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Travel Planning Problems

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Our backpacks

It’s like this: as soon as you decide to take people along on a trip, everybody’s plans have to mesh and a ton of excuses crops up. Trip planning (for those who believe in such things and don’t just hop on a plane) is work. You must really want to go to make it happen, and if you feel at all insecure, it probably won’t.

That’s why we didn’t go biking in Scotland (my fault: it would have cost as much as flying to Thailand unless we’d elected to camp in the rain every day. Of course the weather turned out to be glorious), why we’re still not going to Thailand (here it’s because of job applications and other uncertainties that need to be sorted) and, probably, why I’ve never heard a peep from the OUEC (I had some hope for the Facebook Group but Facebook groups are disappointingly lame).

Face it, to get a bunch of undergraduates to do anything is like herding cats, and trying to do it at a distance is probably impossible. It’s a miracle that any expeditions ever take off, and those tend to be run by clubs, are long-standing projects or consist of a group of mates with a very clear idea what they want to do.

Here’s how it was for us. The 1989 Venezuela River Dolphin Expedition wasn’t my idea. In fact, me and a mate in Germany wanted to check out transect surveys of cetaceans in the Strait of Gibraltar and—if memory serves—I travelled to London to visit an open day about expedition planning at the Royal Geographical Society. There I met a fellow who wanted to canoe down the Casiquiare Canal from the Orinoco to the Rio Negro and was looking for a scientific objective. I just happened to know that the lower tributaries of the Orinoco are prime dolphin country and I’d always wanted to go back to study river dolphins (albeit in India) and hey presto: the expedition was born.

At one point we numbered sixteen members, perhaps more. But most of the student members dropped out after just a few meetings (and a fair number when the medical side of things came up…). Even our organiser ran into difficulties, although he came out with us. But it took a looong time to set things in motion and in the end we had to radically change our plans. Changing plans comes with the territory and it’s always good to have an easy-as-pie idiot-proof fallback option, such as a place with guaranteed sightings.

Long story short: we ended up with just two members, and the expedition was our honeymoon. And it resulted in me having an Erdős number 😉

So no, as far as manatees and diving in Thailand are concerned, I’m not holding my breath. But I’m not yet quite ready to set off on my own either. The weather hasn’t been bad, winter is reluctant in coming, the Xmas-madness hasn’t yet started and, sooner or later, we’ll have to move house. Plus I’m doing OK with the edit of my second novel, so perhaps I should pursue that in earnest now.