In 1797 Andre-Jacques Garnerin strapped a large bedsheet to a basket with a balloon to elevate it to the desired height, cut the cord and returned jolting to earth. He officially invented skydiving and even got a google doodle for it. In 1919 Lesie Irvin developed his own basketless parachute for his job in the Californian film industry, which was such a success that it kicked off The Irving Air Chutes Company. IACC’s parachutes saved over 10000 lives during WW2. It’s pretty amazing how far back skydiving goes in history (check out Da Vinci’s parachute) and beginnings may have been humble, but where it’s come from since is just as amazing.
6 months ago we thought it was all base-jumpers and ex-army tandem masters taking backpacker thrill seekers for a quick plane ride and plummet, but it turns out there is so much more fun to have in the sky than we could ever have imagined. We’ve met stuntmen with wingsuits honing their flying styles for the next red bull ad, or fun jumpers that fly at night, enjoying the stars, twinkling city lights and amazing views at full moon. Apart from the standard tummy-down banana positioning, with a little experience and training you can move around in the sky a lot more than just straight down. Freefliers can often be seen practicing standing or sitting in freefall, or laying on their backs, or hanging upside down. Check out camera flier Helmi in the Byron video. You can take freefall to the extreme and fly ‘style’, which is basically freefall’s sprinting equivalent. Build up maximum speed, complete a pre-arranged set of manoeuvres in the fasted time possible (6 seconds for world champions) and get evaluated by high-speed camera which gives you points on hundredth of a second intervals.
Another discipline presented at the World Freestyle Competitions is angle flying, which is what Vance (white & yellow), Slatey, (black, blue & yellow) Travis (black) & Jonesey (grey & turquoise) are up to in the shot above. The idea is to fly in formation at the same level and angle as your mates in preparation for three-dimensional flight formations or acrobatic freeflying. Apart from base jumping (we’ll get to that, don’t worry!), formation flying (also known as ‘relative work’ or RV) is probably the most recognizable solo skydiving skill. From groups of 2 to 4 or 44 (known as a 2-way, 4-way, 44-way etc) to a record breaking 400 linked people in freefall above Thailand in 2006, hanging on to your mates in artistic ways at 200km/h needs a lot of practice, planning and coordination but is also breathtaking to behold. Cross country parachuting does what cross country skiing does, but with no skis. Jump out of the plane, open our chute straight away and get as far away from the exit point as you can to win the competition. Accuracy work is quite the opposite, because it doesn’t matter how far you fly as the objective is to land on a target with 2cm diameter and electronic sensors that measure your 1cm increments away from the centre target and award points accordingly.
Canopy piloting or swooping is usually done above a pond, where courses are set up with entry gates that parachutists need to pass through at a very shallow maximum height (sometimes measured by requiring a contestant to trail a foot through the surface of the pond during flight, creating a mini-wake with the tip of the shoe). The course needs to be navigated without being too high or so low you fall in the pond, and competitions run for the three skills of speed (measured at the beginning and end), distance (how far you get after completing the course) and accuracy (how accurate you can land on a target after the course).
Yeah, this all sounds awesome for you mere mortals, but we wanna pull out the big guns. The moment you’ve all been waiting for: Base Jumping. For those of you who think Base Jumping is filming yourself on your gopro crushing your legs after jumping off a cliff to get 10000 hits on youtube to Awolnation’s “Sail”, yeah… we can’t really say you’re wrong. But there are many successful professional base jumpers alive and what goes into it (especially to avoid getting hurt) is pretty fascinating. Base jumping is indeed one of the more radical and dangerous disciplines in parachuting, especially as you don’t exit from a plane with plenty of time to open your chute. Typically, you’ll hurl yourself off four kinds of elevated structures: buildings, antenae, spans (aka beams or bridges) and the earth itself (aka a cliff). Has the name-penny dropped? A huge amount of planning and calculations goes into base jumping as working out how long you need to fall for to gain enough speed for your chute to open but not hit the ground beforehand is rather complex once you take thermals and other environmental factors into account.
