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Traveller interview – Peter Berende

By admin   16 April 2010 1:48pm Europe/London

petersmallShortly after Tony and Maureen Wheeler sold their first guidebook, letters and postcards began flooding into Lonely Planet HQ from appreciative travellers, telling us everything from a new bus route in Afghanistan, to corrections for our Istanbul map or letting us in on where to get the best lassi in Kerala.

Today, Lonely Planet’s Talk2Us team receive around 12,000 emails annually from our readers, and the feedback is as wonderfully varied as it was in the days of the hippy trail. As always, everything we receive is read and responded to before being passed on to the editors and authors of the relevant guides, and it’s all a great help to us in making sure our guidebooks are the best they can be.

I first encountered Dutchman Peter Berende when he emailed Lonely Planet in March with feedback on Southeast Asia on a Shoestring. Since then he’s written a further 3 times with more feedback, including for our Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & the Greater Mekong guide.

Peter tells me he’s ‘not a hard-core traveller per-se’, but he’s just being modest. His extensive travel resume includes doing the kibbutz thing in Israel, long stints as a dive instructor in various Central American and Caribbean nations and living for 5 years on Little Cayman, a tiny and remote Caribbean isle with fewer than 200 inhabitants. Now residing on its big brother Grand Cayman, Peter first hit the road back in 1987 and seems to have been on it ever since.

He sums up his travel philosophy as such:  I think if you move around too much, you spend too much time in buses, boats, trains, etc. that you’ll miss all the good stuff you could have experienced if you stayed put and actually made the effort to get to know some (local) people. So far, I feel that the countries I understand best and where I have made lasting friendships were the ones where I had to organize things. There’s no better way to get a feel for a culture than trying to get a bank account or negotiate with the electricity/phone/internet company to hook you up.

Peter kindly answered a few questions for Lonely Planet before hiding himself away in a meditation retreat somewhere in Thailand.

How many countries have you visited?

I reckon about 12 European, 11 American, 3 Middle Eastern and 8 Asian countries.

Where have you been on your current travels, and where are you heading to next?

My fiancée and I have been on the road in the USA and Southeast Asia Since February; about one month split between Florida and California (you should check out the redwood forests in California: 1500 year old trees in great parks with awesome scenery), followed by Bali and Sulawesi, and right now we’re in Thailand. … For the next few months we only have a few “must-dos: see Angkor Wat, trek Northern Laos, bike South Vietnam, volunteer at a marine sanctuary, and meet friends in Thailand. Beyond that we’re hoping for a good time with hopefully some work thrown in and maybe even find a place to settle down for a couple of years again.

What’s been your favourite haunt in South East Asia so far?

Bali. I know it’s got a lot of tourists in certain places, but the whole Hindu-thing with the temples everywhere is just very, very cool. It seems you can’t turn anywhere without seeing somebody preparing for some ceremony or other.

We were there during Nyepi the Balinese new year. The work up toward it was good fun to watch, the making of big papier-mâché monsters (Ogo-Ogo’s), the parading and washing of statues in the ocean and finally the parading and burning of the monsters . And then the next day. it was QUIET: no power, no traffic, no nothing, even the Denpasar International Airport was closed. To me it was a real show of strength from the Balinese culture and a pretty unique experience.

In a few days it’s Sonkran here in Thailand. It’s supposed to be a completely different yet equally unique festival. I can’t wait.

Which guidebooks have you used on this trip?

LP Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, and Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, & the Mekong Delta on this trip. LP Central America, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, British Columbia & the Yukon, and again Southeast Asia on a Shoestring for earlier trips.

Why did you decide to email Lonely Planet?

The more people give feedback, the more accurate the next guide will become. I feel it’s kind of like Wikipedia; if everybody puts in his or her two cents you will very likely end up with a nearly perfect product. This of course will reward good businesses, punish bad ones and benefit all future travellers.

How did you find the whole experience of sending in feedback?

I was happily surprised the (Contact Us) form actually remembers what you’ve done so you don’t have to re-type everything if you somehow, somewhere either lose power or internet. It’s also quite a help to be able to edit what you’ve written earlier. It’s always nice to be able to see what you’ve just written on paper. The fact that a ‘real’ person answers your e-mail besides the standard “thank you for contacting us” email does make me feel a little more appreciated.

If you’d like to send us some feedback on our guidebooks, we’d love to hear from you.

[Photo: Courtesy Peter Berende]