A weekly ode to the joys of moaning about your holiday, by Tim Roxborogh

This was a clearly a new low for the couple who'd invited us into their home. In a village with little more than a church and a central patch of dirt for soccer, splashed onto a hillside in the Guatemalan highlands, Intrepid Travel had split our tour group into pairs for the night. Armed with a sheet translating English into the local language and some pencils and colouring books for the couple's child, this was undoubtedly a good thing to do.

After the fact, I was left in little doubt that this homestay in such a desperately poor town had been humbling to the point of profundity. But at that moment, sitting at the dinner table, four adults hamstrung by awkwardness and language, it was almost side-splittingly dreadful.

"How old is the cabinet?" This was the question that sealed the fate of this arranged dinner date to being an early-to-bed number. Bearing in mind this is a corner of Guatemala where older generations may not even speak Spanish, let alone English, our conversations were dependant on smiles, hand gestures and our translation sheet.


Converting English into a language that was really only spoken in a small cluster of villages, it was hard to believe that over the hill in a far more affluent town an entirely different language was spoken.

Our sheet gave us phonetic pronunciations for things like "How many children do you have?" and "How old are you?" as well as "table", "chair", "kitchen" and the since infamous "cabinet".

Over a meal of cornflour and beans, we did our best to make conversation, but nothing was working. Like a stand-up comic with the toughest of crowds, I just couldn't get a reaction.

So it was head down into the cornflour and beans again. Out the side of my mouth I sounded out my English mate about the only small talk left I could think to say to our hosts. Next to the table (which we'd correctly identified in the local language) was a modest wooden cabinet. Ingeniously, I would combine the "How old are you?" question with the word for cabinet.

"Don't do it! That's such a dumb question!"

I did it. And I think they understood because fingers were held up indicating the years of the cabinet's life. At which point I'm sure we caused them great relief by feigning tiredness and heading to bed.

Invasions of personal space on planes, trains and buses

It's an old trusty when it comes to travellers writing about their complaints, but there's nothing like a gently resting elbow in your stomach to get you moaning about personal space.


Just a couple of weeks ago I was on a train in southern India. I had the window seat and next to me for three hours was a middle-aged chap who liked nothing more than to take a load off by easing his elbow into my belly.

I would shift in my seat, turn my back or even try to dominate the armrest with my own invasive elbow. But any of the times he relented from physically touching me were fleeting. I started to detest this man and decided he must be the dumbest, silliest man in all of India.

And then I just about got off at the wrong stop. The elbow man thought it was an unlikely destination for a westerner and piped up, saving me from bewilderment in the wrong town, not to mention a few rupees.

For the next half an hour we chatted, unlike the preceding hours where we'd merely nuzzled. Turns out he's a lovely man! It felt strange having started with intimacy, then hatred and finally friendship, but India is seldom straightforward.

Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's The Two, Coast Soul on Coast and writes theRoxboroghReport.com.