If you want to look super-cool but don’t quite have the nerve to let milliseconds decide your fate, you can always skysurf, which basically entails jumping out of a plane with a modified snowboard. In fact, if you are over a very large unpopulated area, you can organize a stuff jump. Take all sorts of stuff on your jump with you. Rubber rafts are popular as you can pose sitting in them (lolz), but bikes, motorcycles, vacuum cleaners, water tanks and inflatable T-Rexes have all been thrown out of the back of aircraft. Honestly, google it, it’s hilarious. Skydivers carefully track away from stuff before opening chutes, and make sure that what you’re taking isn’t incredibly important as it will probably disintegrate as it smashes into the ground at terminal velocity whilst you still sail high above it. All this is a huge amount of fun, if you’re inspired you can easily learn how to solo jump completing a week-long AFF course. If you want to go professional, tandem or camera flying is incredibly rewarding, but we’ll give you a lowdown in a separate post. So don’t think it ends with your first jump, there’s a whole sky out there to explore.
We wonder if the humble whale shark knows he’s the pinnacle of nature-related facebook selfies. Humans get a kick out of going whale, dolphin and turtle spotting, but is it that one-sided? Who’s to say that dolphins don’t get together one morning and say, “hey, wanna swim up the East Ridge and find some human-boats to go check out? I saw a really fat/ginger/loud male the other day lean so far over the railing, it nearly fell in. It was hilarious!”
As part of our recent project for STA Travel and Tourism Western Australia, we drove up the continent’s West Coast from Perth to Broome, marvelling at the many unique and stunning features of this part of the world. You can read a full lowdown in our blog post on STA Travel’s website, but we were so blown away by two of the experiences, we couldn’t help but delve further into telling you all about it. One was Karijini National Park, and the other involved some serious getting our snorkel on.
Being in the presence of the world’s biggest fish it so jaw-droppingly amazing that you’re going to have to slam it on your bucket list instead of bungee jumping. No trips planned for the near future? Don’t fret, as the crazy facts that surround this giant blue spotted grazer are pretty damn amazing too. So get ready to have a little taster of the whale sharks awesomeness right here, right now sat staring at your laptop in dreary Clapham.
1) Whale sharks are the kings and queens of mystery
Despite being the largest fish in the ocean, they’re pretty elusive. No one knows how many exist, little is known about their social behaviour and body stats differ from post to post. Nevertheless, most agree that there is good reason to believe that sizes and weight aren’t the biggest and heaviest we’ve seen yet. As they’re pretty harmless, whale sharks tactic when faced with a threat is to dive (more than 1km deep), which is why we had to painfully constrain ourselves from free diving in WA so as to not lose the whale shark and p*ss everyone else on the boat off. If you’ve seen pics of people swimming underwater (as opposed to on the surface) with a whale shark, they were probably taken in South East Asia, which has less stringent animal protection regulations.
2) Just in case you’re confused
Whale sharks aren’t whales but sharks. You probably already knew that, but want to know a nifty way of telling why? Sharks breathe through gills, and their tail fin is upright (vertical) as they swim straight through the water, moving their bodies from side to side to keep moving. Whale sharks come to the surface for food, not air. Whales, on the other hand, are mammals evolved from land creatures and thus have a very different anatomical blueprint (for one, mammaly bones in stead of sharky cartilage). Their tail fins have evolved in the horizontal plane, which is also handy for swimming up for air and down for food, fun and other whale-related shenanigans. Ta-daaa, pub quiz won.
3) Dinner time is more epic than YouTube
To feed a body length of up to 12 metres (possibly even bigger) weighing 15000kg (that’s 15 tonnes) you’re gonna have to stuff a lot of food down your pie-hole. Whale sharks feed on plankton (very deceptive), which you also might have known already. Studies of a 6m juvenile shark off Yukatan show that he ate for about 8 hours a day, filtering 600 cubic meters of seawater per hour for 2.8kg of food, which equates to 21kg of yummy plankton goodness every day. Whale sharks are so fond of plankton, that they’ve managed to figure out exactly when and where fish and coral are spawning on a global scale, and move around the oceans accordingly. Just imagine the family food budget. Which brings us to…
4) No one’s figured out their birds and bees story yet
If you’re a young, frisky whale shark who’s got a bit of spare time on your hands/fins, you’re gonna have to start a stamp collection, cause as of yet, there isn’t any whale shark porn. Not that the species are particularly prude, but no one has managed to find out where, when and how they mate. BUT, in 1997 scientists found female sharks carrying more than 300 pups that are born live at different times. Whale sharks only reach frisky maturity in their 30s but living up to 100 years old means lots of babies to fight about Haribo in the checkout queue with.
