I’ve sometimes wondered what it might be like to be an adventurous traveller, to test my limits and put myself in demanding situations. After all, in my youth I backpacked, hitch-hiked, slept on beaches, even bartered for food, so I’ve got experience, you might say. But long ago I concluded that it’s really not for me. Most of the adventures I’ve had since on holiday have been the result of accident or my own incompetence, and I experience those sort of things quite enough at home. It’s only much later, I find, that these misadventures evolve into anecdotes that can be considered almost amusing. At the time, though, they merely reinforce the fact that once I’m away from my familiar environment I’m liable to make a pig’s ear of any chance encounter.
Even more frustratingly, all too often I’ve visited places, wandered around for hours, found nothing of interest, and returned to base only to have somebody tell me that if I had gone left instead of right, walked down that street instead of the one I’d chosen, I’d have run across the most fascinating discoveries. Left to my own devices, I suspect I would find nothing remarkable if I travelled the whole world.
I have no objection to others revelling in the thrill of white-water rafting down the Orinoco (if that’s even a possibility), threading their way through a jungle in Guatemala (excuse my geographic ignorance) or mingling with the elephants in Namibia (possibly on safer ground here). If those are the things you look for in a holiday, good for you. I might even envy you (I don’t). Call me dull, call me risk-averse, but my idea of a good time is hanging out in a small coastal village somewhere in Greece, the Peloponnese preferably, sitting in a taverna, a beer to hand, the sound of a gently lapping sea, a sunset that seems to last forever, and the aroma of freshly caught fish frying nearby.
But I want to feel the taverna is somehow special to me: that it was me who had the good fortune to find it; the particular table, with that sensational view, had miraculously become vacant as I walked through the door; the waiter who brings my calamari thinks himself lucky to be working that night and to have made my acquaintance; and even the gods themselves have decided I deserve the full beauty of this delicious moment.
Ridiculous, of course. Preposterous. A delusion. Who am I kidding? I’m just another tourist passing through. What an idiot!
But….but….For many of us, a holiday is very much part of a dreamworld. In reality we know that waiter probably isn’t thrilled to meet us and doesn’t imagine he has made a lifelong friendship. He is playing a part, just as we are. But that doesn’t make the whole thing false, or artificial. A holiday can be like a dance: we know the moves, we know the music, we know our partners. The pleasure is the way it all comes together. A holiday is a brief glimpse of life as an alternative possibility, where the sun shines, people speak a language we barely understand, the customs are different, the flavours fresher and the evenings longer. A holiday is a time apart; a holiday belongs to ME.
Which is why the big package never really works. No matter how convenient the hotel, how endless the buffet and bottomless the glass; no matter how many “local entertainments” cavort across the floor, or different shaped pools I can lounge beside, I feel diminished, disconnected. To my shame and regret, for instance, I once spent a week on the island of Kos and never once travelled beyond the grounds of the hotel (although I did play a lot of tennis). Nothing distinctive happened to me; I holidayed in a Perfectly Pleasant Non-Specific Anywhere.
I need to feel I’ve contributed towards my own holiday, even if I can’t properly identify in what way. I want my presence to have made a minimum of difference. I suppose what I seek is personal agency – though not too much, given the likelihood I won’t be able to cope.
I want the aura of independence, even if it’s mostly an illusion. While most people are travelling down the motorway, I want to dawdle on the byways and country roads. That yearning for discovery still lurks within me, but it needs somehow to be safe too. What is required is a good road map, so I don’t end up lost, confused and with no idea where I’m going.
And that’s how I’ve used Sunvil over many years, as a source of local knowledge and impeccable guidance. Whatever I’m told, I know it can be trusted. There’s no hype, no promises that can’t be kept. What is described is what is actually there. Honesty, in Sunvil’s mind, is always the best policy. I will not be infantilised or mollycoddled, but I know I will be safe. I am allowed my fantasies of independence, and can tell myself that coming across that delightful family taverna just that bit further along the beach was my very own personal discovery.