Cooks, Clowns, Cowboys, and learning experiences

You have to think that the people at Lonely Planet had a good time coming up with the title Cooks, Clowns and Cowboys It’s a book about skills and experiences you could discover in out of the way and well known parts of the world. For example, you could

make and eat fine chocolate in Paris
learn how to heal with herbs in Kerala, India
turn a tree into a chair in Somerset, England
improve your running skills in Iten, Kenya
go to card shark school on Las Vegas, Nevada
learn how to be a blacksmith in Wales
learn pizza making skills on the Amalfi Coast, Italy
ride with cowboys in Argentina
take a wilderness adventure with a dog sled in the Yukon, Canada

You get the idea. There are a hundred and one experiences described in in the book. Each idea is presented across a two page spread, with several photos to get you in the spirit of the the thing along with a header telling short details about locations, options for length and cost, and couple of words about outcomes. There’s also a really short description that connects the learning experience you’ll have to a sense of the place and to what you’ll take away — a pretty big job for a sentence or two but generally the writers and editors do a good job of creating a taster for the main text of the description.

For each learning situation, that includes a section called what to expect, comprising several paragraphs on what day to day life and interactions with others may be like. There’s a section called how it suits you, giving further tips on whether what you’ll encounter is hard or easy physically, whether it is best suited to outgoing folk or those who are more reserved, if you’ll get your hands dirty — those sorts of things. Another highlighted section is called what you’ll get from it, usually including three or four bulleted points that range from practical to intangible. This section in the article on learning the sitar in India, for example, suggests four things: spiritual calm, musicality, a deeper insight into Indian culture, and a piece (and an instrument) which will make you a memorable hit at parties even if you’ll not become a top master of the sitar during the two week course.

Each article continues with a section on practical details, which gives contact information for the specific experience described, and a section headed other options, which contains suggestions on two or three other places, often in other parts of the world, where you could try out similar experiences.

Concluding each story is a section called doing it at home. Building a roof on a hut in Africa, for example, could lead you to make your own garden gazebo, or to volunteer at a local building project. Farming pumpkins in South Korea could take you to building up you own garden, and maybe even growing enough to sell at a stall at your local farmers market. Ice fishing in Minnesota could lead you to a new practical skill if you live in a cold climate or become an enticement for a winter vacation if you don’t Some of these suggestions are a bit tongue in cheek, to be sure, or even not all that practical, but they do serve to tie together the elements of each article and get you thinks about what could be next. Makes a satisfying section for armchair travelers, too.

That’s true of the whole book. The hundred and one experiences in Cooks, Clowns and Cowboys are color coded for seven types ranging from nature based to music and dance to active to mind and body to culture, but as presented in the book they are all mixed up, as are the many locations from Mongolia to New York City to Hawaii to the Lake District of England. That helps make the book an interesting read, one you can follow as set up or dip in or out of at will, whether you’re looking for an adventurous experience or an interesting read. Is Cooks, Clowns and Cowboys the most thoughtful travel book I’ve read? No. Written with a light hand and packed with information, the stories and ideas can offer a few laughs as well as provoke thought, though. All to the good.

Want to read more about travel as learning experience? try these
Learning music in the mountains
North House: learning from the past, enriching the present
Teaching tradition

Photograph of blacksmith forge by Kerry Dexter

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