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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Guides: getting in the way of a good travel experience

Guides, as I wondered in my last post, who uses them? My aversion to hiring guides is largely due to the distance they put between me and my travel experience. I mean, think back to the last time you had a truly memorable travel moment. The first time you saw the Giza Pyramids, Palmyra, Baalbek or Uluru for instance. A museum you visited that was overwhelming (the Louvre perhaps?) or a view that was breathtaking (Iguazu Falls?). Think back. I don't know about you, but I like to savour those special experiences on my own. In silence. Or share them with someone dear to me. I want to take it all in slowly and imprint it in my mind forever. I don't want some tour guide blathering in my ear. The first time I saw Petra was ruined by a guide. (A-ha! I hear you say.) It was a visit that wasn't planned. We'd been on a Royal Jordanian flight from Casablanca to Abu Dhabi with a connection in Amman, when along with some other passengers we were bumped off the flight. We had 24 hours to kill before the next one and because we didn't have visas our only options were to take an escorted tour for the day or spend the time getting to know the drab Soviet-style hotel they'd put us up in. We took the private tour to Petra with a lovely Irish couple, just the four of us in the car. Then there was the guide. The guide was one of the most irritating people on earth. He talked incessantly, asked trivial questions he wanted us to guess the answers to, and told silly riddles. He drove me insane. So insane that as we approached the siq - the narrow gorge you walk through for a kilometre or so until you arrive at the opening to the Treasury and the magnificence of Petra is revealed (an act which in itself only adds to the sense of anticipation, thereby intensifying the experience) - I knew I had to do something rather than have my experience spoiled. My options were to either tell him to shut up, which would inevitably result in an ugly scene, ruining it for everybody. Or to wander off, quicken my pace, and leave the group behind. I chose the latter. Rude perhaps, but definitely the least damaging for all involved. As I arrived at the entrance and began to contemplate the beauty of the sight, I could still hear his distance chatter in the background. It was then that I vowed to never use a guide again.

The image isn't Petra of course. It's Palmyra. And don't let anyone tell you it's possible to experience the place alone. While there might not be another traveller around, there'll be several touts on foot and motorbike hawking postcards and 'ancient coins', guys on camels trying to sell you a ride, cheeky little kids asking for baksheesh, and of course a guide or two. Don't give in to any. Say "(k)halas" ('enough' in Arabic) as sternly as you can, and walk the other way so you can enjoy what must be the world's most sublime archaeological site.

1 comment:

meredith said...

so sorry to hear petra was ruined! petra is beautiful, but i went alone and had no guide. so i got to wander at my own pace with only the small vendors calling to me to offer me a hot tea. which i accepted....the vendors would tell me tid bits about the history, then i was off. so i didn't pay anything.

i love your site! i am so glad if found something like this!