Thursday, February 14, 2008

The tourist trap

Sarah Island

A few people wanted to know more about my Annoying Tourist Encounters (ATE) in Tasmania.

Annoying tourists are of course not confined to Tasmania. I'm sure they are world-wide. I like to draw a distinction between Travellers, Stupid Tourists and Annoying Tourists.

These tourists travel with curiosity and tact. They tread lightly, take their rubbish with them or at least throw it in a bin, and they are mindful of both the environment they inhabit and the other tourists traveling alongside them. Not content with what they're told to visit, they will actively seek out additional places to visit and pass tips on to fellow tourists. Conversations with fellow tourists can be both entertaining and informative. Sometimes friendships are sparked that can last for anything from just the holiday to a lifetime.

Stupid Tourists
These are your general, run-of-the-mill tourists. They pass through and visit each tourist attraction at least once and spend most of their time there taking endless photos or videos, presumably to defer thinking about what they're looking at until they are sitting back at home on the couch. Often litter-droppers, they worry about not finding enough entertainment. Mostly harmless, conversations with them can be entertaining. They tend to travel either in packs or in odd combinations of generations.

Annoying Tourists
There is at least one of these in every tour group. They will talk over the top of the tour guide and then ask for things to be repeated. When given specific instructions they will do the complete opposite, especially if it involves safety. They are the ones who get lost because they ignored directions, and the ones the boat/bus/group waits for as they lose track of time, even though the hooter/horn/call has gone out.

Hell's Gates

Of course, these are gross generalisations, but I defy anyone to deny they've met any of these three types on holiday. I met a couple of travellers, lots of stupid tourists and just enough Annoying Tourists to keep the holiday entertaining. I'll give you some concrete examples of ATE:

1. Devonport, trying to see baby Little Penguins at a beach reserve.
We were greeted at the gate to the Hide by a ranger who gave us clear and firm instructions: we were about to go onto a boardwalk overlooking the pebbly beach, and it was almost the end of dusk. If we were quiet, moved softly, and did not use torches, flash cameras or mobile phones (because they're noisy and light up), then we would see baby penguins emerging from under the boardwalk and adult penguins coming up from the sea to greet them. The latter would wait in the water until they were sure things were safe; if we made too much noise they would wait in the water for hours waiting for us to go.

All good. The ranger gave those instructions to every single visitor. So ten minutes later there were a good number of people standing quietly on the boardwalk, looking out to sea, and down at our feet, where every now and then a beak would duck out for a second, then pop back in. Then a bunch of people arrived -- a family, I think -- who started walking up and down, talking about whatever they felt like (sounded like they were catching up on family gossip) in normal voices, which in a situation like that sounded like they were shouting. One of the group was a teenage boy who kept pulling his mobile phone out of his pocket, flipping it open so that it lit up, then flipping it shut. Open, shut. Open, shut. Making a flash of light each time, and a clicky noise.

The poor baby penguins kept scuttling out, noticing the group, and scuttling back in again. The group were oblivious to the grumpy stares everyone shot them, and for some bizarre reason the ranger did nothing. So it was a pretty annoying. I think if I'd followed my impulse to grab to phone and chuck it over the bushes to the carpark I would have received a very quick round of fervent fairy claps. Ahem. Dear reader, I resisted. Finally the ATs noticed a baby penguin and shut up, but the damage was done. The baby penguins came out and wandered around, peeping and were pretty gorgeous, but we didn't see any big Little Penguins, because they were obviously biding their time until the dickheads left, and we left before the group, exasperated.

2. Patting the devil, Cradle Mountain

B's devils
Bumblebee loved the baby Devils, who in turn loved trying to bite him through the glass

After a fantastic day of walking around Dove Lake and bits of the Overland Track's boardwalk, we decided to experience a real Tassie Devil. The only proper way to do this apart from stopping to look at a roadkill is to visit a Devil sanctuary/farm. The sanctuaries know this, and charge like a wounded bull, but it is a pretty marvellous experience. They have large enclosures full of Devils of all ages (although they only live to about 5 or 6 years, like most marsupials), and this particular place had a Devil that we could meet, and pat.

Before we could meet this Devil, we were prepped very carefully as a tour group. we were shown a DVD about Devil habits and history, including a very graphic section on the Disfiguring Facial Tumour Syndrome that is annihilating their species. We discussed the fact that Devils are solitary animals who only interact socially to eat and breed. They have no social skills to enable them to get along together, hence the growling and perceived bad-temperness.

