Thursday, 11 September 2008

Grumpy Old Man Moment

As I meet more and more tour guides, I am getting grumpier and grumpier. Not wanting to publicly tackle (and hence embarrass) them I am letting my frustrations out on you, my poor readers.

And the source of my grumplement? The extravagant claims made by guides for their particular area of interest.

Some years ago I did a tour to central Australia. Amongst other things I was told that wichetty grubs had more protein than a piece of steak (about as silly as saying that a cup holds more water than a bucket), that a particular sap was a stronger glue than anything white man had developed BUT the aborigines would soften it with heat and reuse it (so it is both hard and soft, it seems) and that a particular plant had antiseptic properties far stronger than anything we white folk use. To claims like the last one I like to apply the ‘if that then this’ test. If that was true then it seems odd that the pharmaceutical companies haven’t planted acres of the stuff. They haven’t, so what does that mean?

Why can’t the guides just say ‘Aborigines ate wichetty grubs”, “they used this sap as a glue”, “they used this herb to dress wounds”? All are true and perfectly reasonable. But, no, they have to reach for some sort of extra merit award.

So to Peru.

We have been told that the reeds in Lake Titicaca are a rich source of protein and carbohydrate. So why do they eat fish and potatoes? The reeds are very spongy and the people there do eat the soft bases of them but I suspect they only get dietary fibre from the things and, having tried them, I suspect they were only eaten after a poor days fishing.

We were told that the Inca calendar was so accurate that it only needed ‘tweaking’ every 13,000 years where as our miserable Gregorian thing needs a four yearly service with an extra tweak every other millennium or so. Can’t find any evidence to support this claim.

We were told that people drink a tea made from a particular jungle vine (probably true) and that this concoction was the reason for lower levels of pancreatic cancer among Peruvians (doubtful). As obesity is the major risk factor for pancreatic cancer, could it be that it is the general leanness of the Peruvian population that is responsible for the lower cancer levels and not the tea? I’m guessing, of course.

This is not just a trait of Peruvian guides, it seems to be a universal urge to show that your domain is somehow better than others.

Why do people have to gild the lily when the lily is lovely enough on its own?


  1. Ahhhh, Mr. Grumpy.

    Stop it.

    I would like to be in Peru.

    Even if I was feeling grumpy.

    So there.

    Absolutely love your photos.

    I would also like to own your camera.

    I think I'll go and lie down .... I feel a grump coming on.

  2. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!! Just as I was wallowing in self-pity (and jealousy) over your year long around the world "vacation", thinking how nice it would be to have all those months of no stress, just sight-seeing, picture-taking bliss, you made me feel so much better by getting "grumpy" and saying so. :-) Don't feel like you need to keep up with the grumps for the rest of your trip though, this little bit will hold me over for awhile. ;-)

    (p.s. I'm still ridiculously jealous.)

  3. Dear Mr. Matthau,

    Walter, Walter, my grumpy old man friend, Peru (gilded lily and all) is still better than Harrisonburg, VA. Suck it up and drink some tea.

    Night night,


    PS... is Walter Matthau dead? No wonder you're grumpy!

  4. It certainly is lovely enough without exaggeration.

    I love the colours and the reed boats, and I'm sure one of those old men on the lake island was my old neighbour from over the way... still I suppose all toothless old men everywhere look a bit similar. And that's what you'll be like before you know it, and then you'll have a real reason to be grumpy when you have to live on fish and mashed potatoes and can't even chew a reed stem or a wichity grub, let alone a piece of steak...

  5. That is what they call 'tourism'!

    Are you cooled down already from the grumpiness? LOL..

    Perhaps we all love bragging..about how our daughter is far prettier than others', how our house is the's quite natural..

  6. Sir (having a Dr Johnson moment here, for no one could outgrump our Samuel)

    Does not your scientific training blind you to the loveliness of the lily you behold?

    If the lily is unadorned nature, is not its gilding part of its own nature? Does nature not misrepresent its own self? for example to prevent being eaten the caterpillar disguises itself as its own background (strategy 1) or extracts from its own background (the plant which it devours) such concentrated toxins or nasty flavours as to discourage its predators from treating it as food.

    So in the same way the tour guide must for his own perceived economic survival embroider the raw material of what he has to offer into a tasty offering which his experience shows whets the appetite of his auditors (hearers) till you go auditing (examining) his veracity.

    But the tour guide's patter further embroidered with your footnotes is even better.


Moderation cuts in six days after posting.