If you’ve ever been on a group tour, you know you can count on some things. You will spend a lot more time on a bus than you’d hoped. The food will be relatively safe, but relatively bland to appeal to a wide range of tastes. You will be taken to one, if not several, tourist traps where the items are priced way too high and the tour guide is getting a cut of the business.
And you can expect to see the same category of travelers, though their names will change from tour to tour. There will always be one person who will be late for everything. By the end of the trip no one will be speaking to them but everyone will be talking about them. There will always someone who will complain about the food at every meal. This is usually the same person who complains about the accommodations and constantly uses the phrase, “well that’s not how we do it at home,” as though their home was somehow a universal standard. And there will be one pair of travel companions, formerly best of friends, who will not be speaking to each other by the end of the trip.
There is also one other indispensable member of any large travel group, a member so important that he or she actually engenders solidarity to the rest of the group. This is the person who everyone makes fun of because they ask very, very stupid questions. You remember back in school when they told you there were no stupid questions? Well… they lied. There are. And this person will ask them all.
On a bus tour of Costa Rica, our resident stupid question asker was a small Jewish, New Yorker. He was also hard of hearing, which meant that he often yelled his stupid questions, making it worse for him. And for us. He refused to wear a hearing aid, a fact his wife repeatedly told us all. If your room was next to them you could hear their shouting matches. He yelled to defend himself from her insults and she yelled just to be heard.
This man had a knack for asking for information that had just, just been explained. It was a gift! Not a talent you’d want, but still, a talent. He became our comic relief.
We were on a walking tour of the rainforest along the east coast of the country. Quite unexpectedly we came across a family of Howler monkeys. All of us had been introduced to them at about 4:00 that morning when they began the distinctive howl that gives them their name. He had slept through it, naturally, so he’d missed the show. Honestly, it was fascinating, even cute. The first morning everyone (except Stupid Question Man) ran out in their pajamas to see a family of monkeys mugging for the camera and stealing anything within reach. By the second morning, it was just loud and annoying. We were on vacation after all.
During this walking tour, Stupid Question Man asked our guide which were the males and which were the female monkeys. I suppressed a snicker. I was raised on a farm, so I’ve had up close and personal experience in telling male animals from female. When you are dealing with a primate, an animal who arguably sits beside us on the branch of the family tree (and in this case actually hopping skipping and jumping on a nearby tree) it’s not that hard to tell the difference. Frankly I had been trying to avert my eyes from the obvious…well…indications of maleness.
Our tour guide, a professional, was not fazed. He treated the question with professionalism and gave a forthright explanation. Speaking slowing and enunciating in his lilting Hispanic accent, he explained, “Zee feeemall, she eeees so small. Her face, ees so rrrrround and she carry the baby to her brrreeest.” He pointed at a female who was suckling a young baby. “Zee male, he so much beeeg. Heees face is flaaat. And he has the whaaot boolls.”
“The what,” Asked SQM? He cupped his ear.
“Zee male. Hee has the whaaaaeeeet booooolls,” the guide enunciated.
“What?” SQM was completely lost. The rest of us were about to pass out from holding back the laughter.
The guide was getting frustrated. The rest of us were turning blue.
“The booolls man!” He grabbed his pants in the area of the zipper. “The booolls!!! All the mans, zey got the boooolls! Where you from you don’t know dis?”
SQM had actually heard and understood only the last part of the question. “I’m from New York.”
Our tour guide visibly brightened, “I go to New York then. Zey needs the mans! Zey needs ME!”