There’s a moment in every traveller’s life when you know you’ve gone too far.
For me, it was when I watched my four-year-old son kiss a monkey on the lips.
We were in the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the colourful and chaotic square in the 11th-century medina of Marrakesh. Think of it as north Africa’s Disneyland, with snake charmers, circus acts and poetry performers. As we walked in, I clutched hubby’s hand.
“We are NOT letting the kids near those hideous creatures,” I hissed, referring to the animals, of course, not the performers. Moments later, the smell of seared sheep heads and the sound of tribal drums seeped into my soul. Two-year-old Grace was sitting next to a snake; Taj was hugging a monkey called Mohammed.
How had it come to this? Is there a twilight zone into which travellers descend for the duration of a journey, only to emerge asking, “Why the hell did we do that?” This includes riding a motor scooter without a helmet along the serpentine roads of Santorini, drinking god-awful arak in Indonesia, and smoking suspicious cigarettes in Ko Pha Ngan (I swear, officer, I thought they were herbal!).
We had been warned: our tour guide, Carol, from Morocco by Prior Arrangement, said: “Stay away from those deadly cobras.The charmers insist they’re de-venomed but, if you believe that, I have a lovely Harbour Bridge I can sell you.”
Ignoring advice can be deadly.
A fortnight ago, a man died after being attacked by a crocodile while swimming across the Mary River in the Northern Territory. “How stupid is that?” hubby exclaimed. “There are signs everywhere.”
Then I reminded him about the time we bathed in the crocodile-infested Sepik River in Papua New Guinea after staying in a village with no running water.
Our guide, Alfonso, was like Crocodile Dundee on steroids. At the end of the trip, he plunged his large, tattooed forearm into the shallows to grab a baby croc: “Here, a souvenir from the Sepik.”
The prehistoric pet scuttled and snapped around my feet as I forcefully, but politely, declined.
“When you’re out of your reality zone your normal structures aren’t there, like the best friend or sibling who says, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t be doing that,’ ” Jacqui Manning from thefriendlypsychologist.com.au says. She explains that our decision-making processes aren’t clear when we’re on an adventure.
That would explain eating goat’s penis soup in Vietnam, or wandering the streets of New York’s Alphabet City after midnight. That was when I was young and foolish. Now, I’m old and, er, still foolish.
“With travel, you do want to test your boundaries. But you still need to set limitations,” she says.
This is especially true when travelling with kids. It requires us to rediscover our inhibitions, at least a little. That way, there will definitely be a “next time”.
When have you gone too far? Where do you think parents should draw the line? Or are we becoming too cautious?