Adventure Travel in Developing Nations – what I don’t love (but do really)
I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world for both work and pleasure. The majority of my travelling has been to developing nations where there is often a stark contrast from the level of infrastructure and development we are used to back home. This is part of the reason I have chosen these countries, I have wanted my experiences to be completely different from my home, to learn about different cultures, try to understand how other people live and find out what makes them tick. I have come to realise over the years however, it is often the more subtle, human-specific idiosyncrasies that differentiate our society from that of developing nations. These are not country or even necessarily continent-specific, with many of the following examples existing across the globe.
As many countries continue to develop, they strive for many of the things we are actively trying to rid ourselves of. A recent example was a huge billboard advertising some vulgar-looking frankfurter sausages proclaiming, “Your family’s nutrition and nourishment is right here”. This is either a severe breach in trading standards, or a deluded comprehension of nutrition. Whilst we are trying to move away from processed, fat-filled rubbish, some of these other countries are attaching health benefits to orange-tinged, cholesterol-filled sticks of non-descript animal parts. Madness.
There are some things that should be banned from the public arena. Some examples are eating with your mouth open, speedos, and (controversial) public displays of affection. These unwritten rules have long been established in the UK and for good reason; they are quite simply antisocial. Walk down any residential back street in Singapore as the sun rises and you’ll probably hear some wonderful sounds as this bustling city wakens. The one sound that does not however fall into this category is the unavoidable sound of people clearing their throats and lungs of whatever it is that needs to be cleared. It is a guttural sound from deep down inside the body, a loud, abrasive and almost mechanical sound that is difficult to imitate if your heart is not in it. I used to think that only Asian countries had a passion for this sort of behaviour but this is simply not the case. The ‘public hocking’ epidemic is also found in parts of Africa and you’ll find the technique to be exactly the same. There is often also a finale, the reward for such aggressive cleansing of the soul – a propulsion of whatever has been brought up into the mouth, out of the mouth. Be warned, the celebratory spit is often more repulsive than the hocking. This is totally acceptable behaviour for men, women and children. It is not looked down upon, is not class-specific, but just a morning ritual that is essential to many, just as cleaning your teeth is.
I have visited Post Offices in various places throughout the world, but one occasion really sticks in my mind as being the most interesting. I was posting some presents that I’d bought from India. Kolkata Post Office is an impressive building from the British colonial era and has normal opening hours, from 9am until 5pm. From 8:30am each morning, there is an impenetrable snake of people positioned just outside the main entrance. At 9am, this spills into the vast area within, filling every last square metre of the cavernous interior. Take a photo of that spectacle first thing in the morning and compare to a photo taken in the afternoon; the only thing that will have changed are the faces and the clothes of the patrons. This fortress of people shuffles at a snail’s pace to the front where less-than-enthusiastic staff deal with their postal needs.
In the stifling heat of Kolkata, I stood for around an hour in this mass of heaving bodies. I had elbows jabbed in my side, my flip-flopped feet were pulverised by trampling shoes and waves of people effortlessly slithered in front of me. If I let my guard down for a second, two or even three people would get in front of me, pushing me further back. I was reminded of this experience recently whilst watching Brad Pitt in World War Z. The relentless flow of people was incredible and they had no regard for anyone that stood in their way. They had their Post Office prerogative and they would do anything they could to get to the desk as quickly as possible.
In the end, I gave up, left the room and went around the back to plead with the security guard who kindly let me into the office to get my parcel sent. I was cheating but I justified this by the fact I had left that rammed room without a restraining order or murder charge imposed. As I filled in the customs form I looked out into the room in which my patience had been tested beyond belief, to see faces, limbs and parcels pressed against the only thing that prevented the overflow – a reinforced glass screen.
Queuing is an integral part of civilised society. Life is not a free-for-all and we should not encourage this sort of mayhem. This is not an isolated case either, I have been frequently barged out of the way whilst waiting my turn then frowned at as I protest.
There are a few things that I believe are crucial for health and well being. One of these is personal space. I have sat on ten-seater minibuses with sixteen other passengers for nine hours at a time in South Africa. I have travelled on cramped, stuffy coaches with malfunctioning air-con and screaming children for twenty-four hour journeys in Chile. These have tested what I regard as personal space and have pushed my social boundaries, often to breaking point. When I am not in these scenarios however, I need my personal space to go unhindered. In the UK, this is, for the most part, respected. People tend to retain a reasonable distance from each other, do not incite collisions, and use their limbs appropriately. Unfortunately in many parts of the world, these simple rules are not adhered to.
So by now you may be asking why I choose to spend my time travelling to these places. Why put myself through these irritating scenarios and get stressed? I must stress that the above is not indicative of all developing nations and that these things do not happen in my home country, they are just observations of minor aspects of my overseas experiences. For all of these minor quirks of developing world travel, there are a million positive reasons to go to these places. I am now a far more tolerant person, both at home and overseas. I have interacted with people and cultures that are completely different than ours. I also now have an appreciation for what we have in the UK and love coming home.
So go travel and find out for yourself.