Wednesday, 29 September 2010

An Idiot's Guide to Travel Writing (Sorry Bill)

I never liked the idea of travel books, I thought Bill Bryson was shit. Palin, of course, was a different matter, he actually did stuff; Pole to Pole, Around the World in 80 Days etc., travels which were worth reading about, things that a tiny percentage of the population would even consider doing, let alone actually undertake. Bryson just goes for a walk, (plenty of other writers write about what Bryson writes about, but I don’t know their names, so please bare with me whilst I launch an unprovoked attack on the poor man). Not only does Bryson go for a walk, he does so often within his own country, or a country hes been to before and suchlike. That isn’t travel, me and my mate did that a couple of years ago, walked from Knutsford to Sheffield in two days, we were going to write about it, but we decided not to. Not because we couldn’t be bothered, nor because it was such a traumatising experience that we didn’t care to repeat it, but because reading about a walk undertaken by two lads across the Pennines is not really a scintillating read. Sure we would’ve made it interesting, we saw a dead badger, a herd of sheep with massive balls and got verbally abused by a chav outside Poynton, there was even a boozy conclusion; upon reaching a pub in Sheffield I had two pints and threw up over a flower pot outside the pub. But chavs, well-endowed livestock and puking students are just conventions of the northern landscape, and not something which demands a witty title page, a blurb and a £7.99 price tag.

What we have in mind this time is a little bit bigger and a little bit more advanced than the ill-conceived Sheffield hike, and the even more ill-conceived pissed up walk back from Manchester Airport to Knutsford after a night out a couple of months later. I’d like to make it perfectly clear from the outset that this is not a holiday, a holiday is something for which it takes about ten minutes to pack for and the essentials include; aviators, a wide range of floral swim-shorts and a fiendish amount of condoms. My own preparation for this trip (not holiday) includes deliberating over which malaria tablets to take (the ones which give you hallucinations, or the ones which makes you extra sensitive to sunlight), checking out the political stability of the east Africa region and at the moment of writing this, sitting up to my eye balls in articles, journals and research papers about Tanzania’s education system. Bryson never had to worry about the affects of sunlight in downtown Manhattan, and nobody has ever worried about separatists kicking up fuss on Magaluf.

As the title of the blog suggests, this is an ‘idiots’ guide to Afrika (I was not aware of my misspelling of the continents name, proving the ‘idiot’ point from the outset), so whilst attempting to offer hostel reviews and high-brow cultural insight, this blog should in no way be used as a guide for anyone who actually wants to travel to the ‘dark continent’, as I am more likely to comment on the quality of Tanzanian McDonalds, the strength of their beer and the availability of their dirty mags than anything particularly useful.

Whilst we aren’t exactly fishing off the coast of Somalia, or diamond hunting with Naomi Campbell in Sierra Leone, Africa is Africa and I hope that our experiences firstly in Zanzibar and the eastern Tanzanian coast, and later on teaching and working in (to quote an overused clich├ęd phrase) ‘the foothills of Kilamnajaro,’ will provide us with enough experiences and inspiration to keep writing for the five month duration of our expedition. (Note, not holiday.)

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