5) If you want to find a specific whale shark on tinder…
… all you need to do is take a photo of its spots, and send it to these dudes who’ll tell you all about it. If you’ve found a brand new one they haven’t got on file yet, you can name it!
Despite the fact we only had a combined 10 minutes bobbing around the surface in small groups whilst Mr/Mrs (we couldn’t dive to find out) Whale Shark swam by indifferently, being in the presence of this magnificent and stunningly beautiful fish was incredible. There are several places worldwide that offer snorkelling tours when it’s the right season for spotting them, and we can’t recommend it enough.
Had your mind blown by being in the presence of a wild creature? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll be sure to add it to our list! And whilst you’re on the internet, check out our Western Australia Film!
You can build a tennis court just about anywhere on the planet. When you finished reading this, you could probably be swatting at fuzzy green balls within a 10-minute drive from where you’re sitting right now. But you can’t build a surf break just any old place. And therein lies one of surfing’s greatest beauties. You see, even if you’re a first timer just wanting to experience surfing as something new (because you live in Dusseldorf *insert your landlocked hometown here*), you’ll need to travel even just to find out if you like surfing at all. There are some people who are lucky enough to live right on the coast. But even then, while tennis courts are the same shape and dimensions the world over, because of the raw natural features that need to come together to form waves, no two surf breaks are quite the same. Yep – if you’re gonna surf, chances are you’re gonna travel for it.
For instance, there’s a wave in Oaxaca state, Mexico, that’s so beautiful, so powerful and so improbably perfect that you have to stand there with your toes in the sand facing the mighty Pacific Ocean to believe it. Puerto Escondido is the town. Zicatela is the beach. The local drink is Mezcal (a tequila’s tangy cousin) and tuna practically leap into fishing boats, making the fresh and spicy fish tacos the greatest on the planet. Go there to surf ‘Puerto’ and you’ll probably be tempted to check out other breaks a little further up the coast. You’ll see deserts of cacti, mountains jacketed in jungle and townships of splendour, and you wont help but fall in love with the people, geography and liveliness that is Mexico.
Meanwhile, across the planet, there’s a cave on a tropical island that opens out to the Indian Ocean. You need to descend a cliff face, clutching your surfboard, to get to it. Once you’re in, you need to battle out through the swells and current to reach what is possibly the greatest left hand reef surf set-up the world has known. Welcome to the infamous Uluwatu, on Bali, Indonesia. Yeah, for sure it’s super-famous these days, but that’s the point. As a surfer, wherever you are in the world, you’ve heard the tales and you want to see it – to surf it – for yourself. On your way there, you’ll pass an enormous temple on the cliff face. Balinese will be worshiping the gods of the sea to keep themselves and their visitors safe. You’ll hear whispered superstitions – don’t wear green while surfing! It’s the sea goddess’ favourite colour, and if she spots it on you, she might just take you with her…
Everywhere you turn on Bali you’ll see statues of the fearsome and beautiful gods. People burn incense, offer food and hold processions in their honour – on mountains, on beaches and in the streets. This is the Island of the Gods, after all. Go there to surf ‘Ulus’ and explore further across Bali and the islands beyond. Don’t freak out, but you’ll get swept up by the intoxicating culture and wont come back the same…
The great deserts of North Africa empty their rasping sands into the sea, while somewhere in the frozen North Atlantic; hellish storms send massive oceanic swells thousands of miles to meet them. Go for a dawn surf at Taghazout’s cranking right hand point break and you’ll be paddling out to the soundtrack of the haunting call to prayer, blasted from tinny speakers at the top of evocatively shaped spires. Surf all day because it’s always offshore and break the fast (if you’re there at Ramadan) with the locals under a blood-red desert sunset. That evening, smash down a hearty goat tagine (traditional clay hotpot) and savour desert air flavoured with heady Moroccan spices. And hash, if you’re that way inclined.
