Tuesday, 19 April 2005

The Amazing Race 7, Episode 7

Khwai (Botswana) - Francistown (Botswana) - Mumbai (India) - Lucknow (India) - Jodhpur (India)

There were two major lessons in this two-part episode, which was broadcast on 12 April 2005 and 19 April 2005.

The first lesson — which, unfortunately, the television producers didn’t choose to show us — concerned the racers’ trip at the start of this episode from Khwai, Botswana, to Lucknow, India.

The racers were flown on chartered bush planes from Khwai airstrip to Francistown, Botswana (Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, or Livingstone, Zambia, would have been closer, and have a few more international flights, but would have involved an additional set of immigration and customs formalities), where they were “given tickets to Mumbai” (formerly known as Bombay). From Mumbai, they had to arrange their own flights to Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh. Since there are no direct flights from Mumbai to Lucknow, they all changed planes in Delhi.

But that’s only part of the complexity of their journey. The television broadcast showed a “direct” line on the map from Francistown to Mumbai, but there’s no such direct flight. The most direct route would have been through Johannesburg, but there are only two direct flights a week from Francistown to Jo’burg. On the other days, they would have had to connect through Gaberone.

So the full flight routing most likely went something like this:

Khwai -> Francistown -> (Gaberone?) -> Johannesburg -> Mumbai -> Delhi -> Lucknow

This was probably the most complex set of flights in any episode of the race to date, even though it was between places that aren’t particularly far apart on a global scale.

At the same time, it was less unusual than you might think. Many people overestimate the frequency of international flights, and underestimate the amount of time they will spend in transit in the course of a trip around the world. If you are going directly from one side of the planet to the other, you may be obliged to spend a night or two en route, even on the fastest and most expensive flights.

Flying time alone for some through flights is more than 24 hours. Even the most direct routes between many cities take two to three days of total travel time. If you are accustomed to 30-60 minute connections between domestic flights in the United States, don’t be surprised to find that 4-18 hour connections between international flights are common.

Only the more popular transcontinental and transoceanic international flights operate as often as daily, and the places that stand out on the tourist map may not be the business and population centers that have more frequent and/or direct air service.

Many flights, and on some significant routes the only flights, operate as infrequently as once a week. For example, as of this writing there are only two flights a week (extra points to any of you who knew that the one airline operating those flights is Ethiopian Airlines) between the world’s two most populous countries, India and China (flights to and from Hong Kong excepted). If there is daily service on a route, it is likely to be at the same time each day. “What day(s) of the week does this airline fly between these cities?” is usually a more appropriate question than, “What times are your flights on such-and-such a day?”

We don’t know how long the whole journey took, but it’s certainly understandable why the racers were so tired and befuddled from the time they first arrived in India, even in Lucknow before their 24-hour train journey to Johdpur in the second part of the episode.

Word to the wise: after a journey like that, don’t plan to do much of anything but rest for your first day or two on arrival. That’s especially true if, like many people at the start of a big trip, you are starting out sleep deprived because you’ve been rushing to finish your preparations before your departure.

The accepted wisdom is that, for white First World visitors, India is a place you either love or hate. Part of what that means, I think, is that it’s different, diverse, and (unlike Africa, most of which remains sparsely populated) densely settled and thus intense. That tends to produce in visitors either delight in the wealth of new and different stimuli, or culture shock at the inability to cope with that flood of new sensory impressions — or both at once.

As is does for most foreign visitors to India, the press of people had both positive and negative effects for the racers. While the racers sometimes appear overwhelmed by culture shock at the intense and (to an unfamiliar observer) chaotic-seeming street-life, they appear equally overwhelmed by the generosity of the locals.

On the one hand, the crowds — both the traffic already on the roads, and the onlookers drawn by the spectacle of television filming (clearly the people asking for autographs thought Gretchen and Meredith with Hollywood, if not Bollywood, stars) — significantly impeded the progress of their taxis and rickshaws as well as the juggernaut-style giant elephants they had to push through central Jodhpur. Police with “lathis” (bamboo crowd-control clubs) were conspicuously and repeatedly in view on camera throughout this episode, trying with only partial success to hold back the impromptu spectator gallery. That’s a first — certainly a first on such a scale — for “The Amazing Race”.

At the same time, it was only the throngs of passers-by willing to join in, without pay, on no notice, in relatively strenuous physical work, that made the elephant-pushing task possible. Just as it was those willing volunteer helpers who made the task of pushing engineless Ambassadors (the Indian counterpart of the Trabant or the Brazilian or Maxican VW Beetle) possible last year in Kolkata in The Amazing Race 5 .

Travelling to the global South, we are likely to be advised to bring everything we might need with us. We prepare for the “need” to be self-sufficient and “independent” in places where the comforts of home may not be available. But the more important skill may be recognizing the likelihood of our dependence on local help as we travel, and finding ways to ask for, and accept, that help in respectful ways that don’t impose on local people unfairly, or play on the continuing reverberations of racist colonial deference to the requests of white “sahibs” that were backed for centuries, in places like India, with threats of force.

Treat people anywhere with respect for their local knowledge, and ask politely, and most of them will be happy to teach even the most ignorant tourist the local ways.

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 19 April 2005, 23:59 (11:59 PM)

How do you apply do be on the race??

Posted by: Ryan, 4 May 2005, 22:11 (10:11 PM)
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