••• The International Writers Magazine - 22 Years on-line - Travel tips
Travel and Trade
Peter A. Carrigan
I presume I’ve gained knowledge from the road. One thing I’ve learnt for sure is that trade opens the doors, keeps the wolf away and greases the wheels.
Travellers often carry gifts and in return they carry home souvenirs of their adventures. When my brother-in-law visited me in Cairo before the Arab Revolt kicked-off, he had emptied his coin jar at home in Brisbane and carried with him a hefty bag of Australian 5 cent and 10 cent coins. In return, he received the ‘Pharaohs’ revenge’, a bout of stomach churning bacteria that fermented into vomit.
‘Serves him right’, one may say, for feeling he had the right to sprinkle coins as trinkets amongst the masses, as if he was a travelling Sheik on pilgrimage, his camel train passing through al-Q?hirah on the way to Mecca. I am sure, I still have those Australian coins tucked in a draw somewhere!
To his credit, Paul learnt from his Egyptian foray and when we met up some years later in Kenya, the children we met were excited, pleased and grateful to accept the pencils he had carried. Tipped with erasers and decorated with Australian wildlife motifs, the pencils were quality gifts.
It was in Santiago, Chile, a few years after the fall of General Pinochet’s regime, when the exhilaration of a new dawn still hung in the air, that I discovered the potential of trade.
When I left Australia I had packed a shoe shine kit; brushes, cloth, black and brown polish.
OK, I was young and bourgeois. Though it was to prove valuable.
Santiago the late 1980s, sitting on a chair at a sidewalk table, a shoe shine costs ‘nothing’. You best kept shiny shoes, to signal you didn’t need constant offers. Thus my personal shoe shine kit was redundant when I had valets falling at my feet. There were no free loaders on this South American odyessy and the shoe shine kit wasn’t earning its keep, only space in the backpack.
A young chap at my two-star accommodation, a concierge maybe, had already help me find the honky tonk bars and good times. I showed him the shoe shine kit, checked my Spanish language dictionary, ‘te gustaría intercambiar’. The ‘concierge’ slipped into the hotel’s kitchen and returned carrying a well-used seasoned mate gourd, which he presented to me. Happy days, we shook on the deal.
That gourd was the perfect traveling companion. On buses and boats. In waiting rooms and on park benches. If you have your own mate gourd you can share tea. The Chileans carry a thermos of hot water where ever they go and with your own cup and bombilla you’re instantly welcome.
When life turned up that ‘special one’, she and I ran off to Tanzania. The rains were due or it was the end of the rainy season, one or the other. Either way, when camping in the wet, Wellington boots are de rigueur. So it came to pass, that the ‘Wellies’, not exactly compact fold-away foot wear, went into their own boot bag, which I promised to carry and given the level of ridicule for having to take Wellington boots on a 3 week romantic Serengeti safari, including a Zanzibar beach resort, I was praying for a bit of soggy ground.
When life turned up that ‘special one’, she and I ran off to Tanzania. The rains were due or it was the end of the rainy season, one or the other. Either way, when camping in the wet, Wellington boots are de rigueur.
So it came to pass, that the ‘Wellies’, not exactly compact fold-away foot wear, went into their own boot bag, which I promised to carry and given the level of ridicule for having to take Wellington boots on a 3 week romantic Serengeti safari, including a Zanzibar beach resort, I was praying for a bit of soggy ground.
Thankfully, following the camping, where the Wellies came into their own navigating the morning dew on the grass and tracking the Big 5 we returned to our Arusha lodgings, not too far from The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda that was set up to judge those responsible for the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Now, where ever the UN goes, there is always a good watering hole and this was the rendezvous for the hand-over; of the Wellingtons, not international criminals.
I had traded the Wellingtons for a few beers and a transfer to the airport; a fair trade. On the fateful moring, I woke early, allowing my Angel of the Serengeti to sleep on, tucked those Wellies under my arm and zig zagged my way through the morning business along the sidewalks, dodging dogs and traffic, skipping over muddy puddles.
I could have traded those 2 pairs of Wellingtons a thousand times over. Everyone I passed made me an offer, they were in desperate need. Police called me over to where they rested against their pick-up truck drinking coffee and wanted a deal. Children snatched, but mostly men ogled my beautiful pair.
On the beach in Zanzibar I envisaged my humanitarian mission; A Wellington NGO, as there was great demand and need for rubber boots. And there still is.
Maybe the trade I am most proud off was made in Cuba, which is under a trade embargo, adding to the gravitas. Prior to arriving in Havana I was lucky enough to attend a baseball match on wiffle bat Sunday in Philadelphia. Where all spectators received a quality, game ready, plastic bat and ball, wrapped and branded with the NBL Phillies logo.
You didn’t have to tell me twice, I knew Fidel was a fan, Cubans had left touring teams in the past and defected to the United States. It was the national sport of Cuba. I took an extra wiffle bat, it was a buyers market.
The Cubans went crazy for the wiffle bat as I hurried to find a casa before the forecast hurricane arrived. The yellow bat handles poking out of my rucksack, the Phillies logo the only form of advertising on display in all of Havana, or so it seemed, the austere city is a shock, like ‘shock art’.
What are two wiffle bats worth? Plenty, and over the years I have learnt the meaning of a seller’s market. A taxi ride, ferry crossing and a free night in a State run resort thrown in, just to sweeten the deal. On second thoughts, that State run resort hotel was no home run. Ha! Maybe those Cuban communist knew how to wheel and deal after all.
© Peter A.Carrigan 1.26.21
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