Hit all three of these surf spots and you’ve just travelled the earth and seen some incredibly diverse places and cultures. You might even be able to have a quick chat in Spanish, Bahasa or Arabic these days. And the most thrilling part? Well there are thousands more incredible experiences out there in almost all the countries that fringe our planet’s oceans. One of the purest and most wondrous pleasures of surfing – for your Rat & Dragon crew – is looking back at the shore from the lineup and seeing a new and exotic skyline across the water that you could never have imagined. Is it Brazilian rainforest mountains as you surf Ilha Grande? Are there onion-dome mosque roofs and pointy minarets as in Morroco? Castles on the cliff-faces in northern Spain? Swaying coconut tree crowns in the Philipines? The bright lights of Sydney off Bondi Beach? The multi pointed pagodas off Bali?
Don’t get us wrong. We don’t have anything against tennis (or Dusseldorf) but a dedication to surfing – even just trying it in the first place – comes with a taste of the whole lifestyle it’s wrapped up in. The desire to surf provides the initial impetus, but what happens along the way is nothing short of high adventure. Surfing may be the drug, but travel, worldly knowledge and adventure are the side effects. It’s a sport that comes with a lot of baggage. You should get yours packed soon. And when you do, tell us what the skyline looks like from your next surf.
Kindergarten, Primary School, pass the tests and get into a good Grammer School. Study hard. Don’t be too much of a teenager, this is the rest of your life you have in your own hands right now. Don’t mess it up. Go live abroad for a year with a previously unknown family. Social, cultural, educational uprooting to grow more roots and expand as a person. Apply to uni. Work your butt off to get the grades you need to have a chance at being accepted at the unit at top of your list. Move to another different country; learn a whole new education system whilst studying three different subjects at the same time. Move abroad again to grow even more social and intellectual roots by pulling yourself out of everything you know. Learn another language, culture, get a whole new set of friends, family, authoritarian figures, work colleagues and surf mates. And a final chance to make your degree count by working your ass off again to get the best possible grade you could attain. This is your future life you’re defining.
Get a proper job in a real company that pays you via bank transfer, so you know that it’s serious. Spend the longest hours in a windowless post-production office; constantly up against first priority deadlines so you never even get to second priority stuff. Work your ass of so your volatile boss doesn’t fire you. This job is awesome and you’re so lucky to have it. Work through another weekend. Decide to switch into a different field. Work with international clients, across all timezones. Follow your dream or miss out in life. Start up your own company. And you know what they say about that. You’re never off work if your company is you and you are your own boss and drill sergeant.
And the driving force in this whole shebang? Roughly 150g of grey jelly. It sounds like a bit of a marathon, this thing called modern life, especially if you’re from a first world country, go through a standard education system, manage to get into higher education and get an office based job to kickstart your office career that will determine the rest of your life. This is by no means a rant, but an appreciation of how much that little lump of grey jelly is capable of. Because, apart from the practicalities of every day life, everything above, everything so many people go through in one way or another, can be achieved whilst living a wheelchair bound life. Focus is so much on cerebral work, where the body becomes a vessel for the brain, and our surroundings are adapted so much for this vessel to be able to transport the brain around without having to deal with things itself. Climate controlled commuting and shopping, takeaway lunches and dinners so you don’t even need to stretch your legs but can eat at your desk, head still buried further in your computer. God forbid you’d get dirt under your fingernails (those most primal tools nature invented for us). If it weren’t for the craze of going to the gym (again a very controlled environment), you would get so lost in your thoughts that you’d never even contemplate giving your body something to do.
