Sunday, 30 April 2017

Finding a guide

I've been asked to write about how I find my guides - and how I decide if I need one in the first place.

If only the decision-making followed a logical sequence! Like some of my travels, it can all be a bit hit and miss. 

I'm going somewhere I've never been before, and have limited time and want to see as much as possible, I always begin by finding an agent in the capital. This is a bit like sticking a pin in a list of agents, but I do check out guidebooks and travel forums to find some that look reliable, email them all, and see who replies. Most ignore me. So assume that anyone who replies really wants to help.

What I'm looking for, at that stage, is advice on the reliability of local transport, suggestions of places to go, that sort of thing. Invariably the agents interpret that as a request for a complete itinerary, transfers, everything. So emails go backwards and forwards, and we eventually reach an agreement and take it from there. 

This is very different from my long trip, or if I'm going somewhere I know well, such as Bangkok or Kathmandu. In that case I book a hotel for the first few nights, and take it from there. If I decide I need a guide (I'd never climb a mountain without a guide, but will explore temples on my own.) there are plenty of local agents to help. (In Nepal, of course, there's always Tika.)

It's the agents who provide the guides. Those who have read this blog, or the books, will know I've met some extraordinary guides - notably, on this last trip to Malawi, the faithful Everlasting. Though I work on the principle that most of us are extraordinary if we are given the chance. So - while I'm fascinated by all historical guff they are telling me, I am equally fascinated by them. And I've yet to meet a guide who didn't give me permission to write about him or her.

So, that's how I find them. I've not, yet, had a guide who was openly dishonest or uncaring - I know that, travelling on my own, I run the risk of being exploited. I check things out as best I can, and then go for it. So far, so wonderful!

How do other people do it?

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Questions, questions ...

There will, as I've said before, be a book about Malawi. A narrative is beginning to emerge from my scribbles. But it will take a while - there's a lot of Life around here at the moment.

In the meantime, is there anything you would like to know about my travels? Like this blue-footed boobie, this is your change to surprise me.

My writing focus is on drawing out a narrative thread that holds a journey together. But my experience when I talk about travelling is people asking about things that I take for granted. Such as: what shoes do I pack? How do I manage money? How do I find hotels? What about food? How do I meet people? How much planning do I do? How do I manage my laundry? What about toilets?

These are the details of travelling that I now take for granted, thing I only think about if I'm asked about them. So this is your chance to ask me - anything. I'll do my best to answer over the next week or few.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Local elections ... will you vote?

It's not long till the local elections. Yawn. I can only speak for myself, but I find it hard to be interested in who will sit in the town hall and spend hours discussing the whys and wherefores of the public toilets in the supermarket car park. Just fix the wretched things and move on.

But ... would I do it? No. I couldn't face the hours wrangling over toilets, or parking, or whether the shed on Ms B's allotment breaks planning regulations. But just because I'd rather chew my arm off than get embroiled in all this doesn't mean that it isn't important. After all, I pay my Council Tax and these people have to make decisions about how it is spent. They have to decide whether the potholes in the road the outside the school are more important than toilets. Whether to cut a few buses to small villages all week or all buses on Sundays. Whether a meagre charity grant should go to the children's playground or a Christmas lunch for the elderly.

So I shall vote. Which means, under the new system, it's up to me to make sure I'm registered.

After all:


I saw this on a rock by the roadside in Malawi - where there are no newspapers outside the major towns, and very few people have television. Which means that the only way to disseminate information in rural areas is word of mouth, notices on trees - or paintings on rocks, like this.

But surely it's a message that must resonate across the world. For if we don't vote, then we silence our own voices. And we risk being governed by tossers. Those people on the council, spending hours on the toilets (so to speak) - they are, finally, answerable to me and to you and to all of those who made sure we were registered and made it to the polling stations. Let's make sure, at least, that we elect decent people.

I've just checked - I am registered. Are you?

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Where's this Malawi book, then?

Where's this book about Malawi, then? After all, I've been back since the middle of February, and I've not said one word about it. Surely I've got some idea where it's going by now?

To be fair, no one has actually said that to my face. But there has been a hint or two, and so far I've managed to deflect them. However, I can't do that forever, so here is what is going on.

Firstly, I was ill when I came back. I've not written about being ill before, and I'm not going to start now. Suffice it to say that stringing a complete sentence together was an achievement for a few days, and it's taken a while to get back to 'normal' (whatever that means).

Secondly, plans are in place for me to move house. This has been on the agenda for a while, and now the wheels are in motion. It's something else I'm not going to write about - anyone who has moved house knows how brain-consuming it is, but that doesn't mean that anyone else is seriously interested in your dealings with agents or solicitors or your plans for new curtains. To be honest, I bore myself sometimes, thinking about it all. But it's the context in which I'm trying to have a life, so I've just got to run with it.

And then there's Malawi. I can, at the moment, find brief chunks of times to think about it - an essential preamble to trying to unpick the story of my trip. For there is a story - there are several stories - and I shall find a way to knit them together in some sort of coherent narrative. But give me time - it's not a straightforward country to think about and I need to do it justice.

In the meantime, I'll give you a picture, just to be going on with. I only know what animal this comes from because the guide told me - I wonder if anyone can guess?