A Camel, Me and “General B”

One of the #RTW98 series of posts looking back on the ‘round the world trip that inspired the creation of TripTuner 20 years ago.  It’s a story of personal growth and change, with impressions of fascinating places and people around the globe.  If you’ve ever considered extended travel, taking a sabbatical or gap year or just wondered what it may be like, this is for you.

“General Baksheesh” had all the ingredients to strike a commanding authoritarian presence: a distinctive uniform and beret, sidearm at his hip and a pair of AK-47 toting subordinates ready to execute his commands.

General Baksheesh sq

I wasn’t expecting to see armed guards when visiting Egypt’s famed Pyramids, 20 years ago on a solo gap year trip. But there was heightened security (for reasons all too familiar to us now) and a visible tourist police force presence at all main attractions.

It’s an alarming if not unnerving sight.   The soldiers’ mere presence makes you concerned for your safety. Then you realize paradoxically that they’re there for your safety.

Still, it’s a little uncomfortable to be 6,000 miles from home standing alone in front of armed men with whom you can’t really communicate.

Fortunately, after 6 months on the road I’d developed a cobbled together, sometimes successful technique for “breaking people down” – getting past the stoicism and awkwardness of confronting total strangers with whom you share nothing except a common humanity. The recipe: deference, non-excessive smiling, culturally appropriate hand gestures and a sense of humor.

General B was standing with his thumbs in his utility belt, pretending to scan the area (which was completely desolate). Behind him, a bored man squat beside a camel. Business was slow – not many takers for camel rides in the 140 degree afternoon sun. But I gotta do it, right?

Nodding sideways at the General with a forced smile, I shrugged my shoulders pleadingly and motioned to the camel. Like Caesar giving a thumbs up, he nodded to his comrades to left me through. Camel man leapt to his feet and helped me climb aboard the scratchy haired dromedary.

After a short ride, we returned to General B. As if on queue, he stomps out his cigarette, holds both hands in front of his face making the universal “want me to take your picture?” sign. I’ve seen this move before. All deference for the tourist soldier dissolves. But I’ve got to get that shot, and he knows it.

“NO BAKSHEESH,” I declare. “Baksheesh” is the term used by a service provider when requesting a tip or other monetary inducement to action that, in normal circumstances, would be considered ordinary and not worthy of remuneration (a.k.a. a shakedown).

“No, no baksheesh” the General shakes his head solemnly. I shoot him a look of disbelief and calmly but firmly insist: “NO BAKSHEESH.” General B repeats: “no baksheesh, no baksheesh.”

Reluctantly I hand him my camera for the cliché yet must have photo: me, on a camel, in front of a pyramid.  He snaps a few shots and walks towards me to return the camera with outstretched arms, as if presenting a special gift.

Putting my camera away, I look up to see him waiting for my parting glance. He leans his head to the side, shrugs his shoulders and turns his palms upwards. With the pleading face of a puppy dog wanting a treat, he lets out a long whiny cry:

“Baaaksheeeeeesh?”

Now you know how he got his name.

TE on a camel 28-7 pyramids sq

If you could travel for a year, where would you go?

One of the #RTW98 series of posts looking back on the ‘round the world trip that inspired the creation of TripTuner 20 years ago. It’s a story of personal growth and change, with impressions of fascinating places and people around the globe. If you’ve ever considered extended travel, taking a sabbatical or gap year or just wondered what it may be like, this is for you.

If you had an entire year to travel anywhere around the world, where would you go?

It’s a wonderfully tantalizing question.  Try it out on yourself or a friend.  Usually, people will reel off a few bucket list destinations or experiences dreamed up over time: see the Grand Canyon, climb Kilimanjaro, search for the Komodo dragon.  Me? I’d like to snorkel with whale sharks in the Seychelles.

Dig deeper and you’ll sense a person’s appetite for adventure, their passions and a glimpse of their worldview – very helpful in today’s polarized society.  I love exploring new places, so it was easy to create a wish list for my jaunt around the globe.  The more foreign, exotic and different they sounded, the better.  Kelimutu? Cool.  Ouagadougou? Sign me up. Continue reading

where to go: Puglia, Italy

OK, so normally #WheretoGoWednesday is a weekly-ish feature on the most popular destination on TripTuner for the past 7 days but I was won over by the good folks over at Southern Visions Travel, a Puglia, Italy based operator of amazing gourmet & cycling tours.  They stopped by TripTuner HQ this week and wowed us with their culinary prowess

Polignano a Mare

in between various events and an appearance with J.C. Hayward on Washington, DC’s News 9 at Noon.  I had the pleasure of experiencing one of their tours this past summer and highly recommend it for a unique and memorable, active yet relaxing sojourn.  Whether it’s browsing the whitewashed town of distinctive trulli buildings in Alberobello, a caffe fredo after a bike ride to Locorotondo or a fantastic seaside lunch of cavetelli frutta di mare near Polignano a Mare, you will never forget this still relatively untouched (at least by Americans) region down in the heel of Italy’s boot.  And of course, if you need some guidance on getting it done, we’re here to help.  Stay tuned!