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The Experiential Traveller in Kodiak and Borneo (pt 1)

19 Jul 2013

Are you an Experiential Traveller, or would you like to be?

The Experiential Traveller in Kodiak and Borneo



In the last newsletter I proposed the idea of creating a ‘bespoke travel experience on a budget', by using film fixers instead of boutique travel agents.  But there are also many people who love travelling to exotic locations for whom budget isn’t the principle consideration. 

For me, the most interesting of the well-to-do travellers are the group sometimes labelled ‘experiential’ travellers.  What is an experiential traveller?  Simply, someone who seeks a more enriching experience on their holiday, by engaging more deeply with the local culture.  In so doing they create enduring memories, and even relationships, because they are fortunate enough to be able to afford to go the 'extra yard' to achieve their goals.

These are people who abhor being shuffled on and off boats and buses to see the same sights, and eat in the same restaurants, as the ostensibly identical group who moved through the same quaint little village just yesterday.  They may even fantasise about the golden age of travel when tourists could arrive in remote villages under their own steam to be met with surprise and curiosity, rather than a child trying to push trinkets on them, or drag them into the family's restaurant; a time when it was possible to happen onto a cultural event, like a community dance or street party, and be certain is wasn’t arranged for your entertainment by the tour operator.  Now, I know it’s still possible to find such places in the world, but they are increasingly rare; and they are very unlikely to happen in the company of a tour operator, no matter how boutique.  

No doubt there's a degree of snobbery that accompanies the term 'experiential', as it's used by high-end travel agents to lure clients with the promise of something different, although I have to say I do admire travellers who can afford a trip on the QE2, but who choose instead a two-day trek to a hill tribe, or a week in a log cabin tracking bears (more on that later).


A chance encounter with Independence Day Celebrations in Southern Madagascar.


A quick anecdote:  In 2006 I was on a recce trip in search of a location for a film, and found myself in a village called La Merced, deep in the Cordillera Negra in a remote pocket of Peru.  The valley in which the village is located is only about 50 kms, as the crow flies, from the spectacular Huascaran – an international climbing Mecca and once the site of one of the World's worst recorded avalanches - but when we rolled down the narrow bumpy track into beautiful La Merced, perched as it is on the side of a steep valley wall, we were told that no one could remember a gringo coming to the village before.  I was gob-smacked.  Could it be true, in a world were you can get to most anywhere in 24 hours, that no non-Latino had made the trip over the mountains in living memory?  And we were told this over and over.  Irrespective, it was clear that they were not accustomed to 'outsiders'.  There was no cynicism, no mistrust.  Simply everyone we met was affable and gregarious. No advertising signage, no mobile phone reception.  Just a collection of one hundred year old adobe buildings around a town square dominated by a Catholic church.  Unfortunately, between the recce trip and our return a month later for filming, the enthusiastic mayor of the village ordered all the buildings be painted, thereby robbing the village of some of its crumbling charm, but that's another story.


A Catholic religious festival in the Peruvian Highlands