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TRAVELING IN STYLE

Cultural Allure

March 16, 1997|John Muncie

Some years ago, I visited Kenya with a small tour group. The first night out of Nairobi, we camped on a dry plateau about 75 miles north of the equator. After dinner, we sat around a fire pestering our guides with questions. Suddenly, out of the darkness came the insistent sound of drums. "What's that?" I asked, foolish images of spears and war paint in my head. "Oh, it's just some Samburu dancing," was the reply. The next morning, I met one of the Samburu--a 13-year-old boy who had left cattle herding to watch us break camp. Despite the fact he had a spear (it's a common herdsman tool), he was no more ferocious than a koala bear. In fact, he wanted to practice his schoolboy English on me.

This experience isn't unusual. Travelers know that people and cultures are often more memorable than their settings. Sunsets are soon forgotten, ceremonies are not. Cases in point: Wales' Celtic heritage charmed Christopher Reynolds as much as its landscape. Music, not the Berkshire's topography, is what drew Donald W. George back to the Tanglewood festival again and again. Genoa's architecture and ancient alleyways, Colman Andrews learned, was richer than its seafood pasta. And Amanda Jones found one of Africa's most fascinating traditions--a beauty pageant for men--deep in Niger's desert wilderness.

The photos I brought back from my Kenya trip mostly show giraffes and elephants. What I remember, however, are villages, bright costumes and the time, three days after encountering that Samburu lad, when I, too, danced under the stars to the rhythm of African drums.

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