the whole length of the pavement without stepping foot onto the road. My back is to the traffic, I should not have to risk losing my head to a wing mirror. Let’s just hope I don’t meet any old people, women carrying large loads or small babies – even I would give them the right of way – well, that’s just polite. So, off I set, staring directly ahead. Young, fit men have to leave the pavement, middle-aged men in business suits have to step into the gutter. Teenage girls have to actually acknowledge the world around them and stop giggling and go around me. All is going well, I am within metres of my goal, when a 6 year old girl comes towards me. She stops, I stop, we stare – then victory is mine! I outstared, outstubbourned and outlasted a 6 year old. I conquered that path once, but after that, I couldn’t stop feeling guilty about that little girl, and so I stopped trying to change Peruvian behaviour and for the rest of our stay, I walked in the gutter a lot. Thankfully, my head is still intact.

3. I am not good if local amenities are not up to western standards. I like to be able to sit on a toilet, throw the TP down the toilet and then flush. Is this so much to ask? Well, unfortunately, yes, it is. Many countries just don’t use sit on toilets – they are squatters. My main issue with squatters is the fear that one day I will squat and I won’t be able to get up again – I am getting older you know, and one’s legs can get very weak after much stomach cleansing.........I once stayed in a hostel in Thailand that did have sit on toilets. Trouble is, you would go in and the seat would be covered in dirty footprints where locals have stood on the toilet so that they could squat. I guess they like their toilets their way. In most of South America, sit on toilets are the norm, but their sewage system cannot cope with paper. This means you have to throw the used paper into a bin besides the toilet – what can I say – eeeeeuuuuuwwwww.
I also like my shower to be hot. Not lukewarm, not, well, it isn’t freezing, but hot! If you advertise hot showers, they had better be hot. No, I won’t accept the excuse that this is what passes for hot in this country. And being hot only at four in the morning or four in the afternoon is not good enough either. Who gets up at four in the morning for a shower? Well, I guess I do, if my choice is that or a cold shower. I just don’t do cold showers, period. Also, a dribble coming from a hole in the wall does not fall under my definition of a hot shower. If I can get a better shower by emptying my hot water bottle over my head, then the shower is definitely lacking.

4. Food preferences. I am not the most adventurous eater and food can be an issue for me. My number one rule is that I don’t eat pets. No rabbit in England, no dog in Sulawesi, no frogs legs in France and definitely no guinea pig in Peru – have you seen just how cute those guys are? How on earth could you eat them? I also don’t do “traditional food”, such as elephant in Africa, rats in Indonesia or alpaca in Peru – the locals don’t eat this – they eat rice, beans and potato – that is traditional food. I really do not need to eat alpaca or guinea pig. There is plenty of chicken to go around, thank you very much.
My other issue with food is that it never tastes right when you are in another country. The cheese here is just chewy, bread is sweet, milk is mostly none existent. The Chinese food doesn’t taste like Chinese and Peruvian Mexican or Italian is, well, still Peruvian. I long for a good hunk of mature cheddar and a nice bowl of cereal covered in ice cold milk. In fact, just a nice cold drink would be lovely. Other than in Cusco, drinks are not kept in fridges here. And the worst thing – my jar of Marmite is running dangerously low. I still have nearly 3 months to go – what am I going to do!?!

5. Tourists. I have issues with other tourists. There are just too many of them everywhere, spoiling my views, getting in the way of my photos, clogging up the scenery. Speaking to the locals in their own language and expecting them to understand if they just say it louder and slower. At least I tried to learn Spanish, and I do have Mr. DBM, who is getting quite good with the local lingo. The ones that I have the most issues with are the ones that loll around in their baggy trousers with crotches down past their knees, their hippy shirts and their ethnic bag slung over their chests. You know the ones I mean. They generally haven’t shaved in months (male or female) and their hair is now one tangled mass of ropey, skanky, mats of fibre that could be inhabited by 50 species of parasitic insects and arachnids new to science. I just want to hold them down, shave off all their hair and tell them to go home, have a bath and GET A JOB!
I also hate being treated like a tourist. I hate being given the tourist menu, with the pictures and the higher prices. I hate being told that a taxi to the town centre will cost me s/6 when I am standing right next to an official sign that say taxis to the town centre will cost s/3. I may not be fluent in the local language, but I am not an idiot! I hate being treated like some huge walking dollar sign that can be pestered at all hours to buy something.

