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The Amazing Race 2, Episode 4 (27 March 2002)

Stellenbosch (South Africa) - Walvis Bay (Namibia) - Swakopmund (Namibia) - Spitzkoppe (Namibia) - Windhoek (Namibia)

“They’re called ‘people’, not ‘natives’. This isn’t the 1800’s.”

Some of Gary and Dave’s banter on “The Amazing Race 2” has seemed less than spontaneous, in marked contrast to the joking between Kevin and Drew on the first season of the around-the-world travel reality-TV show. But this week, Gary’s response to Dave’s cry of, “Look at the natives over there!”, struck me as entirely genuine — and justified. It was also characteristic: this season’s contestants/travellers on “The Amazing Race 2” continue to demonstrate a commendably high level of concern for the humanity of everyone they meet, in spite of the two preachers among them and what appears to be limited international travel experience for most of them. It just goes to show that culturally responsible travel has more to do with an open-minded attitude and willingness to adapt, than with memorized advance knowledge of any specific checklist of cultural does, don’ts, and faux pas. As Oswald and Danny, who finished first once again, noted, “We found out again how important it is to be nice to people.”

It’s easier for most travellers to prepare for their journeys, of course, than it is for the cast of “The Amazing Race”. After all, most people have some idea of where they are going, whereas the racers only find out their route one clue at a time, as they go. Or do they? How could they get visas without signing the applications — and knowing which countries they were for?

Visas are among the few things that have to be applied for personally: even someone with your power of attorney can’t procure a visa for you. At a minimum, you have to sign the application yourself. In some cases you have to present yourself in person at a consulate or embassy of the country you want to visit. The requirement for an interview at a consulate or embassy is particularly onerous for would-be visitors to the USA: I’ve known applicants for tourist visas to the USA from central Siberia who had to travel more than 2000 miles from their homes to the nearest US consulate for their visa interviews, then return home to await the decision weeks later on their visa application.

As I had suspected, and as Joe and Bill (“Team Guido”) confirmed when I asked them about this, each of the contestants on “The Amazing Race” signed 15-20 visa applications for the CBS organizers, and actually got visas to all those countries stamped in their passports before the race began. Some were “decoy” visas to countries the race didn’t visit, such as the former Soviet republic of Georgia. But they could rule out any other countries that require visas to be issued in advance for tourists from the USA, and concentrate their preparatory research on those countries for which visas either aren’t required, can be obtained on arrival, or had been issued. (There’s an informational cheat sheet of tourist entry requirements for USA citizens at http://travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html, but it’s important to realize that it’s not authoritative. The only real source for accurate information about any country’s entry requirements is that country’s own embassy or consulate.) That leaves plenty of interesting potential destinations that don’t require advance visas — including this week’s race locales, South Africa and Namibia — but it ruled out any need to prepare for roughly half the countries of the world.

Unfortunately, the producers of the show appear to have learned even less from the first season than the second round of contestants. Once again they’ve been giving the racers too much money (US$210 per couple in the latest episode, not counting airfare and food and accommodations at the “pit stops”). Once again the racers have been able to afford taxis even between towns and cities, and have taken mass transportation only when expressly required to do so. Once again most of the “racing” has been done by taxi drivers — not much of a test of travel skill for the contestants. Once again infrequent flights have bunched the racers together at airports, negating even substantial leads. This week the first team started at 2:52 a.m., but had to wait until 9 a.m. — by which time 3 other teams had caught up — for the first of the 2 charter flights that CBS had arranged from South Africa to Walvis Bay. And all the teams arrived in Namibia in 2 bunches on those 2 flights, regardless of the differences in their arrival times at the departure airport.

The most interesting challenge this week’s on “The Amazing Race 2” was a bargaining contest — but even that was botched (by the organizers, not by the contestants). Competing with each other to see how little the teams could spend on the same purchases would have been entirely realistic, even if real travellers get no “brownie points” for squeezing the last possible penny of a discount out of Third World artists and craftspeople, to whom a dollar means much more than it does to us from wealthy, First World countries. How many times have you heard travellers swapping competitive tall tales about how little they paid for this or that?

As the race was staged, however, the bargaining (for carved wooden animals in a handicraft market) was at the very end of the episode, when the racers could tell that they would have plenty of money to make it to the end of the stage. The key to success in the challenge lay in realizing that, despite the instructions to bargain, haggling was just a waste of precious time. That’s realistic, too — there are times to be thrifty, and times not to worry about a small amount of money when more is at stake — but not nearly so interesting for us, the voyeurs. Time is money; patience is a budget traveller’s greatest asset. Kudos, though, to the racers who managed to be polite to the artisans, and not to break any of the six-foot tall carved giraffes they had to carry to the finish line, even in their hurry.

Next week on “The Amazing Race 2”? Back to Bangkok, Thailand. See you there next Wednesday night!


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