Recent events however have taken me straight out of my brain-focussed world. My first year’s visa in Australia had been taken up by so much travel and work abroad that I felt I’d hardly seen the day-to-day Oz I had come here to explore, so it was time to find a way to extend. And Australia has a rather unique solution for all sorts of issues. If you want to extend your working holiday visa, you can’t just pay. You have to give the country something it has a real shortage of: for 88 days, you have to fill the gaps in the workforce that are hard to fill. And don’t’ be fooled into thinking it’s cleaning toilets in the big city. For the options that living in the big city offers, there are enough people willing to clean already. You have to work in a rural area, away from the big lights, and in an field that’s most in need of manpower: agriculture, landscaping, construction and mining.
“That’s a disgrace” I hear all you cerebral workers shout out. “My Timmy shouldn’t be forced to get his kneed scraped up in some iron ore pit.” “My Emily will ruin her beautiful English complexion picking pineapples in the Ozone hole death ray zone that is the Australian summer.” Well, whilst you might be right, Timmy probably got those scrapes when he fell of the back of a scooter in Koh Tao after a hefty day of buckets. And as for Emily, she’s been tanning ever since she entered an area of Oz that was above 15 °C. And in a way, it’s one of the fairest systems around, as not money but dedication to a non-glamorous task dictates who gets to stay. In comparison to other countries that don’t allow you to stay longer, in Oz, if you really want it, you have the option to make it happen.
Not saying it’s by any means easy. Days are long and physical work is hard, and often tedious and mind-numbingly boring. You’re far from everyone else, from anything to do and anywhere to go. This does mean though that you save money like a champion and for once in your otherwise over-stimulated life have the time to bond with the other unfortunate backpackers around you. This can go well or not so well, depending on the group you’re with, but many a good friendship has grown over bonding in the face of adversity. Exploitation of inexperienced, young workers has also been a feature in recent news, but the government is taking steps to make sure people get paid by recently outlawing work on a volunteer basis. There are bad eggs, no doubt, but that doesn’t discount the basic logic behind the scheme.
One thing that working for your 2nd year working holiday visa does without a doubt is make you do things and live places you would usually never dream of doing or living in. It forces you out of your comfort zone, out of your idea of what’s a minimum acceptable living standard for yourself. “What? You want me to stick my hand up that cow’s butt?” “Yes, cause otherwise it will get sick and might die.” No more worries about breaking a fingernail as I carry around thick planks of freshly chain sawed wood to make some benches for the river camp. Swapping mum & dad’s gentrified suburbia to live in a converted shipping container in the outback is suddenly not as bad as it sounded. You can even have a bath in the bathtub under the stars, so long as you hand fill it with water from the fire. And all the splinters and blisters were worth learning how to drive the 4×4 troop carrier off-road through sand sinkholes without getting stuck. Why didn’t I drive on the road? Cause we had to shovel out the gravel to build it first. Where else in my previously purely cerebral life would I have had the change to scale a tipi, chop down a tree, build a shed in a swamp, learn some basic joining and rusty engine mechanics, dig out trenches and appreciate the work that goes into shovelling 500kg of gravel in the Ozone hole death ray zone that is Red Rock in February.
Working in construction certainly made me appreciate my own brother’s endurance as a trained carpenter, and how we have lived side by side for nearly our entire life, but have never really had the chance to step into each others professional shoes for a while. And as from my friends who did farming, despite all the boredom, they have the best stories to tell of that one day they rescued a calf from a ravine or stayed up all night helping one of the camp’s sheep have lambs or proudly worked out how to pick blueberries around the huge red back spider webs without getting hospitalized.
Working for your second year visa is a pain in the ass, but it is also a unique opportunity to really step out of your comfort zone and do something you’d otherwise never chose to do, or have the chance to do. To learn to appreciate the work that goes into often undervalued non-cerebral work, and re-connect with how the vast majority of the human race lived every day before big cities and offices started sprouting up everywhere. And who knows, I’m tempted to head back for another stint after our next assignment. I’ve found that physically building something brings its own satisfaction, and I plan to build this into my previously cerebral-heavy life, to give my legs a stretch and clear my head more often.
Don’t be a pussy. You might be really missing out, you know. As we’ve journeyed across the world and delved deep into the local culture, we’ve encountered all sorts of incredible foods we previously didn’t even know could be eaten at all. And when it comes to seafood, we’ve discovered that people generally fall into one of four main schools of thought, and that these are often interestingly divided along geographical lines. Which one do you swim in?