So, there you have it. The world’s worst traveller?

I can think of one who is worse than me, but I can’t complain too much. The reason he travels is not to see the world. He travels because he loves me.

PS. The pictures were taken from around Cusco, Peru.


Anonymous said...

I must say that I agree with most of what you have said, only you say it much better than I could. My expectations when I travel are much the same as yours, and I am often disappointed. Sometimes, though, the unusual is simply more humorous than maddening - and your mention of the "squatter toilets" made me think of the facilities on the train I took from Xian to Shanghai in China.

A small hole, moving with the train as it rocked back and forth. No hand grips (figure that one out), but a floor that was completely covered in stainless steel (that one I do have figured out). It was a bit embarrassing to know that all the other passengers waiting in line had listened to my cursing, scraping and thudding about in the toilet. Oh well, when in Rome, they say.

Chin up. Only 3 months to go!

Baino said...

Oh dear! So why did you go for the Gringo trail rather than a five star hotel in Patagonia? Sorry about the tummy upset it's best to graduate to altitude rather than just land in it! I'm with you on toilets and showers although if near the sea I can manage with a sloosh in the ocean. Bit fussy on food as well but I guess when in Peru, eat Peruvian (avoid the guinea pigs). I mean you wouldn't go to China and order the steak sandwich! Sounds like things can only get better and I'm really quite envious. Clare spent 10 weeks in South America and absolutely loved it! She's still wearing a collection of wrist and ankle bands collected from the places she visited. Keep the photos coming, these days I travel vicariously!

Anonymous said...

You are terrible !!!, I do sagree with the other tourist thing, I get very angry with those, but I can't support you on the food issue, I love to chose of a menu I have no idea what it is, and then eat whatever comes !!

Cuzco is a wonderful place, I used to just stare are the walls, the way they were put together ....

Mr DBM is a superstar, but you don't seem to be having much fun ?, I fell of a bar in a nightclub in cuzco once, found plenty of cold drinks that night !!!!

Be safe, thanks for the expensive camera advice xx

Anonymous said...

Well, again, I have to say, this is why I don't travel, except to English speaking, civilised toiletted parts of the world!

I wouldn't last two days using toilets you had to squat over. Uh-uh. I need to sit, thank you. And I've heard about the toilet paper in the bin thing and nope, not doing that either. Or the 'swish your hand in the communal bucket' when you're done thing.

You are a brave woman!!

Don't Bug Me! said...

Cortes: I am surprised that you even fit into a toilet designed for the Chinese - let's be honest, it is a nation of small people - "I like Chinese.......they only come up to your knees......."

Baino: 5 star hotels - in my dreams. Once I win the lottery........I certainly do not feel the need to rough it to get an authentic feel for a place, but money is always a limiting factor. More photos coming soon.....

Moon: I made the mistake of ordering off the menu, not knowing what it was - I ended up with chicken gizzards, or perhaps they were kidneys, not quite sure. Even Mr. DBM couldn't eat them and he can eat almost anything. So, back to pizza it is!

Jay: Mr. DBM is even braver - he has to put up with me!

BabyZonely said...

I am having lots of fun reading your traveling experiences. I can hardly wait for you to get back here and tell me all that again - in person. Hang in there, girl! I am sure you'll forget all that was bad about your trips as soon as they are over and you are back to your usual (toilet) routine.
Take care and write, write, write for us who can't go anywhere.