Observing Life: Tracking tourists

While the furry creatures of the Serengeti were no doubt the most interesting sights of the safari ... I began to realise that the humble tourist is almost as fascinating.

Just recently I returned from a short safari adventure in Tanzania. I've always believed such holidays to be the ultimate trip for tired, middle-aged couples; the sort who would then return home with 50,000 photos of the same elephant with which any poor soul who crosses their path must be subjected to, with a detailed description of each. "Look, in this one he has his trunk up, while in this one - go on, look - it's down." I've been that victim. They're dead now.

Anyway, despite my initial misgivings, the trip was pretty spectacular. There were more elephants, leopards, lions, cheetahs, lions chasing cheetahs, hippos, buffaloes, zebras, baboons and giraffes than I care to mention. There was even the odd hyena. You name it (so long as it's not the rhino - endangered fool), I saw it. And yes, there are around 50,000 mainly rubbish photos ready to bore you senseless with.

But while the furry creatures of the Serengeti were no doubt the most interesting sights of the safari, after about a day I began to realise that the humble tourist is almost as fascinating to observe. Just to make myself clear, I am not excluding myself from this category - I was most definitely a tourist. It soon became apparent, however, that I was among the few who acknowledged this fact.

By the look of the shiny, new, expensive safari outfits most folk were clad head-to-toe in, it seemed that many of my fellow holidaymakers thought of themselves more as David Livingstone types, hacking through the wild and in constant threat of sharp-toothed predators, rather than someone sat in the back of a 4x4 being driven around by a trained tour guide.

When it came to taking those all-important photos, the tourists' behaviour was another curious sight to witness. There are some 300 safari companies offering trips around Tanzania's national parks, and the Serengeti is rather heavy with Land Cruisers. Yet inspect most snaps and you'd probably believe the photographer was the only person there, with almost everyone striving to take a picture that cut out any hint of fellow human presence.

Given that most visitors are there to catch a glimpse of the same animals, it became amusing to see the looks of annoyance on people's faces when their vehicle was joined by that of another group wanting to see the same snoozing lion.

I know these tourist observations aren't solely restricted to East Africa. Across the world, there are countless opportunities to be captivated by the pack-like mentality of sightseers. From the baggy-trousered Paulo Coelho-reading backpackers in Kerala, upset that they're not the only ones doing yoga on the beach, to the paunchy, leather-faced jet-setters strutting round the Mediterranean looking like they're Captain Birdseye, the world is a kaleidoscopic landscape of peculiar holidaymakers.

I really think it's about time a travel agency set up a dedicated package tour to see these migrating curiosities. I know I'd go. Just let me buy another memory card for my camera.

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Published: August 21, 2012 04:00 AM


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