Anyone who travels a lot will come across a certain kind of people, who are both a curse and a blessing. They call themselves guides and fixers, and they claim to exist to help tourists and visitors find their ways around a place. Or know more about a site. True, some tourists cannot do without them. But if you are a backpacker, the last thing you want to do is share your little money with a hustler who will give you information that you can anyway get off the internet, or off some guide book.
I know, they are just trying to make ends meet, but because it’s an easy job (you do not need qualifications, nor do you have to invest any money to be a ‘guide’, you only have to idle at a popular tourist spot like a vulture in a death zone), there’s often ten of them for every tourist. That makes them a big pain. They are not the official guides with the registered tour companies, though those can also be so irksome – remember when you switched off your TV because every channel you tuned to had a Coke commercial? Well, these guides are like a million boring commercials waiting for you when you go out to relax, enjoy a photo shoot, admire the ruined architecture, where you go to have fun.
I first encountered one at Bashantapur Durbar Sqaure, inKathmandu. He could not take no for an answer. First, he wanted to sell us pictures of the Kumari, the child goddess who lives in one of the houses in the square. We told him we are Christians, and he retorted with a ‘What are you then doing in a Hindu temple?’
It’s totally free and unrestricted to enter the Kumari’s courtyard, but the first thing this guy tells me is this, ‘Today is a special festival. I can take you in to see her.’ I almost fell for it. Yet, I did not see any police or guard standing at the doorway. So we shrugged him off and went in, where we found a group waiting for the Kumari to show her face. After about thirty minutes, she showed in one of the windows for a few seconds. We could not take photos because it is prohibited. Strangely, there were thousands of her photos being sold all over the square.
|Entrance to the Kumari’s courtyard.
The ‘guides’ who will hustle you idle about.
|The Kumari’s courtyard|
When we got out, the gentleman was waiting for us. We still said no. And the harassment started. He insisted that we use his services, because we were in the square and needed a guide. We just wanted to take photos and we could find our way around. He followed us wherever we went, chanting “I’m a guide I’m really cheap” over and over again like a toy robot. Then, he started to offer us information on whatever we were seeing – “They used to decapitate people on this stone.” – But that is when it turned into an argument. A quarrel. I called him a liar and that made him very angry.
Maybe what he said is true, but there was a guide pamphlet about the square, and I did not remember seeing that kind of information. I know these fellows will cook up anything to get your attention. When we were in Fort Jesus, Mombasa, one scared us into hiring him.
|Fort Jesus, Mombasa, with it’s irritating hustlers and guides lurking at the entrance.|
We wanted to walk around the Old Town (it was not worth it, it is not even an old town. Do not bother to walk around it. There is no wow factor) but we did not know this. We trusted what the stupid guide books said. So we thought it would be an interesting thing to do. We tried to ask for directions, but even that was for sale. None of them could show you the way to the toilet unless he offered to ‘guide’ you there, for a fee. This guy, he called himself Muhammad Ali, scared us with talk of muggers who would rob us if we had no guide, so we let him ‘guide’ us.
But he was only after the money, and getting over the tour so quickly. He walked at such a fast pace that we fought to keep up with him, and even now I cannot imagine why we did not ditch him immediately. He frequently took us to craft shops which he obviously had connections to, and tried to talk us into buying stuff from there. The walk around Old Town might have been nicer without him. We should have taken a map of some kind with us. It seemed perfectly safe to walk about without a guide.
When we got to Fort Jesus, another hustler tried to take us around. He tried to lead us away from the official ticket booth – I figured they have a scam going, where you can get in without paying the official entry fee, and that is why this guy did not want us to go straight to the ticket office. We ignored him. But once inside, he kept on our tails, very much like the Nepali man in Bashantapur. He was so insistent that he got angry when we ignored him. Only after I used foul language did he bugger off.
The one thing that made Nyali beach not as interesting as it might have been were the beach boys. Like the guides at the historical sites we went to, they try to make a living from the hundreds of visitors who come to have fun by the waterside. But in their quest for money, they turn into a nuisance. Even while we were swimming (or in my case trying to swim) they would walk into the water and try to get us interested in buying their stuff (sea shells, sea foods, etc) or to get us to go snorkeling with them, or to make for us crafts with our names on it. We could hardly enjoy the water in peace. There was one, however, who seemed like a nice fellow. He was called Julius, and I will write about him later.
|Julius, the beach boy of Nyali|
So when we got to Bofa beach in Kilifi, and found it totally isolated, not a soul in site, we were thrilled. At least we would have some fun. Unfortunately, the tide was so high and the water so rough for amateur swimmers like us to go into it. It would have been nice for surfing though. So we sat on the sand and enjoyed the music of water crashing onto the shore. Just when we thought we would get away with making love there, two young boys appeared. They were about eleven years old. And they were selling shells. I guess someone had spied us coming in and so word went round that there were two visitors down in the beach waiting to be hustled.
|The boys of Bofa beach, Kilifi|
Still, these little boys were not aggressive like the folk at Nyali beach. They were shy, and gave us privacy when we told them we were not interested in their shells. This surprised me so much that I decided to buy a few shells from them.
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