Was it when the German and the Kiwi did an after-dinner haka? Or was it when the Swede and the Brazilian did the lindy hop that I changed my mind?
I was on my first ever group tour, visiting the Indonesian island of Lombok. The thought of travelling with a group of strangers had always filled me with horror. What if I got stuck with people I didn’t like? I was used to travelling solo or with close friends – people like me. But going solo can be tiring and none of my travel buddies were available this winter. So I bit the bullet and signed up for a tour.
The travel company website talked about how to avoid offending the locals. For example, most Lombok people are Muslim so skimpy clothing is a no-no. Fair enough. I was happy to respect Lombok’s cultural differences. It was the differences I might encounter in our travel group that had me worried.
On our first night together I discovered I was several decades older than most of the other tour members. There were a dozen of us from all over the globe and most of these folk were party animals. There was a travel agent, an airline pilot, a couple of childcare workers and a computer programmer. What would we have in common?
Our Indonesian tour guide Ari was an extrovert and a joker, and he quickly learnt everyone’s names. But how was he going to manage this motley crew, all out of our comfort zones?
Over the next 10 days, under Ari’s watchful gaze, we sat cross-legged with local women as they hand-made clay pots and reed baskets. We climbed terraced hills and drank coffee with Lombok farmers. We visited a traditional Sasak community and were offered herbal medicines. We passed piles of rubble left over from last year’s lethal earthquake and watched villagers patiently rebuilding their gleaming mosques. All the while our guide Ari hovered beside us, quietly translating, explaining the local history and demonstrating how to say thanks in the local language. Bridging the gaps.
Every evening after dinner Ari persuaded us to share something of our own. The Brazilian did the samba, the Swede danced the lindy hop, I warbled an aria, the Kiwi stomped a haka and Ari sang the Islamic call to prayer for us. And finally it dawned on me just how delightful differences could be.
Sian Prior travelled to Lombok as a guest of Intrepid Travel. sianprior.com
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