Bumping into a wide range of people as we do in our adventure walking tours reminds me that diplomats we are not, but diplomatic is how we try to be. In fact, the best part of my job as president of Classic Journeys is bringing together people from far-flung corners of the world who otherwise would never have the opportunity to meet one another.
It’s the breaking down of stereotypes and barriers that makes what we do really rewarding.
I recall having dinner with one of our Parisian guides during the weeks immediately following the start of the Iraq war in 2003. Given the rancor between the US and French governments, and because France is a premier location for many of our walking adventures, I was curious to hear how she thought the French people would respond to our guests. (I should note here that I do not speak French and would be picked out of any lineup as an obvious American.) Catherine smiled and with a sense of humor responded, “Edward, we love to debate politics, but we’d never allow it to ruin a good meal.” How right she was, as I found out over many subsequent encounters with her hospitable countrymen.
Another time, a group of Classic Journeys guests was strolling between villages on our Morocco walking tour. There were about a dozen in all, accompanied by one of our co-founders and our local guide, Ali. (Having gone to a university in Britain, he speaks English with a proper accent.) As we passed by, one of the village elders stopped Ali and inquired in Arabic who we were and where we were from. Ali informed him we were members of a Classic Journeys walking tour and that we hailed from all over North America.
Fascinated, the elder immediately informed Ali that we must meet the chief in his home. The visit was arranged and we were invited in for tea. Sitting in the simple open-roofed dwelling made of mud and straw, we looked up from our teacups to see village children peering down at us from above, their faces silhouetted against the bright blue sky.
It was one of those moments when – like Dorothy – you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. Being part of a cultural exchange that special might never happen again… or at least, only if you slow down and seize the moment when it’s offered to you.
Next time, I’ll share with you how visits to village schools have impacted Classic Journeys in several countries.