Many decades ago, in the former Yugoslavia, I came across a young British tour guide who was beside herself, almost literally tearing her hair out. One of her middle-aged wards was refusing to get out of bed in the very basic monastery inn unless bacon was on the table for breakfast in the wilds of the austerity-wracked Balkans. It was then that I realized travel could provide an excellent window into the world of wacko-dom.
I left before learning how that one played out, but many decades later a visit to Fiji brought the memory bubbling back up. An American lady staying at the hotel was so keen to reach her 100th country -- she was then at 94 -- that she decided to use Air Pacific's Nandi hub as the needed multiplier. She'd just come back from Tuvalu, where I was due in a week, so naturally I asked her what it was like.
"Not the faintest idea," she said with great pride. She'd gone straight through immigration and got right back on the plane -- but with the treasured entry-exit stamp in her passport.
"Is Bosnia independent," she shouted at me as she moved back out to the plane that had just flown us in. Told it was, she erupted in a cheer: "That'll make Samoa my 100th." Then she did a recap. There was still one more to "do" after that.
The wackiest wacko bird of all, though, was on the Papua New Guinean island of New Britain. I'm just waiting to go from the hotel to the airport in Kokopo in East New Britain for the flight to the West New Britain capital of Kimbe when an Australian jumps into the van with a whole lot of camera equipment. Before I can even say "Waltzing Matilda," he's off at 100 words a second with a built-in bull-horn of a voice.
Too late now to naysay. We're whisked off in a van to visit a girls' vocational technical college, where AB (Aussie Bullhorn) gives an inspirational address. He's into to "inner thinking on breath," i.e. meditation, and ends up his oration by telling the girls in the secretarial computer lab to do what his father told him to do when he was 6 years old: "Make whatever you do a statement of excellence."
Not surprisingly he is met by row after row of beautiful brown eyes staring blankly back at him, while Yours Truly nods sagely in approval at the front of the class. I've been kidnapped and am already suffering from Stockholm syndrome. The tourism official, who's wearing a red baseball cap screaming "I (heart) Jesus," is also nodding, but he has no such excuse.
The connection is totally lost on me, so don't even think of the locals. But they look at me for input and now I'm energetically advising the West New Britain government on window shapes, balcony doors, landscaping with natural jungle lushness, and anything else that flies off the top of my head -- except, of course, Hemingway, T.S Elliot and Proust.
His Excellency is already three sheets to the wind when he arrives with a retinue of officials. Well, in times of necessity, such as free luxury bed and board, initiative takes command, so here I am advising His Excellency on how Western New Britain is sitting on a gold mine, how the tourism goose will surely lay a golden egg, or even two -- nay, what about a half dozen -- and any other cliché I can think of.
Now he lams into the inefficiency of the national tourism board in Port Moresby, the federal capital, winning from His Provincial Excellency a robust and approving chant of "up the arse." After another half hour, and several other slurred "up the arses" from His Excellency, dutifully echoed by his retinue -- and of course Yours Truly -- we at last eat.
It's now gone 11. I leave AB and His Excellency sloshed at the bar, with AB swearing that he'll get up at 5:30 to check shooting locations for the tourism brochure. I rise at 6 a.m. to get a superb view of the volcanoes and Kimbe Bay. AB finally emerges from his room at 10.
Now, out of the blue, he turns to him -- the "I (heart) Jesus" guy that is, not the creator -- and says: "I don't know whether anybody's ever told you this, but I've been sitting next to you for three days and you have toxic breath. You've either got stomach problems or bad teeth. Your wife should have told you."
We get totally lost on jungle and plantation tracks, looking for some hot springs. So much for "guidance and direction" from the creator. It's through the direction of a local youth that we finally find the springs. After a nice walk down slippery paths and across treacherous rock fords we reach the steaming pools reeking of sulfur -- and AB is preaching: "the first church you go to is here,"he says, thumping his heart.
AB's not up when the van comes to take me to Hoskins. We're going along at a nice clip when it screeches to a halt. A group of birders on board has just spotted a greater Melanesian tomtit or lesser Papuan Monkey-Spanker or whatever. They all pour out, binoculars at the ready, standing in a serried rank, levitating forward.
Oh, by the way, AB never did get back to me about writing for his brochure.
For additional travel experiences see www.looneyfront.blogspot.com
Also by the same author, Shakespearean spoofs on current-day politics at www.shakespeareredux.blogspot.com