Then the guide told us very clearly that this Devil is not trained to like being seen or touched; she is not tame, she has merely been around humans since a very early age, and tolerates the exposure. She is very nervous, and needs to feel that the room is safe so that she can relax and pretend that we are not there, even to the extent of pointedly ignoring our hands on her. There were very clear instructions. Keep movement to an absolute minimum, no noise, no cameras or phones at all.

The group seemed to comply, and the guide left the room and came back with a small ball of black hair that made little growly noises, bundled into his arms. He sat at the end of the room, and told us that we would sit like this for a while, to let her become accustomed to the room and us. Suddenly the man next to BB started shifting in his seat, not once, but over and over. His camera fell on the floor, and instead of leaving it there, he swung around and started trying to retrieve it. His son started chatting to him. The guide asked them to stop and stay still. The Devil got restless and began biting the guide's jacket zip. The man stopped. But as the Devil calmed, he started crossing and uncrossing his legs in an insolent, bored manner. The guide said firmly that if the room was not still, he would take the Devil back outside. The man reluctantly stilled himself.

The Devil balled herself up and buried her head into the guide's armpit. It gave me a heartpang, because it was like a shy child, and it also reminded me of Padge, who sleeps with his head tucked into my armpit. The guide slowly moved around the room, talking calmly of interesting Devil facts, and allowed us to gently stroke the Devil's back, down low near her tail. He told us not to try and touch her on the neck or near the head, as that is where marsupials are attacked by predators, and touching any marsupial there will stress them immeasurably. Also, if we stroked lightly, it allowed her to maintain her pretence that we weren't there, that she was just having a nice cuddle with someone she trusted.

Of course, the AT reached high, at which the guide snapped, 'she's not a cat, mate.' Forced to do the right thing, the AT then proceeded to roughly pat the Devil as you would a big dog. Later on BB and I confessed to each other that we were quite looking forward to the Devil turning and biting this man. That she didn't showed remarkable restraint on the part of the Devil, and I'm sure the rest of the group joined us in admiring her for it. The man's wife looked exponentially more embarrassed as the evening progressed.

The Devil's fur, by the way, was much, much softer than I expected. I only stroked her the once, with deep admiration and respect. It was a moment to treasure, and the memory of her fur and stoic resignation is better than any photograph. I wish researchers the best of luck and skill in keeping the species alive over the next ten years.

There were a few other ATEs along the road, but those two sum up what is either pig ignorance or wilful anti-establishmentarianism when interacting with both fellow travellers and / or nature. At least they weren't putting our lives at risk, which is a category of tourist that I don't even want to think about. The best wish I have for anyone travelling is that they don't encounter any of those!

Best Beloved finds ATEs frustrating at the time, but he delights in recalling them afterwards. He seems to have a drawer in his mental filing cabinet full of idiots he's encountered, and pulls out the files occasionally for purposes of comparison. I don't like to waste my time thinking about them too much, but I think next time I might take a photo of each ATE and construct a little artist's book from them. I'm sure BB will be able to help with the text!

Next batch of available space: Mackay Focus on Books IV!


genevieve said...

Or you could draw cartoon portraits from the pics and have a simply wicked blog. And start a massive Annoying Tourists database.

Ketutar said...

It would be interesting to read LOL

AT database sounds like a great idea! I can draw the pictures LOL

I wonder what the people were doing in the beach when they obviously weren't the least interested of penguins...

I have somewhat similar feelings when it comes to people with summer cottage. I lived in countryside for over 20 years, and the cottagers... Well... at least they don't litter. Much.

But you have touched a "taz"! Ooooh, aren't I massively jealous... It must have been a magical moment (except for the idiot...) :-)

Bernice said...

Right - enough - we need to take action. As unpleasant as it will be to have to engage with these people, I think it more unpleasant to bear away from these encounters a hard knot of annoyance at their boorish behaviour.

I hereby pledge, using every millimetre of politeness I can muster (say nothing, it's safer) that I shall politely & quietly engage with these persons, pointing out that their behaviour is impacting upon other people, embarrassing their partner/companions/ & making them appear immature & petulant.

Please send only fair trade chocolate to the ward after my admission.

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

walk quietly and carry a big stick!