Friday, 11 March 2016

The Amazing Race 28, Episode 5

Chamonix (France)

When I interviewed people trying out for The Amazing Race at a casting call in San Francisco last year, I was surprised by how many of them were more interested in the chance to take part in activities specially staged for the reality-TV show than the chance to prove their skill at real-world travel.

People like that must have been pleased by this episode of The Amazing Race 28, in which the key challenge for the racers was one that few, if any, real-world travellers would be able to attempt. After riding a cable cable 3,000 vertical meters (10,000 vertical feet) above the town of Chamonix to the foot of a glacier on the Mont Blanc massif, the racers had to clamber across a rope strung between rock pinnacles above a long sheer drop to the valley, and then cross from one summit to another along a knife-edge ridge using fixed and moving ropes, crampons, ice axes, and the assistance of a team of professional climbing guides and rope handlers.

Each team had to carry both a bundle of sticks of dynamite (for triggering controlled avalanches) and loaves of bread for the avalanche control workers’ lunch. In France, eating day-old baguettes is unthinkable for civilized people, even at a remote work site. People walk out to buy bread daily, and at least one bakery in every neighborhood opens before breakfast. I guess the avalanche team had to leave town for their work on the mountain too early in the morning for any of the boulangeries to have opened.

Some of this (not including the dynamite, presumably) might in theory be possible for a visitor who could afford to hire a whole team of guides, but in practice it’s not part of the normal tourist itinerary, even at a resort for the rich like Chamonix.

As an alternative to the knife-edge walk, the racers could chose to set up a campsite on the snow, with a tent, sleeping bags, and other gear all showing conspicuous logos from the REI cooperative in the USA. The name “REI” wasn’t mentioned in the voiceover, leaving me unclear on whether this was a failed attempt to sell a product placement, a deliberately subtle product placement, or simply a decision by a USA-based staff person charged with procuring props for the TV show. It struck me as ironic (and inappropriate), however, to import USA-branded and especially REI-branded mountaineering gear to the French Alps, when REI was founded as a cooperative buyers’ club to import European ice axes and other mountaineering gear to the USA. For what it’s worth, there continue to be substantial differences in what’s available in travel, sports, and outdoor gear in Europe and North America. Even when the products are all made in China, many of those designed and distributed in Europe aren’t widely available in the USA — and, perhaps surprisingly, the same is true for some brands and products that are easier to find or cheaper in the USA than in Europe.

The takeaway here is that even within the First World, consumer product markets reflect national tastes and styles that are sometimes less global than we are led to believe. You should do some research before you leave home if you plan to buy equipment locally on your trip, but you shouldn’t assume that you won’t find equally good (or better and/or cheaper) products and brands available abroad that you can’t find at home. If you find something you like, but have never seen at home, buy it where you find it. It can be surprisingly hard and/or expensive to find that small or large everyday item you fell in love with that was ubiquitous someplace you were travelling, but unheard of in your home country.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 11 March 2016, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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