Thursday, September 16, 2004

My Dad: International Man of Mystery

In his retirement, my father (an almost-68-years-old, 5'6", quiet Mexican American man) has developed the tradition that every autumn he takes a trip to a part of the world he has never visited (my mother doesn't like to travel. Like me!). He chooses the country in the spring, researches it through the summer (using the Internet, libraries and travel books), and always goes during the first two weeks of September. He has had stunningly good luck in somehow managing to attract the most helpful and obliging tour guides, drivers, hotel concierges and vendors. His target countries have included England, Singapore, Egypt and Russia. He has seen the pyramids and Mao Tze Tung's tomb. He has walked the entire length of the Samarian Gorge on Crete (7.5 hours) and explored the deep catacombs of France (scary!). He has offended a Skukuza elephant and a London newspaper vendor. He has made friends with camel drivers and housekeepers, and now he's befriended street vendors in Livingstone, Zambia.

My dad has also developed the habit of meticulously documenting his trips and he sends the entire familia installments by email as he goes. Rudy Rodriguez just returned yesterday from his latest trip to London, South Africa and Zambia. What follows is my favorite travelogue installment yet.

Begin Rudy Rodriguez travelogue

The currency in South Africa is the Rand, in Zambia it is the Kwacha and, of course, in London it is the pound. The Rand is approx 6.4 to the dollar, the pound is almost 2 dollars per each pound, but in Livingstone the rate of the Kwacha is a whopping 4,808 per US dollar. Examples of Kwacha exchange are as follows: 500 K is US 10 cents, 5,000 is $1.04 and 50,000 is $10.40. I say that to say this:

Last Sat I went looking for souvenirs at an old market in downtown Livingstone. This market sells mostly souvenirs. It is a terrible looking market in that about 50 vendors are squeezed into a small space the size of half a city block. The covering on top is old tattered, dark grey cloth. But most of the souvenirs are handmade and are quality work. Here I did some serious shopping and used my pulga ["flea market"] bargaining skills as follows: a very nice hand carved walking cane for 10,500 Kwacha (US $2.10), small wooden elephant, 10,000 K ($2.00), small wooden hippo, 5,000 K ($1.04), etc., etc. So, I was pleased with my purchases. Curiously enough, one of the young vendors kept asking for my writing pen as a trade for some of his items. Then I remembered that bartering is done at some of these markets. They especially want things from the US and are even willing to take used items.

The next day, Sun., I had to pack to leave. I had several things I needed to discard as per my "wear & toss" policy. I came up with a plan. I gave some items (umbrella, head phones, tongs, etc.) to a hotel employee that had been helpful but then I saved the other items. On the way to the airport I gave the hotel shuttle driver 6 Rand that I had extra from So. Africa so we could stop at this same market, especially since it was on the way.

I took my bag of items and quickly walked to the market to give them away to the vendors that I had bought souvenirs from the day before. First I gave a pair of grey trousers to one fellow, then a pair of swimming trunks to another, then a travel clock, 4 pens to 4 different guys, 2 pencils to two, a poncho to another. I had four baggies of candy to give to the children that I had seen the day before but on this day there was only one small toddler so I gave him one bag and the other bags went to the vendors (it seems that even on Sun the children go to school). Needless to say once the vendors saw what I was doing they gathered around asking for something, anything. I felt kinda like a Santa Claus! They realized that I was giving the things to vendors I had dealt with so they would point to their wares to remind me that I had bought from them. I looked for the old man that had sold me the nice walking cane but he was not around. His "next door neighbor" sensed my predicament and promised to give the clock to the old man.

This made a hit with these folks! They were most appreciative and some offered me items from their stalls but, of course, I refused. Then I asked them to allow me to take their picture. They were most obliging and 5 of them even posed as a group! All of this only took a few minutes and it also was appreciated by my shuttle driver who then went out of his way to help me at the airport.

I had fun doing this! And I got the impression that by doing this I made friends for life!

Now to deal with this jet lag! Its night here but its day time in London and So. Africa!

That's it for now.

Wed, Sept 15, 2004
2:00 am

End Rudy Rodriguez travelogue

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