Every job has its great and not-so-great sides, the perks vs. the drudgery, the good days vs. the not-so-good days. This two-sides-to-every-story phenomenon is most pronounced for me as a tourism academic. On one hand, I get to travel to some amazing destinations but on the other hand, I barely get the chance to see and experience the destination as much I would like to. This is not a complaint but a description of academic life with its perks and downsides especially when it comes to attending conferences. It is a bit like going on a whale watch out at sea – it is exciting but it also comes with the possibility of puking due to sea-sickness.
In the past week, I have had the privilege to attend an intensive Associates Conference at the School of Tourism and Hospitality, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. This small scale and intimate conference was part of the celebration of 50 years of tourism and hospitality education at the University of Johannesburg.
It was such an enriching and intellectually stimulating experience with colleagues at various stages of their academic career. I have many fond memories from this week of intensive discussions, presentations, eating and lots of laughter. After the first day at the University of Johannesburg campus, we went out to the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in the Western Cape of South Africa. This beautiful location deserves a blog post in itself (perhaps after I clear up the backlog of emails that has piled up). One thing that I want to reflect on in this short post is about places and their names. One of my colleagues at this conference on the last day called on us to consider the stories we tell of the places we visit as travellers or tourists or academic tourists. By consistently crafting our travel narratives around big place names (even when we barely stayed there), we consistently erase the names of the small towns and villages we really encounter and experience on our visits.
For instance, if I were to asked to describe where I have been last week, the easiest answer will be to say – “oh, I went to South Africa, 2 nights in Jo’burg and then 4 nights in a private nature reserve close to Cape Town”. Such an answer while easy and straightforward to say and understand, does a great disservice to the many wonderful towns and places (names) encountered. After all, I only encountered ‘Cape Town’ through its airport and nothing of the city itself. The last time I was actually in Cape Town was 3 years ago and my experiences there are chronicled in this series of chronicles I, chronicles II, chronicles III, chronicles IV and chronicles V. This time around, my visit was a matter of touch down at the airport, drive out, drive back to the airport and then fly out.
In response to my colleague’s entreaty, I would like to give a shout out to the beautiful small places I encountered during this trip. I can start by saying my principal stay in South Africa was in the Overstrand Local Municipality in the Western Cape province which falls within the Overberg District Municipality. Specially, it was the towns of Hermanus and Gansbaai that I encountered and experienced the most even as my everyday view was set on the Walker Bay. I shouldn’t forget to mention that en-route from the airport, we made a stop along the Botriver wine route for lunch and wine
tasting drinking at Beaumont Wines.
It was a memorable experience seeing new places and faces, eating too much and laughing too hard, and importantly exchanging learning and knowledge with an amazing group of people. One sure highlight of the week was the adventure tourism of going whale watching. There was great excitement about going out to sea on the rough waves and extreme delight when we were fortunate enough to meet two mum-and-kid families of Southern Right Whales . There was also some sea-sickness and puking but that story is for a few ears only. The whales were such huge but graceful animals. We had one mummy whale swimming close by our boat and gently turning away as if passing by to say hello.
So remember, the next time you travel and have to recount your adventures, make sure to mention the names of the small places you really encounter – that neighbourhood, the main street, the corner chop bar etc. The more we give a shout out to the local places and names, the more we place them on the global map for others to know. I leave you with some slide show pictures…enjoy!