- “I don’t eat fish.”
Not counting people genuinely (and tragically) allergic to seafood, what you really mean is “I’m scared of anything that has evolved to live in the substance that covers 70% of the earth’s surface and, in fact, makes up about that much of my own body too. Never mind oysters – you’re probably just not the adventurous type when it comes to food at all. And you’re really missing out.
- “I only eat white fish. As long as it’s not too fishy.”
Um, ok… Let’s just for a moment ignore the fact that fish is, by definition, fishy. You probably don’t mind fish and chips, but don’t venture much beyond this. Scared about the bones, maybe? It’s a pity, because there’s some wonderful stuff out there that is too small to fillet, or of a shape, size and texture not conducive to being sliced into perfect, white rectangles. And some of it might just blow your mind if you can bring yourself to live a little and try it…
- “I love seafood (but only the expensive stuff)”
You probably quite like the taste of a variety of seafood. I mean, a fish fillet with a nice sauce from that fashionable new celeb chef café/bistro and, while it might creep you out a little bit, certainly lobster too, right? You might even go for oysters and prawns too. Salty, creamy, fishy and 100% delish, of course. But hang on… You’re not big on sardines or smoked kippers. Octopus? Nah. And would you really attempt a two-dollar tilapia from a Thai street vendor (even if it was grilled whole to perfection with tantalising spices)? Wait a moment… you don’t really like seafood at all, do you..? Oh dear, you’re just suffering through the caviar for the prestige… You’re not a seafood snob, are you?
- “If it stays still long enough, I’ll eat it, especially if it has tentacles or spikes and even if it looks like snot, a tongue, or genitals. And sometimes, even if it’s not still at all but splashing, swimming, wriggling or squirming, it’s still dinner!”
You really have to go to Japan. Oh, wait – you’re from Japan, of course.
So you’ve probably realised by now that we’re being a bit silly. Palates are as diverse as the people on planet Earth and we’re not two to judge. We do, however, love our seafood and we’ve encountered an astounding variety of it on our travels. From the hugest of yellow-fin tuna caught that morning and displayed hanging from a tree by the side of the road in Kupang, Indonesia, to the tiniest, snail-like winkles expertly plucked from the mangroves by our indigenous guide in far north Queensland, Australia, to creamy caviar in deepest Siberia to the highly poisonous, but inexplicably popular fugu (or puffer fish) in Niigata, Japan.
All of it has been thrilling to taste and funnily enough, most of it has been delicious. The mangrove winkles were sweet, salty and succulent (pick the black ones with the white rims, by the way. The brown/olive ones are a bit bitter). Raw puffer fish is delicate and subtle. And we would never have known without having been there on the street in Kupang or ducking our heads into a sushi restaurant in Tokyo or squelching our toes in the mud in far north Queensland.
We came, we saw, we tasted, and we discovered something new, something delightful – new experiences to be savoured, and some new favourite flavours that we know to seek out next time. So don’t be scared. Even if it looks entirely unlike any food (or creature) you’ve ever seen before, as long as it’s a local’s thing (and it’s sanitary of course), give it a try. Don’t let your preconceptions stop you from your new adventures. You might be wonderfully surprised by what the world has on it’s dinner plate. After all, that’s the very quintessence of travel, boiled down like a lobster bisque. Drink it all in and let us know what seafood you discover.
6:30 pm. The hostel kitchen is teaming with 18-34 year olds in city print singlets and elephant pants. You’ve scored the only clean-ish chopping board in the place and are waiting patiently for a free hob ring whilst an overenthusiastic Berliner called Timo tells his new dorm mate off for attempting to put olive oil in their 5 person spaghetti pot. Your gas ring becomes available just as the quiet vegan girl in the corner drops her knife narrowly missing emo-dude’s pasty bare toes.
