- By one who knows!

 

We - the Anglophone China 2002 group - used to have a little joke when someone used the "H" word. Holiday? This a Holiday?!. That was in the days when life on the expedition was merely hectic, when the itinerary only required 300kms a day and the obligatory visit to a temple.

And then came Tibet. I'll spare you the details: read the other web pages. But the words mud, ruts, fords, holes, precipices, road-building spring to mind. Holiday? This a Holiday?! became a joke rarely used. Instead we would speak knowingly of the stress induced by unmentionable roads, and I write this because I don't want any who follow in our footsteps to be under any illusions.

I also observe that, although Tibet was very hard, difficulties became evident from the point at which we entered China. Prior to this, we had an astonishingly good rapport in the Anglophone group and a sense of ease that we lost very quickly when we crossed the border. Some of the many factors that came together in Tibet were already there once we disembarked from the good ship Motorcaravanning Freedom.

Of course, what follows is a personal view and the analysis is rough and ready, not socio-scientific nor psycho-logical. But I believe it may contain some truth.

What does this look like?

 

It shows itself in at least four ways:

  • Disagreements and arguments within the group.
  • Disagreements and arguments between partners in a van.
  • Blaming behaviour.
  • Tears.

At one point (when we were defeated by Tibetan route 318), a French traveller who shall remain nameless wrote home "Les femmes craquent" ["The women are reaching breaking point"]. I remember that moment well as three of our travellers walked up the hill with arms round each other's shoulders, all in tears. And it hasn't just been the women. On at least four occasions, I too blubbed.

Where does the come from?

 

From many directions:

  • Travelling together - and there are three dimensions to this …travelling together in a group, travelling with a partner, and travelling with those from a different language group.
  • Complete dependence on an often unreliable vehicle.
  • Agents and guides who not only fail to deliver the goods, but are a liability.
  • An over-demanding schedule, and a very long journey.

  • Official requirements (visas, permissions, licences etc.).
  • The natural environment (heat, cold, dust etc.).
  • The political environment (the hostile international situation in particular.).
  • Worries about family and friends back home.
  • Thefts and losses.
  • A feeling that, from some quarters at least - the agents, the guides, the British embassies that we would get neither help nor support and so were on our own.
  • Irritating features of the local culture.

I separate the first four of these because, in my view, they are the killer causes.

How can you avoid ?

 

You can't on an expedition like China 2002, but you may be able to minimize it. Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Choose the right vehicle, prepare it well, and prepare well for mechanical faults and breakdowns. Give yourself lots of time to do this, make sure you have a wide range of spare parts, double-check that the spares you carry are the right ones for your vehicle (consider fitting your spares before you start and taking the old parts as spares) and establish a home-based back-up team.
  2. Limit the length of your trip and adopt a realistic schedule. Consider how you will deal with the unexpected and make contingency plans. This should include some alternative routes/timings.
  3. Choose the right agents and the right guides. Make sure the contract includes a commitment on their part to everything you require, even the obvious. Invest as much time as you can to get this right.
  4. Ensure you have the best possible intelligence. Keep adding to it through the journey, not least in respect of road conditions.
  5. Discuss with your travelling partners how you will manage your lives together and agree a plan. Constantly communicate with each other to ensure the plan does not become a straitjacket. Be aware that, on specific issues, democracy can be experienced as dictatorship by those in the minority, and on a long journey, be ready to adopt temporary arrangements to give some relief.
  6. Learn to hang loose in foreign environments and expect - you might even try to embrace - the unpleasant and the unexpected.

This may all seem a bit bleak so I trust it will be read in conjunction with all the amazing and happy stuff you'll find on our web site.

And I conclude on a positive note. In the context of this particular expedition, I believe that relationships could not have been much better than they were, and the level of mutual support was very high indeed. The instances of real comradeship far outnumbered those of tension.

Les Brook. with thanks to Clive and Carl for their contributions.

Home - This page last changed on 2003-02-06.