From spending a night in a police cell in the Congo to club sandwiches, Joe Cropp has certainly experienced some amazing adventures on his travels. In our latest edition of ‘You’ve Been Where?” he muses on what it’s like travelling for long periods and travelling on your own. See you on the road soon, Joe, for a club sandwich…
Who are you and what do you do for a living?
I’m a communications delegate with the international Red Cross Red Crescent, presently in Iraq. In short, I collect and tell stories to highlight the humanitarian need of communities during disasters and conflicts.
Where is home?
Home is a little terrace house in Melbourne. The more I travel, the more important home becomes.
Where have you been?
I’ve been travelling since I left university, and work sends me to some interesting places, so the answer to this would sound quite precocious. Rather, next I’m hoping to go to Somaliland, which sounds stunning.
Who do you travel with?
I’ve always travelled alone. Originally it was because no-one wanted to go to the places I was visiting. Now I just don’t know how to travel with other people. There is a certain freedom about it, but it can also be lonely at times.
What are the highlights of your travels?
It’s the local people. My fondest memories are of the everyday people who have shared parts of their lives with me. This is reflected in my travel photos, which are mainly portraits and street photography.
What do you least like about your travels?
When I’m on the move, there are days I wake up and don’t want to be the one making it all happen. On those days it’s a task rather than an adventure. I wish there was someone else to take the lead for the day, and I could just follow along behind.
Do you have any funny stories from your travels?
They are funny in hind-sight, but never at the time. I was stuck in a small village in the Congo once. The ferry that dropped me off wasn’t coming back for two weeks, the endless rain had cut all the roads out of town to anything but heavy vehicles. Lying on a camp bed in the police station – where I had to stay because I didn’t have the right visa – I thought “this will be a funny story one day”. That got me through. After four days of eating different kinds of taro and drinking Coke, I eventually hitched a ride out … on the Coke delivery truck.
What are the locals like?
I’m actually quite shy, which is probably why I don’t mix with other travellers. But this quietness seems to make me more approachable for local people. I usually end up getting offered a cup of tea, or get invited to dinner.
What’s the food like?
The local food is often one of the highlights, or alternatively one of those experiences to be remembered. If I’ve been travelling a while, I’m also an unabashed fan of the western restaurant, and a club sandwich with a toothpick stuck in it. I’m often that guy other travellers scornfully look down on as “not experiencing the local culture”.
What have you learnt about yourself while travelling?
The answer to this depends on where I am. I’ve been away for a while now, and it has reminded me that life at home is quite special. It’s good to spend time in your ‘village’, when travel is walking up the road to see friends or around the corner for lunch at the local pub.
What’s your advice for other travellers?
Rather than following the crowd, work out why you want to travel. There are so many ways to do it, not just what’s in the brochures or the ‘next must see destination’ your friends tell you about. Yes, the ‘big things’ are wonderful, but so are the little things, the little moments. You may just want to sit on a wharf, watch the boats coming in, and chat to the fishermen. If you see me there, beers and a club sandwich are on me.
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