Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Character of the Week: Diver Dan

Since I will be spending so much of this year on the road with work I've decided to institute a new regular segment for my blog called Character of the Week where I can highlight and learn more about some of the many interesting people I meet along the way. With just over two weeks now before I leave, I thought for my inaugural post I would introduce my travelling partner, Dan Hammett. A very dear friend from my time living in Cape Town, Dan will be accompanying me for the first leg of my 10 week round-world odyssey taking in part of Tanzania and Kenya. While I actively encourage solo travel – especially for women travellers – it's always nice to be able to share your travelling experiences with someone, so I am very excited that Dan will be joining me. Before we meet up, though, I thought it wise to ask him a few questions. Here are Dan's answers:

Name: Dan Hammett [Shouldn't that now be Dr. Dan? Though, going by the photograph you've provided below, perhaps Diver Dan would be a more fitting title? For anyone who doesn't know Diver Dan is the name David Wenham's character in the popular Australian television show SeaChange, who, oddly enough, Dan also resembles... Maybe it's just the red hair? Kim]

Occupation: Academic (Research Fellow in African Geography, University of Edinburgh)

Why did you decide to join me on this trip?
A number of reasons: I haven't travelled in East Africa before so it was an opportunity to see a part of the world that I have read about but never been to myself. It was also a great chance to catch up with a good friend I've not seen in a while! On a slightly different level, I'm also intrigued to see what the reality of researching and writing a travel guidebook is like [Perhaps you should read my previous post! Kim]. Guidebooks have become such an integral (and for many, essential) aspect of the travel/tourist experience but seem to be taken for granted. So I'm also looking forward to understanding more about how these books are compiled from a personal interest perspective but also on an academic level in terms of Africa and the tourist gaze.

What are you most looking forward to?
Apart from your company [Ah shucks. Thanks Dan, I'm blushing. Kim] I'd have to say hanging out in a different country and enjoying something of a road trip in the process. I'm also looking forward to doing a day or two's scuba diving from Zanzibar – in some warm water for a change!

What's the best piece of travel advice you’ve been given?
Never travel with anything you're not prepared to lose. Adapt to the pace of life at the destination and never make too many plans so that if (when) delays happen it's easy to sit back and not get stressed about it. Remember to pack a toothbrush and spare essential clothes in your carry-on. I forgot to do this twice, both times my checked-in bags were delayed. Dress appropriately not only for the weather but the culture, you'll get a lot less hassle and unwanted attention, and in some instances find local people a lot more willing to help you out as you are viewed as showing respect to their culture and customs. Perhaps the most important advice – leave only smiles and footprints, take only photographs and memories.

Twisting the question a bit, the worst bit I'm given every time I travel (and which I consistently ignore) is from the travel nurse to 'avoid street food'. In my experience, street food is usually the safest, cheapest and tastiest food you can get – particularly if you avoid meat – as you can see it cooked in front of you, see if it is fresh and hot and hasn't been sat around for hours, and how it's prepared.

What's your favourite destination and why?
My immediate answer would be Cape Town [You stole my answer! Kim] because I've spent so much time there over the years it feels like a second home. I have so many wonderful memories of the place, people, friends, and experiences I've had there: sun downers at Camps Bay, the penguins in Simon's Town, diving with sharks and on wrecks off the peninsula, watching Super 12 rugby at Newlands, seeing dolphins playing in the surf at Noordhoek beach, braaiing and chilling with a tremendous group of friends, working in Khayaleitsha and the Cape Flats, running in Cecila Forest with friends and the dogs. I could carry on.

I also love Toronto (for the people and the food) and Prague (for the architecture and the beer). But the other destination close to my heart would be Bolivia – stunning natural scenery, wonderful climbing opportunities, and incredible Spanish colonial architecture. Being there during major riots against the then-president in 2003 and getting stuck in El Alto, the sprawling impoverished area surrounding La Paz, certainly shaped my experiences of the country. I hope never to forget what it felt like to jump into the back of a dumper truck and ride through the streets of El Alto as the protests were in full swing, nor hearing a group of locals laughing at me when I ducked to the ground as a smoke bomb went off nearby.

Where else is on your 'top places to go list'?
I've got three trips in mind, whether they happen or not is another matter! First, is a trip to Antarctica to see the penguin colonies and indulge my love of wildlife photography. Second, is a slightly crazy notion to cycle across Vietnam. My third plan isn't so much to visit a specific place, but just to lob a dart into a world map and head to wherever it takes me (fingers crossed it doesn't land up in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean).

Is there anything you try to do wherever you travel?
The two things I make an effort to do whenever I'm in a new place are to find some live music and to find somewhere to eat that is off the beaten-track. There's an incredible range of talented musicians that you'll never hear on commercial radio stations and I don’t think you can beat the vibe of a local jazz bar (Ungelt in Prague or any of a number of venues in Harlem, New York (e.g. Lennox Lounge on 125th), rock or ska night (Independent Armchair in Cape Town, Sneaky Dees or the Silver Dollar in Toronto). With food, to be honest I'm a bit of a foodie and adore the variety of ingredients and styles of cooking around the world. I'm always on the lookout for places that are full of locals and empty of tourists, it's usually a sign of very good local food.

Finally, since we are going to be spending a large amount of time together, do you have any strange travelling quirks that I should be aware of?
Not that I can think of, unless you count normal quirks such as sleep walking or the urge to be spontaneous and suddenly decide to do random things.

Thanks Dan. I look forward to catching up with you in person soon!

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