arrested development

the business of local business














Wealthier tourists take package tours... alleviating the horrific chance one may actually meet a local.

There is nothing 'developing' about the business sense of local traders in developing countries. It is highly honed – they can sniff a confused tourist from three bus stops away, and when you arrive, they'll be waiting.

 Tourists travelling on local transport are usually on a budget – why the hell else risk incurring deep vein thrombosis in every limb. Wealthier tourists take package tours which use private vehicles, thus alleviating the horrific chance that one may actually meet a local person.

Poor the tourist may be, but there is still every chance he can be tricked out of whatever remaining money he has in his pocket. One popular method is to confuse the tourist. "Yes, yes, the bus you want is over here," he'll say (inevitably the touts are male. The woman's role is to sell jewellery), leading you off.

Perhaps, if you've landed in a trekking hotspot, such as myself in Asni today, you'll get whisked off to a so-called guide office to 'consult some maps'.

"This is the office???" the confused tourist will ask, puzzled by the lack of any obvious signage and the fact it is 500 metres away down a dingy labyrinth of rubbled streets.

Next thing you know, you're in the concrete courtyard of the 'park guide office', and your gracious host kicks the bewildered nephew off the plastic baby stool with a vicious cuff to the head and forces you to sit.


"Some tea?"

Well, why the hell not. You've been dragged away from any other nearby stall selling it, and anyway, it's local custom isn't it? More than anything you need a pee, but you take the tea, knowing full well it's only going to make your bladder swell.


The tout will never, ever start by talking the price. Any attempt to curtly ask even for a ballpark figure will be met with a dismissive wave. "Later, later, my friend".   And always "my friend".

So then you enter into a half hour tango whereby the tout will try to sell you his tour on the grounds of quality. This one has local food, you stay in local hut, the price includes everything.

But be aware: Local food should not be confused any food likely to be served in that Moroccan restaurant you know and love back home; staying in the local hut means sharing a bed with at least one domestic animal, and the final price never, ever, includes everything.

You continue the dance. Inevitably, the tout will at some stage produce some grainy photos of other tourists enjoying themselves immensely on his trek.

Perhaps even he will have a guestbook, with handy comments from German and Dutch tourist predecessors such as "Scenery was amazing" – as if that hadn't been the drawcard to investigate doing the trek in the first place. "Oh, I heard there was this really nice guy in the town of Asni, name of Mohammed, makes great tea, you should really spend a good couple of days walking with him."

The deal goes sour: what I want to pay for the entire trek, he wants to charge for each day. I thank Mohammed for his time and try to leave, so he rushes inside to retrieve a bum-bag of battered tin jewellery. "Silver, it's silver."


"I don't wear jewellery. And I don't have a girlfriend," I added, pre-empting his next pitch.
"Your mother then?"

Realising he won't sell it, he asks to trade. "Do you have anything to trade?"

I offer him a clip-on koala waving an Australian flag. It's worthless, and he knows it, not quite what he had mind. "Give it to your nephew," I suggest. "It's free. Keep it."