I hear that China Mobile have set up a transmission station on Mount Everest to make it possible for climbers to make calls. How convenient.
When mobile phones first emerged in the 80s I predicated that one day you would be able to stand on an isolated beach anywhere in the world and make a phone call. Well it seems it’s now possible.
However, along with the advance of communications technology the ability to travel has become more available. This sounds great. It means we can all see the world. Not only that, we can call home and say “I’m on a bus travelling along Sukhumvit Road” or “I’m on this beach and I’ve just had my fifth tequila slammer”. Now the Chinese have let us say “I’m standing on top of Mount Everest…..what?…..yeh, yeh, it’s bloody cold”.
I guess what I regret about this is that it homogenises the world. The last time I visited Ko Samui I was sitting down with a bunch of Englishmen within hours eating a mixed grill.
The other downside is, of course, green house gas emissions. Our politicians are afraid to increase the cost of travel as they believe it would be unpopular. Not with me. If I am to travel half way around the world to visit a different culture then I do not want to have the option of a mixed grills and I also believe that I should be willing to pay for that privilege; for it is a privilege not a right. I should be willing to pay with my money and my effort.
Of course one can argue that I can afford to pay more than some. Well at the moment I may have the money but I don’t have the time. When I was younger I had less money and more time.
It is worth remembering that cheap international travel not only destroys remote cultures it destroys local culture too. Whenever I walk along the Embankment in London I am vaguely irritated that my view of the river is obstructed by a wall of enormous tour buses.
We destroy our environment to build massive airports, then destroy the environment of our destination by our mass presence. On a recent visit to Bangkok I stayed just off Rama IV and was told that I must visit the shops and restaurants at Lumphini Park. I did.
I can’t say it’s horrible. It was very good. Excellent food and lots of shops and stalls selling clothes and whatnot at good prices. But this is not Thailand anymore than Blue Water is England.
The travel industry panders to our laziness. It allows arm chair travellers to really travel and take their arm chair with them. I am as guilty as everyone else of course.
However a few times when I have been travelling I have actually felt that I had personally achieved something. Probably the best was while working in Nigeria. I took a car and a driver and travelled from Port Harcourt north to explore. Myself and Victor, my driver, ate boiled eggs and peanuts every morning for breakfast while hurtling along at break neck speeds with the windows wide open. Victor cracking the eggs on his forehead.
In the West we are taught to be cautious of everything. We hide behind our TV screens and tour buses and forget that the world existed before accident insurance and emergency services.
My car was an old Peugeot 303. The driver noticed the knocking noise first. We stopped near some traditional round thatched huts. A young man took a look at the engine and drew the dip stick through his fingers. He rubbed his oily fingers together and felt swarf. We stopped at the next town with a “mechanics village” and I had the engine completely stripped down and rebuilt. Three days later we went on our way.
I negotiated countless check points and was held by police in Abuja for driving the wrong way down a one way street.
Benue State, Nigeria, 1997
No gorgeous beaches, no tourist tat and no fancy food. But I did feel I was alive.
I remember hiring a little motor bike in Thailand and touring around. One Englishman told me he would not do this as he had no insurance.
Modern technology enables an Englishman to be anywhere on the face of the earth in around 72 hours. I think we should ask ourselves: Is there anywhere in the world that actually needs an Englishman delivered in 72 hours?