Everyone has their own idea of a Dream Holiday, be it a Caribbean cruise, ski-ing in the Alps or a week in a caravan on the Dorset coast.
For Jim O’Brien, though, it is none of these! He works in the travel industry as a tour leader, escorting groups on holidays to destinations in Africa, Central Asia and Papua New Guinea amongst others.
Jim began his career as a tour guide in the Middle East… and after several years he returned to Suffolk and became an office-based travel agent. He then started leading parties to the least-visited areas of the world. His favourite destinations are those in Chad, Cameroon, Togo, Benin, Burma, Pakistan and the “tan” countries bordering on the ancient Silk Road. The more remote and unfrequented by tourists, the better Jim likes it!
Although we weren’t able to travel to these places ourselves, Jim transported us to some of them via the magic of some of his amazing photos. He told us of wonderful Burmese temples covered entirely in gold leaf; a row of pagodas in Mandalay – each one containing a single giant page of a Buddhist stone book; and of the stilt houses in the middle of a lake in Benin occupied by remote tribes who moved there to escape the modern slave trade.
He told us of the people in Papua New Guinea, where cannibals live in some isolated areas, and where 800 different languages are spoken! Apparently cannibalism is practised either to show respect to a relative or to take on the strength and powers of an enemy. The main reasons for falling out with others are disputes over Land, Pigs or Women, the three most important items in family life!
We heard about camel caravans and crocodiles in the Sahara; Samarkand and the Silk Road in Central Asia; and Voodoo rites and beliefs in Togo and Benin.
“Why go to these places?” we may ask. Jim says these days the world is getting smaller all the time, but exploring these destinations is the opportunity to experience some of the few adventures left in the world; to witness the ancient traditions, culture and societies of those areas and their people.
The tours he leads can last for up to a month, but generally he is only away for a fortnight at a time, which he now prefers as he has a wife and young family at home.
Although at the end of the evening no-one felt brave enough to sign up for Jim’s next tour, we all thoroughly enjoyed being transported there for an hour! A most interesting talk!
If we all manage to return unscathed from our Ghost Walk round Ipswich on March 15th, we will meet again in the library on April 5th, when Roger Kennell will be coming to talk to us about the history of William Pretty & Sons, the Suffolk family and corset manufacturers, so sit up straight with shoulders back and show off your posture!
Anyone interested in joining Capel Ladies on some of these adventures should give Di Barker a ring on 311870.