Monday, 26 May 2014

Tramp Royale

Monday, 26 May 2014 12:00
claidheamhmor: (Stranger in a Strange Land)
I've been reading Robert Heinlein's books all over again, and they're still eminently readable. I'm not sure why they're so readable; I suspect it's because of the conversational devices he used.

One that I hadn't read before was "Tramp Royale". It was not science fiction; it was the account of the round-the-world trip that Heinlein and his wife Viginia (nicknamed "Tickey") took in 1953/54. The book itself was only published in 1992, four years after Heinlein's death (he died on my birthday in 1988).

Tickey had a fear of flights over water, so they booked a trip mainly via ship, travelling to South America, through many of the South American countries, across the Atlantic past  Tristan da Cunha to South Africa, through South Africa (Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Kruger Park, Durban), Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, before hopping over to Hawaii, then back to Colorado.

It's fascinating seeing a view of so many countries from 60 years ago, not long after World War II. Here's a quick summary:[personal profile] luthiea
  • They loved South America, finding everything very cheap, the people friendly and helpful, and accommodations comfortable and clean. One amusing anecdote Heinlein used in a book a few years later was getting the spelling of their surname of a South American women; the name was pronounced "Hone-ace", but it was spelled "j-o-n-e-s".Heinlein especially admired Uruguay. Even now, Uruguay has possibly the most down-to-earth leader in the world; José Mujica and his wife live on a small farm instead of the presidential palace, they have no staff, he drives an aged VW Beetle, and donates 90% of his small salary to charity.
  • South Africa: this was an interesting one. They loved the wildlife and scenery; however, even then, 6 years after the National Party was voted into power by only around 5% of the population, apartheid was in full swing. Heinlein commented on the terrible policies, and the effect on the black population, and he said he saw no solution for South Africa (thankfully, decades later, that was to change). He mentioned the beautiful houses in Johannesburg, hiding behind high walls and electric fences, owners nervous about being killed by their black staff. He and Tickey went to the Kruger Park, and had to deal with the terrible rail services (still bad), and the stupid bureaucracies of the government. He really, really didn't like Afrikaners, finding them unpleasant and difficult. One thing that came up several times was that people kept asking why the US wouldn't pay more for South Africa's gold.
  • The Heinleins found Jakarta dirty and unpleasant; they didn't stay long. By contrast, Singapore was clean, had excellent service, and some of the best accommodations they'd ever seen.
  • They caught a dirty ship to Australia, and found Australia riddled with bureaucracy. For example, on landing, they had to fill in income tax forms, and on leaving, had to get export permits for their money, including their own traveller's cheques, stamped in a couple of different places. They people, they found, tended to be friendly, but somewhat tactless. Hotels were awful, thanks to stupid regulations requiring bars to run hotels too and a condition of the licence.
  • Next was New Zealand. 
  •  could probably comment on how NZ has changed. Back then, the people the Heinleins encountered were dour, petty, and unhelpful. Hotels were the worst they'd encountered, to the extent that the best hotel they found in Auckland wouldn't have been as good as the average US backwater motel. Food was terrible; the New Zealanders kept the worst of their food for themselves, and destroyed it with their cooking; boiled beef, boiled lamb, boiled mutton, and for breakfast, boiled bacon. Petty bureaucracy was rife, right down to mealtimes; if your mealtime was 1PM to 2PM, you weren't allowed to be seated in the hotel dining room before 1PM, even if the place was empty, and you were obliged to be out by 2. Heinlein and Tickey saw only a bit of NZ's scenery, thanks to more ridiculous transport rules. At the time, NZ citizens weren't allowed to visit the US, and even if they got special dispensation, they weren't allowed to buy US dollars. The only highlight was a helpful zoo manager at the Auckland zoo.
  • NZ was so awful that Tickey was actually prepared to fly back to the US rather than  fight red tape to get a booking on a ship, so they flew (in sleeper berths on a DC-6!) to Hawaii, which they loved, and from the back to the US. 

Even though Tramp Royale was not published until decades later, Heinlein used bits and pieces from their trip in his fiction; one can see signs of his dislike for petty rules in almost all of his books, and bit and pieces obviously relating to Tramp Royale crop up here and there. 

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