Si­mon says…

WhenSi­monGreen­wood­givesa­lod­ge­orhotel­thethumbs up,you’dbet­ter­takeno­tice.In­gridShevli­naskshimhowhis ac­com­mo­da­tionguide­booksstarted

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL2009 -

THIS year marks the 10th an­niver­sary of the pub­li­ca­tion of the first Green­wood Guide, guides to hand-picked ac­com­mo­da­tion now avail­able for New Zealand, Zam­bia, Canada, Botswana and Aus­tralia. As it hap­pened, South Africa was their first coun­try and Lon­don-based Si­mon Green­wood says in the fore­word to his lat­est pub­li­ca­tion that he can­not re­mem­ber now why South Africa was the first coun­try to be cho­sen.

“But I’m very glad we did. It was then – and still is – a won­der­fully pos­i­tive place for a new busi­ness to cut its teeth and it was the start of a great re­la­tion­ship with the coun­try for me per­son­ally.”

So­how­did­i­tall­come­about?What in­spiredtheGreen­woodGuide?

I vis­ited South Africa back in 1998, os­ten­si­bly on hol­i­day, but with one eye on the po­ten­tial for a guide such as GG. It was clear then that there were thou­sands of places to stay in South Africa, but no truly trust­wor­thy and well-pre­sented guide to the best of them.

By “ best ” I mean pl a c e s r un by friendly own­ers for whom looking af­ter their guests is a proper plea­sure. Once this par­tic­u­lar box is ticked, most other cri­te­ria such as comfortable beds, de­li­cious break­fasts and more of­ten fall into place.

Other guides ex­isted but none had yet taken ed­i­to­rial re­spon­si­bil­ity for de­scrib­ing each place from an ob­jec­tive per­spec­tive and none had re­ally cho­sen ac­cord­ing to charm rather than fa­cil­i­ties.

We found once we got out among the ac­com­mo­da­tion own­ers who saw eye to eye with our ap­proach that there was a real de­sire for such a guide to be born.

How­long­didit­take­top­ut­the­first one­to­geth­erand­whatwereth­el­o­gis­ti­cal­prob­lem­sin­re­viewingev­erys­in­gle en­try?

Just the in­spec­tions took a full year for three peo­ple. One of the main prob­lems at the out­set was not know­ing which places were even vaguely likely to meet our stan­dards.

This meant that ev­ery day we would see up to five places of which per­haps four ranged from wrong to very wrong. It is ac­tu­ally no fun vis­it­ing a place and go­ing through the in­spec­tion when you know that it is not right for the guide. Four times a day, this be­comes very hard work in­deed. It took us ages to find the re­ally good ones.

It­seem­sy­ourteamofre­view­ers to­dayis­sev­en­strong–not­manyto re­view­morethan370­places,in­clud­ing out­letsinZam­bi­aandBotswana.Isthis their­full-time­job?

Ac­tu­ally I em­ploy three re­searchers each year and we see about 600 places in four months. They have mainly been Bri­tons in­ter­viewed back in Lon­don and, no, they usu­ally do just one “tour of duty”. We visit up to five places a day; so it is quite easy to fit that many vis­its into the time frame.

Zam­bia and Botswana were done dif­fer­ently. That small sec­tion was com­piled by Sarah Camp­bell-Pitt, who had spent a lot of time on an ex­tended hon­ey­moon driv­ing all over and vis­it­ing our sort of lodges.

Whatarey­our­re­view­er­slook­ing­for in­a­hol­i­dayv­enue?

Fab friendly hosts, the sense of be­ing sen­si­tively well looked af­ter, great com­fort in all things, and some­thing that lifts the place into some­where mem­o­rable.

Whatwilldef­i­nite­lyge­ta­place barred­frombein­gusediny­our­pub­li­ca­tion?

Hosts who dis­play pre­ten­tious­ness, ar­ro­gance and/or a lack of gen­uine hos­pi­tal­ity and care. The hosts them­selves are what most ef­fec­tively turn us off. But dirt­i­ness is not far be­hind.

Whodoy­ou­thinkwill­get­the­most out­o­fy­our­bookand­what,in­y­our opin­ion,makesy­our­guided­if­fer­ent fro­moth­er­sthatares­im­i­lar.Orarethere anyother­guidesquite­likey­ours?

Any­one who puts orig­i­nal­ity and hu­man con­tact be­fore sim­ple fa­cil­i­ties. Most of our own­ers would pre­fer to be treated as equals and if you treat them that way you will get the most out of the guide.

There are no other guides like ours in South Africa, al­though there is a se­ries in Bri­tain called the Alas­tairSaw­day guides that have the same ba­sic phi­los­o­phy.

Whereisy­our­guideavail­able­and what­doe­sit­cost­to­buy?

Book shops such as Exclusive Books or through our web­site at www.green woodguides.com. R119.95.

Now­toyou…doy­ouen­joy­trav­el­ling?

