Overture: In which we discuss savvy and silly
I have heard savvy travel stories in the common rooms of youth hostels and guesthouses. Their raconteur tells of his quick-thinking in the face of bureaucracy or venality or danger, narrates how he sidestepped a wicked border guard, sliced through red tape, or just had the wherewithal and impeccable timing to pay somebody off: “So I slipped him twenty ducats.”
That’s not me. In travel, as in daily life, I am much more likely to refuse an extra fee than to arrange one. The only occasions when I have paid dubious fines—and half the time I couldn’t tell you if they were bribes, tips, or legitimate transactions—I’ve done so only after officials have pulled me with embarrassing patience, like a donkey up a stairwell, to that outcome.
I do not know how to outwit officials. I always prefer to outwait. That suits my sometimes nervous, sometimes passive, and usually lazy nature (behavior which, sadly, breaks all the rules of good story plotting).
This is to say that I am not a savvy traveler.
However, there are moments on the road when I become silly. It’s not a strategy. It’s more of a character defect, I think. I can’t predict when it will happen, and I can’t always explain why. But it happened not long ago in the middle of Africa.
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Act I: In which we are forgetful
N’djili airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo was, according to some onlin...