Travel with a dose of common sense


OVER the summer vacation spent in my seaside house in England, I read in a newspaper that in a research by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI), more than a third of ‘inland’ children in Britain thought that sharks were a big threat for swimmers in the sea.

The RNLI emphasized that there had been only two attacks by sharks in the last 200 years and neither were fatal, whereas there had been hundreds of incidents, some fatal, involving children using inflatables in the North Sea, which is a very powerful stretch of water. They were trying to highlight the dangers in sailing these sink-sized ‘vessels’.
The story of the sharks probably began with the film Jaws, but it set me thinking of all the other myths one comes across when travelling.
For example, when I arrived in Bahrain in 1982, none of my friends and relatives would believe there were no camels on the streets, or that you had to drive pretty far from Muharraq to take any photos of these desert creatures.
On arrival in Dubai, again we had to stop visitors bringing us baked beans or marmalade – one visit to the corner supermarket would finally convince them that Dubai was not a hardship posting. That might sound strange today, but there have been more than 20 years of marketing campaigns extolling the delights of the Gulf and thousands of expatriates have since moved here to live and work.
Myths, whether travel-related or not, usually denote a fictional story or unscientifically proven account. They often start off to explain some phenomenon of nature, the origins of mankind, customs and/or traditions, but I firmly believe everyone should just use common sense when confronting a myth.
There are always two sides to every story, then, particularly if you are a travel journalist. I always wanted to see the Taj Mahal in India. The mausoleum is a wonderful and incredible sight, a testimony of the love of one man for his much-missed wife. We were up at the crack of dawn to photograph the hues of the rising sun’s red rays bouncing off the marble. Yet, as I gazed across the landscape, etched in my memory will be the sight of a number of local residents unabashedly performing their ablutions in front of us. It somehow ruined my day!
The Bangkok Klongs were another let-down. In photos they look exotic. In real life, they smell. The same goes for the quaint backstreets of Hong Kong and even squeaky-clean Singapore. Did my husband really intend for me to dine out on local fare on the street in Singapore… no way, José!
Machu Pichu in Peru was absolutely breathtaking, a true masterpiece and wonder, but when we returned to Lima, a cripple with no legs was begging for alms in front of the hotel.
The human picture is always your last impression of a destination. Stories of human sacrifices on Peru’s mountain topsalso reminds us of the savagery of those ancient times.
I am not demanding the authorities of these cities should clean the streets of beggars, build toilets and disinfect dirty areas, I just present the reality that the holiday brochures never mention, as this would naturally influence the amount of visitors heading for these sights.
We again rose very early to participate in a mini-safari trip into a game park just outside Nairobi in Kenya, but we saw only an elephant or two in the distance and no rhinos or lions. I remember the guide telling us about the poachers who are killing the jumbos for their ivory tusks and the trade in Asia of the supposedly aphrodisiac rhino horns.
The beaches in the South of France and Italy were a little too crowded for our taste, but we could even have put up with the near-nude ‘parade’. It was the beach vendors that drove us nuts, incessantly pressing us to buy the ghastly necklaces and fake watches, in the end sending us away forever.
Several people warned us about the security in South Africa, but we found Cape Town clean and safe and teeming with friendly people. I believe even Soweto near Johannesburg is also quite a safe destination and now has daily tours.
Travel certainly opens your eyes, but don’t let us be mesmerized by the tourist board films and brochures, the real thing can be very different and often very educational.

Speaking Out by Jonna Simon