Dunking the cliché
What it means for travel: Nothing of the ordinary, far from it.
In today’s day and age, tourism is full of lavish and luxurious holiday packages, which cater to a select segment of society.
Travel though, contrary to what some people believe, is becoming increasingly easy. It is easier to get around, more independence, more resources and the urge to explore is a common character trait in most individuals. Yet, when it comes to actually pulling all the stops and heading out, most settle for true blue/tried and tested travel planning.
When you sign up for such travels, you make sure (in most cases) that you don’t experience even a bit of the ‘extraordinary’ that this world has to offer. Since everything is researched and surveyed, seldom will you venture out of your comfort zone.
Backpacking is one way the young and vibrant excuse themselves of the cliché and do what they feel like with travel in a budget. A very good practice, that. Though, what about the people who have the money? Who don’t have a pressing need to save on flights and accommodation, what about them? Some would argue that such people don’t really want a special experience, they just want to relax and get away from it all. I disagree.
The majority of people I have spoken to tell me that they would have liked a more engaging vacation. Wanting not just the opportunity to sit in a hot tub and drink beer but also the chance to really get wet with perspiration, leaving footprints at places no traveller has gone before. Wouldn’t you like the same?
Take for instance, the time I spent in Africa on the island of Zanzibar. A foreign land, living among Swahili people, trying harder to speak the language a little every day – everyone does that or can do that. Not to say I was backpacking around as I did get the chance to rent a bike and head out across Zanzibar and stay in the best of hotels too, thanks to the magazine I was working with.
While on tour, one of our contacts in a small village on the coast called Unguja Ukoo, invited me for a rather different kind of get together. Initially he told me it was something like a dance party or the likes of it, I don’t quite remember now. Dance party? I thought to myself, doesn’t sound particularly interesting but I could sense a little hesitation in his voice when he told me that. Mussa, the contact, was a very chirpy and effervescent person and his hesitation in calling it a ‘dance party’ got me thinking – maybe there is more to the ‘dance party’ than just dance.
I asked my editors to speak with him to try and understand what he actually meant. I rode on out and completed the 6 day bike tour I was taking or as my editors at Mambo Magazine named it ‘The magical motorcycle tour’.
The editors did have a chat with Mussa and guess what; we had been invited to an exorcism. Yes, the real thing! In Africa! Some people would make faces when offered this chance but for a travel photographer on a mission, this was like the ultimate opportunity.
On the day, our team geared up and jumped into a 4×4, we made our way to the village. Mussa met us at our designated rendezvous point and then led us to a cave in the middle of the bush. It was more of a big ditch with a huge tree in the middle and a big outcropping of coral rock on one side. Full of local people, dressed up and ready for the ceremonies.
To be honest, I did get an unsettling vibe from the people. But of course, this was going to be no ‘party’. Everybody took up positions around the big tree. There were local women crowded around in the middle, around who I realized was the person for whom this ceremony was being held. On the opposite side of the rocky outcrop were seated five musicians, making music with nothing more than beaten out metal plates and drums along with one very loud trumpet of some sort. The music was, well, loud.
The head of the village then called all of us to the cave and asked us to get a blessing from the demons, which to be polite, we did. I am not much of a believer to tell you the truth but at such gatherings, one needs to play along.
The ceremony started without warning. The trumpet blew and the cohesive beating of drums entranced the people in the centre with a cryptic melange of sounds. The older women of the village started dancing around, while the men were present on the sides in a periphery.
I cracked on with the photography, it was pretty cloudy and the thick bush was tough for the sun’s rays to navigate through, so the light wasn’t too good. With people giving me weird looks all around as they probably wondered who I was and what I was up to, I clicked till I felt I had enough shots.
After a while, the experience actually told me something. If I didn’t have this contact and drove through the village and to the beach like a normal tourist would, there was no way I could have found out about this exorcism. So close yet so far, it would have been.
And there we have it, would I have had this experience on the main road in my air conditioned taxi? Hell no.
A thing that all travellers need to keep in mind is that you have to respect the other person’s turf and culture. No one by virtue of being a tourist has the right to go barging into someone else’s life just because one wants to get closer to the action. Sometimes that tactic may end up backfiring and you will find yourself in a tight spot. It is easier to get invited, most cultures out there respect new visitors and honour guests wholeheartedly and that is the way to go.
Times are changing, also people are too and hence nowadays some hard core travel buffs do take to the road without an aorta of planning. That my friends, is the path to the future of travel. If you’re the kind of person who likes to know where she/he is heading or the kind that like to have a hotel reservation in place before venturing out, move over. The junkies are on their way!