THE TRAV­ELLER

There’s noth­ing worse than a fool with a smart­phone who thinks he knows bet­ter than the lo­cals, reck­ons our colum­nist

Getaway (South Africa) - - Contents - THE TRAV­ELLER Dar­rel Bris­tow- Bovey

Sure, GPS will take you places, just not al­ways to the right places, says Dar­rel Bris­tow-Bovey

I was in Rwanda with Tea­gan Cun­niffe, Get­away’s pho­tog­ra­pher, and she had just shown me how the GPS on her phone works. For years I’ve shunned Google Maps and GPS. I’ve al­ways said I want to be in touch with my sur­round­ings and have a more au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, but ac­tu­ally it’s be­cause GPS is tech­nol­ogy and when it comes to tech­nol­ogy I am a small arachno­pho­bic girl and tech­nol­ogy is a large spi­der. But it turns out that GPS is quite easy to use, es­pe­cially if you aren’t the one pay­ing for the roam­ing data, so when a driver picked us up in Mu­sanze to take us to a ho­tel some­where out­side town, I was quite keen to help. ‘You should take the sec­ond left,’ I told Habi­mana. Habi­mana frowned. ‘I don’t think so,’ he said. ‘No, look, here’s the map,’ I said, waving the phone in front of his face. Habi­mana was very po­lite so he pre­tended to look at the phone, nod­ding ap­pre­cia­tively. Then he said that maybe he knew a bet­ter way. ‘How long will your way take?’ I asked. Habi­mana said maybe half an hour. ‘Ooooh, I don’t know, Habi­mana. The map says it’s only 20 min­utes. It’s get­ting quite late… I think maybe let’s take the quicker way, what do you say?’ Habi­mana con­sid­ered this thought­fully, then he smiled and nod­ded and sort of shrugged to him­self, and took the sec­ond turn­ing left. I set­tled back in my seat with a warm, con­tented feel­ing. Why hadn’t I em­braced tech­nol­ogy be­fore? Tech­nol­ogy is great. Tech­nol­ogy has turned me into an ex­pert. Tea­gan had gone si­lent. She had a thought­ful look on her face as I imag­ine a sci­en­tist might have who is won­der­ing whether it was such a good idea, af­ter all, to teach that chimp to use a firearm. The sec­ond turn left was a fine dirt road that lead away from the tar­mac road, and passed through a kind of field and then turned up­hill. The fur­ther up­hill it turned, the less road there seemed to be. There was

more rut than road. The wheels started strug­gling for pur­chase. Habi­mana hunched over the steer­ing wheel in con­cen­tra­tion. I hunched over the screen. ‘We should be al­most there,’ I said. Habi­mana wasn’t quite as con­vinced be­cause he wasn’t look­ing at a screen, he was look­ing at the dark moun­tain ris­ing ahead of us. ‘We’ll be at the river any minute now,’ I as­sured him. ‘No river on a moun­tain­side,’ mut­tered Habi­mana. I looked to Tea­gan for sup­port. We tech­nol­o­gists must stick to­gether, but she was read­ing an ar­ti­cle about a woman in Belle­vue, Wash­ing­ton, who drove into a lake be­cause the GPS said it was a road. Even when the wa­ter reached the wind­screen, she didn’t press the brakes. She as­sumed it must be a very deep pud­dle and car­ried on driv­ing for­ward. ‘Stupid Amer­i­cans,’ I said. It felt like Tea­gan was go­ing to say some­thing, but then we were dis­tracted by the fact that the car wasn’t mov­ing any more. The en­gine was run­ning and the wheels were spin­ning, but we weren’t go­ing any­where. We peered out of the win­dows at the im­pen­e­tra­ble Rwan­dan night. Habi­mana said: ‘Some­one needs to push.’ I looked at Tea­gan. ‘I’m not go­ing out there,’ she said. ‘Some­one has to stay with the GPS,’ I replied. We sat in si­lence while Habi­mana slipped the car into neu­tral and let it roll back­wards in the dark­ness down the hill. At the bot­tom we bumped gen­tly into a tree, and Habi­mana turned and looked at me un­til I put away the phone. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘we go to the ho­tel?’

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