I love trav­el­ling but have just had two small chil­dren in quick suc­ces­sion (one 16 months and one three months) and am now pinned down in Lon­don. I am lucky if I make it to the cin­ema th­ese days.

Whatarey­our­favourit­edes­ti­na­tions?

Easy. Off the beaten track in South Africa has al­ways been so re­ward­ing. Also the He­brides. And other places at cer­tain times of life such as Bor­neo and Viet­nam, which I vis­ited back in the mid-90s. Both places have changed so much since then that I am not sure they would of­fer the same sort of ex­pe­ri­ence.

What­wasy­ourall-time­favourite­hol­i­dayand­why?

My part­ner and I spent 10 days stay­ing at Um­lani Bush Lodge, then Idube in Lim­popo Prov­ince, then we flew to north­ern Mozam­bique to Quilalea Lodge and back to Joburg. Va­ri­ety, ex­traor­di­nary ad­ven­tures with an­i­mals, div­ing, great food… no small chil­dren! We both felt like cry­ing when we had to fly home.

Atrav­eld­is­as­terthat­makesfora fun­nys­tory?

Al­though swan­ning around chat­ting to de­light­ful hosts, eat­ing won­der­ful food sounds like a truly great job, it is not nec­es­sar­ily so.

In an­swer to your ques­tion, here is a mock write-up that en­cap­su­lates the dark side of be­ing a bed and break­fast in­spec­tor: The Old Par­si­mon­age.

My host­ess’s hos­tile glare ex­pressed greed and dis­like in equal and am­ple mea­sure as I was mo­tioned per­func­to­rily into the gloom be­hind her. I was clearly dirty, late and in­con­ve­nient. My bed­room had its own dis­may­ing odour, was small and cold, and dimly il­lu­mi­nated by an en­ergy-sav­ing strip light; there was no bed­side light (or ta­ble) and one junk print of a badly done poo­dle passed for dé­cor.

The s hower c ubicl e was an al uminium-and-plas­tic Tardis, in the room, not off it. “How ‘en-suite’ do you want me?,” it seemed to say. The show­er­head had per­haps once been used as a met­al­cut­ting tool or han­dled by a den­tist’s as­sis­tant.

The sin­gle thin jet al­ter­nately burnt and froze in­di­vid­ual points of my pate a s I duc k e d a n d weaved i n pa i n . I dabbed the few drops of wa­ter from my cold skin with a flan­nel (or was it the towel?) be­fore try­ing to get warm be­tween ny­lon sheets and a damp thin blan­ket.

It was too cold to read with my arms out­side the sheets and get­ting out of bed again to turn off the light was un­think­able. An overzeal­ous, Nazi­in­spired cen­tral heat­ing sys­tem roared into life at about one o’clock in the morn­ing (play­ing bad cop, bad cop with the solidly painted-up win­dows). My sore throat was in­stan­ta­neous.

Break­fast would be a grand word for the morn­ing repast… The scram­bled eggs had clearly been pre­pared the night be­fore by a very young child; the ba­con looked un­cooked (so pre­sum­ably was); the tinned toma­toes were tinned toma­toes. The baked beans that had not been con­tam­i­nated by their fel­low in­gre­di­ents were pretty good… Yes, they were pretty good. It hurts to ad­mit it, but they were all right.

The Old Par­si­mon­age turns no stone what­so­ever to en­sure that your stay is a pleas­ant one. The food is ex­e­crable; the am­bi­ence grim; the fa­cil­i­ties would leave Ivan Deni­se­vic wist­ful for the gu­lag; and it can­not be long surely be­fore your host­ess spends some time be­hind bars.

Anyad­vice­for­fel­low­trav­ellers­based ony­ourown­ex­pe­ri­ences?

In­de­pen­dence of move­ment al­lows for gen­uine and un­ex­pected ex­pe­ri­ences ... But to be cer­tain of avoid­ing the above you do need to find a trust­wor­thy guide book to help you avoid the rot­ten ap­ples. I would say that, though.

Fi­nally,why­travel?Whynot­stayat home­an­davoid­con­gestedair­ports, dan­ger­ous­planes,for­eign­coun­tries whereEnglishis­not­spo­ken,un­safe foodan­dex­oticdis­eases?

When you put it like that, per­haps you’re right. If you were cer­tain of a ter­ri­ble de­lay at the air­port, a near-miss in the air, di­ar­rhoea from ev­ery meal and malaria to come home with, you prob­a­bly would stay at home ... as long as home hap­pens not to be Kin­shasa air­port.

But mainly th­ese things do not hap­pen, at least not all at once, and the ad­van­tages in terms of meet­ing new peo­ple, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing new cul­tures, food, cli­mates, lan­guages make the risks eas­ily worth­while.

Noth­ing re­ally worth­while in life comes without some sort of risk. I can­not imag­ine choos­ing never to see a herd of wild ele­phants in my life for fear of con­gested air­ports. And any­way noth­ing is as en­joy­able as re­lat­ing how you picked up Dengue fever in Thai­land in 2002.

SI­MON GREEN­WOOD

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