Half an hour later you emerge from what resembles the Titanic’s engine room with your one-pot dinner of spaghetti bolognese to try and find somewhere to sit on the cramped balcony at dinnertime. A minivan load of Swedes has taken over the back benches, saying the word ‘faaaaaahn’ a lot. Someone is arm wrestling a dude for his skateboard on the next table but at the far left there is what looks like a nice group who seem approachable and not likely to break out into a spontaneous food fight any time soon. “Hi guys, can I sit here?” are your first words. “Sure thing!” *munch munch munch*… *slightly awkward smiles*… “What’s your name?”… *(how do you spell that, I’m sorry I’ve already forgotten your name)*… “Where are you guys from?”…
DOOM. You have just entered the dreaded Groundhog-Day zone of backpacker small talk. Every day, every night, you meet countless new faces, some more, some less eager to meet new people but everyone open and interested in their surroundings and exploring new things. Yet, like some weird joke, even this most open-minded subculture can’t seem to get beyond the simplest of conversation topics. Where are you from, cause I’m no way gonna remember your name. I meet dozens of people every day, who often disappear just as fast as they came into my life, so names don’t mean much as they’re not descriptive and I don’t know how to pronounce half of them. I’ll just call you Denmark. Not much point asking what you do at home, cause you’re most likely a student or unemployed, or you’re on holiday and want to forget about your life at home for a bit. And finally, what’s your route, so I can ask you for tips and most importantly give you tips (whether you want them or not) and talk about myself and the places I’ve been (that will definitely have been way cooler when I went than when you’re planning to go.).
Hang on a second. Weren’t we so fed up with meeting people at social gatherings back home and only being able to talk about what we did for work and whether we have a mortgage yet and how it compares to renting, that we wanted to escape to the global adventure that is backpacking? Why do we find ourselves, on the other side of the planet, in a bastardized version of the same conversation? It is true that it’s hard to start up deep and meaningful relationships with people who we’ll only ever meet for a couple of hours in our lives. It’s also true that travelling is tiring, sharing space can be exhausting and sometimes we just can’t be bothered to make an effort to even keep quiet despite the awkwardness whilst sharing a table.
We’ve been doing this for such a long time though that we’re bored of it too, but more importantly have had some really surprising conversations with people that simply came out of twisting the starting topic ever so slightly. As these conversations were some of the most cherished travel moments we have, we brainstormed and want to share some inspiration with you, dear readers, so you can reach beyond standard travel talk and really find out about people and places. Next time you’re at a table, start some conversations based on these premises.
- Leapfrog expected answers. If someone asks you if you’ve been to Latin America, don’t say ‘yes, it was great’. Say ‘apparently, in Peru, they eat raw Llama. That is if Llamas aren’t just made up animals, like drop bears’.
- You’re setting up a new government for this revolution-torn place (especially good topic for politically unstable destinations like East Timor). What expertise can everyone at the table bring to your political party? What people studied is a good starting point, but other skills are desperately needed. Chief Llama wrangler is only one of the positions to be filled.
- You’re an undercover high-flying Hollywood director who’s shooting his new movie starring Johnny Depp and everyone at the table. What’s the story, what characters are they going to be cast as and if they’re camera shy, what roles on set are they responsible/irresponsible enough to fill. Who will be chief assistant to Mr Depp’s hair artist, who’s bulky enough to be promoted to key grip and who’s looking after all the friggin Llamas.
- Tell two truths and a lie about yourself. My name is Brunthilde, I have 5 cats and my grandmother flew around Europe in a Llama shaped hot air balloon. Have everyone guess which is the lie. Don’t cheat, don’t be boring. Take turns.
- The table is a Zoo. Which animal would everyone be and why? Who picks the Llama first.
- You’re in the Big Brother house. Identify all the different teams at the other tables, what their gameplan is and how you as a group are going to win anyway. The Swedes plan to kill everyone in their sleep so you need someone to take shifts staying up. Do so in the least suspicious way possible, the Llama at the corner table may already be on to you. Be provocative. Absurdity is underrated.
- It you’re lazy, get this page on your phone and follow the instructions. No Llamas needed for this one.
Congratulations, by now you’re probably the hero of the table by having turned the conversation round. And it doesn’t stop there. What is your new president going to do as his or her first action in office? Re-naming cities, joining Eurovision or have a big gold statue of themselves erected? Go crazy, you’re all in safe hands. And that’s how you really get to know people.