Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Keep Close Tabs on your Travel Guide

    Although we travel alone whenever possible, there are many occasions when we need a guide to ensure communication and to keep from getting lost or delayed. We try to select knowledgeable people from the area we are traversing and we are generally quite pleased with the services we have gotten from these people. We usually save time, have unexpected and rich experiences and get to see places and events we might otherwise not have discovered on our own. But we always keep in mind that our guide may not know what we really want or what our deepest interests are. That's why initial research, a guide book and a strong notion of our priorities enables us to make sure that we go where we want.

    A dramatic instance of this was on a trip in the center of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. We were rolling along in a car toward a small village where we eagerly anticipated witnessing a very strange and unique bullfight that occurs on their market day. I had been reading my guide book along the way and realized that we would be passing one of the rare habitats of the Rafflesia flower, the largest flower on our planet and I was awaiting a stop at that site. At some point I asked the guide when we would reach the forest where the flower grows and he informed me that we were well past that area and that it was not on our itinerary. I replied, "Oh, no!" We were not going to pass up that once in a lifetime opportunity. The guide insisted he could not turn back and indicated that he had to follow the directions of the itinerary. I demanded that we stop at the next town and call the agent for whom he worked. He reluctantly complied. We received the approval from his office to turn around and go back about an hour or so to the location I requested. We got to visit the little village closest to the site of the Rafflesias, got a couple of village youngsters to help us find our way through the forest to where they grew and had a wonderful experience that we will never forget. Our unhappy guide waited for us to complete our trek and continued the drive to the fascinating bullfight that was on the itinerary.

     While the moral of this tale is to make sure you do not miss the Rafflesias along the way, it is also very important that the traveler let a guide know his or her special interests. On a trip up the Mahakam River in Borneo, I mentioned to our guide on the boat that I was a mask collector and had a special fascination with such artifacts. At one point, we pulled into a dock in a tiny village along the river and the guide instructed us to get out and follow him. We walked along a narrow dirt path about a half mile until we came to a hut where the local mask maker lived. He was making masks that are very unique for an upcoming New Years like ceremony that was to take place there. I was able to purchase a magnificent mask from the man who made it in that Borneo jungle village. It is one of my favorite artifacts.  Take control of your trip as much as you can. Your travels will be richer and your satisfaction greater if you follow this suggestion.

Rafflesia Flower, Sumatra, Indonesia

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