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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

27 September 2010


The view from our room at RanomafanaHilary Bradt in her guidebook talks of asking their guide to stop at a local Malagasy school so they could go in and visit the kids. Predictably everyone had a wonderful experience, some of the kids having never interacted with white folks before. It’s something I would never do, and have been pondering a lot.

I think there’s two reasons I wouldn’t. The first is a reticence about intruding on people’s lives in such a manufactured encounter (I picture some tourists waltzing into a primary school in England and saying “Hi, we’re on holiday and we wanted to meet some genuine English kids, maybe take a couple photos!”). To me it just seems odd and intrusive. Of course, the typical reaction of the locals to these encounters (smiles all ’round) would suggest I’m just over-sensitive. Typically English, or just typically me?

My second reason is an honest a lack of interest. I’m most interested in wildlife, natural landscapes, history, architecture, food – these are what I look forward to when I travel. Social interaction I find tricky and awkward, so when I read quotes saying “ten hours crammed into a Taxi-Brousse to Tana was awful, but you get to meet so many genuinely local people” it just doesn’t float my boat.

And yet…

And yet I keep thinking it should be expected of a true round-the-world traveller, to go and seek out such encounters so that I can return home laden with anecdotes. If, after a year away, my response to “you must have met some fascinating people” is still “not really, mainly people working in hotels and restaurants” that seems somehow wrong. Am I missing the whole point if I spend a year exploring thirteen different countries and yet return home without getting to know the people and culture of those countries any more than skin-deep?

I hope not. Even if it’s not what is expected of a world traveller, and my anecdotes are odd tales of owls stealing frogs that leave most people perplexed, I should try and get past this nagging feeling that I should be manufacturing encounters with local people and just be happy seeking out the experiences I want.

In South Africa while watching for otters we came upon an old woman carrying an enormous long rusty metal pipe. It was midday, about 30C, and she had to stop every 100 yards to rest. It took a lot of pantomime and confusion, because she had barely any English, but we carried her pipe a half kilometre to give her a rest, before returning to our otters. That kind of encounter I don’t mind at all.

I’ll add a gallery soon with a few photos of Malagasy people and scenes, many (though not all) taken from a car window. If someone here needs their pipe carried a way, I’ll gladly do so. Otherwise I’ll leave them to their busy days and keep looking for lemurs.

4 Responses to “Intruding”

  1. Jane says:

    I spent my time in England getting to know the locals! it’s easy. Hang out in the pub! I would have very much missed out had I not met my ‘Stratford boys’. Ask my ‘facebo’ Allan if he minded the ‘intrusion’. ;)

    But, in general, I agree with the interrupting of a school day being intrusive. I much prefer your ‘pipe carrying’ anecdote.

    • shortclaws says:

      I guess there’s a big difference between a tourist, who wants to hurtle around a country and experience everything (“oh, and can you arrange me a slice of local culture like some tribal village and their cute kids?”) and someone who is actually stopping in an area for a while and so of course is going to get to know locals.

      So far, we seem to be travelling around a lot “faster” than most round-the-world travellers; four nights is the longest we’ve stayed in one place.

  2. Alan says:

    Don’t feel too bad about your lack of desire to meet and see people on trips. We are the same way. Give me nature and wildlife over people any day!

    • shortclaws says:

      Yep. Some folks are cultural tourists, some are beach tourists, I’m a wildlife tourist. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the sun on my skin, or chatting to locals – I just don’t seek that out first. : )

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